NDN Blog

A terrible week for Bush

I wrote last weekend that in my 20 years in the political and media business I had never seen such a bad pre-rollout of a major Presidential initiative as the rollout of the "new way forward" in Iraq.  Well, a week later, I have to say I have never seen such a terrible rollout of a Presidential initiative.  The general chatter and press this weekend is unrelentingly bad, almost amazingly so.   The President's plan is dead in Congress, has weakened his standing in the nation and will now guarentee a contentious and perhaps dysfunctional American government these next two years - all at a time of great challenge here and abroad. 

Man do we have a lot of work to do.

Maliki next?

People associated with the President's Iraq strategy keep losing their jobs.  The Republicans lost their majority, Lieberman his primary, Rumsfeld, Casey all gone.  Now according to Secretary Gates, Maliki could be next:

Testifying on Capitol Hill about the plan for the second straight day, Mr. Gates said that Iraqi lawmakers might decide to replace Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, if he failed to take steps to carry out the new plan to regain control of Baghdad.

“The first consequence that he has to face is the possibility that he’ll lose his job,” Mr. Gates said. “There are beginning to be some people around that may say, ‘I can do better than he’s doing,’ in terms of making progress.”

Administration officials have discussed among themselves whether they might need to withdraw support for Mr. Maliki if he doesn’t perform, notably by building a new coalition in the Iraqi Parliament. Mr. Gates’s statement was the first mention of the subject in public by a senior administration official.

Mr. Gates and other administration officials have had trouble explaining to lawmakers why they are confident that Mr. Maliki will carry out promises to send more Iraqi troops to Baghdad and to permit them and the additional American forces to operate in Shiite neighborhoods, where they have been blocked from conducting operations in the past.

Mr. Gates conceded that the Iraqi government’s record of fulfilling its commitments is “not an encouraging one,” but said Mr. Maliki now seemed to him “eager” to follow the plan worked out with American commanders.

He acknowledged that Mr. Maliki initially had wanted to carry out the intensified military effort in Baghdad without more American troops. In addition, American military commanders feared that, without American forces monitoring their operations, there could be even worse sectarian bloodshed.

“There’s no question in my mind that Prime Minister Maliki wanted to do this operation on his own,” Mr. Gates said, but he was “persuaded that additional American forces were needed in order to make his plan succeed.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, seemed to sum up the skepticism about Mr. Maliki among lawmakers in both parties when she noted that he “did not seem to welcome” the idea of sending more American forces when she met with him in Iraq just weeks ago.

“I’m really skeptical that the prime minister has really bought into this plan,” she said.

In the days leading up to Wednesday's announcement there was an extraordinary movement of people into new positions.  We have a new Secetary of Defense, new Intelligence chief, a new UN Ambassador, a new Ambassador to Iraq, several new generals.  Of course the leaders of the Iraqi plan - Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rove - all remain.  It is remarkable how desperate the Administration has been to lay blame on others - Rumsfeld, General Casey, Maliki, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Democrats - and not take responsibility for the core of what has gone wrong in Iraq - a very badly thought through and badly executed plan from the very get go.  And for that the President must accept total responsibility.

Bringing Beckham

No disrespect intended, but when it comes to recent headlines there's iraq, the 100 hours agenda, and then there's David Beckham and his move to the States.

Yet out of all the coverage of Becks' whopping deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy, this article from The Times is most interesting as it explains his move in the context of the Hispanic community:

...Beckham’s move to LA is all about business. Galaxy no doubt expects Beckham’s arrival in the city to generate tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship and advertising deals, with every industry from car manufacturing to life insurance seeing the British midfielder as a direct way to increase their presence in the Hispanic market.

As many of you know, NDN recognized the strong relationship between the Hispanic community and the game of soccer early on. From that understanding came our national media campaign - "Mas Que un Partido" - which you can learn more about here or here.

Rep. Harman Holds Bush Administration Accountable

Rep. Harman is leading the effort to hole the Bush Administration accountable for Iraq and make funding for our involvment in Iraq more transparent.  Read her op-ed from today's San Francisco Chronicle in its entirety here:

Stop Conducting the War Off the Books

- Jane Harman
Friday, January 12, 2007

As new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, there will be no more "blank checks" for the war in Iraq. Congress will hold President Bush accountable for the way he has fought this war, for what he plans to do next and for how he plans to pay for it.

Bush has funded the war in Iraq and the broader "war on terror" almost entirely through "emergency supplemental" appropriations bills -- in other words, off the books. Ninety-three percent of the approximately $507 billion appropriated for the war in Iraq has come through such bills, and the president is reportedly set to ask for another $100 billion in "emergency" funds in February to cover costs.

By designating budget requests as "emergencies," the president and the former Republican-led Congresses placed them on a legislative fast-track. Congress had little opportunity to ask tough questions about how these funds were being spent, and little opportunity to strip out offending items -- including a litany of earmarks and other domestic spending that had nothing to do with the war.

Calling these funding requests "emergencies" also automatically exempts them from spending caps. The president can thus claim that more than $500 billion in recent spending is not part of the deficit. Nonsense.

By doing so, the true costs of the war are not understood in relation to the other programs that are shortchanged to pay for it -- including providing veteran's benefits to the 22,714 American servicemen and women wounded in the war, funding the chronically underfunded No Child Left Behind education law, paying for affordable housing for Hurricane Katrina victims and investing in clean energy.

Last year's budget resolution, which this Congress has adopted, defines "emergency" as addressing a situation that is "sudden," "urgent," "unforeseen" and "temporary." After almost four years, the war in Iraq cannot reasonably be called "sudden." The Pentagon is capable of "foreseeing" the costs of the war with a reasonable degree of accuracy. And it stretches credulity to call either the war in Iraq or the "war on terror" "temporary." (I will grant the situation is, without question, "urgent").

There is ample precedent for considering the costs of war through the regular appropriations process. President Lyndon B. Johnson sought emergency supplemental funding for the first two years of the Vietnam War, but the war was almost entirely funded through the regular appropriations process in subsequent years. Similarly, most of the cost of the first year of the Korean war was paid for through supplementals, but the following two years were almost entirely paid for through the normal process. The war in Iraq should be no different.

No one in Congress wants to deprive our brave military men and women of the protective gear or equipment they need, or to fail to fund their safe exit from Iraq. That is why the 2007 supplemental appropriation is likely to pass -- and finding spending to cut in the 2007 budget to offset theses costs will be hopeless. But the marker can be set down for future funding. No more "emergency" supplementals, Mr. President.

Future funding for the war in Iraq must be on-budget, so Congress and the public can see the trade-offs and finally have a chance to "share" what is sacrificed.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice, is in her seventh term in Congress and served for the past four years as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.


One Step Closer to Our Goal: Minimum Wage Hike Passes the House

NDN is a national leader in the effort to raise the minimum wage, and improve the standard of living for millions of working Americans.  Our Spanish language media campaign to build support in the Hispanic community was a major factor in passing state ballot initiatives in Arizona and Colorado, and in keeping the pressure on Congress.  And the outcome was bipartisan support in the House for this important measure:

The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved the first increase in the federal minimum wage in nearly a decade, boosting the wages of the lowest-paid American workers from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years.

The 315 to 116 vote could begin the process of ending Congress's longest stretch without a minimum-wage increase since the mandatory minimum was created in 1938. In the past decade, inflation has depleted the value of the minimum wage to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

...Republicans who held in lock step during their 12 years as the majority party went over in droves to the Democratic side.

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'08 update

Senator Chris Dodd encourages us to participate in his conversation with the American people.

Senator Barack Obama had an op-ed in the Washington Post last week and the speculation on when he will announce his candidacy continues (article from NBC5 in Chicago, via RunObama).

Senator Hillary Clinton is off to Iraq this weekend.

Joe Biden delivered his opening statement at yesterday's hearing on Iraq. View the video here.

John Edwards asks us to tell Congress not to fund escalation. Over the weekend, Edwards is scheduled to be in New York for an address to the Riverside Church in Harlem. (Update: view the video of his address, "Silence is Betrayal," here)

Tom Vilsack weighs in on Iraq on his website and "used his annual Condition of the State speech delivered earlier in the day to urge the Iowa Legislature to approve a resolution opposing Bush's effort to expand the number of troops in Iraq." (From the Sioux City Journal)

Mitt Romney held the most intense call-a-thon I've ever heard of this past Monday. Press were allowed, velvet rope was employed, emphasizing the aesthetics of what Romney called the most "extraordinary advanced technology ever employed in a fundraising effort."

John McCain, who helped determined whether Florida or Ohio got the ball first in Monday's BCS championship game, now faces the reality of the John Edwards-coined "McCain Doctrine."

Rudy Giuliani, in addition to having a nice, sleek website, weighed in on the President's increase in troops.

Jim Gilmore, the former Governor of Virginia, filed papers to form his exploratory committee.

Senator Sam Brownback, who is currently traveling in Iraq, said that he opposes the surge of troops in Iraq.

Senator Chuck Hagel released a strong statement reacting to President Bush's plan for Iraq.

Mike Huckabee was on the Daily Show to promote his book this past Wednesday. On it, he takes a very interesting look at being "pro-life" and touches on one of the reasons why he thinks America is in trouble: a familiar concept he calls "horizontal politics."

Tommy Thompson is doing the most he can to show up in Iowa.

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

Gov. Richardson Brokers Cease Fire in Sudan

Building on his reputation as a statesman, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico just returned from a successful trip to Sudan where he negotiated a 60-day cease-fire between the Sudanese government and rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan. 

The New York Times has more:

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and leaders of several rebel factions in Darfur, the western Sudanese region, agreed Wednesday to a 60-day cease-fire in separate meetings with Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, according to a statement by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Bashir.

Mr. Richardson went to Sudan on behalf of the Save Darfur Coalition of groups trying to stem the violence in Darfur, to try to break the deadlock over who will police the region.

Hopefully, this cease-fire will be a first step towards ending the violence, massive population displacement and even genocide that has plauged Darfur.  At the very least, Gov. Richardson's actions show that there can be more to US foreign policy than military interventions. 

An extraordinary day in Washington

As a progressive, the last few months have been exhilirating.  Modern day conservatives had failed our nation, and were punished, deeply, at the polls.  New and fresh people came to Washington, with new ideas.  The mood here has been excited, optimistic.  The 100 hours plan started tackling long overdue problems, and has made great progress.  But it was yesterday, in the two major committee hearings on Iraq, that we see how different things are in Washington now.  Debate has come back to Congress, and Democrats increasingly look like the party of responsible government.

The tv talk shows, the news, no matter how you've checked in these last 24 hours have been bad for the White House, extraordinarily bad, bad in ways they have not experienced before.  It isn't just that at this point the President has lost credibility, and seems to have ignored the will of the American people.  It is that Members of Congress, led by the Democrats, are re-asserting their Constitutional role and questioning the Administratration in public, under-oath, something that hasn't been done since Bush took office.  I actually heard reporters talking about being in a Committee Room for a Congressional hearing.  Not sure I've heard that exact language in years. 

So the stories this am are about how the Administration was dismayed, shocked, taken aback by the way they were received on Capitol Hill.  What this means in English is they have never had Congress, a co-equal partner in the American government, and a body that can do a great deal to influence the national debate, do much more than repeat the Administration's talking points back to them.  The best example of this I found is a from a Times piece reporting on an exchange between Hagel and Rice that has not gotten as much attention as other moments in her testimony:

But it was left to Ms. Rice, an important fixture — and survivor — in an administration now in its seventh year, to defend against the tough condemnations in the Senate, where a vote on a resolution about the war could take place as early as next week.

Seated alone at a large table in front of the committee in a chilly Senate hearing room, where the front rows were filled with protesters, Ms. Rice appeared frustrated at times, as committee members variously interrupted her, challenged her or all but accused her of representing a dishonest administration.

Lawmakers argued with Ms. Rice over what to call the latest plan — she corrected critics who referred to it as an “escalation,” describing it as an “augmentation” — and over whether a civil war is underway.

When Ms. Rice asserted that insurgents, not warring Shiite and Sunni factions, were mainly responsible for American casualties, Mr. Hagel shot back, “Madame Secretary, your intelligence and mine is a lot different.”

He added, “To sit there and say that, Madame Secretary, that’s just not true.”

“Well, Senator, if you’ll — ,” Ms. Rice began.

“That is not true,” Mr. Hagel repeated.

“Senator, if you’ll allow me to finish,” Ms. Rice said, visibly exasperated, finally conceding that Iraqi attacks on other Iraqis are taking place in the form of death squads.

For years the Administration has lied to the American people with inpunity.  Yesterday the Secretary of State tried once again to lie, mislead, confuse - whatever the term - on a truly important matter and was called out on it in a big way by a leading Republican Senator.  Members of Congress of both parties will continue to re-assert their historic role, and take greater responsibility for governing.  This oversight, accountability, will no doubt begin to change the way the Administration operates.  And for that let us be thankful to the wisdom of the American people for bringing in a new team that wants to more than anything else restore the critical role of the Congress in our system of government.   

Let the hearings - by the way a great word in itself - continue!

The US raids an Iranian consulate

The Times got a reporter into Erbil today.  Read the piece.

New NPI Report on "Viral Video in Politics"

The New Politics Institute has launched a new series called "Re-imagining Video" that will explore the many ways the old world of traditional television is transfroming, particularly with the arrival of video online. This media transformation is going to have a profound impact on politics, which still depends heavily on 30-second TV ads.

The first installment in the series is called: "Viral Video in Politics: Creating Compelling Video that Moves." It was written by NPI's newest fellow, Julie Bergman Sender, a long-time Hollywood producer who has created some of the most memorable political viral video in the last couple years. She might be best known for creating the Will Ferrell impersonation of Bush on his ranch in the 2004 Presidential election cycle.

To give you a bit more of a sense of the new series, as well as Julie and her initial piece, I include the preface I wrote to the report:   

In the 1964 presidential election, an experimental one-minute television ad that only aired once changed politics forever.  That ad was “Daisy” and it featured  a little girl in a field plucking the petals off a daisy and counting, before her voice morphed into the voice of a man in a countdown that ended with the explosion of a nuclear bomb and the tagline: “Vote for President Johnson, the stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Call it “the mushroom cloud moment” for those with any foresight in politics. In its one airing “Daisy” showed the emotional power of television and how it could be effectively harnessed for politics. All politics adapted to the thirty-second television commercial, and television advertising defined how politics was played for the next forty years. 

In the recent 2006 midterm elections we had our own political “ah-ha” moment that came via the conduit of YouTube and other viral video outlets. Call it “the macaca moment.” It came in the form of a jittery digital video of Republican Senator George Allen on the campaign trail talking directly into a camera held by SR Sidarth, a young Indian-American campaign worker for Allen’s opponent. In this video Allen taunted Sidarth, welcoming him to the “real America,” and calling him “macaca,” an offensive term to many.

That one gaffe ricocheted around the internet, and was picked up in the mainstream media, tripping up Allen’s previously high-flying campaign, contributing to his eventual defeat. But more importantly, “the macaca moment” showed this nascent viral video medium’s game-changing impact. Emotionally powerful, visually complex video has finally arrived on the internet – and it’s moving fast. Those in politics will need to hustle to keep up with it.

This urgency is particularly important today, because the forty-year reign of broadcast and cable television thirty-second ads is coming to a close. Among other things, the spread of digital video recorders (DVRs) like TiVo allows an increasing chunk of Americans to skip ads altogether. By the 2008 election roughly one-third of all American households will have DVRs, and the percentage of likely voters with them will be even higher. 

Understanding video also requires understanding how people are accessing video. NPI Fellow Tim Chambers tells us that “by the 2008 election, more than 90 percent of the mobile phones used in the U.S. will be internet-enabled…by 2011, 24 million U.S. cellular subscribers and customers will be paying for some form of TV/video content and services on their mobile devices.” At that point mobile video services combined would have more than 3 million more users than the largest cable operator in the U.S. does today.

The New Politics Institute is committed to helping progressives understand this dramatic shift in the media landscape caused by, among other things, the emergence of viral video, and devise new political strategies that take advantage of it. This report is the first of a series of them in the coming year that will keep abreast of this rapidly changing space. We’re calling the series “Re-imagining Video.”

Our first guide to this new world of video on the internet is Julie Bergman Sender, a longtime Hollywood film producer and progressive activist, who is also NPI’s most recent new fellow. Julie has been innovating in the viral video space since the run-up to the 2004 election. She was one of the key creators behind actor Will Ferrell’s now famous 2004 viral video impersonation of George Bush. She was also the producer of one of the most effective viral videos of the 2006 election, with Hollywood female stars coyly talking about their first time – voting.

In this piece, Julie talks about her professional experiences in using the best practices of Hollywood and a focus on compelling narrative to create political video for viral distribution on the internet and beyond.  Her creative and practical insight should serve as a roadmap to all progressive groups and organizations as they begin to take advantage of this powerful new communications tool. 

The next few years will be much like the aftermath of that 1964 media bombshell. Let the new thinking begin.

Peter Leyden

Director of the New Politics Institute

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