NDN Blog

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

When the Outgoing Republican Congress Hands you Lemons...

...your best option is to make lemonade.  And that is just what Congressional Democrats are poised to do. 

I've been a frequent critic of the historically underwhelming work of the 109th Congress, particularly its failure to pass the basic spending bills that keep the Government running.  But rather than taking time to re-craft the nine unfinished spending bills, worth almost $500 billion dollars, further delaying action on the initiatives Democrats ran on, Appropriations Committee Chiefs Rep. David Obey and Senator Robert Byrd have come up with a much better idea.  Obey and Bird propose passing continuing resolutions for all nine bills, funding them at current levels through the 2007 fiscal year, and at the same time eliminating all federal earmarks

That's right, the pork projects which gave us the Abramoff and a dozen other still evolving scandals are going to take a one year hiatus.  And this proposal came from the king of earmarks himself, Senator Robert Byrd.  This isn't a permanent move, as much as a recognition that after the rampant appropriations corruption under the Republicans, the process needs a breath of fresh air.  Maybe that's why Byrd is willing to forgo $11 million for WV's Marshall University, as part of a total of $17 billion in savings.

I wonder if there are any outgoing Republicans scratching their heads right now and going, "I guess fiscal responsibility isn't all the tricky after all."

No Way Out

The postponing of the Administration's new plan for Iraq until next year makes it clear the Administration no longer has any idea what to do in the Middle East, and that their inability to let go of a discredited and failed strategy in Iraq is endangering our national security and driving the Middle East to further chaos.

At the core of the Administation's ideological struggle is their inability to admit there is no longer a way to solve the problems of the Middle East through war and military means. Everywhere one turns there is mounting evidence that one of the core recommendations of the ISG Report - a massive diplomatic effort to restore political and economic stability to the region - is an essential part of any future strategy, but that of course would mean the Administration would have to acknowledge the limits of the military path.

Lets review the dead-ends we keep hitting: The Saudis again warned that the region was about to descend into a Sunni-Shiite war. The Administation's idea of a "Shiite tilt," would certainly accelerate this regional war, and would of course strengthen the region's Shiites, including Iran and Hezbollah, no friends of America. The Iraqi PM this week announced that a significant increase in American advisors to the Iraqi police and military - an idea central to virtually every American plan for Iraq - was a non-starter. Gruesome killings and bombings continued this week. And things have become so bad that the Pentagon leaked a plan it is hatching to restart government run factories in Iraq to help tackle the 70% unemployment rate...so we have come to the point where our most conservative government in over a century is resorting to a Soviet-inspired public jobs program to bolster their prospects in Iraq.

So what is the one idea that seems to be gaining currency in the White House? More troops. But to do what? Crush the Sunni-led insurgency in the center and north? Disarm the Shiite militias, supported by Iran and a critical part of the current coalition government? Attack the growing Al Qaeda presence in Anbar? While important, it is certainly not a critical step to restoring stability to the country. How can 20,000 additional troops solve the political and economic challenges underlying the current descent of Iraq, and solve the problems we've been unable to solve these past 3 1/2 years?

As the Inspector General of the Iraq Reconstruction said this week: "The solution in Iraq is not primarily a military one. It is primarily an economic and political solution."

Until the Administation comes to terms with this essential reality, there is no way forward, and no way out, of our current terrible troubles in the Middle East. And as the ISG Report made plain, the current path leads to a diminshed America, a regional Sunni-Shite war, a renewed Al Qaeda in the heart of the Middle East and oil soaring to new and dangerous levels.

The Problem is Not Lack of Ideas

The Sunday New York Times magazine ran its 6th annual Year In ideas edition, which is the full magazine devoted to some of the most intriguing ideas to surface in the United States in the last year. Of course, the list is not comprehensive, and rather idiosyncratic. But what it does show each year is how fertile the intellectual terrain is out there in America.

This insight is not inconsequential for politics right now. Some of the frequent laments you hear is that no one in politics knows how to solve all these problems we face, or the Democrats have no agenda, or where are the big ideas? This is more a function of the state of Washington politics rather that the actual dearth of new ideas, or big ideas, or big solutions out there. Ideas and solutions are out there, they just haven’t permeated our political world yet. So the big progressive political ideas are to raise the minimum wage, or save social security – ideas that were innovative in the middle of last century. That’s not to say that we don’t raise the minimum wage, but we need to throw the net wider on possible solutions to the economic challenges of our time.

That’s where the Times edition is refreshing. It is not about  politics, though it  does have some applicable political entries, like “The Myth of the Southern Strategy,” or “The New Inequality.” But it shows how irrepressible American brains are as they try to figure out the 21st century, improve our lives, and reengineer the system to work better over time.

The good news is that the people-powered politics that is emerging is tapping into that same resource for politics. We’re starting to feel the effects too.

Peter Leyden

Winter Edition of the Democracy Journal

Democracy Journal is a new publication, but it is already a heavy-hitter in the progressive ideas business.  Founded by two of NDN's good friends Andrei Cherny and Ken Baer, this quarter's edition includes:

Peter Bergen and Michael Lind taking on the conventional wisdom on what makes someone a terrorist; a similarly iconoclastic piece by Aaron Chatterji and Siona Listokin on the problems with the corporate social responsibility movement; Jeff Faux's critical look at the development of the global economy; Erwin Chemerinsky on the problem with sweeping judicial theories; Kevin Mattson on what we lose when historians disengage from public life; a group of essays on American foreign policy by Joshua Kurlantzick, Gayle Smith, and Suzanne Nossel; and much more.

We'll have more on Democracy Journal later this week, but for now, visit their site to read articles, learn more about the publication and become a subscriber. 

The urgency of Doha

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article this morning about the state of the Doha round of trade talks, which, as you know, have stalled after hitting various roadblocks. Secretary Paulson is doing his part to gain support for the talks, setting some time aside during his globetrotting to stress its importance. As the article points out, time is a factor:

The administration is banking that all the political maneuvering will help inject some momentum back into the talks by the spring. The goal isn't necessarily to finish a deal then, but to show enough progress to persuade skeptics in Congress to extend the president's trade-negotiating authority beyond June, when it is set to expire.

While the new Congress is going to be a bit more skeptical of free trade, Doha appears to still be the focus of many in the administration. During an address to the Chamber of Commerce, Trade Representative Susan Schwab said: "We cannot let a strong, potential Doha deal slip through our fingers." The WSJ goes further, highlighting what's at stake:

Whether the Bush administration is able to restart the Doha talks could serve as a measure of the muscle behind critics of free trade in the U.S. And if the impasse on Doha becomes permanent, it could herald the closing of the era of global economic integration that began after World War II.

As many of you know, NDN addressed these concerns back in September in a memo entitled Rebuilding the National Consensus on Trade.

Barack Obama reaches true rock star status

Sen. Barack Obama visited New Hampshire this past weekend to promote his book, The Audacity of Hope, and to participate in the state Democratic Party's commemoration of the 2006 midterm election. A lot of buzz preceded the visit, including an article comparing the Senator to Bobby Kennedy; and a lot of buzz came during and after the visit, beckoning a joke from NH Governor John Lynch about how Senator Obama was chosen to adress the State Party: "We originally scheduled the Rolling Stones. But then we canceled them when we realized Sen. Obama would sell more tickets."

While many felt the Senator's appearance was simply inspirational and were energized about his appearance, some in the audience admitted that they want to hear more substance from him in days to come. Of course, Sen. Obama recognized the nature of this and responded:

"If I decide to run, these people will know me pretty well," Obama said. "They'll have a good sense of whether I'm qualified to serve or not. . . . One of the values of retail politics is that, by the end of the process, they know where you stand and have a sense of who you are."

Though, in true Obama form, his presence alone is changing the way the folks of New Hampshire approach presidential candidates. At least to Steve Gordon who said: “He will [go into voters' living rooms to answer questions], but he doesn’t have to. He’s not going to have the desperate need to go into people’s homes to pitch himself.”

Welcome to Obama Land.

Note: I'll post Senator Obama's speech (video here) from the event as soon as I have it. Until then, check him out introducing Monday Night Football!

Tony Snow has a blog

Assiduous readers of NDN's blog might have noticed that i'm not posting as much anymore. This is because i've sadly taken myleave of Simon and the gang, and returned to my native United Kingdom. But fans of my poor spelling and curious use of extra vowels should not fear. I still intend to post from time to time, on topics of interest to the ongoing Globalization Initiative, and other things.

Today, i thought people in DC might be interested in this handy Christmas present, from the British online political community to our friends in America. Developed on a whim by some of the people at MySociety.org - the group responsible for turning the UK parliamentary record into a blog - it is a useable blog-style version of Tony Snow's daily briefing.

The White House Says should be pretty useful for anyone who wants to keep up to date with whatever ludicrous excuse for failure the Presidents official spokesman might be putting out today. It also allows you to sign up for e-mail alerts when Snow says anything, or to search for anything he has said - as for instance, this, on the phrase "stay the course." All in all, The Whitehouse Says should be a useful little free tool for DC politicos. Happy Christmas, from your friends across the pond.

Read "The Shia Revival" by Vali Nasr

Few books have taught me than Vali Nasr's new book, The Shia Revival.  It has influenced a great deal of my writing in recent weeks, and is essential reading for those wanting to better understand what is happening in the Middle East today.  From its closing chapter:

It is clear today the America cannot take comfort in an imagined future for the Middle East, and cannot force the realization of that future.  Such an approach guided the path to war in Iraq and has proven to be unworkable.   The lesson of Iraq is that trying to force a future of its liking will hasten the advent of those outcomes that the United States most wishes to avoid.   Through occupation of Iraq, America has actually made the case for radical Islam – that ours is a war on Islam – encouraging anti-Americanism and fueling extremism and terrorism.  The reality that will shape the future of the Middle East is not the debates over democracy or globalization that the Iraq war was supposed to have jump-started but the conflicts between Shias and Sunnis that it precipitated.  In time we will come to see this as a central legacy of the Iraq war.  

You can buy it now on Amazon or at your local book store, and is a very strong complement to the new Iraq Study Group report.  It can be a little dense at times, but it is well worth the effort. 

A Video from the Future on How to Solve Climate Change

People often get stuck when they try to contemplate how we can solve an array of intractable 21st century problems, like climate change. The problems are often very different from the 20th century problems, and the solutions have not yet permeated our politics. However, in fields outside of politics, there are many great emerging ideas about how to solve these problems. I’m going to talk more about these in coming weeks.

For now I want to point out a very interesting video that lays out a positive scenario about how the United States and the world can tackle climate change. It was created by an innovative firm called Free Range, which does great work using animation to help move social and  political issues. In this case, they created a mini documentary from 2050 that looks back on how the world solved this most difficult of problems. It’s a very effective use of how to use scenarios to get people to see alterative ways forward. Plus it’s just an enjoyable and heartening thing to watch. We could do this.

Peter Leyden

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