Lifelong Roosevelt Connections Help Students Lead Policy Change

Jul 22, 2014Madelyn Schorr

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

In 2004, when college students first started organizing under the Roosevelt name, I was still in elementary school. While they were busy working on national healthcare reform, I was busy watching The West Wing past my bedtime. Little did I know that ten years later I would be successfully starting a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network at The University of Alabama, while my predecessors are pursuing careers all over the country and the world.

As Special Initiatives Fellow for the Campus Network, I recently spent a weekend with a group of alumni in New York City to discuss how to build our alumni program. I was amazed at how these alums – some of whom have been away from Roosevelt for years – are still dedicated to our founding principle that young peoples’ ideas matter.

I know how big of an impact alumni can make in the work chapters across the network produce. Students benefit from connecting with alumni because not so long ago our alumni were students, too. We have similar values, and believe that young people are capable of producing solid policy ideas. When our students and alumni connect it creates something truly spectacular: a group of people, spread all over the world in different fields of work, willing to collaborate and facilitate discussion around current policy issues, then working with their communities to come up with innovative solutions.

I loved getting to meet these alums and see the different things they are doing with their lives. They are working at nonprofits, going to law school, working on political campaigns, and more. Our alumni are found in every level of government from the U.S. Capitol and the White House to state legislatures to mayoral offices. They are still fighting to make the change they want to see in the world. And now, they're mentoring the new generation of Campus Network students and organizing their own policy projects.

The Campus Network has grown a lot since it was founded. What started as two chapters has expanded into over a hundred. We now run Summer Academies in four cities, and in the past six years our publications have reached half a million people. This new generation of Roosevelt students is looking at local policy issues to create an impact in their communities. By avoiding the constant congressional gridlock my generation has grown accustomed to, and focusing on local community development, we are better able to turn our ideas into action.

With almost ten years of change-making under our belt, the Campus Network is working to find new and unique ways to make being a Roosevelter a lasting affiliation. We have thousands of alumni and it is so exciting to build out a framework and vision that will help me stay involved far beyond graduation.

From the long laughs during our regional team calls every month to building a thriving chapter on my campus, I will always appreciate the relationships I have formed through this amazing organization. This organization is like a second family to me; it’s hard to imagine not engaging with the Campus Network and all of the people I have met in it after I graduate. If you have recently graduated, or are looking to reengage, email me.

Madelyn Schorr is the Special Initiative Intern for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and the Southern Regional Coordinator.

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Fighting Bad Science in the Senate

Jul 17, 2014Andrea Flynn

The Senate hearing for the Women's Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women's health advocates to push for the facts.

The Senate hearing for the Women's Health Protection Act shows just how important it is for women's health advocates to push for the facts.

The propensity of anti-choice advocates to eulogize false science was on full display on Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). That bill is a bold measure that would counter the relentless barrage of anti-choice legislation that has made abortion – a constitutionally protected medical procedure – all together inaccessible for many U.S. women.

The bill was introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel and Marcia Fudge. It prohibits states from applying regulations to reproductive health care centers and providers that do not also apply to other low-risk medical procedures. It would, essentially, remove politicians from decisions that – for every other medical issue – remain between individuals and their providers.

The WHPA is long overdue. For the past three years, conservative lawmakers have used the guise of protecting women’s health to pass more than 200 state laws that have closed clinics, eliminated abortion services, and left women across the country without access to critical reproductive health care. The WHPA would reverse many of those policies and prevent others from being passed.

Tuesday's hearing was representative of the broader debate over abortion rights. Those in favor of the bill argued that securing guaranteeing unfettered access to reproductive health care, including abortion, is critical to the health and lives of U.S. women and their families.

Those in opposition used familiar canards about abortion to argue the law would be calamitous for U.S. women. Representative Diane Black of Tennessee had the gall to make the abortion-leads-to-breast cancer claim, one that has been disproven many times over. Others repeatedly cited the horrific cases of Kermit Gosnell, insinuating that all abortion providers (abortionists, in their lingo) are predatory and that late term abortions are a common occurrence. In fact, if women had access to safe, comprehensive and intimidation-free care, Kermit Gosnell would have never been in business. Given the opposition’s testimony, you’d never know that late term abortion is actually a rarity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 90 percent of all abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation, with just over 1 percent taking place past 21 weeks.

At one point Representative Black argued that abortion is actually not health care. The one in three U.S. women who have undergone the procedure would surely argue otherwise.

Perhaps the most ironic testimony against the WHPA – and in favor of abortion restrictions – came from Senator Ted Cruz, who hails from Texas, a state with so many abortion restrictions that women are now risking their health and lives by self-inducing abortions or crossing the border to get care in Mexico. Senator Cruz attempted to validate U.S. abortion restrictions by referencing a handful of European countries with gestational restrictions on abortions. This was a popular argument during the hearing for Texas’ HB2 – the bill responsible for shuttering the majority of clinics in that state.

Cruz wins the prize for cherry picking facts to best support his argument. When citing our European counterparts, he conveniently ignored that such abortion restrictions are entrenched in progressive public health systems that enable all individuals to access quality, affordable (often free) health care, including comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Senator Cruz and his colleagues have adamantly opposed similar policies in the U.S., particularly the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for contraceptive coverage and Medicaid expansion. On the one hand conservatives lean on European policies to argue for stricter abortion restrictions at home, and on the other they claim those policies are antithetical to the moral fabric of the United States.

Would Cruz support France’s policies that enable women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and that guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control? Or Belgium’s policy that enables young people to be reimbursed for the cost of emergency contraception? Or the broad exceptions both countries make for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons? He absolutely would not.

Given the House of Representatives seems to be more motivated by suing the President than by voting on – let alone passing – laws that will actually improve the health and lives of their constituents, it’s highly unlikely the WHPA will become law. But Tuesday's debate – and the bill itself – is significant and shows a willingness among pro-choice advocates to go on the offense after too many years of playing defense.

Bills such as the WHPA – even if they face a slim chance of being passed by a gridlocked Congress – provide an opportunity to call out conservatives' use of bad science in their attempts to convince women that lawmakers know best when it comes to their personal medical decisions. And they allow us to remind lawmakers and citizens that despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary, abortion is a common, safe and constitutionally protected medical procedure, and that regulating it into extinction will only force women into back-alley practices like those run by Gosnell, costing them their health and their lives.

Those in support of the WHPA showed anti-choice lawmakers that the days of make a sport of trampling women’s health and rights are numbered.

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

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Detroit's Revitalization Funds Could Re-Empower Residents, Too

Jul 9, 2014Dominic Russel

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

The city of Detroit is suffering. It has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s largest cities at 23 percent, the highest poverty rate at 36.4 percent, and has been listed by Forbes as America’s most dangerous city for five years in a row. As a result of its shrinking population, the city needs $850 million worth of blight removal and cleanup. On top of this, Detroit had an estimated $18 billion in debt in 2013, which caused the state of Michigan to essentially force the city to declare bankruptcy in a desperate attempt to save it.

Detroit urgently needs funding for any revitalization efforts. One source that the city receives each year is in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the federal government. The grant is one part of the funding that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes to metropolitan cities. The CDBG is the portion that must go to community development projects, including the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings, the construction of public facilities and improvements, and more. CDBG budgeting also must include a mechanism for citizen participation.

Detroit’s current method for allocating CDBG funds is broken, as evidenced by both their inability to completely distribute funding and the lack of citizen involvement in the process. Each year from 2010 to 2012 the city failed to spend a portion of their CDBGs, nearly causing the federal government to recapture money and diminish future grants. Again in 2014, the city is making a last-minute amendment to their CBDG plan, reallocating $12 million to avoid a recapture. This was necessary, in part, because the city allocated funds to programs that no longer exist. The main citizen participation program is the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), in which service organizations apply for funding from the CDBG. This process, however, is limited to organizations and leaves no outlet for individual residents. In fact, individuals have only one public hearing annually for the entire HUD program. The interests of residents are not effectively being channeled into spending. All of this adds up to a system in need of reform.

Detroit has the opportunity to use CDBGs to develop a more citizen-involved allocation process. This can be achieved by creating a participatory budgeting (PB) program, which empowers citizens to allocate a portion of their own government resources and has been recognized by the United Nations as a “best practice” for local governance. A Detroit model could be based off programs in Chicago and New York City. These programs include a series of workshops where residents brainstorm ideas and elect community representatives who turn the ideas into full proposals. Residents then vote on the proposals, and the winning projects are put into action.

In Detroit, the city’s Planning and Development Department can ensure projects conform to HUD guidelines and lead outreach. The department would target traditionally underrepresented viewpoints by aiming outreach at neighborhoods with low- and moderate-income residents, using public schools for outreach to students and parents, and locating meetings and voting stations in areas that are accessible for underrepresented groups. A PB process has the potential to engage Detroit residents and better utilize their hyper-local knowledge to allocate CDBG funding.

On the night Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was elected in 2013 he said, “Detroit’s turnaround will not occur until everyday Detroiters are involved in this effort.” He has the opportunity to create a clear path to this community involvement for all Detroiters by using participatory budgeting to determine how to spend a portion of the city’s federal grants. Not only would this make Duggan’s dream a reality, but it would reform an antiquated allocation process that has nearly cost the city millions of dollars.

Dominic Russel, a Michigan native, is a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan and is a Summer Academy Fellow interning at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network as the Leadership Strategy Intern.  

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Working Families Party Endorsement of Cuomo Shows Progressive Political Power

Jun 3, 2014Richard Kirsch

If the goal is to achieve real progressive change that improves lives, then New York Governor Cuomo's deal with the Working Families Party is on the right track.

It would be a mistake to think that the New York Working Families Party's endorsement of a Wall Street, austerity Democrat – Andrew Cuomo – is a defeat for the surging progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, just the opposite is true. The endorsement was a demonstration of how to build power to do what progressive politics is ultimately about: delivering real improvements in people’s lives.

If the goal is to achieve real progressive change that improves lives, then New York Governor Cuomo's deal with the Working Families Party is on the right track.

It would be a mistake to think that the New York Working Families Party's endorsement of a Wall Street, austerity Democrat – Andrew Cuomo – is a defeat for the surging progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, just the opposite is true. The endorsement was a demonstration of how to build power to do what progressive politics is ultimately about: delivering real improvements in people’s lives.

Up to 24 hours before the WFP’s Saturday convention, it looked like the Party would nominate Zephyr Teachout, a law professor and activist leader in the fight to reverse Citizens United and enact robust public campaign financing, who ran Howard Dean’s breakthrough online organizing and fundraising campaign for president. Public opinion polls taken earlier in May showed that a progressive WFP candidate could get more than 20% of the popular vote, radically shrinking Cuomo’s victory margin and his quest to demonstrate nationally that he would be a credible candidate for president.

That threat forced Cuomo to agree to make a u-turn in the way he has dealt with the New York State Senate and to agree to push for the passage of six very important progressive priorities in the legislature. After Cuomo, looking to me like a cornered man, made those pledges by video and phone to the WFP convention, a majority of delegates (58 percent), including me – I’m a member of the WFP State Committee – approved his endorsement.

Cuomo’s key concession was to end his support for the coalition between Republican state senators and a handful of breakaway Democratic state senators, which effectively had maintained Republican control of the State Senate. With the exception of a brief period four years ago, Republicans have controlled the New York’s State Senate for decades, blocking an Empire State Building-high pile of progressive bills passed by the State Assembly.

Cuomo agreed to join New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York unions active in the WFP – including SEIU, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, CWA, and UAW – to create a well-funded campaign to elect Democrats and to run primaries against any Democrats who do not agree to fully support Democratic control of the state senate.

But what swayed my vote and the vote of other delegates is the specific package of legislation that Cuomo agreed to push for, should the campaign be successful in putting Democrats in control of the Senate.

One is immediately raising the minimum wage in New York to $10.10, indexed to inflation, and agreeing to allow local governments to raise wages 30% higher. Cuomo has been strongly opposed to giving local governments the authority to do that. This alone is a huge victory for the fast-food workers’ movement, which originated in the city, as there is little doubt that Mayor de Blasio and the progressive City Council majority elected with him will quickly take advantage of their new power if given the opportunity.

A second bill would decriminalize marijuana. New York would become the first state to do so legislatively, rather than by referendum. Given the huge racial imbalance of pot arrests in the city, which continues to ruin the futures of generations of young Black and Latino men, this is an enormous step forward for racial justice and against mass incarceration.

The New York Dream Act is on the list, which would provide tuition assistance to DREAM kids, aspiring immigrant college students who were brought to the United States as children. The Governor also committed to support funding of 100 community schools in low-income communities outside of NYS, which provide social, health and emotional services and act as community centers. Mayor de Blasio will support funding another 100 in New York City.

Another bill is the Women’s Equality Act, with ten provisions including one that the Republican controlled State Senate has opposed – codifying the right for women to determine whether to have an abortion. The Act would includes measures on promoting pay equity, stopping sexual harassment, preventing pregnancy discrimination in all workplaces, strengthening human trafficking laws, bolstering protections for domestic violence victims, and ending family status discrimination.

Last but absolutely not least is finally a robust small-donor public financing bill for statewide and legislative races. In the long run, if this becomes law, it will be the most significant part of the agreement. As Mayor de Blasio pointed out in his speech urging the WFP delegates to give Cuomo their votes in return with this agreement, he could not have been elected mayor without the New York City public financing law, which is the model for the state bill.

De Blasio began his remarks reminding the WFP delegates that he had been a founder of the Party. De Blasio brokered the deal between the WFP and the Governor, saying that he could not deliver on a progressive agenda in New York City unless Democrats gained control of the state senate.

The delegates who voted for Teachout were motivated by two factors, which were shared by almost everyone who attended the convention. One is a strong distaste and distrust for Cuomo. The second is the heartfelt pull to vote for Teachout as a candidate who shares our values and worldview. Particularly in the context of the national debate within the Democratic Party over whether it will become the Party of Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio, this was a powerful attraction for Teachout’s candidacy.

As those of you who follow my writing know, I work a lot on helping progressives promote our ideology, our worldview. As such, you might have expected me to decide that Teachout’s campaign – which would have given voice to that worldview – would have been where I stood. But for me, the reason I focus on changing worldviews is not just because I want people to agree with us. It is because when people share our worldview, they are much more likely to support candidates and policies that deliver on our core beliefs.

For me, this is the ultimate purpose of politics: to enact laws that deliver concrete improvements in people’s lives, that help them care for and support their families and live in dignity, that protect us and our planet.

 

On Saturday, WFP used its political muscle – built through a 16 year process of organizing, coalition building, and electing progressives to higher and higher offices – to take what could be a game-changing step in New York to winning real improvements in people’s lives and making it possible for candidates in New York to win office without relying on big campaign contributions. That’s what political power should be used for. And like any muscle, using it just makes it – and in this case progressive political power – stronger.

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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The Minimum Wage Index: Why the GOP's Filibuster Will Hurt Workers

May 2, 2014Richard Kirsch

Opponents of a higher minimum wage claim it would have a negative impact on the economy and workers. The numbers tell a different story.

Opponents of a higher minimum wage claim it would have a negative impact on the economy and workers. The numbers tell a different story.

This week, a minority of United States senators blocked a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from coming to a vote, overruling the 54 senators who supported the bill. If the bill had passed, it would have been only the fourth time the minimum wage was raised in the last 30 years. The Republicans who led this filibuster effort will claim a higher minimum wage would hurt the economy, but don’t let them fool you: American workers are the ones left hurting as a result of their actions. Here are the real dollars and cents of the minimum wage debate.

$7.25: The current federal minimum wage, established in 2007.

725%: The increase in CEO compensation from 1978 to 2011.

$10.86: How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years.

$21.72: How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with productivity since 1968.

$16.62: The hourly wage needed to meet the basic needs of an average person.

$32.19: The hourly wage needed to meet the basic needs of one adult with two children in Philadelphia.

$2.13: The federal minimum wage for tipped employees, established in 1991.

$5,915,186: Average net worth of U.S. Senators who blocked a vote on the minimum wage. 

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.

Image via Thinkstock

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Daily Digest - May 1: Why Won't Washington Listen to Workers?

May 1, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

America's Workforce Radio (WERE 1490 AM)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch joins Ed Ferenc to discuss how organized labor has used its power to ensure a fair deal for the middle class. Richard's segment begins at 15:55.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

America's Workforce Radio (WERE 1490 AM)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch joins Ed Ferenc to discuss how organized labor has used its power to ensure a fair deal for the middle class. Richard's segment begins at 15:55.

Republican-Led Filibuster Blocks Minimum Wage Bill in Senate (NYT)

Jeremy W. Peters reports on yesterday's filibuster, which killed the proposed $10.10 minimum wage increase. Republicans claim they're protecting a weak economy, but Democrats say the problem is poverty wages.

Why the Minimum Wage Vote Failed Today (PolicyShop)

Heather McGee ties the minimum wage filibuster to campaign finance. The wealthiest Americans have a very different opinion on the minimum wage than others, and they're who Congress hears from most.

Why Economic Growth Ground to a Halt Last Quarter (Vox)

The harsh winter was probably a cause of the slowest economic growth since the fourth quarter of 2012, says Danielle Kurtzleben, but this early estimate of GDP is still subject to revision.

Fed to Scale Back Bond Purchases by Another $10 Billion (WaPo)

Ylan Q. Mui reports that despite the news about slow economic growth, the Federal Reserve continues to demonstrate confidence in the recovery by tapering its stimulus program.

Paul Ryan Won’t Let Poor People Testify At Hearing About Poverty (ThinkProgress)

Yesterday's hearing wasn't the first time that advocacy groups were turned away from testifying at one of Ryan's hearings, reports Bryce Covert. Experts may study poverty, but they usually aren't experiencing it themselves.

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Insurance Pays for Health Care. Who’s Providing It?

Mar 28, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Public funds for family planning services are essential to ensuring people have somewhere to access health care, not just the insurance to pay for it.

Public funds for family planning services are essential to ensuring people have somewhere to access health care, not just the insurance to pay for it.

As if somehow the case still needs to be made that family planning deserves federal funding (and apparently the case does need to be made), last week a panel of researchers, advocates, and family planning providers spoke at a Congressional briefing on the topic “The Publicly Funded Family Planning Network: An Essential Partner in the New Health Care Environment.” Among the panelists was Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn. She and the others explained how Title X, the only federally funded family planning program, fits into the health care landscape now so dramatically changed by the Affordable Care Act. On the heels of Flynn’s white paper on this topic, last Thursday’s panel marked the next step in Roosevelt’s approach to research and policy discussions – namely, to get ideas up and out to those, like the Congressional staffers who attended the briefing, that can convert them into action.

Some background: when Title X was signed into law in 1970, it was intended to ensure that more Americans had access to family planning services, including birth control, because of rising concerns about population growth and poverty. Title X funds patient services, staff salaries, infrastructure, and supplies at clinics across the country. The law had strong bipartisan support – Democrats worked alongside Congressman George H. W. Bush and President Richard Nixon to pass it. And it is pretty effective: according to Flynn, the program today provides care to 4.7 million individuals annually. From 1980 to 2000, Title X-funded clinics provided women with 54.4 million breast exams and 57.3 million Pap tests and prevented an estimated 20 million unintended pregnancies. It’s also cost effective: Flynn notes that in 2008 alone, services provided at Title X-supported clinics accounted for $3.4 billion in savings.

Opponents of federal family planning clinics argue that with full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the need for funding will drop off. No, said Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. Insurance, she pointed out, isn’t the same as access to care. Patients still need providers. Amanda Dennis of Ibis Reproductive Health, based in Cambridge, highlighted an Ibis study conducted after health care reform went into effect in Massachusetts, that found many women took their new insurance straight to Title X-funded clinics for family planning services. Patient numbers actually increased at these clinics and so did the number of insured patients. Women like the care they get at Title X clinics; having insurance doesn’t mean they want to switch providers.

The panel confirmed Flynn’s major conclusions on Title X: the Affordable Care Act doesn’t guarantee every American will be insured at all times, so there remains a need for publicly funded care providers. More federal funding for the Title X family planning network will be essential to ensure women can access reproductive health care. And Coleman drove home another invaluable point as we work on health care access: the Affordable Care Act creates a massive shift in the way many Americans actually go about getting their health care. As a child growing up with insurance, I had an annual physical that was scheduled months in advance, and my mom picked up our prescriptions at the pharmacy. Americans who grow up uninsured have a different experience. They go to public clinics, where they can expect long waits, and when they leave, they go with prescribed medication in hand, obtained at the on-site dispensary.

In other words, signing up for health insurance on healthcare.gov won’t on its own teach anyone how to use insurance. That will take a generational shift. Besides which, you don’t get health care from your insurance – you get health care from your doctor, and cover the costs with insurance. That’s why Title X clinics must remain an option. Public funding for family planning does increase access to providers. Advocates: keep driving this point home to legislators!

Rachel Goldfarb is the Communications Associate at the Roosevelt Institute.

 

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Venezuela: The Crisis We Fuel With Our Apathy

Feb 28, 2014Leslie Bull

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

When the mainstream media ignores crises abroad, the crisis doesn’t stop or disappear, and that lack of attention can shift a situation from bad to worse.

Given the recent revolutionary events in Ukraine, it is understandable that much of American media attention on foreign politics is concentrated on that country, and that country alone. But it is important to remember that our myopic focus on just one world event at a time comes with a price: sometimes the other crises in the world that go ignored are actually made even worse because of it. We sometimes forget the power that just paying attention to a crisis can have – without it, those perpetrating the crimes can rest assured that the international community’s eye is elsewhere, and can behave with impunity. In the case of the current unrest in Venezuela, the price of that apathy might just be my friend’s life.

That friend is Carlos Vecchio, National Political Coordinator of the Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular (VP). I met Carlos when he came to Yale University just a few months ago to start his term as a Yale World Fellow. While he was here, he spoke passionately about his tireless efforts to promote democracy in Venezuela; his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge were infectious. As a recent college grad, I was by far the youngest and least experienced of the staff on the program and he always made time for me and treated me with respect and kindness. He reached across campus to students, faculty and other Fellows – many of whom have rallied around him in this time of crisis – with his pure love of his country and genuine respect for democratic ideals. And now, just two months after returning to Venezuela, he is facing a warrant for his arrest.

Venezuela is in the midst of game-changing anti-government protests by students and opposition party supporters (many led by Voluntad Popular members), calling for improved security, an end to shortages of basic goods, and better freedom of speech. The Venezuelan government has responded with a violent crackdown on protestors, raids on VP’s political offices, and persecution of VP leaders, including Carlos. Following the detention of top VP leader Leopoldo López, who was taken into custody on February 18, Carlos now serves as the de facto leader of the VP party, making him a likely government target. Carlos’ safety is in serious jeopardy, and he is currently in hiding with limited access to communication. Unlike López, he is not an internationally recognized figure, so media outlets outside of Venezuela have yet to report on his situation. Amnesty International has released an alert specifically naming Carlos as a government target, but his relative anonymity will allow government forces the space and ability to do whatever they please without fear of international repercussion. 

This is the real, human result of what may seem like harmless apathy on our part. Leaders who want to stifle political opposition and media freedom through extreme or violent means are free to do so, and those working to effect positive democratic change are sacrificed because we can’t be bothered to pay attention. As Francisco Toro, of the blog Caracas Chronicles, put it best:

“Venezuela’s domestic media blackout is joined by a parallel international blackout, one born not of censorship but of disinterest and inertia. It’s hard to express the sense of helplessness you get looking through these pages and finding nothing. Venezuela burns; nobody cares.”

We cannot continue to choose our apathy over people like Carlos, who are putting their lives on the line for the sake of a functioning democracy. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has spoken out about Carlos’ persecution, and a few news outlets are picking up the story, but there is a long way to go if we are to ensure Carlos’ safety. Please share Carlos’ story far and wide, urge your representatives to speak out as well, and help us show the Venezuelan government that someone is paying attention.

Leslie Bull is a former Senior Fellow for Defense and Diplomacy with the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She is currently a Woodbridge Fellow at the Office of International Affairs and the World Fellows Program at Yale University. All opinions expressed herein are her own, and not those of Yale University or its administration.

Photo via Flickr.

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We Need More Nuance from the CBO

Feb 20, 2014Jeff Madrick

The CBO's insistence on presenting just a single number makes its predictions misleading, and sometimes even useless.

I have long thought we need two Congressional Budget Offices, the current one and a real one. The problem with the current “bi-partisan” CBO is again apparent in the wake of its claims about the impact of the president’s proposed increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

The CBO's insistence on presenting just a single number makes its predictions misleading, and sometimes even useless.

I have long thought we need two Congressional Budget Offices, the current one and a real one. The problem with the current “bi-partisan” CBO is again apparent in the wake of its claims about the impact of the president’s proposed increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

But let’s take a step back. The CBO has long had little sensitivity to the impact of how it presents its invariably uncertain findings. To the contrary, it seems to respond to a demand from Congress and the general public for a concrete number, essential ambiguities aside. It has long presented one-number conclusions – the size of the budget deficit, the rate of economic growth, the impact on jobs of the minimum wage – as if people are educated enough in the uncertainties of economics that they won’t take the numbers too seriously. 

But, in fact, they do. The CBO economists disingenuously cover themselves by burying the extensive qualifications of the data and research, as well as alternative possibilities, in dense appendices and footnotes. In the process, they feed politicians and pundits with projections the poor naïfs think are written in stone – or are, most likely, perfect for use as political cover. Is this unwitting, or does the CBO enhance its influence with these easy-to-digest but misleading pronouncements?

But the CBO is worse than merely insensitive to its public relations impact. Their economists typically treat economic hypotheses as entirely true. A couple of centuries ago, John Stuart Mill pointed out that economics is hypothetical. CBO economists should go back and read this. They base forecasts on the imbedded idea that weak economies will automatically self-adjust within three or four years, for example. This is a neoclassical assumption, not a fact of life. They acknowledge that higher deficits can stimulate a weak economy but within a few years it will undercut growth. Evidence is highly ambiguous on this point. They have little compunction about making thirty-year forecasts, no less ten-year forecasts. No one knows what will happen in ten years. 

The bi-partisan label has become comical. The CBO does not necessarily lean Republican or Democrat, but it is not truly objective. Economics does not allow that.

A real CBO would present a range of projections and forecasts and make a priority of demonstrating how tentative most of its conclusions must be. The current CBO sometimes presents a secondary forecast if certain expected changes in the laws are actually made, but it should publish a range of likely outcomes with or without legal changes.

I guess I am merely stating the obvious, but the obvious has to be addressed at some point. The minimum wage debate is another clear example. Read the appendices and footnotes and you see the CBO took its job seriously; its economists read a lot of research. For those families below the poverty line, income would rise by $5 billion; for those from one to three times the poverty line, incomes would rise by $12 billion. These are mere estimates, let’s keep in mind. Nearly one million would be lifted out of poverty. Those who earn some seven times the poverty line or better would see their incomes reduced because business profits might come down due to higher wages and prices may go up for the products they buy, If true, these estimates suggest a pretty nice redistribution of the national income to lower-income families, not bad in a time of intense inequality.

But the headlines were created by the CBO’s claim that 500,000 jobs will be lost. Here’s the actual sentence: “Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent, CBO projects.” The sentence that follows has the tepid disclaimer that there could be a wide range of job losses. But then why make the declarative sentence above? It’s the one, of course, that anti-minimum wage politicians focused on, as did much of the media. But the 500,000 number is not a forecast, it is simply a midpoint on this wide distribution from essentially zero jobs lost to one million. Oh, yes, the CBO eventually says that, but as a writer myself, I have to ask why the CBO doesn’t present the uncertainty immediately.

The CBO, as is now widely reported, did no original research. It looked at existing studies. A recent one in particular, which showed substantial losses, used a highly dubious methodology. The study showed the biggest future job losses were in manufacturing, which has relatively few minimum-wage jobs. By contrast, it showed few prospective losses in retail and similar industries, which have many such minimum wage jobs. This is highly implausible. Economic critics concluded the methodology was flawed. Why did the CBO pay attention to it?

It’s high time to rethink the purpose and practical capabilities of the CBO. It should be forthright about the ambiguities of economic science, it should avoid single-note forecasts, and it should make sure policymakers understand the risks and sensitivities of what they are doing. In sum, it should not produce simple answers to complex questions.

Does any of this really need saying? Judging by the minimum wage brouhahah, it does. Ideally, we need a “shadow” CBO to challenge its findings and explain their many assumptions on a regular basis. That would be costly, I fear. But some review of the purpose of the CBO and what they emphasize would be very useful. 

Jeff Madrick is a Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative.

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Obama and the GOP Present Two Very Different Paths to Opportunity for All

Feb 3, 2014Richard Kirsch

Both the 2014 State of the Union and the Republican response emphasized the need for an opportunity society, but only the president called for collective action.

Both the 2014 State of the Union and the Republican response emphasized the need for an opportunity society, but only the president called for collective action.

Midway through listening to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Republican response to the State of the Union address last week, a colleague of mine e-mailed, “they got & used the economic narrative talking points to write this.” My friend was referring to the progressive economic narrative (PEN), developed to provide progressives with a powerful, clear story about the economy and the role of people, government, and business.

In fact, there are powerful similarities in the story of the American Dream that both Obama and Republicans express, particularly as Republicans increasingly see that they must speak to Americans who are being pushed out of the middle class and struggling to stay out of poverty. That convergence is not by itself bad. It is an opportunity to draw attention to the huge chasm that exists between the two narratives, a Republican story based solely on the individual and a Democratic one that sees the individual in relation to collective action.

Perhaps this is the line by McMorris Rodgers that triggered my colleague’s ire: “Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind.” After all, one line from PEN is “Too many Americans can’t find a job and too many jobs pay wages that don’t support a family.”

It is not a surprise that Republicans have been embracing part of the progressive story – that the middle class is getting crushed – because that is how most Americans are feeling, and pollsters for both parties are emphasizing that politicians must speak to where people are now to have any credibility.

The similarities go beyond just relating to economic insecurity. Both Obama and McMorris Rodgers have the same vision of the American Dream, an opportunity society in which people are, as McMorris Rodgers said, “not defined by our limits, but by our potential.” Or, as the president put it, “our success should depend on… the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.”

The heroes in both stories are hardworking Americans. Obama: “the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility you get ahead.” McMorris Rodgers: “They taught me to work hard, help others, and always, always, dream for more.”

A job is how our hero achieves his or her dream. McMorris Rodgers says, “a job is so much more than a paycheck – it gives us purpose, dignity…” The president asks that “we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work…”

The underlying value in both stories is opportunity. McMorris Rodgers anticipates that Obama will focus his speech on inequality and tries to cut him off at the rhetorical pass: “The president talks a lot about income inequality. But the real gap we face today is one of opportunity inequality.”

But Obama was not, in fact, giving a speech about inequality. He too was focused on opportunity, as Benjamin Landy bemoaned. “Instead of inequality, the President talked about ‘opportunity,’ a poll-tested alternative Obama deployed 14 times during the 65 minute speech. ‘Inequality’ was mentioned three times.”

Saying that “opportunity for all” is “what unites the people of this nation,” Obama declared, “Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

It is on the question of how we achieve the quest for opportunity for all that the president and McMorris Rodgers profoundly differ, where opposite visions of how we achieve the American Dream are projected. And remember that McMorris Rodgers’s speech is entirely a representation of Republican messaging

According to McMorris Rodgers, you get there by yourself, with the help of your family. Her talk, as those of you who had the patience to listen through it will remember, was all about herself and her family: the work and savings ethics taught by her parents in a rural small town in Eastern Washington, her raising of her son born with Down syndrome.

And that, in her political narrative, is how we address the challenge facing the country, “one manufacturing job, nursing degree, and small business at a time.” Her talk barely bothers with policy directives, but those few that appear are based on the individual.

The most robust policy paragraph in her talk is, “We have plans to improve our education and training systems so you have the choice to determine where your kids go to school...so college is affordable...and skills training is modernized.” When it comes to health care, “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not government. [emphasis added]”

As far as how to get Americans those jobs, Republicans have “plans that focus on jobs first, without more spending, government bailouts, and red tape.… We have solutions to help you take home more of your pay – through lower taxes, cheaper energy costs, and affordable health care.”

The villain is unmistakable in her story: “Government that decides for you.”

But while the president’s heroes are individual hard-working Americans, he makes it clear that we build the pathway to opportunity for all through collective action. The word “community” appears 13 times in Obama’s speech; not once in McMorris Rodgers. The president uses “us” referring to the nation, 17 times; McMorris Rodgers, four times.

The substance of Obama’s policy solutions are replete with concerted actions, and the entire premise that we do something together, through our government, is the exact opposite of the Republican story of getting the government out of the way.

The stories he tells unite the individual and the community. For example, a student who, “thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications.”

Summing it all up – the heroes, the quest, the role of individual and the community, Obama says, “It’s the spirit of citizenship, the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.”

The narratives in President Obama and McMorris Rodgers’ responses are more than just a minor part of the evening’s political theater. They speak to the fundamental ideological divide in the nation and frame the political choices before the country now and over the coming decade. In the starkest terms, it is a contrast between “you are on your own” and “we are all in this together.” We want to tell our story in those terms, for when we do, progressives absolutely win that debate.  

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.

 

Images via Thinkstock

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