National Security

Building the Electron Superhighway

New York City - Should the federal government build or incent others to build a new electron superhighway? In other words, a backbone for a 21st century electrical grid?  At NDN's recent event on clean infrastructure, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee asked precisely that question and it's one more and more energy leaders are asking.  

Our current grid, as former CIA Director Jim Woolsey has noted, resembles nothing so much as the road system before interstates were built. Had President Eisenhower not built the interstate system after observing the autobahns in Germany and fretting over the difficulty of moving an army from one end of America to the other, our roads would be a network of streets, shopping boulevards and country roads, slowed by trucks as well as tolls.  There would be no easy way to travel between one large city and another and trade and distribution of goods would be drastically hampered.  

This is precisely the situation we have today in the world of electricity, where mid-20th century wires are now tasked with carrying 21st century loads and tolls are collected by dozens of utilities along the way. As a result, instead of a national market in electricity, we have a balkanized patchwork of local fiefdoms each with vastly different prices. Electricity producers face obstacles in moving their electrons to market -- hardly an ideal solution.

How would an electron superhighway work? One proposal by the Energy Department would build major high voltage (765KV) trunk lines traveling East to West and North to South, particularly in the underserved center of the country. Like Interstates 10, 40, 80 and 90 which link the East and West and Interstates 5, 55 and 95 (as well as those in between) which link the North and South, these large roads would facilitate long distance movement of power.  Relieved of this burden, utilities could focus their resources on localized distribution. While the proposal might cost $60 billion to $100 billion (a weekend's worth of bailout money), the long-term benefits would be tremendous. In fact, the proposal could be financed through a miniscule tax of less than a penny on the average monthly utility bill.

A particularly interesting approach to building an electron superhighway would be to run the cables underground. No one wants a high voltage transmission line running anywhere near their home, leading to complex obstacles to siting new lines. Additionally, underground lines are far more expensive than overhead ones and it is harder to identify problems when they occur. However, new superconducting wire (eliminating almost all the resistance in a wire by cooling it down using liquid nitrogen) that can be laid in a three-foot trench and is already being implemented in Long Island could be run underneath bike paths, along roads and in other unobtrusive places. While this technology, proven in pilot projects and now being tested at scale is new, it could revolutionize long-distance power transmission.

The interstate highway system is not the only model for moving goods. The Internet backbone, though jumpstarted by federal investment, is run privately for profit. Similarly, private companies own the long distance natural gas pipes. And private companies own the railroads.  

Of these, the Internet system is probably least illustrative because it remains unregulated.  Natural gas is produced at a comparatively limited number of points, simplifying its long distance transportation requirements.  America's rail system, a relic of the 19th century, is probably not a model for a ubiquitous electricity network.

It may be that federal ownership is not necessary. However, a national tax on electricity would certainly be easier to implement than hundreds of individual rate cases -- the traditional method for funding investment. Important obstacles to greater federal involvement in electricity remain, however, in the form of state regulators and some utilities that have traditionally opposed a larger federal role.

As America confronts its 21st century challenges, in particular, developing a grid that can facilitate a national electricity market and also accommodate decentralized generation of renewable power, the idea of an electron superhighway merits serious attention. At a very minimum, work should accelerate on how to implement an electricity backbone. As FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff, quoting Albert Einstein, remarked at NDN's clean infrastructure event, "physics is easy, politics is hard."

Weekly Update on Immigration: As the Economy Dives, DHS Targets the "Engine of Our Economy"

I. Immigrants continue to head south, Prop. 202 in Arizona remains under scrutiny, and here's an interesting op-ed by Jorge Castañeda linking trade, the economy, and immigration.

II. Fear and loathing continues at McCain rallies.

III. What Constitution? Charlie Savage and the New York Times report (surprise, surprise) the Bush administration has informed Congress that it is bypassing a law intended to forbid political interference with reports to lawmakers by the Department of Homeland Security. The August 2007 law requires that the reports on activities that affect privacy be submitted directly to Congress "without any prior comment or amendment" by superiors at the department or the White House.

IV. DHS Can't Sit Still: Not happy with the results of their brilliant "Deport Yourself" initiative or the outrage caused by USCIS detainee conditions and the mistaken detention of U.S. citizens during ICE raids, on October 23, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a final administrative rule that sets new procedures for employers who receive "no-match" letters from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Each year, SSA sends businesses ''no-match'' letters with the names of workers whose Social Security number on W-2 forms don't match SSA records. The DHS rule would require employers to correct the discrepancy or fire the worker within 90 days. Failure to comply could bring prosecution and heavy fines.

Setting aside the flawed policy behind this rule for a moment, could Secretary Chertoff have picked a worse time to issue this rule? Definitely not. This rule, made public 11 days before a Presidential election during which minorities and naturalized citizens have the power to swing numerous battleground states, and during which the incumbent Administration's candidate is far behind in the polls, could be interpreted by Hispanics (native and foreign-born) and immigrants of all races and ethnicities as another expression of the Republican party's anti-immigrant stance. Additionally, this "enforcement-only" approach places greater financial and legal burdens on employers, while simultaneously putting workers at risk of losing their jobs during a time of severe economic crisis - the federal government is spending hundreds of billions of dollars trying to rescue the nation's banking, credit and housing markets, yet Secretary Chertoff is pushing ahead with a potentially job-crippling program that, at the end of the day, is ineffective in curtailing undocumented immigration.

Luckily, a court injunction will remain in place against the rule until the Court issues its final decision. The next hearing in this litigation is set for November 21, 2008 to set a schedule to present arguments, so this case won't be resolved anytime soon. Accordingly, SSA will not send any no-match letters to employers until the matter is resolved. Therefore, notify the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the AFL-CIO, or the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) if you know of any employer trying to implement this rule.

This final rule is basically unchanged from its original version, issued in August 2007, despite a court ruling in June of this year that: a) Questioned whether DHS had a reasoned analysis to change its position in regards to employer liability, b) Found DHS had exceeded its authority by interpreting anti-discrimination provisions in immigration law (IRCA), and c) Violated the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) by not conducting the analysis of the rule's impact, as required by law (doh!, that pesky analysis thing).

This rule is misguided, too costly, and ineffective:
1. Originally
SSA no-match letters were an attempt by SSA to correct discrepancies in their records that can prevent workers from getting credit for their earnings. These letters were never intended to be used as an immigration enforcement tool--no-match letters are not evidence of an immigration violation. As stated in a judicial opinion, no-match "does not automatically mean that an employee is undocumented or lacks proper work authorization. In fact, the SSA tells employers that the information it provides them ‘does not make any statement about . . . immigration status.'"

2. The implementation of this rule is far from a solution - it will only increase unemployment at a time of severe economic crisis.
a. According to DHS, it would cost $36,624 a year for the largest small businesses to comply, not including the costs of termination and replacement of workers. It could have a staggering impact on businesses caught between the financial and legal liability they would face if they fail to comply, and the financial and legal liability they would face for wrongly firing a worker whose name was listed in error. If implemented, the rule also could have a chilling effect on millions of immigrant workers in construction, agriculture and service industries at a time when the U.S. economy can ill afford it. Many businesses, too, fearing government prosecution will decide to dismiss or not hire workers that they suspect may have an immigration problem.

b. An economic analysis by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that under the new rule, 165,000 lawful U.S. workers could lose their jobs, at a cost to employers of approximately $1 billion per year. In her testimony before the Immigration Subcommittee, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords discussed the effects of mandatory use of E-verify at the state level in Arizona, and reported that between October 2006 and March 2007, 3,000 foreign-born U.S. citizens were initially flagged as not authorized to work.

c. Under a mandatory E-Verify program, USCIS has estimated that annual employer queries of newly hired employees would be an average of 63 million. A GAO study from June 2008 found that about 7% of the queries initially appear as a "no-match" to SSA, and about 1 percent cannot be immediately confirmed as work authorized by USCIS, and:

The majority of SSA erroneous tentative nonconfirmations occur because employees' citizenship or other information, such as name changes, is not up to date in the SSA database, generally because individuals do not request that SSA make these updates.

Taking the modest estimate of 63 million queries per year, at the 7% initial error rate found by GAO, that translates to 4.41 million potential no-matches, i.e. persons who could be pushed to unemployment, again, at a time when the national unemployment rate is above 6%. If we extrapolate 7% unconfirmed queries to the existing civilian workforce - over 154 million people - the number jumps to 10.7 million people in danger of losing their jobs.

3. Mandatory e-verify would require an increase in capacity at USCIS and SSA to accommodate the estimated 7.4 million employers in the U.S. The GAO study found that e-verify would cost a total of about $765 million for fiscal years 2009 through 2012 if only newly hired employees are queried through the program and about $838 million over the same 4-year period if both newly hired and current employees are queried.

A study performed by Dr. Richard Belzer, former official of Office of Management and Budget, concluded that this program would cause an estimated increase of 610,000-2.7 million visits per year to SSA. He also pointed out that DHS made no estimate of the authorized worker unemployment that would result from erroneous no-match letters.

4. The rule is ineffective because it ignores unintended consequences:
a. Instead of discouraging undocumented immigration, the rule will only increase identity theft by making it more valuable for unauthorized workers to have genuine social security numbers.
b. The rule will have to be followed by more rounds of rulemaking, for example, how to deal with duplicate instances of SSA numbers, in addition to "no-match."
c. The rule will shift unauthorized workers into independent contracting and the "underground" economy, which will only risk pushing wages down during a time of economic crisis.

5. E-Verify is vulnerable to acts of employer fraud and misuse. GAO found:

- The current E-Verify program cannot help employers detect forms of identity fraud, such as cases in which an individual presents genuine documents that are borrowed or stolen.
- As USCIS works to address fraud through data sharing with other agencies, privacy issues may pose a challenge. In its 2007 evaluation of E-Verify, Westat reported that some employers joining the Web Basic Pilot were not appropriately handling their employees' personal information...and anyone wanting access to the system could pose as an employer and obtain access by signing a MOU with the E-Verify program.
- Westat reported that some employers used E-Verify to screen job applicants before they were hired, an activity that is prohibited. Additionally, some employers took prohibited adverse actions against employees-such as restricting work assignments, reducing pay, or requiring employees to work longer hours or in poor conditions-while they were contesting tentative nonconfirmations.

We've tried the enforcement-only approach for decades, and it has not curtailed undocumented immigration. Rep. Zoe Lofgren said it best during our latest forum on Immigration, as DHS has focused its resources on raids, there's been a 38% decline in prosecution of organized crime at the border, so "we've ended up with an expensive, stupid system that has not solved" the issue of a broken immigration system.

A verification program without comprehensive reform is ineffective. NDN has long advocated for the importance of matching legal immigration visas with the economic need for immigrants as a way to curtail undocumented immigration. Only by moving immigrant workers through legal channels, providing immigrants already here with an earned path to citizenship, reducing the backlog in family visas, and developing a sensible system for future flow will immigration will become manageable, and enforcement at the border and at the workplace will become more effective.

Even the Chief of the Border Patrol, David Aguilar agrees, "We cannot protect against the entry of terrorists and the instruments of terror without also reducing the clutter....To most effectively secure our border, we must reform our immigration system to relieve this pressure. We need comprehensive immigration reform."

Weekly Update: The Economy and Immigration Reform

Given the current state of the U.S. economy, it surprises me that not more is said about immigration on all the major news networks. I see a silver lining during this economic crisis for immigration reform, thinking back to a story in the CQ by Karoun Demirjian, "Immigration: The Jobs Factor." While some might feel that opposition to comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) might become more intense during an economic crisis, there is reason to believe that opposition could actually lose momentum. Politically, the economic crisis might actually provide some cover for CIR negotiations, and Members of Congress might have more leeway to discuss the issue thanks to the focus on the economy.

Additionally, immigration has been an issue of top concern among Hispanics. What I hear from many Hispanic voters who call in to Spanish language radio or tv shows and in my community is that they are skeptical as to whether either candidate will deliver on CIR. Unlike McCain, who has abandoned the Hispanic community on immigration, Obama has been able to make it clear to Hispanics that he is committed to passing CIR, which has largely led to his over 30 point lead among this demographic. However, were he to win this election, I think he would just as easily lose this demographic if he did not deliver on this promise. It's also important to remember that members of Congress up for reelection in 2010 have much more to lose by putting off immigration reform. Polling indicates that voters place the blame of the broken immigration system on Congress by an overwhelming majority. Therefore, taking on the issue would change the perception of a do-nothing Congress.

Tthe mantra that emerged out of the failure of last summer's congressional immigration plan - "secure the borders first" - is losing its momentum. With the current economic crisis leading to the number of undocumented immigrants declining, it's becoming clear that the "magnet" of undocumented immigration is being eliminated. Which gives those of us for CIR an opening to discuss, what comes next?

The next President will have to recognize the challenges ahead:

1) Building a large enough coalition in Congress.
Even with the expected Democratic gains in both chambers, he will have to work with Members from the anti-immigrant House Immigration Reform Caucus, which backs enforcement-only, as well as with Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the "Blue Dog" Caucus.

2) Growing administrative challenges. As stated by Marshall Fitz, Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, "It's not clear how much change Sen. McCain could make within DHS, because certainly he would be in a very politically compromised position, given where his party is on these issues." But that's not to say Sen. Obama will have complete flexibility in regards to halting or limiting enforcement measures.

3) The next White House will inherit a badly overburdened immigration court system.

4) Reform costs money. At a time when federal revenue will be contracting on a significant scale. That makes it, in turn, all the more incumbent on either McCain or Obama to forge a renewed political consensus behind such a plan.

Given the candidates' current proposals on immigration, only Sen. Barack Obama would be able to utilize the economic and policy landscape to build new coalitions in Congress and improve the White House Executive management of immigration policies. Sen.McCain has proven that he is unwilling to act in ways contrary to his party, which remains vocally anti-immigrant. So what could a new president do? - He should be proactive, not reactive on this issue:

1) The slowing economy helps prove that the it's not "enforcement only" that has led to a decrease in illegal immigration, "it's the economy stupid!", thus relieving some pressure from this explosive issue, which allows CIR proponents to argue that now is the time to act to take control of the system - before the situation becomes more critical.

2) Develop an economic narrative, and revive the strong coalition of business, community, religious, and academic groups to advocate in Congress. As noted in the piece, businesses have suffered under the "enforcement only" strategy:

As small-business credit seizes up and unemployment increases, going after businesses providing not playing well among most constituencies, apart from hard-line immigration opponents. Indeed, lobbyists and managers in other potentially vulnerable companies - such as high-tech concerns and seasonal industries - are already contending that they need access to specialized non-U.S. workers now more than ever.

I would add that under the current administration it's the unscrupulous employers who have been provided "amnesty". Passage of CIR under a new administration would call for interior enforcement as well as border enforcement, while at the same time providing adequate protection to workers and families. Not just immigrant workers would benefit from wage and labor safeguards under CIR - all businesses and workers would benefit.

Others argue that the undocumented drive wages down - the next president should make those individuals understand that by bringing the undocumented out of the shadows we will push wages up, and by making sure they become full-fledged members of our society and economy at a time of economic downturn, we will add revenue to our tax base and to our communities. As illegal aliens become documented, they will earn more and spend more.

We found an interesting piece of information during NDN's latest poll on immigration: There is a positive view of immigrants among the general population, which is conducive to passing immigration reform - 68-69 percent of voters in four battleground states believe that illegal immigrants come to this country to "get a job and a better life", as opposed to the 10-12 percent who believe they come to "take advantage" of our public programs, and 60 percent believe that immigrants take "jobs no one else wants" as opposed to "taking American jobs." And yet, when they are asked whether undocumented immigrants help or hurt the economy, 40-47 percent believe they "hurt the economy by driving wages down." In Nevada, where immigrants comprise a significant percentage of major sectors like construction and services, 47 percent of those polled believe they hurt the economy, while 39 believe they help.

However, Hispanics "get" the economic argument. Among Hispanic voters polled in Nevada for example, 64 percent believe illegal immigrants help the economy, while only 22 percent think that they push wages down.

During such a dramatic economic downturn, CIR will help improve the rights and wages of all workers. Legalization of the undocumented will push wages up and to add to our tax base and it will help businesses by providing a more secure labor force and larger consumer base, which provides common ground with which to join different Congressional and other factions on the side of CIR.

3) Look to the future. Immigration reform would require funding; the next President will have to make Congress and the American people understand that this is an investment in the country's future. While the decrease in illegal immigration might make reform seem less urgent, there is an urgency to reform our broken immigration system, including the visa and temporary worker systems, and deal with future flow. The next president needs to make this clear at a time of economic crisis:

"People see those visas, incorrectly, as enabling immigrant workers to compete with American workers. We'd like to see an administration move forward. Congress is always reactive, instead of looking down the pike, and looking at the demographics of our country. When the economy comes back, we're going to need these workers even more."

4) Modify and deal with backlogs and enforcement measures through executive branch appointments and administrative rulings. The next president will have this ability, which is another reason why there is so much at stake for immigration reform in this election.

5) Work with other countries. As stated in the Democratic Party Platform on immigration, it will be necessary for the next president to work with immigrant-sending nations in order to address the conditions that cause immigration in the first place.

In conclusion, immigration Reform can be repackaged as an item in a broader economic agenda that helps relieve some of the downward pressure on U.S. wages and benefits. Today, undocumenteds account for 5% of the total workforce in the United States. Bringing them all the minimum wage, the ability to join a labor union and other protections guaranteed to all American workers will help remove some of the downward pressure on the low end of the income scale, making CIR a strong companion to the Democratic Caucus's successful effort to raise the minimum wage early in the 110th Congress.

Weekly Update On Immigration

FEWER PEOPLE ENTERING U.S. ILLEGALLY - In a piece in the New York Times, Ginger Thompson wrote about the latest report released by the Pew Hispanic Center, the report indicates fewer people are trying to enter the United States illegally and that there has been no growth over the last year in the number of illegal immigrants living here. The study, based on census data, showed that for the first time in nearly a decade, the number of people entering the country illegally was lower than the number arriving through legal channels. The decline helps prove what has already been said in other major studies: the rate of undocumented migration does not respond to enforcement measures, but rather economic incentives. Currently, Hispanics are reporting the highest decrease in economic well-being, according to another Pew Survey. The AP, several other publications and press in Latin America have commented on the data from latest Pew Report as well. The L.A. Times La Plaza estimates that Zacatecas and other states in Mexico are preparing for the return of about 350,000 countrymen from the U.S.

THOUSANDS OF IMMIGRANTS RETURN TO OAXACA, MEXICO FROM THE U.S. - Octavio Vélez of La Jornada reports, an estimated 24,700 Oaxacans who were in the U.S. have already returned to Mexico between July and September of this year due to having lost their jobs as a result of the hit taken by the construction industry during this economic crisis. Most of these workers had been working in California, Texas, Illinois, and New York.

The economic crisis and the decline of immigrants in the U.S. has also caused a dramatic drop in remittances to Latin America. Central banks from Mexico to Brazil have projected the biggest declines in remittances from the United States in more than 10 years. Governor Leonel Godoy, of the state of Michoacan, Mexico, made a request to the Budget Committee of the lower chamber of the Mexican Congress for higher levels of appropriations in order to maintain the economic stability of the state, as it is likely that the amount of remittances from the U.S. to Michoacan will continue to decrease.

DISPARITY IN ASYLUM APPLICATION PROCESS - Ketty Rodriguez of El Nuevo Herald writes about a recent GAO report that found marked disparity in the way applications for asylum are handled by different USCIS offices, and the bearing this lack of uniformity has on the speed of the application process and likelihood to get approved.

TPS EXTENDED - Temporary Protected Status has been extended for another 18 months for Hondurans and Nicaraguans living in the U.S., saving them from likely deportation. USCIS announced that this extension of status is effective from June 6, 2009 through July 5, 2010. Along with people from El Salvador, those under TPS have to apply to obtain legal permanent residence before the expiration of their TPS status, otherwise they can suffer deportation.

SENATORS PUSH FOR IMMIGRATION RAID GUIDELINES - With federal authorities stepping up immigration enforcement raids across the country, Sens. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert Menendez of New Jersey are sponsoring a bill to protect the rights of U.S.citizens and legal residents who get caught up in them.

CAMPAIGN TO CHANGE PUBLIC OPINION ON CIR - Local and national business groups are funding a media campaign in Arizona and three other states to convince voters that this country has done enough to secure the border and now needs to legalize the 12 million or more undocumented immigrants and consider allowing more foreigners into this country.

IMMIGRANTS ABOUT TO BECOME CITIZENS LEFT OUT IN THE COLD - 1,241 Houston-area citizenship applicants who saw their naturalization ceremony canceled last month because of Hurricane Ike. Officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services initially rescheduled the ceremony for Oct. 29, well after the Oct. 6 voter registration deadline. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, the administrative judge for the Houston federal courts, and U.S. Rep. Gene Green, got on the phone with agency officials and USCIS found a way to hold the emergency ceremony. But not all those on the list to be at the ceremony were informed of the change in schedule - Syed Zubair was not called and so he will miss out on one of the most important rights of every American:"The big thing with citizenship," he says. "is you have a say." Thanks to the federal bureaucracy, he'll have to wait four more years to be heard, at least in a presidential election.

POLITICO: A dog that hasn't barked - Great post by Ben Smith:

I noticed, putting up this post, that I haven't used the "immigration" category on this blog for months, but had meant to pull out a bit from my story last night to show just how much this element of the race has confounded expectations:

When Obama said last fall that he would support states'decisions to issue drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, Hillary Clinton's pollster Mark Penn told her staff that Obama might have just lost himself the election.

"We thought he was going to get killed over it," recalled a Clinton staffer, who said Penn's polling portrayed it as so "lethal" that it could cost Obama the reliably Democratic state of California.

In fact? Crickets.

On that note, the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) has put together A Candidate's Guide to Immigration along with a two-page document of Answers to the Toughest Questions - to help candidates effectively counter and clarify the myths and ambiguities associated with immigration. NDN has similarly highlighted that the immigration system is broken and it can not be fixed until the terms of the immigration debate shift towards a rational conversation aimed at achieving workable and effective comprehensive immigration reform - we hope candidates use this important guide.

Cero y Van Dos - En Los Debates No Se Habla de Inmigración

Cero y van dos - se esperaba que los candidatos a la presidencia hablaran sobre el tema de inmigración durante el primer debate, enfocado a relaciones exteriores, pero no sucedió. Entonces se esperaba que seguramente hablarían sobre sus propuestas con respecto a inmigración en el segundo debate, sobre políticas nacionales...tampoco sucedió. Con el empeoramiento de la crisis económica, el tema de inmigración ha sido relegado al olvido durante los debates. Sin embargo, sigue al centro del esfuerzo publicitario de ambos candidatos para ganarse el voto de Hispanohablantes.

La batalla sobre el tema de inmigración continúa. Después del último anuncio del Senador John McCain sobre inmigración, el Senador Barack Obama responde. El reportero Chris Cillizza puntualiza que el Senador Obama esta invirtiéndo lo triple que John McCain en anuncios de televisión.

Por mucho tiempo, NDN ha destacado la importancia del tema de inmigración como un factor que motiva a Hispanos a votar, sin importar si son nacidos en EEUU o en el extranjero, y esto se demuestra en el hecho que los candidatos estan teniendo esta batalla sobre inmigración en español. Con el porcentaje tan importante de votantes Latinos en estados clave en la contienda de esta elección, los candidatos estan luchando para ganarse a este grupo demográfico por medio del tema de inmigración. En este anuncio, Obama reconoce el daño que ha sufrido el partido Republicano en la comunidad Hispana a raíz del tono negativo que tomó ese partido durante el debate sobre inmigración, y relaciona a McCain con su partido y con los ataques anti-inmigrante del partido Republicano.



Notes on the New Politics

For the last several years NDN has been making an argument that a "new politics" of the 21st century is emerging.  Driven by vast changes in demography, media and technology, and the a whole new set of very 21st century challenges (and one could add the utter collapse of modern conservatism) a new politics was emerging in America that would be very different from the century just past.  

Reflecting on the morning papers 3 stories stuck out as interesting examples of how the world is changing around us.  1st up is how the Army is starting to see nation building and the shoring up of "fragile states" as a primary area of responsibility.  2nd is a fascinating piece by Eve Fairbanks on the sensibility of the next generation of Congressional Republicans.  Finally, a wide ranging and important piece by our friend David Rothkopf, who argues: 

The current economic debacle is far more likely to be seen by historians as a true global watershed: the end of one period and the beginning of another. The financial chaos has brought down the curtain on a wide range of basic and enduring tenets also closely linked with the Reagan era, those associated with neoliberal economics, the system that the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has called "that grab-bag of ideas based on the fundamentalist notion that markets are self-correcting, allocate resources efficiently and serve the public interest well." Already this crisis has seen not just our enemies but even some of our closest allies wondering whether we are at the beginning of the end of both American-style capitalism and of American supremacy.  

Change is indeed coming to Washington.  And this next Presidency will without doubt be among the most important in American history. 

Have Some Borscht with Your Apple Pie

In the presidential debate last Friday, Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about their position on Russia. Characteristic of the dreadfully dull debate, they managed to give precisely the same response. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain both called Russia’s aggression into Georgia “unacceptable,” recognized the need to reassure our European allies, and stressed the importance of working with Moscow, rather than against it

Peering into the recent past, Obama has been consistently firm on Russia, but has stuck to his broader theme of making diplomacy and negotiation a first-string response. McCain takes a harsher tone, and has been accused of trying to take the U.S. back into a Cold War with Russia. He has talked up the threat Russia poses, proposed ejecting Russia from the G-8, and advocated the creation of a League of Democracies—an organization from which Russia would be excluded.

It is true that Russia has been flexing its military muscles recently—most obviously with the incursion in Georgia. In the conflict, however, the Russian military did little to show it deserves to be feared. The army’s most senior commander in the field was wounded when poor intelligence led them into a Georgian ambush. The military’s limited technology was nearly useless—even their radios didn’t work, forcing officers to communicate via cell phone. And most of the bombs dropped were not modern smart bombs, but older, dumber bombs.

Still, by most measures, Russia’s performance in the field was better than in either of the Chechen wars in the ‘90s, and Moscow is getting serious about upgrading everything from equipment to tactics. The Kremlin will increase defense spending by 26% next year, much of which will go toward improving and updating the country’s nuclear program.

Beyond bombs and submarines, Russia has been looking for friends among America’s antagonizers. Moscow just offered a $1 billion military loan to Hugo Chavez’s government in Caracas. In November, Russian warships will enter the Caribbean for the first time since the Cold War, on their way to joint exercises with the Venezuelan Navy. Russia has 10 warships docked in Syria, and is helping to renovate Tartus port; in Iran, Russian technology and fissile material is helping to build a nuclear reactor, and Russian surface-to-air missiles may protect it.

Higher oil prices have gotten Russia back on her feet, and the Kremlin’s activities of late indicate that the government seeks to be taken seriously. Increasingly isolated on the world stage, Russia is responding by building its own coalition and trying to establish power within its historical sphere of influence. Moscow is asserting itself particularly in the Middle East, establishing its own version of the Monroe Doctrine: This is our backyard, so keep your meddling fingers out.

Though Russia’s military is a shadow of its former self, and from a security perspective, Moscow does not presently pose a credible threat, Russia is capable of making life difficult for the U.S., whether by turning off the gas, by giving cover (both literal and political) to Iran, or by bolstering Chavez in Venezuela.

But Russia and the U.S. share a number of interests, many of which were laid out last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Fighting terrorism, stopping nuclear proliferation, denuclearizing North Korea and finding a secure, stable resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, among others. John McCain’s aggressive, antagonistic ideas about Russia have the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecy. What we need now is not to escalate tension with a powerful state that has the capability of causing us great trouble, but to work together where we have common ground. The U.S. would be best served by keeping Russia engaged, rather than forcing it out into the cold.

McCain's Mixed Messages on Immigration?

NDN has followed U.S. Sen. John McCain's track record on Immigration. The latest is John McCain's second ad on immigration in Spanish. Andres commented on the ad during an interview with NPR:

"It's disturbing to me, as a Hispanic, to have someone who feels he can blatantly deceive and think people won't pay attention," says Andres Ramirez, vice president for Hispanic programs at NDN..."

Marisa wrote about the ad, and NDN has long advocated on: 1) the importance of the Hispanic vote (this demographic could very well swing several southern and western states in this election), and 2) the issue of immigration as a motivating factor in the way many Hispanics vote regardless of whether they are native or foreign born - this is thanks to the GOP strategy of turning the debate on immigration into a debate on whether Hispanics should be in this country.

Actually, McCain's message on immigration is not mixed at all - since 2006 he's been consistently against immigration reform. The first and second ads focus on misrepresenting Obama's position on immigration, but at no time do they state McCain's position - much less go as far as saying that McCain supports immigration reform. Instead, since the GOP now recognizes that Hispanics respond negatively to these anti-Hispanic attacks, they created the same kind of degrading ad except this time they (inaccurately)attribute the comments about Mexico and immigrants to Barack Obama.

So will McCain's attempt at making Obama seem anti-Hispanic work? Andres is right - it's not working. NDN and analysts across the board believe the large numbers of Hispanic voters in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Florida could be decisive in those swing states. Our latest polling in these states showed that Barack Obama is ahead of John McCain by at least 30 points among Hispanics in the Southwest, and specifically on the issue of immigration, Hispanics believe Barack Obama would do a better job than John McCain. Even in Florida, where the candidates were even among Hispanics (42%-42%), when asked about immigration, 42% of voters trusted Barack Obama to better handle the issue over 37% preferring John McCain. The largest difference was in Nevada, where 60% of Hispanics trusted Barack Obama more on the issue of immigration, while only 18% preferred John McCain.

And the latest ad makes no sense when put in context - on the one hand, the McCain campaign launches this ad to attempt to portray Obama as anti-immigrant, while on the other hand, they create another ad in English and Spanish that attacks Obama for allegedly voting against allowing people to own guns in order to defend themselves from these "criminal aliens" who are "crossing illegally into our country." So which is it?

In a year when the Hispanic electorate has nearly doubled from what it was in 2000 (from 7.5 million to approximately 14 million this year), given that Hispanics make up a large part of the electorate in key Southern and Western states, and given that Hispanics are mobilizing to get out the vote, to vote early and vote absentee in those states, it does not bode well for John McCain.



Economic Stimulus? - Reid and Byrd Unveil Economic Plan

Here's the proposed Economic Recovery Package. The overall intent to "not forget Main Street" and "create good-paying American jobs" is a noble one, I question whether this package achieves such a goal. There is a great deal of progress in the area of Energy, allocating funding for key energy initiatives of which NDN has been an advocate (see NDN's Green Project blog). However, there is no mention of International Trade or initiatives to export new technology; the section on job creation mentions infrastructure, which is an important step forward, but no mention of how to use globalization to create more high skilled, better paying jobs. I would ask why the section designed to help small businesses - by all accounts the "job creators and drivers of the economy" - only allots $275 million for microfinance and other assistance to "Main Street," while it provides $776 million for border facility construction and "other homeland security infrastructure." I hope our taxpayer dollars don't continue to go towards a border fence that has not worked instead of small and medium-sized businesses that sustain our communities. The stimulus includes $466 million for DHS to begin construction of a consolidated headquarters in Washington, D.C., as "DHS has a critical need for a permanent, unified headquarters" - maybe having everyone under one roof will help reduce the backlog in naturalization and immigration applications! THAT must have been the hold-up all this time. While the $466 million are being allocated for offices, only $100 million is going to help communities along the southwest border fight the illegal flow of guns and drugs between the U.S. and Mexico that is fueling violence along the border. Call me crazy, but I think the offices can wait in line behind the safety of border patrol and citizens on both sides of the border. The conflict on the border similarly contributes to the economic downturn in that the violence has effectively killed business and tourism that previously made border cities job creators and places that flourished with commerce and (legal) economic activity.

Don't Forget Foreign Policy: Warning Shots over Pakistan

While new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has been complimenting Sarah Palin on her good looks in New York, Pakistani border guards have been firing on U.S. helicopters in Afghani airspace. Spencer Ackerman writes:

The situation with the Pakistanis is deteriorating by the minute. On Sunday they fired “warning shots” at U.S. helicopters in Pakistani airspace. Yesterday they may have shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle in Pakistani airspace. And now the Pentagon has just announced that the Pakistani Army fired on U.S. troops in Afghan airspace.

The details are still murky, but it appears there was probably confusion about either orders or, more likely, where exactly the border lies. As Ackerman suggests, it's no international incident, but it could become one very quickly if a warning shot finds a target.

The economy certainly deserves a prominent spot in the debate this Friday(assuming it happens...), but I hope the planned topic of the debate-- foreign policy-- doesn't get lost altogether.  America is still confronting a number of tricky situations overseas-- situations that will require the engagement and leadership of a President-- and we can see some marked differences between the candidates.

The American electorate deserves to hear the candidates discuss our relations with Pakistan. How will they work with the new Pakistani government to stamp out al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in the Pakistani northwest? Under what circumstances might they support incursions from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory? Pakistan has been an important ally, but it's a country in flux, with internal rifts to sort out.  How Washington works with the government in Islamabad will have serious repercussions for both countries.

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