NDN Blog

Worldchanging: the community, the website, the new book

To finish up my theme of the week, about the explosion of  new ideas to deal  with our 21st century problems, I point out Worldchanging.

I have watched this effort from the very beginning, and I know the founders, Alex Steffen and Jamais Casio, well. It pretty much started as a two person blog with the idea of pointing out all the new tools and ideas and people who are already creating a 21st century world that is sustainable and works for all, in their language, one that is bright green. Worldchanging is a positive place, with none of the gloom and doom talk that so many traditional environmental sites have. As their tag line says: “Another world is here.” The solutions are all around us, we just need to catalyze them, scale them up, and make it all work for everyone.

Over the years they have grown from the two of them to a vibrant worldwide community. They got a boost a couple years ago  when the elite TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference chose them as one of three places for their affluent attendees to support. Since then they have taken off and are building a national infrastructure to spread their ideas into the mainstream.

Their most recent effort is a book, Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century. It acts more like a reference book, not something you would read cover to cover. But you can flip through it and find all kinds of new ideas and heartening developments. It is broken up into sections that pertain to huge areas that need to be radically reworked, like the business world, cities, and, yes, politics. The politics they talk  about is more people-powered and less about inside legislation. And it also has a very global viewpoint, as do the solutions throughout the book. But it is well worth reading for those in DC and state government and politics. This is particularly true for those who want to focus on solutions that deal with  our myriad environmental challenges, like climate change.

It’s a heartening book, one that hopefully will  inspire other similar efforts.  A good gift for the holidays…

Peter Leyden

Negroponte: "Castro Near Death"

Since he transferred power to his brother, Raúl, and obeyed doctors orders to stay away from ceremonies honoring his 80th birthday celebration in Havana, we have all been questioning the state of Cuban President Fidel Castro's health. Putting suspicion to rest, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said that Castro is "very ill and close to death." Speaking to a group of Washington Post editors and reporters, Negroponte added, "Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer . . . months, not years."

Beginning today, Members of Congress in favor of easing sanctions will be on the island for a three-day visit. The ten member delegation is the largest to visit Cuba, a fact that emphasizes the increasing interest among policy-makers to learn more about the state of its affairs. Yet the White House position remains firm:

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon told reporters that the Bush administration will deal with Cuba's Communist government only when it shows a commitment to democracy. During the period of uncertainty under Raul Castro, Shannon said, "the regime has actually become harder and more orthodox and is not in a position to signal in any meaningful way what direction it will take post-Fidel."

To learn more about the opinions of the Cuban-American exile community, check out the poll NDN conducted in October.

A better way forward

As I wrote the other day, it increasingly looks like whatever "way forward" the Administration offers in January, it will not be a better one.  Today we learn that Secretary Rice has dismissed talks with Syria and Iran, a remarkably modest step and one essential to any improvement in the economic and political prospects in the region. 

The American people are facing a difficult period.  They overwhelmingly believe our policies in the Middle East have failed.  They voted the Party of the Iraq War out of power.  A very credible independent study group recommends an urgent change of course, focusing on lessening our military presence in Iraq and opening up new diplomatic channels to restore stability to the region.  An emerging political leader of this Iraq War Party, John McCain, recommends more troops.  The country's military leaders reject that path, publically.  Reasonable people across the world urge some kind of regional peace process.  The Administration rejects it.  A US Senator goes to Syria to explore a new path forward, the Administration attacks him. The Administration talks about a "Shiite tilt" in Iraq, Saudi Arabia says a regional war may erupt if we proceed down that path....

Battered by the elections, the Administration is turning inward, and becoming more isolated from reality and the wishes of the American people.  Their management of the War has already cost America too many lives, too much money and too much loss of prestige.  Their management of the "way forward" process in recent weeks reinforces that they are lost, weak, unclear where to go, unwilling to listen to new ideas.  Their leadership of the country is no longer just wrongheaded, but is becoming dangerous to our national security interests.  As progressives, we have an extraordinary obligation to challenge a lost and wayward Administration, and to find not just a way forward in the Middle East, but a better way forward.  And it must include, as the ISG suggested, an aggressive diplomatic effort to restore stability to the region.

Government Doesn’t have to Lead, but Align

The Wall Street Journal had a nice story today about the shift in mindset in the Venture Capital sector from investing in startup companies dealing wit the Internet to those dealing with clean energy. It came in the form of an interview with two top Kleiner Perkins partners, the legendary John Doerr, and Ray Lane.

What’s interesting from the political perspective is that it shows that many actors in the private sector and the world outside of politics already are moving headlong towards 21st century solutions to our problems. Like the smart money of Silicon Valley.

Smart progressive government needs to help catalyze those efforts and align them. It needs to draw them together, and highlight the best of them, building popular consensus around a clear way forward. Government also needs to fill in the gaps, stimulate efforts and solutions where none exist now.

What we don’t need is some one candidate to step forth with all the answers. That can’t happen, and waiting for it paralyzes our politics and government. Washington and old style politics in general is so caught up in commander-in-chief mode. Look to the president for all the answers. Wait for the guy at the apex of the hierarchy to give orders. That is so 20th century. The future is all about enabling and coordinating many, many actors.

Anyhow, back to  the WSJ story, which you can read in full here (they generously opened up the link to those without an online subscription). Here is a choice section to pull you in:

WSJ: Why is there so much interest in clean tech now?

Mr. Lane: We have always said that we do well by focusing on sectors, not companies. So when we saw changes happening in the semiconductor and microprocessor industry, and when we saw changes happening around the Internet, [we knew] these were major sectoral changes that occurred that would essentially displace the economics that were in place at the time.

The Internet is an example. Billions were made, billions were lost. You take that cataclysmic change that occurred over the last 10 years and you say, 'This looks like it could occur in energy.' Now we are dealing not with a sector of billions, but we're dealing with a sector of trillions. The venture business does well if it gets involved early because we're willing to take the risk.

It's a natural thing for Silicon Valley. We like very large markets. It doesn't make sense to go into small markets. It is huge sectoral change in one of the biggest industries on Earth, if not the biggest, and then it's being driven by technology, hot technology change.

Does this look to be bigger than the Internet or as big?

Mr. Lane: This is bigger than the Internet, I think by an order of magnitude. Maybe two.

If you thought the 1990s was a ride, hold on for this one….

Peter Leyden

U.S. broadcast efforts in Cuba worth the cost?

The Chicago Tribune offers a comprehensive profile of Radio and TV Martí, broadcasts directed to Cuba which have been funded and supported strategically by the United States. Speaking about the effectiveness of these programs, and the management over them by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting is Joe Garcia, Director of NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center:

But in addition to buying talent, passing out contracts also mutes community discussion of frequent criticism of OCB by outsiders, such as government watchdogs or members of Congress, said Joe Garcia, a former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, a leading anti-Castro exile lobbying group.

"If you're a Cuban-American journalist, there are no other markets to be in. It's a very limited market and they're a big employer in it. That's why people don't criticize it," said Garcia, now senior vice president of the New Democratic Network, a group of centrist Democrats.

Garcia said he strongly supports government broadcasting to Cuba, but believes that Radio and TV Marti have been mismanaged under Republican and Democratic administrations.

In October, NDN conducted the first major poll of the Cuban exile community. It revealed that 88% think that Castro will not return to power, while half of those polled expect democracy and liberation of Cuba within the next 5 years. More than three quarters want a peaceful and gradual transition. To view it, click here.

Joint Chiefs No on the "Surge"

The nation's military leaders reject the McCain strategy, and advocate a new mission for the troops in the Middle East. 

At some point the media is going to start writing about how McCain's stance on Iraq means big trouble for him in 2008.  He has been the staunchest defender of what has been arguably the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history, and an issue that helped sweep the Republicans from office in 2006. 

Tim Johnson

Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.  Like many, we wish him a speedy and successful recovery.

Vilsack uses the internet to listen

A large focus of Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's interactive campaign website is his online listening tour. As a push to meet new supporters and listen to their comments, the tour features profiles of Gov. Vilsack on popular sites like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Party Builder, and on blogs like DailyKos and MyDD. You can "join the tour" by clicking here.

Gov. Vilsack introduces this "conversation" he hopes to have with folks across the nation via video blog, which will be his way of answering questions people leave on his site. (Check out his introductory video blog on his YouTube page here.)

Vali Nasr on Iran in the New Republic

A new favorite of mine, Vali Nasr, has a good piece in the New Republic this week.  An excerpt:

OOver the past three years, and with mounting alarm, Iran has steadily held Washington's gaze, gaining ever more notoriety as one of the most serious foreign policy challenges confronting the United States. An Islamist regime that was being written off on the eve of the second Gulf war is now asserting itself on the world stage and shows no sign of being subdued. Iran sees itself as a great power, and it is pursuing the nuclear capability that would confirm this self-image. It believes that it can play a global role and expects to be treated as a peer by the United States. Washington was certainly caught off guard by the surge in Iranian influence, and more so by the confident and provocative attitude that the country's hard-line leadership has lately put on display. As Iran has become more important to the United States, so has the problem of dealing with the Iranian question become the bugbear of the Bush administration. America's Iraq policy is becoming more and more overshadowed by America's Iran policy, whatever that is. The Bush administration has staked a very great deal on Iraq, but in the end it may be the administration's handling of Iran, more than of North Korea or even of Al Qaeda, that defines the Bush era in foreign policy.

First Draft of a National Health Care Plan – In California

This falls in the theme I have put out here before about California being the incubator of a progressive future. The State Senate’s top Democrat, and probably the second most powerful elected official in the state, announced a comprehensive plan to make sure all workers in the state have health insurance in the next few years. That’s 6.6 million uninsured, at an annual cost of about $7 billion.

Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said it was “fantastic” that the majority Democrats that control both legislative houses wanted to join him in overhauling health care. He’s been devising his own plan to really take the problem on first thing in the next session.

So now you have the progressive Democrats who control both houses putting concrete, comprehensive proposals on modernizing health care to the front of the debate. And you have the lone powerful Republican in the state, Arnold, trying to outdo them. I have argued elsewhere that Arnold can best be seen as a new kind of Republican that we have not seen for a long time, a progressive Republican. He’s making the early moves of what a progressive Republican will look like in the 21st century.

This could all be taken as idle talk if there had not been tremendous strides taken last session around a progressive agenda that really started to take on the  true challenges of the 21st century. The San Francisco Chronicle story of today put it this way:

Last year, Schwarzenegger and Democrats worked together on landmark  legislation to restrict greenhouse gases, raise the minimum wage and provide discounts on prescription drugs. If they can work together as well on changes in health care law, some believe the product could serve as a national model.

I’m one of those who thinks that California should be viewed as a model of what happens when progressives do take control of government in the early 21st century. With Arnold’s recent progressive shift, the whole state is controlled by progressives who are increasingly getting emboldened. They’re just really starting to catalyze the full agenda, and there are many missing parts. Plus their efforts are far from perfect and many things about California politics should not necessarily be emulated.

That said, there’s no better place to look to when we think about how, on a national stage, a Democratic progressive Congress might work with a new (progressive?) president to solve the real challenges of our times.

Peter Leyden

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