Daily Digest - July 7: In Corporate America, Pay Comes Before Patriotism

Jul 7, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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On This Fourth of July, Meet Your Unpatriotic Corporations (The Nation)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

On This Fourth of July, Meet Your Unpatriotic Corporations (The Nation)

Greed comes far before patriotism for companies that reincorporate abroad to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, writes Roosevelt Institute board member Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Students Joining Battle to Upend Laws on Voter ID (NYT)

In North Carolina, college students are challenging the state's strict voter ID law on the grounds of age discrimination, reports Matt Apuzzo. This is the very first case of its kind.

American CEOs: In a Class All by Themselves (Truthout)

Sam Pizzigati points out that discussions of executive pay in the U.S. tend to leave out international comparisons, which demonstrate just how extreme American CEO pay can be.

  • Roosevelt Take: White papers from William Lazonick and Roosevelt Institute Fellow and Director of Research Susan Holmberg look at the problems created by high CEO pay, and steps to fix it.

Moaning Moguls (The New Yorker)

James Surowiecki looks at why America's wealthiest complain so much about their supposed mistreatment by society, and why those complaints lack merit.

Obama Calls for a New Crackdown on Wall Street (Mother Jones)

Erika Eichelberger says that the President is calling for further reforms, but has not presented any specific plans, and it isn't clear how he would get anything through Congress.

New on Next New Deal

Where Does $2 Trillion in Subsidies for the Wealthiest Hide in Plain Sight? Capital Gains Tax Breaks.

Preferential tax rates and loopholes for investment income make economic inequality worse, writes Harry Stein, who explains the necessity of reforms proposed in Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz's recent white paper.

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What the History of the World Wars Can Tell Us About the Deeper Struggles at Work in Iraq

Jun 19, 2014David B. Woolner

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

Spreading democracy abroad requires more than military power, as history has shown from the two World Wars.

The very philosophy of the Axis powers is based on a profound contempt for the human race. If, in the formation of our future policy, we were guided by the same cynical contempt, then we should be surrendering to the philosophy of our enemies, and our victory would turn to defeat.

The issue of this war is the basic issue between those who believe in mankind and those who do not—the ancient issue between those who put their faith in the people and those who put their faith in dictators and tyrants. There have always been those who did not believe in the people, who attempted to block their forward movement across history, to force them back to servility and suffering and silence.—Franklin D. Roosevelt 1943

As Franklin Roosevelt realized all too well, victory in the Second World War required much more than military power; it also involved the defeat of the extremist ideology of fascism that brought death and destruction to millions. Viewed from this perspective, the six-year struggle between 1939 and 1945 was as much a battle of ideas as it was a military conflict, and throughout the long years of fighting, FDR put as much effort into winning the peace as he did into winning the war.

Moreover, this determination did not just occur overnight. It came from a deep understanding of history and long years of experience, including the experience of having lived through America’s first major engagement as a global power—our entrance into the First World War, a move which President Wilson claimed was driven by America’s desire “to make the world safe for democracy.”  

The tragic events unfolding in Iraq today are not all that dissimilar to what took place in the 1930s and 40s. Once again we face an extremist ideology that is bent on conquest and has little respect for human life. Once again we face an adversary that rejects the core set of values that stand at the root of Western civilization, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

To counter this threat, senior American policy-makers often speak—as former Vice President Dick Cheney did yesterday in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal—of the need to defend and secure America’s “freedom,” in part through the promotion of “freedom” abroad.

In recent years, the best and most dynamic example of this modern-day attempt “to make the world safe for democracy” can be seen in the 2003 invasion of Iraq—a war of choice which was launched under the false assumption that the “Iraqi people” would respond to “freedom” in a manner similar to what happened in Japan and Germany after the Second World War. Hence, American strategy in this exercise in regime change was based on the idea that the people of Iraq would embrace democracy and Western values—forgetting of course that Iraq—unlike Germany or westernized Japan in 1945—was most emphatically not part of the West and that most of the Iraqi people had very little experience or interest in building a modern pluralistic state.

All of this points to a fundamental flaw that existed—and still exists—in the thinking of those like Vice President Cheney who base America’s security on the promotion of what some recent analysts have termed “hard Wilsonianism”—the idea that the in the post Cold War world the United States can use its overwhelming military superiority to enforce a liberal international order.

It is true that what is happening in Iraq and Syria is a major international crisis. It is also true—as Vice President Cheney and others have argued—that America’s withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 has helped precipitate this crisis. What is largely missing from the current debate over Iraq and Syria—as well as the equally dangerous crisis in Ukraine—is the overwhelming need for American policy-makers and the American public to pay greater attention to the religious and ideological forces at work in these crises and the one tool perhaps more than any other that can help us avoid these sorts of catastrophes in the future: the study of history.

A rudimentary understanding of Iraq’s history, for example, would have made clear that Iraq was carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in a secret treaty between the British and the French at the height of the First World War, and that modern Iraq is really three nations, one Sunni, one Shia and one Kurdish, held together in its initial years by the British Empire and for the rest of the 20th century by the brutal hand of dictators like Saddam Hussein.

In his criticism of the decision to withdraw all of America’s combat forces from Iraq, Vice President Cheney accused President Obama of being “willfully blind to the impact of his policies.” The recent history of Iraq indicates that President Bush and his advisors are equally guilty of this sin, if not more so. A deeper understanding of Iraqi as well as American history would have indicated to them that “wishful thinking about our adversaries,” as Vice President Cheney put it, is indeed “folly,” the sort of folly that led us to launch the 2003 invasion with far too few troops, based on the fatal assumption that U.S. forces would be universally welcomed in this deeply divided, semi-artificial state. Viewed from this perspective, the Bush administration’s decision to not only take out Saddam Hussein but also destroy—with a minimum of American force—Iraq’s bureaucracy and army borders on criminal negligence. For as we now know, the latter two moves, especially disbanding the Iraqi Army, were a grave mistake, releasing tens of thousands of armed men—mostly Sunni armed men, who were convinced they had little or no future in a Shia-dominated Iraq—into the general population. The result was near civil war and the need for a major surge of American troops, all of which made a mockery of President Bush’s claim on May 1, 2003 that “major combat operations in Iraq” had ended.

Even if one believes that the toppling of Saddam Hussein was necessary, a closer reading of history might have led to a much more responsible and well-thought-out strategy: one that took cognizance of the deep ethnic and religious divisions within Iraq; understood—as General MacArthur and President Truman did when they ordered the Japanese Army to keep order in Japan until American occupation troops arrived—that the uncontrolled disbanding of a nation’s armed forces is a recipe for disaster; and recognized—as FDR did—that the development of Western-style democracy involves much more than the highly over-used and over-rated concept of “freedom” or the right to vote. It also requires tolerance, a respect for the rule of law, and a willingness to build the necessary institutions that make up a modern democratic state.

In a little-known comment near the end of the tumultuous 1920s—the decade which brought us a brutal civil war in Russia and a great deal of nationalist upheaval in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine—British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin reflected that what was really required in the wake of the First World War was not so much the determination “to make the world safe for democracy,” as President Wilson argued, but rather the determination “to make democracy safe for the world.”

Franklin Roosevelt understood this. He recognized that it was the ideology of fascism—inspired in part by the frustrations of the First World War—that brought us the Second World War and all its concomitant horrors, including the Holocaust. As such, to win the military struggle—made so much easier today by the advent of technologies like the predator drone—was not enough. We also had to bring an end to the ideology of fascism, and to accomplish this we had to offer the people of the world not just “freedom” in the narrow sense of the word, but a much more expansive and all-inclusive concept, a definition of freedom that included, as FDR so eloquently put it, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. These four concepts together, along with the creation of such institutions as the United Nations and America’s willingness to embrace multilateralism, gave us the credibility to lead the world in the decades that followed. In this sense, FDR also learned from history, for having lived through the First World War and the failed peace that followed, he understood that our ultimate task was not so much to “make the world safe for democracy,” but rather “to make democracy safe for the world.” It is this lesson above all else that we need to embrace today if we are to entertain any hope of bringing an end to the crises in Iraq and Syria. 

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

 

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Daily Digest - May 15: The Politics of Embracing Piketty

May 15, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Why Democrats Are Paying Attention to Piketty's Book on Inequality (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson suggests Democrats are using Capital in the 21st Century to strengthen their inequality narrative for the midterm elections.

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Why Democrats Are Paying Attention to Piketty's Book on Inequality (Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson suggests Democrats are using Capital in the 21st Century to strengthen their inequality narrative for the midterm elections.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong says that Piketty and his peers are defining today's debate and opening new opportunities to push back on inequality.

Fast-Food Protests Spread Overseas (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on today's fast food strikes in 150 U.S. cities, the largest yet, and why the organizers are working to build support and influence abroad as well.

The Merits of Participatory Budgeting (AJAM)

Bringing citizens into the decision-making process for local spending empowers them, says Hollie Russon Gilman, and builds their connection to politics more generally.

Paul Ryan's Approach To Poverty Is Straight Out Of The 19th Century (HuffPo)

Arthur Delaney looks at the anti-handout models of fighting poverty from the 1800s, which don't make sense given modern data, and finds strong similarities to Rep. Ryan's views.

The Neediest Americans Are Getting The Least Government Assistance (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert looks at forthcoming research that shows that since 1975, social safety net spending has shifted away from the poorest Americans to those who are more well off.

New on Next New Deal

Places for Hope in the Fight to Protect Women's Health and Rights

To push back against the constant barrage of bad news, Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn shines a light on states that are taking proactive, positive steps on women's health.

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To Stop Campus Sexual Assault, We Should Study the Men Responsible

May 13, 2014Andrea FlynnNataya Friedan

This post is the second in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a suggestion for how the White House's Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault could use research to strengthen prevention efforts.

This post is the second in the Roosevelt Institute's National Women's Health Week series, which will address pressing issues affecting the health and economic security of women and families in the United States. Today, a suggestion for how the White House's Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault could use research to strengthen prevention efforts.

Finally, the national spotlight is focused on the issue of campus sexual assault. Not Alone, the White House’s first report on the topic, is a historic step in acknowledging violations that have long been ignored, mishandled, or silenced by universities and authorities. One in five women on U.S. campuses experiences sexual violence. Not Alone symbolizes President Obama and Vice President Biden’s commitment to reversing that tide.

Not Alone calls for increased prevention efforts, including the sharing of best practices and promoting the intervention of male bystanders. It urges schools to train the officials responsible for investigating and adjudicating assaults as victim advocates. But this isn't just a report: there's also a toolkit to help campuses conduct and evaluate “campus climate surveys” meant to illuminate the dimensions and scope of sexual violence.

Campus climate surveys ask students to anonymously report on topics ranging from their opinions on consent and the role of alcohol to their own encounters with sexual violence. The report calls on colleges and universities to voluntarily conduct the surveys next year, and the administration is exploring legislative or administrative options that would mandate the surveys in 2016.

These surveys are critically valuable and add to the important research done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on a broad range of sexually violent behaviors, including verbal sexual coercion/sexual pressure. That research – included in the report’s toolkit of resources – shows that between 25 and 60 percent of men report some form of sexual misconduct in their lifetime. It also shows that nearly 80 percent of women who experience rape do so before the age of 25. Campus climate surveys expand on this research and give schools the data they need to institute change.

All of this research is important for understanding the continuum of sexual misconduct and violence. But to truly prevent sexual assault, it seems imperative that we understand the behaviors, triggers, and environments that contribute to these crimes. For that, we need to talk to the men.

When it comes to understanding rape, there is research worth revisiting and repeating: psychologist David Lisak’s study of college men, which found that the majority of campus rapes (and attempted rapes) in the study were committed by a small group of serial offenders. The study – referenced in the White House’s original Call to Action – challenges the myth that campus rape is somehow less real or serious than rapes that occur in other settings. Lisak’s findings disrupt the notion that campus rape is an issue of drunken confusion, or naivety about consent, rather than a violent act of will and force.

Lisak’s study is distinct in that it suggests that a small group of individuals are responsible for the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses. His research was conducted over eight years with nearly 2,000 students at a university in Boston. Unlike other studies, it asked men about their actions, not just their opinions. Lisak’s surveys asked participants to (confidentially) report on a range of their own experiences with interpersonal violence and sexual behavior. 6.4 percent of the participants admitted to actions that legally constitute rape or attempted rape. This small group was responsible for 85 percent of the study’s reported acts of interpersonal violence. Two-thirds of that group admitted to being serial offenders who committed, on average, six rapes each and those offenders committed more than 90 percent of the study’s admitted rapes and attempted rapes.

The study concludes that the campus rape statistics match up with data on convicted rapists. The admitted rapists' answers to questions about their viewpoints on women, sex, and violence closely mirror those of convicted rapists as well. Campus rapists, it turns out, aren't very different from any other rapists.

The study had a small sample size, which makes it difficult to generalize its findings to the larger population. That's why repeating the research on a larger scale would be so valuable: confirming the patterns and indicators of sexual violence could enable administrators to create and implement more effective prevention programs. Not Alone falls just shy of calling for such research, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use this moment as an opportunity to be more expansive in our thinking and questioning of this important issue. Not Alone clearly emphasizes that education is not the only form of prevention: proactive investigation is needed to disrupt patterns of violence. Incorporating more male-focused lines of questioning into the campus climate surveys or conducting separate surveys similar to Lisak’s would allow administrators to focus not only on the experiences of survivors but also on the men who perpetrate these crimes.

The White House – and the activists who have bravely spoken out – has changed the conversation from one that historically blames the victim to one that calls on men to actively participate in ending sexual violence. As the report correctly states: Not all men are perpetrators of sexual assault. But most perpetrators are men, and a deeper understanding of those perpetrators' behavior will help universities build systems of accountability. Right now, too many institutions are doing too little to prevent sexual violence. Given time, resources, and the right kind of research, we can change that.  

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Nataya Friedan is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Women Rising initiative.

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Daily Digest - May 6: Will the Robin Hood Tax Hit the Mark?

May 6, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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The Most Popular Tax in History Has Real Momentum (The Nation)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's Board of Directors, says that if Europe's "Robin Hood" tax is successfully implemented, it could boost efforts to implement a financial transactions tax in the U.S.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

The Most Popular Tax in History Has Real Momentum (The Nation)

Katrina vanden Heuvel, a member of the Roosevelt Institute's Board of Directors, says that if Europe's "Robin Hood" tax is successfully implemented, it could boost efforts to implement a financial transactions tax in the U.S.

Which States Are Givers and Which Are Takers? (The Atlantic)

Maps depicting states' reliance on federal funding lead John Tierney to ask whether the framework of givers and takers is useful, or whether we should instead focus on how the government creates an American community.

Blackstone Unit Invitation Homes Sued Over Rental House's Condition (LA Times)

Amid concerns about investment firms' ability to properly maintain the thousands of rental homes they've acquired, Andrew Khouri reports on one family's lawsuit over a slum-like house.

Gallup: Uninsured Rate Is Lowest We've Ever Recorded (TNR)

Jonathan Cohn reports on a new poll from Gallup, which has been asking whether people have health insurance since 2008. He warns that this isn't proof that more are getting health care, but it's a good start.

Millennials Have Stopped Trusting the Government (Vox)

Andrew Prokop breaks down a new survey by Harvard's Institute of Politics, which shows Millennials' decreasing trust in government over the past few years. Their biggest concern is unsurprising: the economy.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Vice President of Networks Taylor Jo Isenberg introduces the Campus Network's 2014 10 Ideas series, featuring top policy proposals from students across the country who still see ways for government to create a better world.

Nutter to Sign Minimum Wage Executive Order (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Philadelphia mayor is following President Obama's lead, reports Claudia Vargas, by requiring a higher minimum wage in city contracts and subcontracts.

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The Internet Responds to the Voluntarism Fantasy

Apr 8, 2014Mike Konczal

My recent Voluntarism Fantasy piece (pdf) for Democracy Journal has gotten a fair amount of coverage. So I'm going to use this post, which will be updated, to keep track of the links to other people engaging, if only so I can respond in the future.

The piece was also reprinted at The Altantic Monthly.

Reddit thread with comments.

In favor of the piece:

Michael Hiltzik covers the argument in the LA Times' opinion page and EJ Dionne in the Washington Post's opinion page.

Matt Bruenig notes that the way we discuss this reflects a deep status quo bias at The Week.

Elizabeth Stoker, channeling Niebuhr, makes the strong Christian case that charity and government social insurance go together at The Week.

Sally Steenland of Center for America Progress also addresses the fantasy in this article.

Erik Loomis makes an excellent point that in addition to the rest of the 19th century state, the "federally subsidized westward expansion was also part of this welfare state, as Republicans especially explicitly saw the frontier as a social safety net that would alleviate poverty without directly giving charity to people."

James Kwak agrees that there's "No Substitute for the Government" here.

Jordan Weissmann argues that "Charity Can’t Replace the Safety Net" over at Slate.

I discuss the piece on the Majority Report with Sam Seder (also in-studio video here).

Less in favor:

Marvin Olasky, author of the Tragedy of American Compassion (which is one focal point of the article), responds in World.

Philathrophy Daily ran two articles critical of the piece, both at the forefront of the voluntarism fantasy's worldview. The first is from Hans Zeiger and the second from Martin Morse Wooster, who breaks out the paralipsis "I could argue that Mike Konczal and the Roosevelt Institute has a hidden agenda: to force the U.S. to accept Soviet-style communism ... I won’t make that argument because I know it isn’t true."

Rich Tucker at Townhall says that I do "a better job than Barack Obama did explaining the president’s 'You didn’t build that' philosophy," which I'll take as a compliment.

Reihan Salam has a set of responses at The Agenda.

Howard Husock argues that  charitably-funded, non-governmental programs are better than government at helping help individuals thrive at Forbes.

Don Watkins at the Ayn Rand Institute has a five part (!) critical response; you can work backwards from the fifth part here.

Anarchist Kevin Carson sees "the welfare state nevertheless as an evil necessitated by the state-enforced model of capitalism, and ultimately destined to wither away along with economic privilege and exploitation" in his response.

I'll add any more as they happen. (Last updated April 11th.)

My recent Voluntarism Fantasy piece (pdf) for Democracy Journal has gotten a fair amount of coverage. So I'm going to use this post, which will be updated, to keep track of the links to other people engaging, if only so I can respond in the future.

The piece was also reprinted at The Altantic Monthly.

Reddit thread with comments.

In favor of the piece:

Michael Hiltzik covers the argument in the LA Times' opinion page and EJ Dionne in the Washington Post's opinion page.

Matt Bruenig notes that the way we discuss this reflects a deep status quo bias at The Week.

Elizabeth Stoker, channeling Niebuhr, makes the strong Christian case that charity and government social insurance go together at The Week.

Sally Steenland of Center for America Progress also addresses the fantasy in this article.

Erik Loomis makes an excellent point that in addition to the rest of the 19th century state, the "federally subsidized westward expansion was also part of this welfare state, as Republicans especially explicitly saw the frontier as a social safety net that would alleviate poverty without directly giving charity to people."

James Kwak agrees that there's "No Substitute for the Government" here.

Jordan Weissmann argues that "Charity Can’t Replace the Safety Net" over at Slate.

I discuss the piece on the Majority Report with Sam Seder (also in-studio video here).

Less in favor:

Marvin Olasky, author of the Tragedy of American Compassion (which is one focal point of the article), responds in World.

Philathrophy Daily ran two articles critical of the piece, both at the forefront of the voluntarism fantasy's worldview. The first is from Hans Zeiger and the second from Martin Morse Wooster, who breaks out the paralipsis "I could argue that Mike Konczal and the Roosevelt Institute has a hidden agenda: to force the U.S. to accept Soviet-style communism ... I won’t make that argument because I know it isn’t true."

Rich Tucker at Townhall says that I do "a better job than Barack Obama did explaining the president’s 'You didn’t build that' philosophy," which I'll take as a compliment.

Reihan Salam has a set of responses at The Agenda.

Howard Husock argues that  charitably-funded, non-governmental programs are better than government at helping help individuals thrive at Forbes.

Don Watkins at the Ayn Rand Institute has a five part (!) critical response; you can work backwards from the fifth part here.

Anarchist Kevin Carson sees "the welfare state nevertheless as an evil necessitated by the state-enforced model of capitalism, and ultimately destined to wither away along with economic privilege and exploitation" in his response.

I'll add any more as they happen. (Last updated April 11th.)

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Taking on Big Business Wage Theft

Apr 2, 2014Harmony Goldberg

Lawsuits show that the fight against wage theft is heating up, but workers shouldn't have to sue their employers to get paid what they're owed.

Lawsuits show that the fight against wage theft is heating up, but workers shouldn't have to sue their employers to get paid what they're owed.

Despite the extensive press coverage of the fight of fast-food workers for a $15 hourly wage, one recent development hasn’t gotten much attention: fast food workers around the country have started to win significant wage theft lawsuits against McDonald’s franchisees, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. These lawsuits raise an important question: How has McDonald’s been able to get away with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from low-wage workers? The answer is straightforward. Our system for enforcement has been so severely weakened that many employers are able to regularly violate workers’ basic rights. And the law itself is broken. Its structure allows corporations like McDonald’s to escape responsibility for the conditions in their workplaces.

In February, student guest workers won a lawsuit that charged a McDonald’s franchise in Pennsylvania with wage theft. They had been paid sub-minimum wages, denied overtime pay and charged exorbitant prices for company housing. The Department of Labor required the franchise to pay $205,977 to both guest workers and native-born workers at the franchise. This victory was rapidly followed by a wave of other lawsuits around the country.  

Last week, McDonald’s workers in three cities launched highly publicized cases charging the corporation with wage theft. These workers had experienced many types of wage theft. The workers in California claim that they were not paid for overtime work. In Michigan, workers are asserting that they were required to show up for work but were not allowed to clock in. Workers in New York allege that were not compensated for the time they spent cleaning their uniforms, required to do work off the clock and not paid overtime. The New York suit was almost immediately successful. Last week, seven franchises agreed to settle for almost $500,000.

McDonald’s workers are not alone. Wage theft has become a widespread problem in low-wage industries in the United States. An influential study found that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of workers had experienced some form of wage theft in their previous week of work: they were paid below the minimum wage, not paid for overtime, required to work off the clock or had their breaks limited. An organization of fast food workers in New York City surveyed workers and found that 84% of workers had experienced wage theft in the last year.

Addressing wage theft will take a two-pronged solution: rebuilding the enforcement system in the U.S., and cutting through the smokescreen of subcontracting and franchising to hold employers responsible for the wages and working conditions in their workplaces. 

The enforcement regime in the United States has been significantly weakened over the last several decades. There has been an overall downward trend in funding for the Department of Labor. The number of labor inspectors had plummeted for years. The Obama administration has added new inspectors, but not enough to make up for the long-term decline. Meanwhile, the number of workers who need protection has grown. This pattern has to be turned on its head. If rampant wage theft is to be stopped, we need to radically increase the number of labor inspectors on the ground.

But – as Annette Bernhard points out in a new paper – increased funding is not enough. The enforcement system that we have is not well structured to deal with our current economy. It must be transformed. The penalties for employers who violate workplace regulations must increase. Enforcement agencies should partner with organizations like unions and worker centers that are in daily contact with workers. These organizations can educate workers and employers about workplace regulations, and they can provide an ear to the ground to help identify violators.

Even a radical transformation of the enforcement regime will not be enough in today’s economy. We need to change the law to deal with changes in the structure of employment. Right now, McDonald’s is structured so that the franchise owners are technically considered to be the employers. They are held legally responsible for wage violations in their stores, leaving McDonalds itself off the hook. Both recent legal victories charged franchise owners rather than the McDonald’s corporation itself. McDonald’s is shielded from blame while it continues to reap the majority of the profits that come from mistreating workers.

We need a new definition of what it means to be an employer. The current definition makes it impossible for workers to hold their corporate employers – the ones who are setting the real terms of their work – responsible. The two remaining McDonald’s wage theft cases target both the franchise owners and the McDonald’s corporation itself. That challenges the narrow definition of employer, which limits responsibility to the franchise owner. The time has come for the law to be changed. All employers - from the front-line employers up to top of the employment chain – should be legally recognized as such so they can be held accountable for the conditions in their workplaces.

Wage theft that has become an endemic problem in today’s economy. Low-wage workers should not have to turn – again and again – to private lawsuits as a solution. They deserve the basic right to be paid for their labor. To get there, we need full funding and comprehensive reform of the enforcement system in the United States, and we need legal reforms that hold central employers responsible for the conditions in their workplaces. 

Harmony Goldberg is the Program Manager for the Roosevelt Institute's Future of Work Initiative.

Photo copyright Annette Bernhardt, via Creative Commons license.

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Reducing Flood Risks is Worth the Effort – and the Savings

Apr 1, 2014Melia Ungson

Programs aimed at cutting flood insurance premiums by reducing risk have their pluses and minuses, but the positives deserve strong consideration from local governments.

Programs aimed at cutting flood insurance premiums by reducing risk have their pluses and minuses, but the positives deserve strong consideration from local governments.

FEMA administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to make flood insurance available to many communities, as most standard home and property insurance policies do not cover losses from floods. In 2012, Congress passed the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which called on FEMA to raise flood insurance rates so that they better reflect flood risk. This has spurred concerns about people’s ability to afford flood insurance and maintain property values.

One program that strives to help make flood insurance more affordable and encourage communities to reduce flood risk is the Community Rating System (CRS), which began in 1990. Communities that participate in CRS receive a discount on flood insurance premiums. The more a community does to reduce flood risk, the larger the premium reduction. According to FEMA, CRS has three main goals: to reduce flood damage to insurable property, to strengthen the insurance aspects of the NFIP, and to encourage a more comprehensive approach to floodplain management.

CRS is a points-based system, where 500 points is required for participation. A community can earn CRS points by taking on actions from an approved list. These activities are broken up into four main categories (public information, mapping and regulations, flood damage reduction, and flood preparedness), and include everything from disseminating brochures with flood hazard information to developing mapping information.

Based on the number of points accrued, communities are assigned to one of ten CRS classes. Class 10 is for those who are not participating or who have less than 500 points. Class 9 communities, with 500-999 points, receive a 5% reduction, and Class 1 communities, with 4,500 points or more, receive a 45% reduction. The increasing reductions create incentives for communities to expand flood protection activities.

Despite the benefits, CRS communities represent only about 5% of the communities in the NFIP. Most communities that participate in CRS fall between Class 5 and Class 9. In New England, most participating communities fall between Class 7 and Class 9. Improving class takes time and resources, but for a program that has been around for nearly 25 years, there are surprisingly few communities at the top classes. Roseville, California is the only Class 1 community, inspired to take on the CRS after devastating floods, and its 45% reduction saves residents an average of $792 per plan. Additionally, only three communities have achieved a Class 2 rating. Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has creeks that cause flooding, saves residents an average of $514 per plan. Unincorporated King County, Washington, which focused on preserving floodplain open space, saves residents an average of $586. And Pierce County, Washington, which focused on public information, saves residents an average of $550.

Beyond premium reductions, FEMA argues the program has other benefits. These include improving public safety and awareness, facilitating easier comparison and evaluation with a standardized classification system, providing technical assistance, and focusing on maintaining measures to reduce risk.

Indeed, CRS does have major benefits, not least of which is the reduced premium. With the incentive to reduce flood risk, the program balances recognizing the real risks and costs of living in areas with flooding dangers, and also trying to make those communities more prepared and resilient. Acquisition and relocation are incentivized through CRS with high point rewards, as is preserving hazardous flood areas as open space, though the bulk of the program’s actions focus on reducing risk in areas that will remain inhabited. Additionally, FEMA offers free training for local officials and makes emergency management specialists available to support CRS applications.

However, the very low number of NFIP communities that participate in CRS suggests that there are obstacles to applying for and maintaining CRS status. Despite Tulsa’s success in CRS, overall interest in the program has been declining in Oklahoma, as local officials weigh the benefits and costs of implementing CRS. A major issue is limited local capacity. Communities that are already struggling to stretch budgets and personnel may not be able to take on the additional work required by CRS to benefit residents living in flood zones. This may be particularly problematic in cases where the residents of flood zones are those who are struggling with the added costs of flood insurance and are most in need of the premium reduction. Since individual residents cannot take steps to gain points, the community must rely on local officials to prioritize CRS.

Furthermore, upgrading levels is difficult and takes time. King County, for instance, went from being Class 10 when the program started in 1990 to Class 9 in 1992. It then took 15 years to work up to Class 2. That long time horizon may be discouraging to getting communities to apply. A 5% discount may not seem like much in comparison to the time and work required for a class upgrade, so communities may postpone their participation until they accrue enough points for a larger reduction.

Lastly, the number of communities participating, and especially the number of communities in the top classes, suggests that there may be a gap between national standards and local capacity. Though the cost of implementing CRS varies, communities have reported costs ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 and above, largely for disseminating information and developing maps. Some communities may be hesitant to proceed too far along with CRS, as it poses restrictions on development, such as elevation requirements.

Despite the challenges, CRS is an important tool. While local communities may have limited capacity, FEMA, too, can only do so much to reduce risk in communities across the country. CRS empowers local officials to take action, while also putting money back into the hands of residents. The challenge is to make the case to local residents and officials that participation in CRS is worthwhile. It is a big commitment, with the application likely taking significant time and resources, and it is an ongoing commitment, as communities must demonstrate they are maintaining measures to reduce risk and inform the public. Yet many of those actions are valuable, and even doable with the resources offered by FEMA and other agencies. While CRS may fairly not be a top priority for many communities, it is worth serious consideration.

Melia Ungson is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Energy and Environment.

 

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Florida Election Shows Danger and Promise in Obamacare Debate

Mar 17, 2014Richard Kirsch

Democrats may have lost the special election for Florida's 13th congressional district, but the polling shows a path to success in 2014 with the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats may have lost the special election for Florida's 13th congressional district, but the polling shows a path to success in 2014 with the Affordable Care Act.

As pundits debate the impact of Obamacare on the special Congressional election held in Florida on March 11, a headline from a new Bloomberg national poll actually does as good as any describing what happened in the Sunshine State: “Americans Stick with Obamacare as Opposition Burns Bright.” That national finding also describes what happened in Florida, where swing voters supported the ACA, but more opponents turned out to vote.

The Bloomberg survey found the “highest level of acceptance for the law yet” in Bloomberg’s polling, with almost two out of three (64 percent) of those surveyed saying they supported either retaining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with “small modifications” (51 percent) or as it is (13 percent).

The troubling result in the survey for the political prospects of the ACA is that the one-third (34 percent) who want to repeal the law are much more likely to vote. No news here. We’ve known that the ACA is a highly motivating issue for Republican voters, who turn out at a much higher rate in off-year elections than Democrats and independents.

The real news is in the first set of findings, the growing popularity of Obamacare outside the Republican base. These findings were confirmed in the Florida election, when Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, pushed back against attacks on the ACA from David Jolly, the Republican candidate, and independent groups supporting him.

Jolly’s position was clear:  “I’m fighting to repeal Obamacare, right away.” So was Sink’s: “We can’t go back to insurance companies doing whatever they want. Instead of repealing the health care law, we need to keep what’s right and fix what’s wrong.”

The key part of Sink’s message was to remind voters why people wanted health care reform in the first place. As one of Sink’s TV ads said, “Jolly would go back to letting insurance companies deny coverage.” That’s an effective reminder of the huge problems Americans have had for decades, when insurance companies could deny care because of a pre-existing condition, charge people higher rates because they were sick, even charge women higher rates than men. The ACA ended all that.

As would be expected in Florida – and even more so in a special election – the candidates worked especially hard for the votes of seniors. In their ads for Jolly, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee repeated their misleading charge from 2010, trying to scare seniors into opposing the ACA by saying that it cut $716 billion from Medicare. But unlike 2010, when Democrats did not respond to attacks on the ACA, Sink pushed back. She reminded seniors that the ACA actually provides important new Medicare benefits, including closing the infamous prescription drug “donut hole.” Sink’s ads accurately said, “His [Jolly’s] plan would even force seniors to pay thousands more for prescription drugs.”

By Election Day, voters had a clear contrast between the positions of the candidates on the ACA. It was a close election, with Jolly winning by a small margin (48.4% to 46.5%) in a district with an 11-point Republican advantage, one that has been represented by the GOP for nearly 60 years. But polling found that independent voters in the district supported the “keep and fix” position over the “repeal” position by a margin of 57% to 31%. Sink actually gained ground over Jolly during the election on the question of which candidate had a better position on the ACA.

The narrow margin is encouraging in a district with this large a Republican voter advantage, but still falls short of the turnout in 2012, when President Obama narrowly carried the district. Democrats will need to do better in November, if they are going to hold on to contested Senate races and have a chance of picking up House seats.

Fortunately, unlike in 2010, the Democratic Senate and Congressional campaign committees at least understand that they can’t run away from Obamacare. Doing so will cede independent voters to Republicans, just when those voters are becoming very supportive of the “keep and fix” message. While Democrats would prefer to keep the focus on the economic pressures being faced by American families – highlighting issues like the minimum wage – they’ll only be heard if they also engage aggressively in the fight over the ACA.

In fact, the ACA is an economic issue; just ask anyone who has lost her job and her health coverage. Or the millions of low-wage workers who can’t afford to go to the doctor, or are trying to pay back medical bills from the visit they could not put off. As millions more Americans get coverage – 11 million as of the end of February between the new exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid and young people under 26 – Democrats should incorporate the ACA into their overall economic message.

Supporters of the ACA have consistently believed that once the ACA began to be implemented, it would become more popular. We’re starting to see that shift. The challenge now will be turning that popularity into votes in November. 

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

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Daily Digest - January 30: How Do We Make the Economy Work Again?

Jan 30, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Left Jab Radio (Sirius XM)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Left Jab Radio (Sirius XM)

Jon Aberman and Mark Walsh speak with Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative Jeff Madrick about technological innovation that doesn't lead to productivity increases, the jobs emergency, and how to make the U.S. economy more competitive.

Republicans Just Won the Food Stamp War (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger writes that as the Senate plans to pass the current House version of the Farm Bill, which cuts $9 billion from SNAP, it's clear that the Democrats lost this fight. These cuts will mean that about a million families will receive $90 less per month.

Port Authority Demands Airlines Raise Worker Wages (NY Daily News)

Dan Friedman, Kenneth Lovett, and Rich Schapiro report that following a week-long campaign pushing for higher wages for airport workers, the executive director of the Port Authority has mandated a $9-per-hour wage for workers at LaGuardia and JFK airports.

Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse looks at the opposition to unionization efforts at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. National groups like the Center for Worker Freedom are pouring vast amounts of money into this fight, even though some think Volkswagen is open to the union.

Fed Stays the Course on Stimulus Reduction (WaPo)

Ylan Q. Mui writes that the Federal Reserve will continue to scale back its bond-buying program by about $10 billion in February. She notes that this is despite some concerns about weak job growth, as the December jobs report showed the nation added only 74,000 jobs.

New on Next New Deal

Roosevelt Reacts: What Worked and What Didn't in the 2014 State of the Union

Roosevelt Institute Fellows and Network members respond to the State of the Union: what they liked, what was missing, and how the president should proceed from here.

State of the Union 2014: Obama Offers Action, Not Apologies

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick praises the president for focusing on the changes that can be made rather than the year's mistakes. He's also glad to see Obama taking Congress to task for making progress impossible due to gridlock.

The State of the Union Then and Now: Raising the Minimum Wage is Still a Good Idea

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian David Woolner notes that the president's call for a higher minimum wage mirrors President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1938 State of the Union, which used similar arguments to call for the creation of the minimum wage.

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