I sent the following letter to President Bush today:
Dear President Bush,
Today your Administration announced that tomorrow you intend to send to Congress implementing legislation for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Your Administration has not done what is required to pass this important agreement. If you send it tomorrow it will surely fail, undermining a staunch American ally in a troubled region, and weakening nascent bi-partisan efforts to find a new economic strategy that responds to the recession, shores up our financial markets and once again makes globalization work for all Americans.
In the weeks ahead you will surely blame Congress for not passing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. But make no mistake - if this agreement fails the fault will be yours, and the nation will be able to add gross mismanagement of our global trade portfolio and a more unstable Latin America to your already terribly disappointing economic and national security legacy.
I call on you to put our national interest over your political party's interest, work with Congress to find a path forward on this Colombia Free Trade Agreement and introduce it when more work has been done to ensure its passage.
Given the warnings from Congressional leaders that the time was not right to introduce this important agreement, and given the stakes involved for our economy and our hemisphere, there can only be one plausible explanation for why you have chosen this reckless path now - the tens of thousands of votes of Colombian-Americans in South Florida. Out of respect for our close ally Colombia, and in recognition of the significant strides President Uribe has made in recent years, it is simply irresponsible to let this important agreement collapse out of hope for a political advantage in a pivotal Presidential state this fall.
I wish I could discern a more noble motive behind your decision, but given that Congressional leaders have told you the Agreement will fail if introduced, then your present course ensures that you will damage our ability to find a better path forward for our struggling economy and the interests of working people here and abroad; damage future efforts to liberalize global trade; undermine one of our most important allies in Latin America; and weaken our already diminished standing in the region. There can only be one explanation for why you have chosen this course - once again you have chosen your party's interest over the interests of the nation itself.
The people of both the United States of America and the nation of Colombia deserve better.
Statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement:
April 7, 2008
Reid: President's Colombia Free Trade Proposal A Continuation Of Failed Policies
Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today in response to President Bush’s proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement:
“President Bush has made numerous bad decisions during his Administration that have already cost countless American workers their jobs and have done profound harm to U.S. foreign policy – harm that will take years for the next President to undo. By sending up the Colombia FTA legislation under circumstances that maximize the chances it will fail, he will be adding one more mistake to his legacy and one more mess for the next President to clean up.
“There is strong support for Colombia in the U.S. Congress, evidenced by the fact that Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. aid money in the hemisphere. Many in Congress have tremendous respect for the progress that President Uribe has been able to make under difficult circumstances. It is a major mistake, however, to set up the Colombia FTA legislation as the proxy for support for Colombia, as the Bush Administration is trying to do.
“An FTA is not a foreign-aid package. It is neither a favor for friendly governments, nor a substitute for sensible and sustained foreign-policy engagement in the hemisphere. An FTA is an essentially permanent economic integration agreement. Many Democrats continue to have serious concerns about an agreement that creates the highest level of economic integration with a country where workers and their families are routinely murdered and subjected to violence and intimidation for seeking to exercise their most basic economic rights. And the perpetrators of the violence have near total impunity.
“The Government of Colombia has undoubtedly made progress on this front, but the level of violence against trade unionists is still the worst in the world. Further, as Rep. George Miller has said, serious questions need to be addressed about the Government of Colombia’s sustained commitment to this effort. By sending up the FTA before these concerns have been fully addressed, President Bush is significantly undercutting support for the FTA.
“Further, the President’s decision to act unilaterally in sending the FTA disregards three decades of established precedent under fast-track legislation, and demonstrates yet again his lack of respect for Congress. The Colombia FTA will have enough problems purely on its merits; President Bush will exacerbate those problems by sending up the FTA in this manner. And by thumbing his nose at the basic processes that underlie Congress’ willingness to extend fast-track authority to a President, President Bush is dealing a serious blow to U.S. trade policy for years to come.
“If President Bush really believes that successful passage of the Colombia FTA is critical for U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, it is difficult to understand why he would send the FTA up under circumstances of his own creation that maximize the controversy associated with it. While it is understandable that a lame-duck Administration wants to notch accomplishments in its final year in office, I am very concerned that this short-term focus will leave long-term problems for U.S. foreign policy and U.S. trade policy.”
Sam Dillon of the New York Times reported today in his article: "States’ Data Obscure How Few Finish High School" how official graduation rates reported to the Federal government are often grossly inflated or inaccurate. Many educators, administrators and others attribute this as yet another negative effect of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. NCLB does not measure completion rates appropriately and perversely awards school systems that push underperformers to drop out, thus leaving many children behind, the article reports. The Times had an interesting graphic of the discrepancies between the reported and actual graduation rates:
NDN has been advocating that we need to do more to prepare American students for a flatter, more globalized world, including our most recent, modest proposals: A Laptop in Every Backpack and Tapping the Resources of America's Community Colleges but this article reveals a deeper problem with our education system that was being masked by NCLB and will be surprising to some, but perhaps all too familiar to those students and workers who have been left behind.
The NYTimes published an editorial titled "Citizenship, Thwarted" which focuses on the backlog of citizenship applications. The most compelling suggestion is that this delay may be an intentional ploy to prevent Hispanic immigrants from voting in this presidential election. If true, this is a very damaging development for the Bush administration and the Republican Party. It is imperative that Bush address this issue, and resolve this gross negligence by the federal government. This would not be the first case of the Bush administration abusing it's authority for political gain.
Coming up from the morning read of the papers it is hard not to feel more than a little worried about the country these days.
We are five years into Iraq, trillions spent, tens of thousands of casualities, the region is more troubled than before and there is no clear and easy end in sight. Warnings about the impact of climate change are growing more urgent, and scary. Oil and gas prices are breaking all sorts of records, and there is no prospect of these price gains being substantially reversed. Global prosperity is driving up commodity and food prices across the world, making the task of moving struggling societies and people into a better place ever more difficult. Important Olympic athletes announce they are skipping the Beijing Olympics due to the dangerous levels of pollution there. More evidence comes to light each week it seems of systemic and almost unthinkable violations of the civil liberties of Americans in the Bush era. The President reaffirms for all the world to see his committment to rip apart the Geneva Conventions. A new and extraordinary Congressional GOP scandal explodes across Washington. The GOP returns to their failed, and racist, efforts to blame the nation's problems on Hispanic immigrants, and a terrible "enforcement-only" bill stumbles closer to passage in the House. The Administation announces they plan on bringing the Columbia Free Trade Agreement to a vote even though it will not pass, will damage the standing of one of our most important allies in Latin America and set back our efforts to rebuild a bi-partisan consensus on global economic policy. The career of a very promising young governor from New York ends spectacularly. The Republican Presidental candidate seems to have been transported into today's election from a bygone era of American politics. The Democrats can't make up their mind on who their next leader will be, and are not even sure how they are going to make up their mind.
Democrats are finding solace in that the nation's anger about the state of our union is being directed, properly, at the Republicans. From today's Post:
"It's no mystery," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). "You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He's just killed the Republican brand."
As we've been writing for years now the governing failures of the Bush era have been historic, and have done grave damage to the "American brand." Few believe that in this last year in office this failed President, perhaps the worst in US history, has the capacity to lead and meet even simple challenges. But each passing day the ongoing revelations about the weakening of our financial system suggests we could be facing a crisis of historic porportions, one that will require far-sighted and sure-footed leadership from the President, the Administration and from Congress, from Republican and Democrat alike. A front-page article in the Times today raises serious questions about the Federal Reserves effectiveness in managing the growing crisis so far. And an editorial in the Times today about a speech the President gave on Friday should leave all of us very worried about the capacity of this President to even understand - let alone take appropriate action to deal with - our growing economic and financial challenges.
I am taking the unusual step of posting the whole editorial, for given the gravity of our emerging financial crisis, this excellent essay needs to be read and considered in its entirety:
President Bush admitted on Friday that times are tough. So much for the straight talk.
Mr. Bush went on to paint a false picture of the economy. He dismissed virtually every proposal Congress is working on to alleviate the mortgage crisis, sticking to his administration's inadequate ideas. And despite the rush of serious problems - frozen credit markets, millions of impending mortgage defaults, solvency issues at banks, a plunging dollar - he said that a major source of uncertainty today is whether his tax cuts, scheduled to expire in 2010, would be extended.
This was too far afield of reality to be dismissed as simple cheerleading. It points to the pressing need for a coherent plan to steer through what some economists are now predicting could be a severe downturn. Mr. Bush's denial of the economic truth underscores the need for Congress to push forward with solutions to the mortgage crisis - especially bankruptcy reform to help defaulting homeowners. Lawmakers also must prepare to execute, in case it is needed, a government rescue of people whose homes are now worth less than they borrowed to buy them.
Mr. Bush said he was optimistic because the economy's "foundation is solid" as measured by employment, wages, productivity, exports and the federal deficit. He was wrong on every count. On some, he has been wrong for quite a while.
Mr. Bush boasted about 52 consecutive months of job growth during his presidency. What matters is the magnitude of growth, not ticks on a calendar. The economic expansion under Mr. Bush - which it is safe to assume is now over - produced job growth of 4.2 percent. That is the worst performance over a business cycle since the government started keeping track in 1945.
Mr. Bush also talked approvingly of the recent unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. A low rate is good news when it indicates a robust job market. The unemployment rate ticked down last month because hundreds of thousands of people dropped out of the work force altogether. Worse, long-term unemployment, of six months or more, hit 17.5 percent. We'd expect that in the depths of a recession. It is unprecedented at the onset of one.
Mr. Bush was wrong to say wages are rising. On Friday morning, the day he spoke, the government reported that wages failed to outpace inflation in February, for the fifth straight month. Productivity growth has also weakened markedly in the past two years, a harbinger of a lower overall standard of living for Americans.
Exports have surged of late, but largely on the back of a falling dollar. The weaker dollar makes American exports cheaper, but it also pushes up oil prices. Potentially far more serious, a weakening dollar also reduces the Federal Reserve's flexibility to steady the economy.
Finally, Mr. Bush's focus on the size of the federal budget deficit ignores that annual government borrowing comes on top of existing debt. Publicly held federal debt will be up by a stunning 76 percent by the end of his presidency. Paying back the money means less to spend on everything else for a very long time.
The fiscal stimulus passed by Congress, and touted by Mr. Bush on Friday, could juice growth for a quarter or two later this year. But the economy's fundamental weaknesses indicate that Americans are ill-prepared for hard times. That makes the need for clear-eyed policies all the more urgent. We need them from the president, Congress and the contenders for the White House.
Meeting the deep array of daunting challenges the nation faces today will require bold, resolute and visionary leadership from all quarters in the years ahead. My hope is that the President will attempt to do more than prepare for his disgraced retirement in his remaining days in office. And at the very least if he cannot and will not lead, he should do everything he can to get out of the way of those who want to help our great nation clean up the incredible mess he is leaving behind. Democrats may be delighting in the collapse of their opposition but with Congress in their control and the Presidency likely to be in their hands next year, these problems will very soon become theirs to solve.
With so much attention on the election this November, it is perhaps easy to forget the recent 2006 elections and how NDN believes that those elections will mark the End of the Conservative Ascendancy. Over the past few weeks with November 2008 looming ever closer, we've gotten a reminder of the hubris which preceeded the conservative fall in 2006 - that as Simon Rosenberg presciently wrote in September 2005 Absolute Power Corrputs...
We've seen this narrative continue with yet another recent example of the moral bankruptcy of the conservative movement and how corruption has pervaded every corner of their world: the growing scandal involving Christopher Ward. Ward, who until recently was the Treasurer of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and served as treasurer for dozens of Republican political fundraising committees has alledgedly diverted up to $1Million from the NRCC - although a complete forensic audit is not yet completed - and potentially stolen from the other Republican political fundraising committees he oversaw as well.
The Politico's Patrick O'Connor first reported on this on February 20, 2008 and his update today, written with John Bresnahan, is only the most recent chapter in the ongoing collapse from corruption and failure to govern of the conservative ascendancy. What might this foreshadow for Senator John McCain in the fall, a candidate who is proudly running as the heir presumptive to the Bush era? McCain has already signalled that he will walk away from campaign finance reform and abandoned issues like immigration for political expediency... what chapter is next?
NDN released a survey in mid-February documenting trends within the Hispanic electorate. This survey incorporates those results, and adds the results from the most recent presidential primary contests that occurred on March 4th. As with the first survey, the analysis is centered on states where exit polling is available to identify the estimated percentage of Hispanic voters from the general electorate.
The findings of our research confirm trends in the Hispanic community that we saw emerge in 2006 – Hispanics are trending very Democratic and voting in much higher numbers. So far this year, 78% of Hispanics who have voted in Presidential election contests have voted Democratic. In those states where Hispanics are tracked, results have shown a dramatic increase in their share of the overall vote, skyrocketing 67%, from 9% of the overall vote in 2004 to 15% in 2008.
These results are just the latest in a long line of evidence indicating that the anti-immigrant stance of the GOP, first adopted in late 2005, has turned the Hispanic community against Republicans and has encouraged them to vote in unprecedented numbers. The votes in 2008 so far confirm previous studies suggesting that Hispanics are now a very energized and very Democratic community.
These developments pose serious problems for John McCain and his Party in 2008. A recent report by NDN, “Hispanics Rising”, quotes Mathew Dowd, the chief pollster for President Bush, as saying that for Republicans to win the White House they must garner between 38-40% In open ballot contests so far the GOP has received only 22% of the overall Hispanic vote, and McCain has received about half of that vote. Even in Arizona, Senator Obama received more Hispanics votes than Senator McCain.
As Michael Gerson, President Bush’s former chief speechwriter recently wrote:
I have never seen an issue where the short-term interests of Republican presidential candidates in the primaries were more starkly at odds with the long-term interests of the party itself. At least five swing states that Bush carried in 2004 are rich in Hispanic voters -- Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Bush won Nevada by just over 20,000 votes. A substantial shift of Hispanic voters toward the Democrats in these states could make the national political map unwinnable for Republicans ... Some in the party seem pleased. They should be terrified. (Washington Post, 09/19/2007)
Of the Hispanics who have voted in the Presidential primaries and caucuses, 78% have voted for the Democratic candidates, 22% have voted for the Republicans.
The share of the Democratic primary audience in those states with Hispanics populations that is Hispanic has skyrocketed, increasing from 9% of the overall electorate in 2004 to 15% in 2008, a 67% increase.
The number of Hispanics voting in the Democratic primaries more than tripled from 2004 to 2008, passing the 3 million mark.
In the recent Texas Democratic Primary, the electorate was majority minority (54%).
NDN sources confirm that Senator McCain will be meeting with Spanish Language marketing guru Lionel Sosa this week to help his campaign court Latino voters. Lionel Sosa has been credited with successfully helping President Bush garner a significant percentage of the Latino vote in 2000 and 2004. This is a very interesting development on several fronts. One, it notes that McCain understands he is not as popular among Latinos as many assume, and needs to bring in the "big guns" to help him with Latinos. Two, it signals that the battle for Latinos will be very competitive and that Democrats cannot take for granted any gains made among Latinos this cycle. More importantly though, is what this development means to the immigration debate and McCain's ever evolving position on this issue.
Travis posted earlier that Senate Republicans are pushing for the most extreme immigration measures this week. Read the post here. If these measures happen to be scheduled for a vote, it will force McCain to take a stand on the issue. Lionel Sosa, is an ardent opponent of these anti-immigrant proposals, and recently started a new organization, MATT, to help promote a solution to the immigration issue that will provide citizenship to the undocumented immigrants here in the US. MATT plans on funding an aggressive media campaign to encourage support for this philosophy.
I posted earlier, Luring Latinos #4, that McCain has painted himself in a corner. He has betrayed the Latino community by turning his back on them when they needed him most and walking away from the immigration battle. He has acknowledged to conservatives that he needs to change his position on immigration in order to appease them. So the question continues, does McCain grab a hold of the life line that Sosa has provided him to win back Latinos, or does he sacrifice Sosa and embrace the conservatives? Either way, McCain is going to have to pick sides, and I can't wait to find out his decision.
So much excitement and it is only March. I usually only get this excited over March Madness. Stay tuned.
Evan Thomas takes a very in depth look at William Buckley and his legacy in a Newsweek cover story this week.
While Mr. Buckley brought a great deal of charm to our politics, the great conservative experiement he helped launch cannot be considered an historical success. I don't have time today to write about this big subject, but NDN has written a great deal about the monumental failure of modern conservatism, the bulk of which can be found in our Meeting the Conservative Challenge portion of our site. Pete and I took a much longer look at the end of the conservative ascendency in our recent essay, The 50 Year Strategy.
For more on this debate be sure to come to our major forum next Wednesday March 12th, in DC, A Moment of Transformation?
This past Friday, I was fortunate to join John Maggs from the National Journal and Matt Benson from the Arizona Republic to discuss the increased importance of western states in the presidential election on KNPR. The DNC has embarked on an aggressive strategy to compete in western states having selected Nevada as the second state in the nation to hold a presidential caucus this elction cycle and selecting Denver as the site for the national convention. With John McCain, a US Senator from the western state of Arizona, poised to become the nominee for the RNC, it makes the western region much more competitive this election cycle. You can hear the full discussion below:
If the audio player does not work for you, you can hear the interview on the KNPR site by clicking here.
"Older politicians will have to get beyond their ideological blinders to recognize the opportunity waiting for any candidate or political party that can embrace both halves of the Millennial era civic ethos paradox."