NDN Blog

Vali Nasr: so thoughtful

Last Thursday night in New York we hosted a small event for an author who has had a profound impact on my thinking, Vali Nasr. Photos of the event can be found here.

We connected to Vali through my writing about his book here on the blog. Some of you may remember that I commented at the time that this was one of the most influential books I've read in recent years, and has helped me, more than any other thing I've read, understand what is happening in the Middle East today. If you haven't read it, it is called the Shia Revival, and a new paperback edition comes out this month. Buy it.

In person Vali did not disapoint. His knowledge of the region is extraordinary, his insight fresh, his vision I think correct. I felt lucky to have spent 90 minutes listening to him the other night.

In the process of connecting with Vali we also learned that he was a teacher of mine at Tufts when I was an undergraduate. He was too was an undergraduate and taught a course on Islam for other students. It was an excellent class, and he was a very good teacher. Who knew that I would connect with him again all these years later in this way. He is moving to Boston this summer and will be once again be teaching at Tufts, this time at Fletcher, Tufts' International School of Law and Diplomacy. My guess is that it will be tough to get into his classes.

Look for a notice soon about a talk Vali will give to NDN in DC in May. We are still working out details, and will announce it soon.

Another general disses Bush and the neocons

In the debate prior to Bush's decision to "surge," there was a remarkable campaign by our military leaders to pursuade the Administration to head the warnings of the ISG report and invest greater energy in diplomacy and regional politics.   In the Post today, retired Marine Corps General John Sheehan repeats this criticism of the Administration in an op-ed about why he did not take a new position with Bush:

The third strategy takes a larger view of the region and the desired end state. Simply put, where does Iraq fit in a larger regional context? The United States has and will continue to have strategic interests in the greater Middle East well after the Iraq crisis is resolved and, as a matter of national interest, will maintain forces in the region in some form. The Iraq invasion has created a real and existential crisis for nearly all Middle Eastern countries and created divisions among our traditional European allies, making cooperation on other issues more difficult. In the case of Iran, we have allowed Tehran to develop more policy options and tools than it had a few years ago. Iran is an ideological and destabilizing threat to its neighbors and, more important, to U.S. interests.

Of the three strategies in play, the third is the most important but, unfortunately, is the least developed and articulated by this administration.

The day-to-day work of the White House implementation manager overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan would require a great deal of emotional and intellectual energy resolving critical resource issues in a bureaucracy that, to date, has not functioned well. Activities such as the current surge operations should fit into an overall strategic framework. There has to be linkage between short-term operations and strategic objectives that represent long-term U.S. and regional interests, such as assured access to energy resources and support for stable, Western-oriented countries. These interests will require a serious dialogue and partnership with countries that live in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood. We cannot "shorthand" this issue with concepts such as the "democratization of the region" or the constant refrain by a small but powerful group that we are going to "win," even as "victory" is not defined or is frequently redefined.

It would have been a great honor to serve this nation again. But after thoughtful discussions with people both in and outside of this administration, I concluded that the current Washington decision-making process lacks a linkage to a broader view of the region and how the parts fit together strategically. We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan -- and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq. For these reasons, I asked not to be considered for this important White House position. These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff. They need to be addressed before an implementation manager is brought on board.

Hispanics are becoming increasingly secular

The Times has a fascinating piece on the increasing secularization of Hispanics in the U.S.  It starts, of course, with the Hispanic immigrant's passion for soccer:

RICHMOND, Va. — On Sunday afternoons, when the local Roman Catholic church holds Mass for Spanish-speaking Catholics, Edgar Chilín is playing soccer in a league with hundreds of Hispanic players.

“Church is not very popular,” said Francisco Hernandez, a pastor for a Pentecostal congregation in Richmond, Va.

As a child in Guatemala, Mr. Chilín attended Mass every Sunday. But after immigrating to the United States 25 years ago, he and his family lost the churchgoing habit. “We pray to God when we feel the need to,” he said, “but when we come here to America we don’t feel the need.”

A wave of research shows that increasing percentages of Hispanics are abandoning church, suggesting to researchers that along with assimilation comes a measure of secularization.

Several studies show that Hispanics are just as likely as other Americans to identify themselves as having “no religion,” and to not affiliate with a church. Those who describe themselves as secular are, without question, a small minority among Hispanics — as they are among Americans at large. But, in contrast to many of the non-Hispanic Americans who identify themselves as secular, most of the Hispanics say they were once religious.

The Roman Catholic Church, the religious home for most Hispanics, is experiencing the greatest exodus. While many former Catholics join evangelical or Pentecostal churches, the recent research shows that many of them leave church altogether.

“Migrating to the U.S. means you have the freedom to create your own identity,” said Keo Cavalcanti, a sociologist at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and a co-author of a recent study that found a trend toward secularization among Hispanics in Richmond. “When people get here they realize that maintaining that pro forma display of religiosity is not essential to doing well.”

A separate study of 4,000 Hispanics to be released this month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center found that 8 percent of them said they had “no religion” — similar to the 11 percent in the general public. Of the Hispanics who claimed no religion, two-thirds said they had once been religious. Thirty-nine percent of the Hispanics who said they had no religion were former Catholics.

Hispanics from Cuba were the most secular national group, at 14 percent, followed by Central Americans at 12 percent, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans at 9 percent, and South Americans at 8 percent, the Pew poll found. Mexicans in this country were the least likely to say they had no religion, at 7 percent.

A larger survey, called the American Religious Identification Survey, a study of 50,000 adults, including 3,000 Hispanics, found that the percentage of Hispanics who identified themselves as having no religion more than doubled from 1990 to 2001, to 13 percent from 6 percent....

Gonzales steps up the plate, and wiffs

The Attorney General makes his case in the Washington Post today.  Not sure what you think of it, but to me if this is his best shot he is gone.  His argument is comically simplistic.  Read for yourself here.

Nielsen to track video "wherever it goes"

Another sign of how video and television are being transformed:

Television networks like ESPN, CBS and CNN have complained for years that out-of-home viewing was not counted because they are generally paid by advertisers only for the viewers counted by Nielsen. The move by Nielsen is a step in the rating company’s larger plan to measure television viewing everywhere it occurs, whether on televisions, computers and mobile devices.

“Nielsen has a mandate to follow the video wherever it goes,” said Sara Erichson, executive vice president for client services at Nielsen Media Research North American, a unit of the Nielsen Company. “A lot of where video is going is outside the home.”

The ratings will be calculated using cellphone tracking devices that recognize programs by sounds. The cellphone will be provided free to 4,700 participants, who will be paid a small fee each month. The participants pay their own cellphone bills. Integrated Media Measurement has recruited 3,000 people who are in six cities — New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Denver and Houston — and Nielsen will recruit 1,700 others, aiming for them to be demographically representative...

Op-ed on "The Democratic Opportunity"

The Politico asked me to write an essay on what advice I would give to the Democratic Presidential candidates.  It is running today and is below.   Would love your thoughts. 

The Democratic Opportunity

Simon Rosenberg
April 11, 2007 05:28 PM EST

As we look to 2008, it is clear the two parties face a vastly different political landscape than anything we’ve seen in recent years. For the first time in a generation, the Republicans are in retreat, their brand damaged and ideology discredited. The Democrats won a resounding national victory in 2006 and according to a recent Pew Center poll, have opened up an extraordinary 15 percentage point advantage in party identification.

It is now reasonable to speculate that if Democrats win the presidency in 2008 it could be the beginning of a sustained period of Democratic control of government, akin to their run in the middle of the past century. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, is looking more like a 21st century version of Herbert Hoover each day.

Thus the stakes in 2008 are very high. It is not just about the control of the White House, but whether Democrats can take advantage of a profound mishandling of government by the Republicans, and build the foundation for a 21st century majority as strong as it had in the 20th.  
To do so, Democrats will have to apply their values to a new set of realities that are making the new politics of this new century different from the one just past; requiring us to offer a new agenda that meets the challenges of our time, master the new technology and media that is changing the way we all communicate, and speak to and engage the new American population of this new century, one very different from Americas of previous generations. 

A New Governing Agenda That Tackles The Emerging Challenges Of Our Time
When in power during the 20th Century, Democrats succeeded by tackling the great challenges of that time. Abroad, we defeated fascism, were instrumental in the triumph over communist totalitarianism, and constructed an international system based on FDR’s vision of a United Nations, bringing unprecedented liberty and prosperity to the people of the world. At home, we rescued America from its greatest economic crisis, the Depression. We further created Social Security and Medicare, and spearheaded the civil rights, consumer, labor, women’s and environmental movements that have helped make America not just great, but good. And, when we last held presidential power in the 1990s, progressives oversaw the greatest economic expansion in our history. It is a record to be proud of.

In the years ahead, our leaders will face a new set of tough 21st century governing challenges. We must keep the world peaceful and our country safe, restore broad-based prosperity in a much more competitive age of globalization, invest in infrastructure and people to ensure future prosperity, address global climate change and move toward greater energy independence, modernize our health care system while guaranteeing that all Americans have access to health insurance, manage the retirement of the baby boom, get our federal budget under control, and reform our broken immigration system. These are no small set of challenges.

For Democrats, success in 2008 will require offering real solutions to these great challenges, something the current governing party has utterly failed to do.

A New Post-Broadcast Media And Communications Era
As FDR mastered early broadcast radio and JFK excelled on the new technology of his time, television, future success will depend on the mastery of an emergent post-broadcast communications environment. We are in the very early stages of a whole new era of political communications, which is more personal, iterative, participatory, mobile, fragmented, digital, networked – and whose rate of change is accelerating.

In 2003, we saw how an unknown candidate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, used these new 21st century tools to leapfrog his competition among rival Democratic presidential candidates. In 2004, we saw the DNC use them to raise more money than the RNC for the first time in recent memory. And in 2006, we saw the early power of viral video help take down GOP Sen. George Allen in Virginia, giving Democrats control of the Senate.

The rise of the broadband internet, cable and satellite television, mobile telephony and media and their increasing use is radically changing the way the American people connect and communicate with one another.  In response, we must radically alter our approach to media and political communications. For Democrats, success in 2008 will require replacing the 20th century model of political communications, with a new spirit of experimentation, and a new set of political tools.

The American People Themselves Have Changed
Since FDR built the Democratic Party’s last great majority electoral coalition, the American people have changed a great deal. In recent decades America has become increasingly suburban and exurban, Southern and Western, Hispanic and Asian, immigrant and Spanish-speaking, aging Boomer and Millennial, and more digital age in our orientation towards life and work than industrial age.  We live in literally what is a new America.

These new demographic realities have created a new 21st electoral majority strategy for Democrats, one that was used to win the Senate and House in 2006, and that has now produced 42 states with either a Democratic senator or governor. This new map starts with Democratic strengths in the Northeast, Midwest and Coastal West, and seeks to consolidate opportunities in the Inter-mountain West, the Southwest, the Plains and the South.

Democrats start the hunt for the presidency with much more strength at the Electoral College level than is widely understood; having what could be considered perhaps a high floor but low ceiling. The party has received 250 Electoral College votes or more in the last four national elections, a feat last accomplished in the FDR era.

While Ohio alone may give the Democrats the presidency in 2008, a great new Hispanic opening has emerged with what may be a permanent degradation of the Republican brand resulting from the terrible immigration debate in 2006. Exploiting this opening could flip Arizona, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Nevada, and give the Democrats another 56 electoral votes. What is remarkable is that this new Electoral College strategy is essentially the same way Democrats won the Senate and House, creating for this old party a very new, achievable and durable way of holding power in this new century.

What’s Next
So how are Democrats doing so far in mastering this new politics of the 21st century? Well, after years of failed conservative government, Democrats have put big issues – restoring broad-based prosperity, fixing Iraq, health care for all, reforming immigration, global climate change and energy independence – on the agenda. Our presidential candidates have already embraced powerful new tools like viral video and social networking, and are using these and other new tools to involve already close to a million people – an extraordinary number – in their campaigns.  Our party’s emerging leaders – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, DNC Chairman Dean – look like 21st century America, and hail from the region’s critical to locking in this 21st century electoral majority.

Our new primary calendar includes states from the fastest growing regions of the country, the South and West, which will allow African-Americans and Hispanics to participate in our primary process as never before. Our 2008 convention is in Denver, at the epicenter of the most important new strategic opening in this election, the Southwest, and will be chaired in part by the compelling Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, a member of a new generation of Hispanic leaders.

There is much at stake in 2008. Only one political party, the Democrats, built a sustained majority coalition in the 20th century. The historic failures of the Bush era have made it possible for Democrats to imagine replicating this success in our new century. And while a great deal of attention will go into winning the 2008 elections, it is critical for us to also be looking ahead at a much more strategic level, and recognize that by mastering this new politics of the new century we may be taking the critical early steps in building a majority coalition as robust and durable as the one FDR built more than 70 years ago. 

Simon Rosenberg is the President of NDN, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization.

Times weighs in on immigration

The NYTimes offers a smart look at the immigration debate today with an editorial, Bush On the Border:

President Bush went to the Mexico border in Arizona on Monday and showed once again that immigration is an issue he understands. He said America suffers from a system that exploits people who come to do jobs that citizens won’t do. He said the country needed “a practical answer” that promotes an orderly flow of legal immigrants, eases pressure at the border and opens a path to citizenship for the hidden 12 million who keep our economy humming. And he urged Congress to find that answer through a “serious, civil and conclusive debate.”

It was good that Mr. Bush made these points, as he periodically does. But there was a dissonance in his speech, because it came only two weeks after he and a group of Senate Republicans circulated a list of “first principles” about immigration that amounted to a huge step backward for efforts to fix a broken system in a reasonable, humane way.

It proposed new conditions on immigrant labor so punitive and extreme that they amounted to a radical rethinking of immigration — not as an expression of the nation’s ideals and an integral source of its vitality and character, but as a strictly contractual phenomenon designed to extract cheap labor from an unwelcome underclass.

New immigrant workers and those already here would all be treated as itinerant laborers. They could renew their visas, but only by paying extortionate fees and fines. There would be a path to legal status, but one so costly and long that it is essentially a mirage: by some estimates, a family of five could pay more than $64,000 and wait up to 25 years before any member could even apply for a green card. Other families would be torn apart; new workers and those who legalize themselves would have no right to sponsor relatives to join them.

In a country that views immigrants as its lifeblood and cherishes the unity of families, the Republican talking points were remarkable for their chill of nativism and exploitation. They were also unrealistic. The hurdles would create huge impediments to hiring and keeping a stable work force, while pushing the illegal economy deeper underground.

The thrust of Mr. Bush’s speech leaves little room for a vision as crabbed and inhumane as the one he and his party have circulated. It’s hard to tell whether his plainspoken eloquence in Yuma was meant to distance himself from those earlier and benighted talking points, or whether he has simply been talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Mr. Bush should clear up the confusion. He should reaffirm the importance of family-based immigration and of an achievable path to citizenship for those willing, as he put it, “to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.”

Clarity and forcefulness from Mr. Bush are important because the prospects for a good immigration bill this year are so uncertain. The Senate plans to take up the issue next month, but there is no bill yet, and the talking-points memo shows the debate drifting to the hard right. Edward Kennedy, the Senate’s most stalwart advocate of comprehensive reform, has been left in the lurch as the Republican presidential hopefuls John McCain and Sam Brownback have run away from sensible positions to court hard-line voters. A decent bipartisan House bill, sponsored by Representatives Jeff Flake and Luis Gutierrez, may not get the hearing it deserves.

Mr. Bush made a strong case for comprehensive reform on Monday. He should keep it up — publicly and forthrightly, as he did this week, and forget about backroom negotiations that produce harsh political manifestoes to appease hard-liners.

The re-invention of progressive politics

There is so much energy and passion on the progressive side of politics these days.   I think this period will be seen as a time of dramatic reinvention of the progressive movement.  A time when entrepreneurs, bloggers, regular old people and elected leaders re-imagined what progressive politics could become, and went out and made it happen.  It is as if a whole industry is being born right in front of our eyes.   

Consider for a moment that our largest think tank, CAP, our most influential advocacy organzation, MoveOn, our most influential and widely read blog, DailyKos and our most exciting new candidate, Barack Obama all are very new to the scene.  And in each case these new players are not just influential but are reinventing the very form and space in which they are operating, making them all very 21st century versions of what had come before.   

And the list keeps going.  Huffington Post.  Media Matters.  America Votes.  Air America. Dozens of other blogs.  Brave New Films.  PoliticsTV.  Drinking Liberally.  Democracy Journal.  The Blue Fund...

Remarkably, it feels as if this pace of innovation, the velocity if you will, is accelerating.  Look at MoveOn's Presidential TownHall.  The way the Presidentials are using internet videos, the explosion of politics on social networking sites and YouTube.  Hillary's innovative Hillcasts. That the Democratic Presidential candidates outraised their Republican opponents by 50% - 50%!!!!! - in the first quarter.  The way all the states are moving up their primaries.  All of this is being driven by this incredible rise of energy and passion in our politics right now.  People see this as a consequential time, a time to stand and be counted.  They want to get in the game - give, blog or read a blog, sign up on Facebook, watch a video on YouTube, volunteer locally, vote. 

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this new era of passion on our side is what is happening with Barack Obama's campaign.  It took Howard Dean, using the new tools of his day, 6 months to sign up 160,000 people on his web site.   Obama had 100,000 donate to his campaign in just ten weeks, and perhaps as many as another 500,000 people sign up on various social networking sites.  It is reasonable to assume that by the end of the 2nd quarter he will have a million people in his network, and perhaps 2-3 million by year's end.   Having this many people participating in a political campaign requires a re-imagining of what a political campaign is.  These folks are looking for assignments.  They aren't content with sitting on the sidelines.  How do you run a campaign every day where you have millions of people on your team and not just 200 people in a headquarters?

We are about to find out. 

As we are living in the moment it may be hard to see the transformation that is happening all around us.  But there should be no question any longer that progressives are undergoing a period of dramatic and powerful reinvention, one fueled by the new politics of the early 21st century, but more than anything else one fueled by this powerful sense in the American people that this is a time to stand up and be counted, a time to fight for the country we love and the values we hold dear.  I for one am happy to have so many people joining this battle to create an America of the 21st century as great, and good, as the America of the 20th. 

MoveOn and more on how the internet is changing politics

Tonight MoveOn attempts a rather remarkable thing - a virtual townhall meeting with the Democratic Presidential candidates.   You can participate or learn more at www.moveon.org.

Additionally, the Boston Globe's Rick Klein has a must read piece on the meaning of the Democratic Presidential candidates huge 1st quarter fundraising advantage. It starts:

WASHINGTON -- Democrats appear to have erased the decades-long Republican edge in campaign fund-raising, building a network of well-off donors that rivals that of the GOP -- and that recently has generated more cash.

In dwarfing the sums raised by Republicans in the first three months of this year, Democratic presidential candidates capitalized on growing support from upper-income professionals. While higher-earning households overwhelmingly favored Republicans as recently as the start of President Bush's first term, the gap has narrowed to 4 percentage points among voters with annual household incomes of more than $100,000, according to the Pew Research Center's latest polls.

Democrats' recent fund-raising success challenges the traditional assumption of the Republican Party enjoying a reliable financial advantage -- and points to the outlines of a new Democratic coalition that could change the nation's political dynamics in 2008 and beyond, according to campaign finance specialists.

"It's a whole new world," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who was a top adviser to Vice President Al Gore, who was out spent by more than $65 million by Bush in the 2000 election. "To call it revolutionary is not a stretch. It is a game-changer."

The shift leaves Democrats confident that for the foreseeable future they will be able to compete dollar-for-dollar with Republicans, after decades of expecting to be outspent. By reaching a new crop of contributors -- largely through the Internet -- Democrats have tapped into a potentially powerful army of higher-income and better-educated voters who are increasingly aligning themselves with Democratic values, according to polls and demographic data.

As recently as 2002, 45 percent of voters with annual household incomes of more than $100,000 identified themselves as Republicans, while just 28 percent said they were Democrats, Pew polls found. But Pew's 2007 polling shows that gap closing to a 33-29 GOP advantage, with most former Republicans now calling themselves independents.

Just as working-class voters have been drawn to the GOP because of the party's emphasis on traditional values, many higher-income, higher-educated voters who once favored Republicans over tax policy have been moving toward the Democrats because of more liberal stands on social issues and a more internationalist perspective on foreign policy.

Those trends powered voting shifts toward Democrats in the suburbs in last year's congressional elections, where widespread dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the Bush administration gave Democrats control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years.

"We're going through a period of transformational change," said Alan Solomont , a veteran Boston-based Democratic fund-raiser who is working on the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. "Business folks -- not ideologues, but entrepreneurs, new economy workers, venture capitalists -- are [looking at Republicans and] saying, 'This is not how I want my government represented around the world.' "

Throughout recent history, Republicans have been able to count on greater financial resources than Democrats, with an immense fund-raising operation that relied on big business and wealthy individual backers. Many observers predicted that the gap would grow wider in the wake of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform act, since Democrats had long relied on labor unions' unlimited "soft money" donations, which the 2002 law banned.

But Democrat John F. Kerry surpassed fund-raising expectations in his 2004 presidential campaign, bringing in $253.9 million, just $38 million less than President Bush, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Democrats built on that trend in last year's mid-term congressional elections, with the party's House and Senate campaign committees pulling to within $7 million of their Republican counterparts.

In the first three months of this year, Democratic presidential candidates blew past Republicans, raising a total of $78 million compared to only $52 million for Republicans. Two Democrats -- Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York -- surpassed $25 million apiece; the leading Republican fund-raiser -- former governor Mitt Romney -- hauled in $23 million.

"Clearly we've had more success with people who named themselves independents and moderate Republicans," said Hassan Nemazee , a New York-based fund-raiser for Clinton and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We're able to pick into areas where we haven't been able to in the past."

On one level, the tremendous amount of cash flowing to Democrats is a measure of Democratic excitement about 2008. Energy translates into campaign dollars, particularly with online tools making political donations the equivalent of civic activism.

While much credit is given to the Democrats' extensive efforts to use the Internet to raise money, no fund-raising tool can be effective unless potential donors have the resources to give to a party or cause. There, Democrats are encountering a political landscape that is vastly different than it was just two years ago, when some conservatives boasted of building a permanent Republican majority in the United States...

NDN Press Release: Statement on Presidential Campaign Fundraising

I released the following statement to the media earlier today:

"Today’s announcement by Barack Obama that he has raised $25 million shows that Democrats are clearly ahead of Republicans in adapting to the new opportunities and realities of 21st century American politics. 

It appears that the collective Democratic field has raised about 50 percent more than the collective Republican field.  When the official FEC filings come out next week, there is little doubt that Democrats will far exceed Republicans in the number of people who have donated as well.

No matter how you measure it - money raised, sign-ups on social networking sites, people at events, downloads on YouTube and of course as the recent Pew poll showed, party identification - Democrats are structurally ahead of the Republicans in mastering the new politics of the 21st century. 

The 100 dollar revolution that started in 2003 continues to radically change American politics.  A combination of more states voting earlier in the primary process and an acceleration of the adoption of new tools that are making it easier for people to participate in politics will mean that by late February of 2008, tens of millions of Americans will have voted, donated, volunteered, blogged, signed up or taken some sort of action on behalf of a candidate. 

There also should be little doubt that effectively managing and tapping into the new prominence of average people in our 21st century politics is going to be one of the most critical tests of our political leaders.  

Another measure of how Democrats are better adapting to the new realities of the 21st century is the historic diversity of the Democratic Presidential field: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden look like the diverse America of the 21st century."

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