The Egyptian Revolt Goes Back to its Roots -- in the Soil

Feb 8, 2011Jon Rynn

egypt-flag-wall-150A change in agriculture, industry and employment must accompany a change in government.

egypt-flag-wall-150A change in agriculture, industry and employment must accompany a change in government.

Egypt, which was once the breadbasket for the Roman Empire, is now one of a growing number of food basket cases. A thriving center of trade and industry centuries ago, it is now marked by unemployment and dependence on tourism. Instead of dealing with these mounting problems, the Mubarak regime has swept everything under the rug and skimmed billions from the country. No wonder the population is in revolt.

Egypt has always been dependent on the Nile river, which was the foundation of what may have been humanity’s most ecologically sustainable agricultural system. In dry regions like Egypt and the Middle East, and even in areas with inadequate rainfall like much of the American West and northern China, irrigation is required to produce a large crop, normally of grains like wheat or rice. The problem, which is becoming more and more ominous, is that irrigation can destroy the soil and water on which agriculture depends. Too much water for too long a period in the wrong kind of soil, and the soil becomes salty, which doomed another ancient center of Middle Eastern civilization: the Sumerians. Or the water for irrigation might use up ancient reservoirs of water called fossil aquifers. This depletion is threatening food production from the American plains to India to China.

The Nile, on the other hand, always flooded the Nile valley annually, thus depositing nutrients and water at just the right time to grow plants but receding at just the right time to prevent too much salt from accumulating. It did this, that is, until the Aswan Dam was built in the 1960s, which prevents the Nile from flooding. The benefit is that the flow of water is dependable, because the Nile would often over-flood or under-irrigate, and the Dam can be used for electrical generation. The problem is that many areas are now becoming salty, the nutrients, or silt, are building up behind the Dam, and now Egypt is dependent on fossil fuel-based fertilizers for its agriculture.

Even with the Dam, Egypt has become the world’s biggest importer of grain, requiring foreign grain for 40% of its needs. Since it doesn’t have much industry, it has to trade tourism and some fossil fuels for this grain, and as a result, even university graduates have a 30 percent unemployment rate and only 3 percent of the population consumes 50 percent of goods. Meanwhile, instead of creating an industrial base that could be used to produce the goods to trade for food, the current regime either takes the money itself or spends it on useless military equipment (although much of that money comes from the US, but that’s another story). Egypt therefore has become dependent on the global economic system for its survival; it needs the food, industrial goods and fossil fuels from the global system, but it has very little to give back. This is one reason that 3 million Egyptians work outside the country, sending back badly needed money to families at home.

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It is quite possible that if the Aswan Dam was actually torn down and a different water storage and drainage system was constructed, and if Egypt took advantage of the massive amount of sunlight that falls on the deserts near the Nile to generate its electricity from solar power, it could create a sustainable economy. It would have to do all of this, just to add another wrinkle, while it created a sustainable plan for the use of the Nile’s waters.

At least 80 percent of the water that reaches Egypt actually comes from Ethiopia, where most of the Nile originates, and most of the rest comes from Sudan. There has been a long and varied history of tension among these nations concerning the use of the Nile’s rivers, as told by Steven Solomon in his book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization”. So an ecological solution to Egypt’s problems requires coordination with its neighbors to the south. On the other hand, if it is to industrialize it would probably be greatly aided if it partnered with Israel and with other Middle Eastern nations, all of which have similar problems. Together, they could all create a Middle Eastern common market, to use a term from the European Union’s past. This idea of an integrated, industrializing Middle East was the vision of Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel who was cut down by a fundamentalist Israeli.

I don’t think that the current regime can pull off this balancing act. Mubarak’s choice for vice president, Omar Suleiman, has been directing the notorious “rendition” program whereby people that the United States wants to torture are “taken care of." This policy led to the false information that provided the “proof” of an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection; as James Ridgeway explains, “our loyal ally Egypt provided the fake information used by the United States to justify going to war in Iraq." The regime is so accustomed to using force and violence as a means of governing that it hatched the plot that fizzled to have “pro-Mubarak supporters” literally beat the protesters out of Tahrir square. As the New York Times explained, “Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt has long functioned as a state where wealth bought political power and political power bought great wealth." A regime based on corruption and violence cannot pull off the feats of industrializing, spreading the wealth, working with its neighbors, and most importantly, insuring that its unique ecosystems survive. It will require a regime that has real legitimacy, one that is elected democratically.

Egypt is not the only country facing the problem of an ecologically unsustainable path, the need for industrialization, the replacing of fossil fuels, and in many cases, the need for democratization. As Lester Brown has pointed out recently, there is a global food crisis emerging. It is being driven by the abuse of agricultural ecosystems and water; by using grain for ethanol and for livestock; by the inefficient use of water; and oh yes, by climate change. Let us hope that Egypt's example will not only spur change in the Middle East but create change around the entire planet.

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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The Millennial State of the Union

Jan 31, 2011Hilary Doe

flag-150Young people are taking matters into their own hands and working to effect change across a number of issues.

flag-150Young people are taking matters into their own hands and working to effect change across a number of issues.

This past Sunday would have been Franklin D. Roosevelt's 129th birthday. During this jobless recovery, we should remember that, beyond simply being the 32nd President of the United States, FDR was a fearless leader who redefined the role of government during our country's darkest hour. How? Roosevelt used an active government to create jobs, provide relief to disadvantaged citizens, build our country's infrastructure, win World War II, and, more broadly, address the needs of the American people. He advanced a values-laden, progressive vision for the everyday American.

Thousands of young people across the country are carrying on his legacy by putting forth their own progressive vision. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network is releasing a New Deal for the Millennial America -- a blueprint for the progressive future that we, young people born between 1980 and 2000, are determined to inherit. Each generation designs its own path, and each American generation redefines the American dream. With the launch of the Campus Network's Blueprint for the Millennial America, the Millennial Generation is declaring their vision for America's future and imploring our leaders to take note, grab a shovel, and start building it with us.

So what will 2040 look if we have our way?
Over the past year, the Campus Network convened thousands of students from across the country in Think2040 conversations, asking them to define their vision, values, and priorities for our shared future. The results were compiled in our Blueprint for Millennial America. The report details how we plan to change the system from inside, employ ourselves, think long-term, and create a more equal, accessible, empowered, and community-minded 2040 America. Want specifics? In the Millennial America, our priorities are:

1. Educational Attainment

Our generation sees educational attainment as the key to opportunity and abundance. And we recognize that to remain competitive in the Next American Economy we will have to out-educate the rest of the world. Providing equal access to quality education is also a pathway to closing our country's growing wealth disparity. We need to improve K-12 education and increase college access and affordability to do that.

The best part? Millennials have already started moving toward this goal. Innovative young people, like Roosevelt Campus Network alum Kirsten Hill, have envisioned and implemented student-generated education programs like the SILA project. SILA (Students Improving Literacy Abound) is a university-partnered reading program in New Orleans that has paired over 100 Tulane students acting as mentors with second and third graders to decrease the achievement gap and increase literacy rates.

2. Green Living, Working, and Innovating

We recognize that to build a green economy, our generation will have to win the energy race with an effort that mirrors the Apollo program of the 1960s. The cost of fossil fuels is going to increase as countries like China and India compete for limited resources. We need to be innovation hawks and invest in green technology and infrastructure now to ensure that the windmills, solar panels, and fuel cells we use tomorrow are manufactured in the United States.

We need to cultivate healthier food systems. By supporting urban agriculture and other alternatives we can secure access to fresh and healthy food for all Americans. This will increase the security of our communities by ensuring that food comes from local sources.

Millennials aren't leaving their future to chance. We're creating a greener America today with a call for proposals to ensure our energy security and local movements to build community gardens, like the effort led at Arizona State University by Joshua Judd and other Roosevelt members.

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3. Wellness and Coverage

Our American Dream is more often a loft in the city with diverse people, food, culture, work, and a hybrid than a McMansion in the suburbs. It includes our wellness, and this New Deal for the Millennial America includes the guarantee that livable cities provide access to healthy food for all American people. The Millennial Generation -- the most under-insured of any alive right now -- also demands insurance coverage for all and innovative efforts to ensure access to preventative care.

We'll get there by 2040, starting with groundbreaking efforts to provide care to some of our most vulnerable. A Roosevelt member from Colorado College, David Silver, for example, is helping to pave the way to health care access for rural American using excess T.V. bandwidth to provide preventative care via "telehealth."

4. Entrepreneurship and a Social Safety Trampoline

Why are Millennials moving back to the forgotten places in America: post-industrial centers like Detroit, New Orleans, and Cleveland? So they can create a sweeping impact and experiment with new forms of entrepreneurship and social innovation. They are organizing employee-owned businesses, starting co-ops, and, in the case of Roosevelt alums Joe Shure and Rohan Mathew, creating successful nonprofits like the Intersect Fund to empower would-be entrepreneurs through microloans and start-up support.

But in order to pursue our innovative ideas, we need security; a flexible social safety net. And we need financial institutions that are responsive to their communities. Wages have stagnated. Benefits have decreased. As government protection of our social insurance has been cut over the last 30 years, the income inequality in our country has also significantly increased. Millennials demand equal access and equal opportunity. Our safety net should inject funding into the system when it's needed, provide retraining opportunities, ensure health care and unemployment insurance, and, instead of catching people near the bottom -- like a net -- function like a trampoline and bounce everyone back into high-functioning roles in society.

To reduce the socioeconomic gap in this country, everyone should pay taxes on their income, even if they make a lot of it -- their fair share. By just repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans, we could move substantially closer to lowering the barrier to entrepreneurship by investing in a strong safety net and providing this essential economic security to all Americans.

5. America as a World Super-Partner

Millennials want the United States to continue to act as a global leader. But they envision the U.S. as a "super-partner" in world affairs. They favor a proactive U.S. foreign policy that stresses the use of "smart power" to achieve global security through active diplomacy, efficient development, and sharing defense responsibilities with its allies. Young people are already working to prove the effectiveness of this approach. Roosevelt member Jacob Helberg, for example, is working directly with Haitian NGOs to implement his idea to build a micro-community in Haiti reflective of the best practices learned by other nations.

If you're skeptical that our generation can accomplish all of this, we're working to prove you wrong. Because we're committed to fiscal responsibility in addition to the list of priorities above, we recognize that our priorities have the burden of cost, and, at a time when the nation is locked in heated debate over the budget, we're answering the call. While organizations from across the spectrum are rushing to put forth their plans, the Campus Network is designing our own ‘Budget for Millennial America' as we speak.

Want to help?
The greatest lesson to be learned from examining this list of Millennial values, priorities, and initiatives is that young people nationwide are prepared to design the innovative solutions and campaign for the change required to achieve our vision.

Do you have your own ideas for change? Contact one of our student policy strategists so that you can get involved in our national policy initiatives. Get published in our 10ideas series. You can even get paid to work with us over the summer in Washington, DC or Chicago through our Roosevelt Summer Academy program. We're designing and achieving the future that we want to inherit.

Thanks for paving the way, FDR. Happy Birthday, and we hope we're making you proud.

Hilary Doe is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Campus Network's Policy Director.

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Investment is a Win-Win for the Global Economy and Climate Change

Jan 28, 2011Jon Rynn

earth-150Following Keynes, Joseph Stiglitz proposes solutions that would heal the economy and the environment in one fell swoop.

earth-150Following Keynes, Joseph Stiglitz proposes solutions that would heal the economy and the environment in one fell swoop.

Recently Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize-winning economist and Senior Fellow and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute, gave a very interesting speech in South Africa concerning climate change and the global economy. He argued that by implementing policies that help to reverse global warming, we can also reverse the global economic downturn. Although he also pointed out many barriers to doing so, he outlined some interesting policy proposals.

For me, the most interesting part of his speech concerned the use of a Keynesian approach, not just for a single country, as is usually done, but for the entire world economy. Keynes pointed out that when the private sector is unable to generate enough demand in the economy, that is, it is unable generate enough spending from consumption and investment, then the government must step in to kickstart spending. Thus in recessions and depressions many now acknowledge that at some point it may be necessary for the government to spend more than it takes in to get the economy moving again. (See numerous articles from Marshall Auerback on this basic idea.)

There are a couple of fine points to what Keynes was saying, however, that are either often glossed over or challenged. First, he asserted that when demand is low, saving can get in the way of recovery. So -- and this is the part that is ignored -- since the rich save more than the poor, their excess income gets in the way of recovery. The horrendous implication, from the rich person’s point of view, is that they should be taxed more. The less direct way to put this, which is the way it is discussed even in much of the progressive media, is that an “unequal distribution of wealth” leads to negative economic outcomes. The important statistic for the US is that while in 1970 the top 1% of households pulled in about 10% of total income, now they receive close to 25%. Not good, from a purely Keynesian perspective.

So what does this have to do with climate change? Since he was speaking in South Africa, it was easy for him to point out that the world distribution of wealth is very unequal. Because of this inequality, it will be much harder for developing countries to create less carbon-intensive economies through large-scale investment than for developed countries. In addition, the poorer countries consume more and the richer countries save more. So an obvious policy approach is to tax financial transactions, which moves money from something that (to be charitable) involves savings into consumption and investment by developing countries. The richer countries could also simply give grants to the poorer countries. Stiglitz claimed that about $200 billion per year would be required to help developing countries make the transition to a less carbon-intensive future, which could be financed from a financial tax.

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The second implication of Keynes’ ideas is that the economy needs more investment when it is in a downturn. We certainly need a good deal of investment to create less carbon-intensive economies, and it so happens that, according to Keynes, investment, particularly in factories, is the best way to pull economies out of slumps. While he famously suggested that digging holes and filling them up again would also do the trick, he clearly preferred doing something useful with investments on the grounds that investment is generally good for a society and that it is a surer way to speed recovery than consumption.

Stiglitz argued that what we have now is an inadequate level of global aggregate demand, which is to say, there isn’t enough consumption and investment for the entire global economy to pull out of the recession. Thus, he stressed, reversing climate change is an opportunity for the economy, not a drag. We need investment for the good of the climate and we need investment for the good of the economy -- therefore what we have is a win-win situation.

But how do we encourage investment? Stiglitz’s answer is to put a price on the emission of carbon, thus stimulating investment into less carbon-intensive technologies. He thinks that eventually carbon will be priced at 80 dollars per ton, which means that it will probably be cheaper to build a wind farm than to build a coal plant. In fact, it might become more economically rational, with a price on carbon, to shut down an existing coal plant and build a new wind farm to replace it. And new wind farms mean new investment, which means increasing global aggregate demand, which means pulling out of the global recession.

Of course, there are roadblocks in the way of this process. For one thing, there is the power of the greatest emitters of carbon, the oil and coal industries, among others. Then there is the expense that a price on carbon would mean for poorer countries -- thus the need for the richer part of the world to subsidize the poorer part. Even rich countries, of course, would not take easily to a price for carbon, as we saw in last year's defeat of lukewarm cap-and-trade legislation. Stiglitz argues that for an international treaty to be effective, it needs to have enforceable sanctions, such as hitting the offending nation's exports with a price increase. But as the managing editor of South Africa’s largest newspaper argued in a generally favorable response to Stiglitz’s lecture, trade sanctions would mean that developing countries would be hurt, thus requiring some more subsidies in order to equalize the playing field.

In all, I think Stiglitz laid out the foundation of a very workable global economic strategy. I would propose another element: encouraging direct investment and construction of infrastructure on the part of governments. While Stiglitz mentioned the idea of regulation and praised mass transit as an adjunct to the general policy of pricing carbon, it was not a focus of his approach. But here is another possibility for a win-win -- if developed countries sold or gave factories to the developing countries to create the wind turbines, electric rail and cars, and solar plants that would allow them to reduce carbon emissions, it would give the developed countries a huge boost economically and the developing countries the capability to become much wealthier in a sustainable way. Think of it as a global Marshall Plan or Works Progress Administration. The developed countries could promise, say, one trillion dollars per year in machinery to the developing countries, which would be a strategic, targeted, Keynesian method for pulling the entire world economy out of its slump. And it would go far to meet what Stiglitz called the greatest challenge we have ever faced: the threat of global climate change.

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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SOTU Advice from Millennials: Invest in Our Future!

Jan 25, 2011

Those with the biggest stake in what the President says tonight are the young people who will inherit his decisions. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network shares hopes for what path our country can and should take.

From Anna Peterson, junior history and mathematics double-major and the Campus Network Chapter Vice-President of Policy Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

Those with the biggest stake in what the President says tonight are the young people who will inherit his decisions. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network shares hopes for what path our country can and should take.

From Anna Peterson, junior history and mathematics double-major and the Campus Network Chapter Vice-President of Policy Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

"As he talks about investing in the future, I hope to hear the president discuss investment in education. What comes after short-term grants from the stimulus bill and Race to the Top, and how can we give schools the reliable funding they need in the long run? With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, education is bound to be on the agenda in the coming year, and I expect the president to emphasize the importance of education for economic recovery and in relation to global competition."

From Toto Martinez, first year political science major at UC Davis and a new member of the Roosevelt chapter:

"I would like to see the president echo some of the rhetoric from his 2008 presidential campaign. Specifically, he should focus on: closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, who pay a lower percentage in taxes than the average working person; fighting, at least, for a public health insurance option and applying anti-trust laws to the private health-insurance industry; campaign finance reform that bans contributions from any unions, corporations, or other special interest groups and only allows for the use of public funds that will keep candidates accountable to the American people; and a massive infrastructure program for the twentieth century that will put millions of people to work, just as Roosevelt did in the 1930s. He should not use 'compromise' as a scapegoat for all of his broken promises, but rather fight for the ideals that made the country strong in the past. He may go down fighting or he may ride a wave back to victory, but above all he must fight for our nation's democratic principles." ~

From Sahar Massachi, fourth-year student of computer science at Brandeis University and previous Summer Academy fellow with the Campus Network:

"Tonight, the Kremlinologists of Washington are expecting to pore over a careful, calibrated, and polished policy document disguised as a speech. They'll analyze every twist and turn of phrase for hints of Obama's plans for the next year. That's kind of sad; it doesn't have to be this way. Imagine a speech that teaches us what a positive and just foreign policy could be like, one that sketches out a story about what life in a progressive America could look like. Imagine a speech that speaks directly to us -- and ignores the expectations of the chattering class. I want to live in a world where Obama educates me about the world as it is, inspires me with a vision for a bright future -- and lays out a theory of how we can achieve that change together."

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A Blue-green Stimulus? The Environmental Forecast for 2011

Dec 27, 2010Jon Rynn

What's coming in 2011?  We asked thought leaders to share their perspectives on the biggest challenges for the year ahead, along with the changes they'd like to see and the hopes they cherish. Jon Rynn looks at the road ahead for the most pressing environmental issues.

What's coming in 2011?  We asked thought leaders to share their perspectives on the biggest challenges for the year ahead, along with the changes they'd like to see and the hopes they cherish. Jon Rynn looks at the road ahead for the most pressing environmental issues.

During the next year look for the incremental unfolding of the three epic environmental crises of our time -- global warming, peak resources, and ecosystem destruction (which took place more quickly in the Gulf of Mexico this year). The victories of the Republicans in 2010 probably means that little or nothng of environmental value will be passed in the next Congress. President Obama may be able to accomplish some important initial steps, like imposing some greenhouse gas emissions standards on power plants, although even in the best case regulations wouldn't take effect until 2012. It may be, however, that grim news from the environmental front could set up a wider consensus to try new approaches.

2010 was the year of extreme weather events, and 2011 should continue the trend of the widespread effects of global warming manifesting themselves, as Joe Romm has been documenting on his blog, climateprogress.com. This may make the public more open to weaning us away from oil, coal, and natural gas. The price of oil has now poked above 90 dollars per barrel, as demand for all kinds of commodities increase, noted by Paul Krugman. There seems to be more and more official acknowledgement that the end of the era of cheap oil is here, perhaps even the end of cheap coal, and the negative consequences of the recent increase in natural gas extraction may become more and more evident. Another oil price spike might concentrate our collective minds wonderfully, but progressives will be as hard put as they were in the 2008 campaign to respond to the inevitable cries of "drill, baby, drill", unless we can come up with something better.

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I hope that the realization spreads that we can move in a positive direction on global warming, the end of the era of cheap oil, and other environmental problems by directly rebuilding our transportation, energy, and urban infrastructures. For instance, the Obama administration has done a good job of supporting the resuscitation of the car battery industry, via the original stimulus. And while the President has allocated funds for high-speed rail and support for new wind farms, those investments have yet to move to a high enough level to start to turn the economy around. Perhaps President Obama and the progressive community can coalesce around a "green stimulus" plan that they can carry into the 2012 election.

Or we could call it a "blue-green" stimulus, one that rebuilds the manufacturing economy, and thus creates the economic engine for new jobs, while at the same time addressing the long-term environmental problems of our time. Such a stimulus would eliminate the need to import oil by continuing to encourage the production of electric cars, and in addition, push for a national system of electric rail. It would insist on domestic content for any government-funded infrastructure, including a national wind system, which could replace coal plants. Even if such spending added to the deficits, such a program would not be inflationary, because it would add to the country's wealth and wealth-generating capacity, and it would help to rebuild the middle class. What could more appealing to voters than that?

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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What Were They Smoking? The 10 Dumbest Stories of 2010

Dec 23, 2010Tim Price

idiotIt’s been an unpredictable year, and if our pundits and policymakers could do it all over again, there are some moments they’d probably love to take back. Unfortunately for them, the Internet never forgets, and the ND20 team has decided to look back over 2010 by counting down the dumbest headlines, decisions, and predictions.

idiotIt’s been an unpredictable year, and if our pundits and policymakers could do it all over again, there are some moments they’d probably love to take back. Unfortunately for them, the Internet never forgets, and the ND20 team has decided to look back over 2010 by counting down the dumbest headlines, decisions, and predictions. There was a lot of dumb to cover, so if you think we missed something, be sure to let us know.

10. One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012 (WaPo)
What's the silliest part of this advice -- the idea that President Obama could achieve more by quitting his job, or the idea that two Fox News analysts have the president's best interests at heart?

9. Heritage Foundation and the "Luck" of the Irish (OurFuture.org)
Conservative economists had a lot riding on their belief that Ireland's austerity measures would save its economy, so it's not surprising that the Heritage Foundation was still touting the Celtic Tiger's strength two years into a deep recession.  That doesn't make it any less funny.

8. The Health Care Bill is Dead (Weekly Standard)
The day after Scott Brown's shocking victory in the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, Fred Barnes declared "The health care bill, ObamaCare, is dead with not the slightest prospect of resurrection. [...] Democrats have talked up clever strategies to pass the bill in the Senate despite Brown, but they won’t fly." To be fair, many progressives agreed with him.

7. Off-Message Watch: "I Don't Know That for Sure" (Economist's View)
Austan Goolsbee brought a lot of good will with him to the Council of Economic Advisers, but when he turned out to be agnostic about the benefits of a bigger stimulus package, it made us wonder if he was off-message or if the entire administration was.

6. Robert Rubin: 'Virtually Nobody' Saw Crisis Coming, Bush Deserves Much Of The Blame (HuffPo)
Like many of the architects of the financial system that collapsed in 2008, Rubin must not have been paying very close attention if he didn't spot any signs of trouble brewing.

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5. The war recovery? (WaPo)
We're always open to innovative economic ideas, but David Broder made us wonder if Martians had invaded his body with this column speculating that war with Iran would boost growth and help President Obama in 2012. But then again, Afghanistan and Iraq have done wonders for us.

4. Christine O’Donnell TV Ad: “I’m Not a Witch… I’m You” (CBS)
Even in the year of Aqua Buddhists and chicken barterers, Christine O'Donnell was an unusual Senate candidate. When Bill Maher revealed that she had once dabbled in witchcraft, she was forced to issue a denial that perfectly captured the absurdity of the midterms and earned a place in our political lexicon.

3. President Obama: Drill, Baby, Drill (ABC)
In one of his signature attempts at bipartisan pre-concession, President Obama decided at the end of March to endorse more offshore oil drilling. Three weeks later, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Perfect timing.

2. The Politics of Foreclosure (WSJ)
When the foreclosure scandal broke, the Wall Street Journal argued that liberals were making too big a fuss about “the pain that results when the anonymous paper pusher who kicks you out of your home is not the anonymous paper pusher who is supposed to kick you out of your home.” The editorial stated that the good folks at the Journal were “not aware of a single case so far of a substantive error.” We can think of a few.

1. Welcome to the Recovery (NY Times)
Tim Geithner probably didn’t mean for the title of his now-infamous op-ed to sound sarcastic, but as Wall Street’s profits soared and the middle class continued to sink, it was hard for anyone to take it seriously. At least he didn’t mention green shoots.

Tim Price is a Junior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Millennials Take Matters into Their Own Hands

Dec 2, 2010

flag-150Whoever thinks today's kids are just freeloaders whose only goal in life is to text each other hasn't met those involved in The Roosevelt Institute's Campus Network. This group of millennials has put together a blueprint to "design the future that we want to inherit." Recognizing that this is no time for young people to sit on their hands, what with a Great Recession, two wars, climate change, and a whole host of other issues, they've outlined proposals to move us toward an "equal, accessible, empowered, and community-minded 2040 America." After all, they will be the workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders who define the future.

flag-150Whoever thinks today's kids are just freeloaders whose only goal in life is to text each other hasn't met those involved in The Roosevelt Institute's Campus Network. This group of millennials has put together a blueprint to "design the future that we want to inherit." Recognizing that this is no time for young people to sit on their hands, what with a Great Recession, two wars, climate change, and a whole host of other issues, they've outlined proposals to move us toward an "equal, accessible, empowered, and community-minded 2040 America." After all, they will be the workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders who define the future.

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The blueprint addresses six critical areas: Education, Energy and the Environment, The American Economy, Health Care, Social Justice and Democratic Participation, and Defense and Diplomacy. These are no lightweight issues -- as the blueprint points out, "The challenges facing our generation are arguably greater than those faced by any other in America's history." But these 20-somethings are meeting the challenge and getting their voices heard.

Make sure the check out the full text of the blueprint here.

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Schakowsky's Deficit Plan Shows How to Get Things Done

Nov 17, 2010Richard Kirsch

It's time for progressives to take the offensive on the deficit.

It's time for progressives to take the offensive on the deficit.

Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a member of the President's deficit reduction commission, put out a straight-forward plan yesterday that demonstrates what you can do if you believe that we need a strong middle class to build a strong economy. Unlike the recommendations of the commission's chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowls, which would hurt growth and long-term recovery by cutting supports to the middle class and increasing the wealth gap, the Schakowsky plan is aimed at spurring economic growth and closing our growing inequality chasm.

Schakowsky's plan has three components: cutting the deficit, investing in growth immediately, and closing the long-term funding gap in Social Security. Taken together, the plan would help short-term recovery, reduce long-term budget shortfalls while encouraging growth, and assure that Social Security is in good shape for the foreseeable future.

Schakowsky would cut the deficit through a combination of actual cuts in waste and inefficiency, such as eliminating a program that helps McDonald's market overseas and introducing energy savings to federal employees' computer usage. It finds savings from elimination or reduction in 20 specific defense programs. It reduces the amount that the federal government pays for prescription drugs and includes a robust public option in health reform. It also cuts farm subsidies.

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On the revenue side, she goes after corporate tax subsidies and wealthy individuals. Her biggest proposals would discourage corporations' over-reliance on highly leveraged financing and tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income. She also includes raising revenues from cap and trade, with protections to help low-income consumers, which helps to reach another major policy goal: tackling climate change.

On Social Security, she firmly rejects proposals to cut benefits and instead proposes changes that would not only put the program on a firm financial footing for decades, but allow some benefits to be improved. She does this by raising the amount of income that is applied to Social Security and introducing a legacy tax on earnings above the cap, which would make the tax system a lot more progressive.

Finally, to help get the economy going now, Schakowsky's plan would invest in immediate job creation and protect against growth-killing cuts like shutting off unemployment compensation or federal funding to states for Medicaid.

Is her proposal dead on arrival with this deficit commission and Congress? Maybe so, but that's not the point. You can't win a debate with nothing. So next time someone says that we can't get out of this financial mess without "sacrifice," point to the Schakowsky plan and ask: Sacrifice for who? Here's a plan that will close the deficit by telling big corporations and the wealthy that it's time they pay their fair share. Plus, it will spur the economy, protect average taxpayers, keep Social Security's promise, and while we're at it, help prevent coastal cities from sinking into the ocean.

Time to take the offense. Let's run with that.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and is writing a book on the progressive campaign to enact health reform.

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Dems Can Learn from GOP to Build Interstate Transportation Systems

Nov 16, 2010Jon Rynn

train-200Want to break our addiction to oil and create jobs? Take a page from Teddy Roosevelt and Ike Eisenhower.

train-200Want to break our addiction to oil and create jobs? Take a page from Teddy Roosevelt and Ike Eisenhower.

As incredible as it sounds, Republican presidents, along with their Republican Congresses, have initiated some of the biggest public works projects in American history. Theodore Roosevelt single-mindedly pursued the construction of the Panama Canal and Calvin Coolidge signed the legislation to build what became known as the Hoover Dam. Democratic presidents continued and expanded on these accomplishments, as when FDR followed up on the Hoover Dam and built many others, including the TVA system. During his administration, the first ideas and plans for a national highway system were developed, which that great socialist Dwight David Eisenhower then pushed through in 1956.

Today there is a crying need for an interstate high-speed rail system. In 1954, only $175 million had been allocated to a national road system, clearly too little to do the job. In 1956, $25 billion was allocated for a system that wound up costing $425 billion in 2006 dollars. In the last couple of years, the Obama administration has committed $8 billion to high-speed rail, mostly for small, unconnected segments. The US High-Speed Rail Association estimates that in order to build a functional, 17,000 mile system (the Interstate Highway System is currently 48,000 miles), it would cost about $600 billion over 20 years. The New York Times recently ran an article comparing a high-speed rail network to the Interstate Highway System.

But what would motivate the construction of such a system? By the 1950s, the Big 3 car makers were reputedly saying things like "what's good for General Motors is good for the country," and that included a national road system. The suburban boom, with critical help from the federal and local governments, was in full swing, and with it, the shift from trains to cars as the main passenger vehicle. As a young lieutenant, Eisenhower had participated in the first transcontinental truck convoy. Ike then witnessed the autobahns that Germany built at the end of World War II. Even with a political environment that had barely emerged from the McCarthy-ite hysteria over communism, the political will existed to construct one of civilization's most ambitious examples of public construction.

The reasons for focusing on high-speed rail are oil, oil, and also, oil, in that order. Professor Michael T. Klare has done a good job of explaining all three. First, the supply of cheap oil is leveling off, and will probably start to decline in the near future. This is known as the "peak oil" argument. After all, the Earth does not have infinite resources, and the oil supply certainly is not infinite. While the rise in the price of oil in the summer of 2008 was probably in part the result of financial manipulation, it was mostly caused by demand overrunning supply. It was a grim reminder that even short-term fluctuations in the price of oil can have colossal economic impacts.

Second, the coming scarcity of oil will lead to major conflicts among nations, including the possibility of more wars. The Iraq War may have been a small-scale demonstration. As oil exporters use more and more of their oil for their own population and their ability to pump oil declines, the amount of exported oil will decline even quicker than the supply of oil in total. Even without wars, much of American foreign policy and part of its huge military burden is attributable to the warping effect of our dependence on oil.

Third, as we saw this summer, oil has devastating environmental effects. A Gulf oil spill equivalent takes place every year in the Nigerian delta, which according to some estimates is rich in oil. The exploitation of oil has regularly been destroying ecosystems for decades now. Even more ominously, burning oil accounts for almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal, about 18% of total global greenhouse gases.

For all of these reasons, we need to shift the transportation system from a 99% dependence on oil to at least a 90% dependence on electricity. Electricity can be generated in a renewable, pollution-free manner, as I have argued previously. The US can supply all of its own electricity, forever.

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It took from the beginning of the 20th century to after World War II to switch from electricity and coal to petroleum, so it will take decades to switch back to electricity. So the sooner we start, the better. The powers-that-be in 1900 were streetcar operators and railroads; now the oil companies and car companies, plus suburban real estate interests, have an even larger voice in government. They will surely fund groups that claim that the government should stay out of what it was once involved in: spending the equivalent of trillions of dollars to transform the transportation system and urban structure. It will take an educated public, hopefully worried about the long-term future, to push the government to spend trillions in moving to a system based on electric trains.

Trains are the best way to use electricity for a transportation vehicle. This is because trains can use an overhead electrical wiring system (or in the case of subways and some light rail, an underground one). That is, they can obtain their energy from outside the vehicle. They don't have to drag around their energy in a fuel tank. They can also tap into the continental electrical grid, which can be fed by many different sources.

According to Chris Steiner in his book "$20 Per Gallon", at $8 per gallon airline flights under 350 miles will no longer be profitable, and at $12 per gallon flights under 500 miles won't be either. Europe, China, and Japan are feverishly working to create major high-speed rail routes over just these lengths with trains that run at least 200 mph.

However, in order to move away from oil, we will also have to move most freight with trains instead of long-haul trucks. The Millennium Institute estimates that transferring freight to electric rail, including at least part of a passenger rail system, would cost between $250 and 500 billion. But the bigger problem would be that much of the commercial infrastructure of the country, including the big box stores like WalMart and hundreds of suburban malls, would probably have to relocate to more dense city regions in order to take advantage of an electric rail system.

Which brings us to the biggest problem of all: replacing oil-dependent cars. Robert Bryce and Kris De Decker argue that electric cars have always been over-hyped and that there is no reason to think that they will ever replace the large, high-speed, long-distance automobiles that we have now. So let's assume that they are right and that electric cars will always be slow, say with a maximum speed of 30 mph, fairly small, and with a range of about 50 miles. As the City of New York is now informing its residents, that speed would actually decrease the likelihood of death from accidents to only 20% -- and driving at 20 mph has even more beneficial effects.

But this would only be practical if three very far-reaching changes were made. First, most people, even in suburbs, would have to live about 10 miles away from a town center. Second, those town centers would have to be tied together and linked to a city center by an extensive and rider-friendly electric train system. Third, the city centers would have to incorporate buildings at a high density and transit systems large enough to avoid the need to use nonelectric cars.

There is another good reason to build these systems besides not using oil: if the high-speed trains and subways and electric cars and high-rise buildings were built using goods manufactured in the U.S., then the manufacturing economy of the U.S. could recover, and with it, the middle class and the long-term prosperity of the country.

If the Republican Party can make big changes, why not the Democratic Party?

Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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Green Work is Women's Work

Nov 3, 2010Amy Norquist

green-jobs-150After the crash, the downturn was dubbed a "mancession." As the meme continues to circulate, we asked leading thinkers to help us sort fact from fiction. Are men suffering more than women in a weak economy? Is Washington doing enough to address female unemployment?

green-jobs-150After the crash, the downturn was dubbed a "mancession." As the meme continues to circulate, we asked leading thinkers to help us sort fact from fiction. Are men suffering more than women in a weak economy? Is Washington doing enough to address female unemployment? How do we ensure a jobs agenda that's fair and equitable? In the eighth part of our ongoing series, "The Myth of the Mancession? Women & the Jobs Crisis", Amy Norquist calls on the green sector to include women from the beginning.

The federal stimulus package earmarks billions of dollars in green technology, primarily renewable energy, for projects that will take place over the next several years. The effectiveness of the funding is still debatable, as it remains the slowest draw down of any category in the stimulus. The White House estimates that close to 200,000 new jobs were created as a result of the funding, but the Department of Energy puts that number at closer to 80,000.

Are women being left out of this sector? I think there is little doubt that women are not being hired in large numbers through this particular focus on the energy sector. But in fact, even though green jobs tend to fall into categories of non-traditional options for women such as engineering, science, and construction, there is far greater opportunity for the inclusion of women in significant numbers than in the past. That's because green jobs are much broader than the energy sector. They are defined as those that provide goods and services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

So how is it that non-traditional jobs in the green sector can somehow be more accessible to women than jobs past? There are more women CEOs in green business -- largely entrepreneurs -- than in traditional construction, and they tend to value authenticity and transparency, which disables the old boys network. Green businesses have the element of being mission-driven and focusing on the triple bottom line: social, economic, environmental. This is appealing to women, and it provides an alternative structure within the construction industry in particular.

Furthermore, new technologies and new industries often don't require particular previous  job skills. (A Berkeley study focused on green employers, for example, found that 86 percent of the green business owners interviewed and hired workers who had no previous direct experience.) This also removes barriers for women entering traditionally male-dominated fields.

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And there are programs out there that focus on training women for green jobs. There is a non-profit called NEW in New York City, which trains women in non-traditional fields but also offers a program called "ReNEW" for green jobs. (Two-thirds of minimum wage jobs in NYC belong to women.) The program does a good job of educating students about what jobs are even available and gives them exposure to these new technologies, industries, and employers.

As the owner of a women-owned green roofing business, called Greensulate, I can say that my company has benefited in significant ways from the stimulus act and from growing awareness of the value of green jobs and the green industry among supporters. The direct benefit to Greensulate came through training funds (using funding from the stimulus act) from NYC Small Business Solutions. This funding enabled us to train and hire 10 people this year.

And the private sector is picking up the slack -- unlike in other male-dominated construction industries -- when it comes to supporting women. Greensulate was recently selected into a program, Growth Opportunity Loan and Services Program (GOLS), sponsored by The Clinton Foundation, Booz & Co., Goldman Sachs, NYU Stern, and SEEDCO Financial. The program provides loan funding for growth (which we were unable to get through our bank) and significant management consulting and mentoring.

I can say that as a green construction industry, green roofing brings women into the fold of some of the few green and white collar jobs available. For my first few years, I was the only woman up on the roof. Now I'm joined by other "greensualtors" -- one of whom is a graduate of the NEW ReNEW program. We are now 35% female, in a non-traditional field for women.

The key to beginning and continuing the trend of hiring women for green collar positions is being continually vigilant in educating women about the opportunities available. And it begins with the value of inclusion. Even in programs whose focus is training women and placing them in currently non-traditional arenas, one still sees quotes like, "It is satisfying doing men's work". Green jobs are not "men's work." They are good work, and there is a chance to integrate parity from the beginning. Emerging industries have the responsibility -- because they are emerging industries -- to break the mold.

Amy Norquist is the President and CEO of the green roofing company Greensulate.

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