U.S. Middle East Policy: Another View of the Compass

Feb 25, 2011Daniel Berger

egypt-flag-wall-150A real understanding of the Administration's strategy to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East.

egypt-flag-wall-150A real understanding of the Administration's strategy to bring democracy and stability to the Middle East.

This responds to Naill Ferguson's misconceived diatribe against the Obama Administration's reaction to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Newsweek. In it, Ferguson presents three critiques of the Administration's actions: that it was misinformed and unprepared, that it acted in a contradictory manner, and -- most damming -- that it has no overall geo-strategic plan either for the Middle East or elsewhere.

Ferguson's overall critique concerning the Middle East is fundamentally misdirected and, to the extent that it has any validity, really relates to the effects of 40 years of dubious U.S. foreign policy decisions, for which Obama can hardly be held responsible. During this period (including during the entire Cold War), the U.S. actively supported a long line of Middle East autocrats, almost always to the detriment of the Arab populaces and societies over which they ruled. Many have said recently that in this approach the U.S. favored "stability" over other considerations. It, of course, did not. What it favored was the ability to make deals with existing governing elites in the Middle East region to promote U.S. interests including fighting our enemies, securing our principal energy supply, and protecting Israel.

In retrospect, the U.S. roughly achieved these aims -- but for what now appears to be only on a temporary basis. And it did so seemingly at the expense of both long-term stability and the protection of its interest in (so far) the two largest and geo-significant countries in the region: Iran and Egypt. Ferguson assumes the prospects of future cooperation with these countries will be bleak.

It should be left to historians to decide whether this was a reasonable trade-off. Suffice to say, at least for the Cold War period, the U.S. had a real geo-strategic adversary, the Soviet Union, whose existence could arguably justify our unconditional support of the various Middle East dictators on our payroll. Since the fall of communism, however, no comparable excuse has existed.

That the U.S., in retrospect, should at some point have pursued other policies rather than helping to entrench the Middle East governing status quo long before Obama appeared on the scene is, of course, not Obama's fault. Indeed, the U.S. had many years -- decades -- and many, many opportunities to solve the basic policy challenges in the region in the post-World War II era. The fact that it was able to accomplish lasting success in only one of its core missions represents a profound judgment against U.S. policy making and execution in this region -- particularly over the last 20 years.

Nor is the Obama Administration's decision to support democratization in Egypt and hope it will produce a regime that will cooperate with us indicative of faulty policy formation, indecision, or lack of planning. It is a necessity. Indeed, in light of the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, what realistic alternative do we have? What grand design does Ferguson have in mind?

Furthermore, Ferguson's suggestion either that different rhetoric or more resolve from Obama could have saved Mubarak represents a fundamental misunderstanding -- bordering on delusion -- of the reality of power in Egypt and the Middle East. The issue is not about U.S. resolve, but rather about the lack of legitimacy of Mubarak and other corrupt, stagnant regimes in the region.

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Instead of trying to shift responsibility from others with whom it really resides, we might want to reflect on policies that would enhance, rather than detract from, the possibilities for successful democratization -- and which should have been followed earlier. First and foremost is to reject Ferguson's conclusion that the principal danger now in Egypt is an Islamic fundamentalist takeover. This outcome would represent the end result of what is referred to as the "Iranian" model of Middle East political change and is the outcome forecast to occur by Ferguson's recent host, the Israeli government. To the contrary, the biggest danger both to and of democratization in the region and Egypt in particular is a continuation of economic conditions that consign 40% of Egypt's population to unemployment and permanent poverty. Without some meaningful improvement in economic conditions for the Arab masses, democratization is doomed and will lead to what Ferguson fears -- or worse.

So in addition to supporting a transition to democratic process in Egypt (and since when is an interim government to be followed by elections sound policy in Iraq but not in Egypt?), the U.S. needs to support policies that permit renewed rapid economic growth in Egypt and the region, improved work place conditions, and (God forbid) a fairer distribution of wealth. Supporting some type of social justice agenda like this would be the single most important step that the U.S. could take to ensure the successful emergence of secular, representative democracy in Egypt and in the region and to blunt religious autocracy and extremism. It goes without saying that strong secular democracies would also represent desirable geo-political counter-weights to Iran. (That, and finally presiding over a fair and just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict by persuading Israel to trade land for peace, would be the most needed steps the U.S. could now take to achieve its objectives and protect its interests.) In his Cairo speech (indeed, in the very language cited by Ferguson), Obama explicitly recognized these social justice concerns as a bulwark against extremism. Thus, contrary to Ferguson's contention, Obama arguably has accurately analyzed a number of the fundamental dilemmas in the region.

Markets, the world economic system, shared economic growth: Duh, sounds like a no-brainer. It is mystifying why a commentator of Ferguson's stature and one of the most public proselytizers of globalization would not give Obama some credit -- instead of dismissing his remarks as hopelessly naive.

Finally, Ferguson completely omits another fundamental U.S. policy blunder in the Middle East and one which it also had decades to solve: energy dependence on an unstable area. Thirty-five years ago, Jimmy Carter (for whom Ferguson exhibits contempt) proposed and got enacted by the Congress a comprehensive energy policy, including the development of alternative fuels and increased energy efficiency and conservation. If we had followed through on even a portion of it, it would have made the U.S. completely independent of foreign oil production today. Leaving aside the economic benefits that would have accrued in terms of innovation and first-mover advantage in the energy industry (which would have positioned us to dominate long before the emergence of China as an economic competitor) and the advantages which we would have realized from energy independence in dealing with the problem of global climate change, ending Middle East oil dependency would have dramatically altered for the better the geo-political equation there. Now that would have been a real grand stratagem of the type Ferguson called for (and still could be). Again, Obama was not to blame for dismantling Carter's credible and sound plan to end dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Rather, Reagan and the Republican "revolution" of the last 30 years were responsible for that disaster. Nor is he standing in the way of alternative energy development, even if belated but still necessary, to end dependence on foreign oil.

Ferguson would have done a greater service to readers of Newsweek by discussing these and other fundamental flaws in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, rather than assailing Obama with the usual litany of neo-conservative fixations: radical Islam, Iran, revanchist Russia and the Chinese "threat." Only if we come to terms with the history of our Middle East policymaking and its effects can we understand Obama's reaction to Mubarak's fall, what needs to be done now, and the sufficiency of his response -- all matters on which Ferguson was silent.

Daniel Berger is an attorney in the field of complex litigation, including securities and anti-trust litigation, and has a broad-based knowledge concerning the structure and functioning of the US economy and US financial markets. He practices in Philadelphia.

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How Walker's Wisconsin Plan Allows For the Selling of Energy Assets With No Bids.

Feb 21, 2011Mike Konczal

Have you heard about 16.896?

Have you heard about 16.896?

The fight in Wisconsin is over Governor Walker's 144-page Budget Repair Bill. The parts everyone is focusing on have to do with the right to collectively bargain being stripped from public sector unions (except for the unions that supported Walker running for Governor). Focusing on this misses a large part of what the bill would do. Check out this language, from the same bill (my bold):

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

The bill would allow for the selling of state-owned heating/cooling/power plants without bids and without concern for the legally-defined public interest.  This excellent catch is from Ed at ginandtacos.com (who, speaking of Madison, took me to the Essen Haus on my 21st birthday, where the night began to go sideways). Ed correctly notes:

If this isn't the best summary of the goals of modern conservatism, I don't know what is. It's like a highlight reel of all of the tomahawk dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism. Extra bonus points for the explicit effort to legally redefine the term "public interest" as "whatever the energy industry lobbyists we appoint to these unelected bureaucratic positions say it is."

In case it isn't clear where the naked cronyism comes in, remember which large, politically active private interest loves buying up power plants and already has considerable interests in Wisconsin. Then consider their demonstrated eagerness to help Mr. Walker get elected and bus in carpetbaggers to have a sad little pro-Mubarak style "rally" in his honor. There are dots to be connected here, but doing so might not be in the public interest.

It's important to think of this battle as a larger one over the role of the state. The attempt to break labor is part of the same continuous motion as saying that the crony, corporatist selling of state utilities to the Koch brothers and other energy interests is the new "public interest."

Mike Konczal is a fellow with the Roosevelt Institute.

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Obama Can Revolutionize Rural America with Broadband, FDR-style

Feb 18, 2011David B. Woolner

FDR brought prosperity to rural America with the Rural Electrification Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Obama can do the same with wireless internet.

FDR brought prosperity to rural America with the Rural Electrification Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Obama can do the same with wireless internet.

In a speech delivered last week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, President Obama unveiled his plan to bring high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of America. Such an initiative, he said, would spark "new innovation, new investment and new jobs," and, if successful, would connect "every corner of America to the digital age."

Investing federal dollars in bringing the benefits of high-speed wireless to rural America is not unlike the efforts Franklin Roosevelt launched more than 75 years ago to bring electricity to America's family farms. In Roosevelt's day, it is estimated that roughly nine out of ten farms in America lacked electricity. As such, most farm families still lived a life that was more reminiscent of the 19th century. With no electricity, there was no running water, and hence no indoor plumbing or bathrooms. Water had to be brought into the house from wells or a nearby stream and heat was provided by indoor stoves. No electricity also meant that most farms lacked the convenience of modern appliances and had no way to obtain entertainment or information over the radio.

Prior to FDR's administration, advocates of rural power had found private companies disinterested due to the high costs of extending lines into the countryside, so they turned to the federal government. But even though many of the ideas being floated at the time involved the development of rural access to electricity through public-private cooperation, such plans fell on deaf ears.

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All of this changed, however, with FDR's election to the White House. A strong believer in the need for the federal government to take the lead in the development of public power, FDR launched the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933 (which remains America's largest public utility) and in 1935 established the Rural Electrification Administration, or REA. The REA was a new federal agency whose sole purpose was to bring the benefits of electricity to rural America.

In its initial efforts, the REA tried to extend electricity to rural areas by providing low-cost government loans to private utility companies who would then be tasked with the job of building a full-scale rural electrical grid. But the agency soon found that most private companies were still not willing to participate in the program. As an alternative, and with the strong support of progressive Republicans like Senator George Norris of Nebraska, the REA then turned to the farmers themselves, urging them to form themselves into electricity cooperatives. These cooperatives would then receive low-interest REA loans, which would be used to finance the construction of local generating and distributing facilities and the lines needed to take the power to individual farms. The rural electrification program flourished under this formula, and by the time FDR died in 1945, it is estimated that nine out of ten farms in the country had electricity -- the exact reverse of the situation when he assumed office.

As predicted, rural electrification revolutionized life on the farm and remains one of the most significant -- if largely forgotten -- legacies of the New Deal. It vastly improved farm life, bringing running water and refrigeration, for example, which improved health and sanitation, as well as the radio, which linked farm families to the rest of the nation. It also made it possible for new labor-saving appliances and technologies to be introduced not only on the farm, but also in rural villages and schools, all of which improved the rural economy and quality of life.

President Obama's National Wireless Initiative is not unlike rural electrification. Properly administered and executed, it too can improve rural America's quality of life and has the potential, as the President observed, to "accelerate breakthroughs in health, education, and transportation." It also provides us with another example of how the federal government, in the tradition of the New Deal, can and must take the lead in improving the economic infrastructure of the country -- even in a digital age.

**For more on how FDR changed life in rural America, and how we can do it again today, check out Lynn Parramore's October, 2010 talk on the subject here. She joined other experts to talk about the enduring legacy of the New Deal.

David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute.

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Obama’s Reluctant Budget Proposal Lacks Vision

Feb 16, 2011Zachary Kolodin

fdr-obama-tale-150With so many challenges facing the country, the time for bold leadership is now.

"When there is no vision the people perish." -Franklin Delano Roosevelt

fdr-obama-tale-150With so many challenges facing the country, the time for bold leadership is now.

"When there is no vision the people perish." -Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Two years ago, President Obama released a budget that garnered the New York Times headline, "A Bold Plan Sweeps Away Reagan Ideas." They seemed to be saying, "Hold on to your hats, people, the Obama budget is a progressive tornado!" On Monday, President Obama released his 2012 budget. To say it falls short of bold is a bit of an understatement. The consensus headline is "Obama Pivots."

The President is essentially obligated to release a budget around this time of year as a kind of formal announcement that the dance around the issue has begun. This time, Obama seems determined to neither take a step forward nor a step backward. He's committed to advancing his energy agenda, however tentatively, as long as no one can call it "stimulus." He wants to reduce the deficit -- but only so long as the main drivers of the debt, Medicare, Social Security, and defense spending, remain largely untouched. Let's call it Obama's reluctant budget.

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The budget is the President's opportunity to say where the country is headed and where it needs to go. In short, it is an opportunity to lead. This is no moment for reluctant leadership. Unemployment remains at a startlingly high 9%, and youth unemployment is almost double that. Meanwhile, we can feel our opportunities for breakthrough innovation slipping away, as Europe and Asia take bold steps to build the 21st century green economy on their own turf.

All Americans, progressive, moderate, and conservative, should demand more from our President. Whether we believe that staggering unemployment, lagging green innovation, or growing consumer debt is the problem, we know that we need vision to guide us. We need to know that the path goes somewhere reliable and prosperous for all. President Obama had the opportunity and he pivoted. But that doesn't mean that there is no vision.

Millennial America has already come together around a Blueprint for the future. We challenge other constituencies to join us in calling for the President to take this moment to lead. Join us in developing a stronger vision that can drive America determinedly forward.

Zachary Kolodin is the Director of the Future Preparedness Initiative at the Roosevelt Institute.

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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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