Think Global, Act Hyper-Local: Campus Network Rates Colleges on Economic and Social Impact in Their Communities

Dec 9, 2013Alan Smith

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is launching a new project next month to analyze how anchor institutions such as colleges and universities affect their local economies, and help those institutions make changes for the better.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is launching a new project next month to analyze how anchor institutions such as colleges and universities affect their local economies, and help those institutions make changes for the better.

With the social contract failing many Americans, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has undertaken a new project to explore ways to reverse it. The things we, as Millennials, have long been told are core parts of the American bargain – public education, safe working environments, affordable healthcare, the basic ability to provide for one’s family – are becoming harder to achieve in the 21st century.

To address this daunting trend, students in our campus chapters are undertaking an experiment, which we call “Rethinking Communities.” It is based on the assumption that localities – cities, towns, and even neighborhoods – will drive the economies and politics of the future. This approach reflects the innovative thinking that has been a hallmark of the Campus Network for the past decade. The Campus Network has long looked to local action in many places as a means of influencing the direction of the nation. We see an intentional community-building endeavor as a start to counter issues raised by globalization, increased inequality, outsourcing of jobs, and changes in technological capabilities.

We reject a binary vision of the government and economy that holds that either government exists solely to support markets, or that government responds to societal challenges through regulation and policy change. The Millennial generation has had ample evidence that this dichotomy misses something: the Great Recession undercut the idea that markets are reliable adjudicators of the public good, and the recent government shutdown made amply evident that Washington cannot respond effectively to many of the immediate problems we face.

This is why the Campus Network will look to bring a different social pressure to bear: that of community governance, which draws on the strengths of local structures to fill the gaps left by the market and the federal systems. While the concept of trusting local groups to rule on local issues is not a new one, the possibilities of a truly networked system of community governance opens up huge new potential. Just as the Internet has driven down costs and other factors in manufacturing and production, we aim to explore possibilities for a new labor movement, new locally supported economies, and new ways of patching together shared identity and support from many small collaborating groups instead of a single top-down organizing force.

Our objective at the Campus Network is to take advantage of our physical presence in communities nationwide, and find optimal ways to rethink local economies. With the goal of reforming anchor institutions that are the backbone of these communities (anchor institutions are places like hospitals or colleges and universities), here’s what we’ll be doing in the coming year with chapters throughout our 115-chapter network:

Using the set of metrics developed by the Democracy Collaborative, an organization based at the University of Maryland that advocates for economic justice and increased access to democracy, that were expanded and refined by Campus Network’s membership, students at multiple chapters, including University of Tennessee, Goucher College, and the University of Michigan, will assess their own college or university. These metrics, which are akin to a report card (think LEEDS standards), have been built to define how well an institution facilitates local economic development, community building and education, health, safety and environment. By using the same set of metrics across the board, we will both grow our understanding of a how a specific institution can improve in its role as a local anchor, and contribute to a larger understanding of how anchor institutions compare to each other.

Based on these metrics, groups will write proposals that improve a specific weakness. Redirecting a portion of a University’s purchasing to focus on locally owned businesses, facilitating the creation of financially secure households, or working to improve the health of community residents are all projects that play to the social role of colleges and universities. While we work to implement these local fixes, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network will collectively create a method to grade anchor institutions across the country on how they alleviate or exacerbate economic inequality. Might this comparative process put real pressure on universities – and eventually, hospitals, airports, or even sports teams – to do a better job in responding to the needs and values of the communities where they’re based? That is what we hope to examine.

We can’t be sure if we can scale the Rethinking Communities project to our national problems, in order to rebuild the robust social contract that America has with its citizens. But through the bold and persistent experimentation of the Campus Network, we aim to see how far we can go to create new self-sustaining economies that resist the economic pressures of the larger world. And in that innovative spirit, we hearken back to the values of Franklin Roosevelt that undergird all of our work: a system that is more balanced, more sustainable, and more able to support the common good.

Alan Smith is the Associate Director of Networked Initiatives at the Roosevelt Institute.

Photo via Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network

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Obama Updates His Story About America

Dec 5, 2013Richard Kirsch

When President Obama frames the story of the American dream as one that is harmed by economic inequality, progressives should cheer - and they should also prepare to sharpen that story and tie it to action.

When President Obama frames the story of the American dream as one that is harmed by economic inequality, progressives should cheer - and they should also prepare to sharpen that story and tie it to action.

Barak Obama captured the national imagination on the strength of his ability to tell his own story as part of our national story, starting with his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. He was elected and remains personally popular in no small part because of the resonance of his story with the way Americans want to view themselves. In his speech yesterday on economic mobility, given at a Washington DC hub for community organizations that fight poverty, he continued to update that story, with a sharper focus on the dire crisis of the American dream, a stronger emphasis on the role of government, and a clearer attention to race.

The President repeated the core of his story about America yesterday:

Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity -- the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. [Emphasis added].

Obama has consistently framed our American story in terms of our values, and then linked those values to our economic success. The focus of his speech is that the story is no longer true:

The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe. And it is not simply a moral claim that I’m making here. There are practical consequences to rising inequality and reduced mobility. [Emphasis added]

Opening his speech by saying that what he’s come to talk about is “a belief that we’re greater together than we are on our own,” he declares that the “defining challenge of our time” is “making sure our economy works for every working American.”

Obama gives a history lesson, both about how we made the American Dream real and about how it has been lost. The President makes it clear that America’s success is grounded in an activist government, from Lincoln’s land grant colleges; to Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting and eight-hour workday; to FDR’s Social Security, unemployment insurance, and minimum wage; to LBJ’s Medicare and Medicaid. “And as a result,” he summarizes, “America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.”

That last phrase – the middle class as the engine of prosperity – is at the core of the progressive economic narrative. This is a direct contradiction to the conservative story that business in a free market is the driver of wealth. That’s backwards, Obama explains, “When families have less to spend, that means businesses have fewer customers, and households rack up greater mortgage and credit card debt; meanwhile, concentrated wealth at the top is less likely to result in the kind of broadly based consumer spending that drives our economy, and together with lax regulation, may contribute to risky speculative bubbles.”

When the President gets to his telling of how we got into this mess, he skirts lightly over who is to blame, which is the biggest consistent failing throughout his rhetoric. He begins by blaming technology and globalization, ignoring the fact that the other countries Obama recognizes as having much more economic mobility than the U.S., faced the same challenges.

He then says that “As values of community broke down, and competitive pressure increased, businesses lobbied Washington to weaken unions and the value of the minimum wage. As a trickle-down ideology became more prominent, taxes were slashed for the wealthiest, while investments in things that make us all richer, like schools and infrastructure, were allowed to wither.”

The President appears to be excusing business for their behavior. What he doesn’t say is that business was a leading force in breaking down those values, deciding that enriching shareholders and CEOs was more important than providing decent wages and support for communities. The reference to “trickle-down ideology” obscures the relentless attack by corporate America and the right upon Obama’s core values of “we’re greater together than on our own.”

Any powerful story needs villains and it is here that Obama punts. Teddy Roosevelt laid it on “the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics.” FDR clearly laid the blame on the “economic royalists.” For the right’s great communicator, Ronald Reagan, it was “welfare queens.” It is never clear from Obama who is to blame, which is a key reason that core parts of his story get lost. The President says that Americans have a “nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them.” The truth is that Americans have a very strong sense that the deck is stacked against them by powerful corporations and the super-rich who use their lobbyists and campaign contributions to control our government.” If Obama is going to rally people to take on those forces, he has to name them and take them on.

The President does take on President Reagan’s villain, a villain which is still at the center of right-wing opposition to Obama and government more generally. The speech yesterday was notable in that he directly challenged “the myth that this is a problem restricted to a small share of predominantly minority poor.” He says, “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans are far more likely to suffer from a lack of opportunity.”

After acknowledging continued racism, he bridges to class, “The decades-long shifts in the economy have hurt all groups: poor and middle class; inner city and rural folks; men and women; and Americans of all races.“ He says that we’re seeing the problems “one attributed to the urban poor” “pop up everywhere.”

So if we’re going to take on growing inequality and try to improve upward mobility for all people, we’ve got to move beyond the false notion that this is an issue exclusively of minority concern. And we have to reject a politics that suggests any effort to address it in a meaningful way somehow pits the interests of a deserving middle class against those of an undeserving poor in search of handouts. [Emphasis added]

The point of this speech – “you'll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address” he jokes – is not to give specific solutions. Given the impossibility of passing anything in the House, that would be a fool’s errand. Obama instead aims to lay out a vision for how to move forward, based on his insistence that “government action time and again can make an enormous difference in increasing opportunity and bolstering ladders into the middle class.”

His program for government action is grouped in five categories: tax policy and investment for growth; education and skills training; empowering workers; targeted programs for hard-hit communities; and programs that provide security, from Social Security to the Affordable Care Act.

That third bucket – empowering workers – is a welcome focus, one that the President has too often skirted. “It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to -- (applause) -- so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class.” Sensing one area with current political umph, he made a big push for raising the minimum wage.

Stories need a happy ending, or at least some prospects of one. The last paragraph of Obama’s speech places that happy ending squarely on the shoulders of government, with echoes of FDR (“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us”). Obama concludes with:

But government can’t stand on the sidelines in our efforts. Because government is us. It can and should reflect our deepest values and commitments. And if we refocus our energies on building an economy that grows for everybody, and gives every child in this country a fair chance at success, then I remain confident that the future still looks brighter than the past, and that the best days for this country we love are still ahead.

While progressives are often frustrated by the President they worked so hard to elect, we have a huge amount to learn from Obama’s deep understanding of how to powerfully express our core American values and link them to a story about the government’s role in creating broadly-based prosperity. Our job is to tell a sharper version of that story – with villains and anger to motivate action – as well as with hope, through our words and through our organizing. Today’s fast food actions around the nation are a great example. We agree with the President that an America that works for all of us “is the defining challenge of our time.” And it will remain our challenge long after Obama leaves the White House. 

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.

Photo of President Obama via Shutterstock.

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The Real Movers and Shakers

Nov 13, 2013Erik Lampmann

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Instead of electoral politics, we should be paying more attention to the community-based movement building happening around the country.

There are actions, policies, battles ... and then there are movements.

Over the past few weeks I’ve grown increasingly concerned that episodic protests, press releases, and elections receive the lion’s share of our concern, while strategic movements to build strong, resilient communities are left by the wayside.

Take, for instance, the media’s flirtation with Russell Brand’s ‘revolutionary politics.’ It seemed as though pundits were bending over backwards to support Brand’s calls for the fair distribution of wealth in the UK, heralding him a radical leftist. This isn’t the space to examine the authenticity of Brand’s claims to radical progressive politics. It is worth noting, however, the power asymmetries of a media landscape that affords Brand unheard of attention for his politics while failing to ever address the work of undocumented, queer, youth, and student activists (sometimes together) across the country.

Similarly, I’ve seen reductive partisan politics engrain themselves in my state, Virginia, through this most recent gubernatorial campaign, pitting a particularly bigoted conservative Attorney General against a Democrat with no previous experience as an elected official and an endless rolodex of IOUs to call in. I’m sad that my choice as a queer person boiled down to whether to vote for a candidate that would rather overturn Lawrence v. Texas or an eventually-successful corporate Democrat with no grounding in public service. With such distinct lack of vision to choose from, it almost seems as though one should have ironically followed Brand’s advice and not vote.

This is not to undervalue the importance of electoral politics. Without federal legislation, programs as essential to the American social safety net as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP would be impossible. However, focusing on electoral targets is a narrow lens through which to treat issues like community revitalization, green jobs campaigns, and food security. These issues are complex; they are, by their nature, multidimensional questions that require coalition-based solutions with stakeholders from advocacy groups, direct service organizations, and elected officials to make meaningful progress.

The conversation should therefore shift to an analysis of whom we are leaving out of the discussion on movement-building. Let’s examine several community organizing wins from these past few weeks that weren’t covered in the mainstream media, amplified by elected officials or catalyzed by major national non-profits.

  1. Undocumented youth in California successfully pressured former Secretary of Homeland Security and current University of California President Janet Napolitano to invest $5 million in financial assistance for undocumented students.  Not only did these student activists succeed in securing much-needed financial support for their communities, they also compelled Napolitano to reverse her own immigration politics. The collective voice of these young people held an official from the administration with the highest number of deportations accountable to the needs of the communities she had previously helped marginalize.
  2. Youth in the Chicago Student Union launched a creative and strategic protest  during Halloween, dressing as zombies suffering the ‘death of public education.’ This youth-led action came after months of mobilizations of teachers, staff, students, and community members around Mayor Emmanuel’s attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union.
  3. Students at George Washington University – including members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network chapter at that school – are mobilizing around revelations that their admissions department had been secretly screening students based on their ability to pay. Despite marketing itself as a ‘need-blind’ institution, apparently GWU has used family wealth as a deciding factor in undergraduate admissions.

These struggles are not isolated, disconnected media headlines. Far from it. Instead, they represent the power of collective voices rising up to make demands on an establishment that has either attempted to quell their momentum, disenfranchise them, or otherwise push them to the margins of public discourse. They represent the power of community organizing to better our communities and create meaningful change at the grassroots level.

We speak often of the democratic experiment of the United States – of the on-going process of ‘making’ a nation. Yet our attention span for truly transformational struggles is so often limited to flashpoints in undoubtedly richer, more nuanced movement histories. As I embark on a capstone project within the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network to investigate best practices among fellow youth organizers, I’m taken by the importance of narratives that speak to the experience of those who devote their lives to movement work.

This week is already devolving into an endless series of gubernatorial recaps without much substantive analysis of grassroots organizing or movements that influenced the electoral landscape. It’s important that we reject pundits’ reductive understanding of social change as electoral change and affirm a more grounded understanding of the ‘real movers and shakers’ of our political landscape. They aren’t the Terry McAuliffes of the world who come to govern through a litany of party fundraising jobs, favors, and corporate savoir faire; they are the disadvantaged communities forging a better tomorrow through many small wins, and occasional big wins, and united under the banner of one movement towards justice for all people. These movements toward change are much more deserving of our concern, respect, and honor.

Erik Lampmann is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 

 

Group of hands banner image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - November 13: Senator Warren Would've Voted For Dodd-Frank, And Then Some

Nov 13, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Elizabeth Warren vs. the Democratic Elites (All In With Chris Hayes)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Elizabeth Warren vs. the Democratic Elites (All In With Chris Hayes)

Chris Hayes discusses Senator Warren's keynote at a Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform conference on financial reform yesterday. He argues that she needs to convince the rest of the Democrats to adopt her views of the banking industry.

  • Roosevelt Take: Senator Warren's speech aired live on C-SPAN 2, and you can watch the archived video here.

Elizabeth Warren’s Populist Insurgency Enters Next Phase (Salon)

David Dayen looks at the new report on financial reform from the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform. He says the proposals aren't just about regulations, but about what economy we want for our citizens.

  • Roosevelt Take: You can read the report, "An Unfinished Mission: Making Wall Street Work For Us," here.

Gary Gensler's Successor Has His Work Cut Out for Him (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Matthew Philips thinks that Timothy Massad, who has been nominated to be the next chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is well equipped to take on the difficult challenge of enforcing the regulations Gary Gensler pushed through.

Yellen’s Challenge at the Fed: Speaking Persuasively to Investors (NYT)

Binyamin Appelbaum suggests that Janet Yellen's work begins this week with her confirmation hearings. As someone who has pushed the Fed to more clearly articulate its plans, she'll need to start doing just that in front of the Senate Banking Committee.

Two Fed Officials Say Aggressive Policy Action Still Needed (Reuters)

Jonathan Spicer and David Bailey report on statements by the Presidents of the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Minneapolis which emphasize the need for full employment. Both think that the Fed needs to retain accommodative policies for now.

Occupy Wall Street Activists Buy $15m of Americans' Personal Debt (The Guardian)

Adam Gabbatt explains how the Rolling Jubilee managed to eliminate so much medical debt so quickly. The secondary debt market sells debts for much less than the amount owed, which meant the program was able to have a much larger impact than planned.

The Government’s Human Price Scanners (WaPo)

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports on the work of "economic assistants" at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, who travel the country to record the prices of goods. By recording every detail, like differences in vet fees at night, these relatively unknown workers help to create the Consumer Price Index.

New on Next New Deal

What Do the Millennials Want From the Affordable Care Act?

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care Anisha Hedge says that Millennials aren't interested in the ultra-partisan arguments for or against the ACA. They're more interested in how the law works, and how they can get health insurance.

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"The Kids Aren't Alright": Millennials Demand Economic Stability for all LBGTQ People, Now

Nov 8, 2013Erik Lampmann

Millennials struggle to comprehend why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn't law yet, but they shouldn't accept the version with religious exemptions being considered today.

Millennials struggle to comprehend why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act isn't law yet, but they shouldn't accept the version with religious exemptions being considered today.

Ask any college senior today what they are most focused on and they will reply with the same phrase: a job. Today’s young people grew up during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. They’ve seen their own government shut down over funding disputes, the student loan debt bubble top $1 trillion, and income inequality soar through the roof. According to reports, 41.3% of those aged 25-34 will spend at least a year earning less than 150 percent of the poverty line.

In short, young people – notably those without college degrees – understand that the fight for financial stability is an uphill battle in today’s America. Perhaps for this reason, it is downright inconceivable to even some of the most conservative Millennials that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people don’t have the same level of employment protection as other historically disadvantaged social groups.

This week, for the first time, it seems as though one of the ‘secondary’ issues of the LGBTQ movement is finally getting its time to shine. The Senate passed its version of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) Thursday, voting 64 to 32 in favor of barring discrimination by “employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor-management committees ... on the basis of an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Some straight Americans may mistakenly believe that LGBTQ advocates would only have agitated for marriage equality after having secured workplace nondiscrimination for queer people. They would argue that, while marriage carries a certain religious weight, the idea of protecting LGBTQ people from wrongful termination seems like common sense.  It would surprise many, then, to know that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have no workplace protections in 29 states and trans* people remain vulnerable in 34 states.

Progressives are now attempting to capitalize on the Senate’s passage of ENDA to pressure House members to vote similarly when their version of the bill comes to the floor in the near future. Since 90 percent of Americans believe that LGBTQ people are already protected from discrimination, one would hope that liberals in the House would have an easy time sealing the deal on ENDA before the end of the month.

Say what you will about the movement for marriage equality in the United States, it’s at least been successful in its marketing. It seems likely that the average American could tell you that LGBTQ people are struggling for one thing: marriage. While the lion’s share of the financial, human, and media resources of the LGBTQ movement have gone towards the push for same-sex marriage at the state and federal level, it’s not accurate to say that LGBTQ Americans only care about marriage to the detriment of other pressing issues. In fact, a vocal minority of queer people have pushed the mainstream ‘gay’ establishment for years to shift their priorities toward other issues, such as workforce and housing protections, violence against queer communities, and the provision of inclusive healthcare to LGBTQ people.

It’s unfortunate that some of these organizations now find themselves up against a wall. Yes, ENDA has been passed by the Senate for the first time and seems destined for the same in the House. Yet many queer are concerned by religious exemptions negotiated into both the House and Senate drafts of the bill.  These strategic loopholes open the floodgates for religious organizations to continue to ostracize, harass, or discriminate against the queer movement family.

One of these queer organizations, GetEqual, announced its public opposition to the current drafts of ENDA. They were alarmed by the ability of these religious exemptions to undermine their goal of collective liberation for all queer people. Additionally, they were troubled by the idea that national LGBTQ religious exemptions might then be deployed against advocates working to expand women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health services. GetEqual’s Co-Director, Heather Cronk, went as far as to say that, “Conservatives believe that ‘religious liberty’ should trump all other democratic constructs – including equal protection – and we must call out that they're wrapping bigotry up in shiny packages of religious liberty and hoping no one notices.” It’s clear to me, and the young people I work alongside, that equity with conditions (as articulated in the Senate’s version of ENDA) isn’t really equity at all.

To some extent, this conversation around ENDA and ‘compromise’ has evolved into a sort of motif of the LGBTQ movement. For years, grassroots organizers have found liberal elected representatives willing to sponsor nondiscrimination ordinances to protect ‘sexual orientation’ as a suspect class. But for many officials, the term ‘gender identity’ or perhaps ‘gender identity and expression’ has carried an entirely different political, or even radical, charge. Again and again, mainstream gay organizations caved to the demands of politicians to limit the scope of their work to ‘LGB’ populations – leaving the trans* community out to dry. Perhaps due to this storied past, the pressure on progressives to concede to the demands of the Christian right’s religious exemption seems ever so familiar and frightening.

In light of the failure of previous concessions to substantially decrease rates of violence against LGBTQ people and bring all queer people under the umbrella of legal protections, I’m hesitant to endorse a pre-conditioned draft of ENDA. Instead of accepting the religious exception as a fait accompli, we ought to pressure our elected officials to protect queer people from harassment, discrimination, and persecution everywhere from anyone. We must push them to see past the façade of religious fundamentalism to the continued oppression of LGBTQ people at home and abroad.

 

Consequently, young people must say with one voice: we demand access to economic stability for all people – including LGBTQ communities – without condition. We cannot allow our elected officials to carve out spaces where queer people are protected and other spaces where it’s legal to discriminate.

Erik Lampmann is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. He studies political theory and French at the University of Richmond. 

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Daily Digest - November 8: Worker Safety in Workers' Hands Isn't Enough

Nov 8, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

It’s Not Safe Out There (In These Times)

Leo Gerard writes about the serious dangers workers faced due to a perpetually understaffed Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency is so shorthanded that it frequently relies on workers to report safety violations despite legitimate fears of retaliation.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

It’s Not Safe Out There (In These Times)

Leo Gerard writes about the serious dangers workers faced due to a perpetually understaffed Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The agency is so shorthanded that it frequently relies on workers to report safety violations despite legitimate fears of retaliation.

$10 Minimum Wage Proposal Has Obama’s Backing (NYT)

Catherine Rampell and Steven Greenhouse report on the White House's announcement, which gave the President's support to a bill that would also tie the minimum wage to inflation. The House rejected that bill earlier this year, but apparently it's not over yet.

15 Under-the-Radar Progressive Wins of Election 2013 (Bill Moyers)

Moyers & Company reports on the less publicized victories for progressives this year. Highlights include mayoral races in cities beyond New York and Boston, anti-fracking ordinances in three Colorado cities, and Royal Oak, Michigan's ban on LGBT discrimination.

Blaming Conventions (Washington Monthly)

Ed Kilgore considers whether it really matters if candidates are chosen by primary or convention, since some are blaming the convention selection of Ken Cuccinelli for the GOP's loss in Virginia's gubernatorial race. He says it doesn't make a difference.

New Help for the Poor: Cash Grants, Through a Web Site (The New Yorker)

Sasha Abramsky looks at the website Benevolent, which helps people solicit funds for very specific needs. He contrasts the site's success at fundraising around stories with the often strong political opposition to cash grants.

The More Central Bankers Explain Themselves, the More Confused the Markets Get (Quartz)

Jason Karaian asks why the Federal Reserve hasn't been sticking to its philosophy of "forward guidance," meant to minimize market uncertainty. It seems that analysts are taking central bankers' statements as the word of god, even though nothing is set in stone.

New on Next New Deal

Progressivism in America: Are We Opening a New Chapter in Our Book of Self-Government?

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian David Woolner suggests that this week's election results are not just a rejection of the hard right, but a return to one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's ideas regarding faith in government to reach united purposes.

  • Roosevelt Take: David Woolner is one of many speakers at "Progressivism in America: Past, Present, and Future," a conference cosponsored by the Roosevelt Institute and University College Dublin's Clinton Institute, today and tomorrow. The event is being livestreamed from Dublin.

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Progressivism in America: Are We Opening a New Chapter in Our Book of Self-Government?

Nov 7, 2013David B. Woolner

As Americans reject the extreme right wing at the polls, FDR's vision of self-government may be on the rise again. Note: On Nov. 8-9, David Woolner and other leading thinkers will explore the past, present, and future of progressivism at a conference hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. Click here for details and livestream.

As Americans reject the extreme right wing at the polls, FDR's vision of self-government may be on the rise again. Note: On Nov. 8-9, David Woolner and other leading thinkers will explore the past, present, and future of progressivism at a conference hosted by the Roosevelt Institute and the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. Click here for details and livestream.

The results of this week’s elections have led to a good deal of speculation in the press about the repudiation of the hard right among the American electorate. Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s victory over Tea Party-backed Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race and Republican Governor Chris Christie’s impressive reelection win in heavily Democratic New Jersey have both been interpreted as evidence of the broader appeal of moderates in both parties. If true, this would be a welcome development, particularly on the Republican side of the ledger, where the obstructionist winner-take-all attitude of the extreme right has rendered the United States virtually ungovernable and nearly brought the country to ruin on two occasions within the past two years.

President Obama and other political leaders on both sides have frequently cited the economic damage that this “crisis governing” has wrought to our economy. But equally significant—particularly for those of us who favor more activist social and economic policies—is the damage done to government itself, and by extension, to our democracy.

Indeed, the American people’s faith in government, especially Congress, is at an all-time low. Of all the issues confronting liberals or progressives today it is this issue, faith in government, that is perhaps the most important. For without the support of the broad electorate it will be impossible for Congress and the executive to move forward on a whole range of issues.

Eighty years ago, in the midst of an even worse economic crisis, Franklin Roosevelt won the support of the American people by asking them “to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization.” Moreover, he insisted that the failed non-governmental attempts to meet the crisis brought on by the financial collapse of 1929-1932 left the American people “baffled and bewildered,” without the means to fashion “practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men.”

But in the wake of the many programs that Congress and the president put in place to meet the crisis from 1933 on, the people began to sense the truth “that democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable. We would not admit”, he continued, “that we could not find a way to master economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering, we had found a way to master epidemics of disease.”

In making this argument, FDR insisted that the American people were not discovering a wholly new truth, but were simply “writing a new chapter in our book of self-government.”

Our history, then, tells us that it is possible for us to meet the challenges before us—but only if we are willing, as FDR advised, “to find through government the instrument of our united purpose."

On November 8-9, the Roosevelt Institute and the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin will hold a major international conference entitled Progressivism in America: Past, Present and Future. Featuring such noted figures as Nobel Laureate and Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz, journalists like E.J. Dionne and Jonathan Alter, and historians such as Alan Brinkley and Ellen Chesler, the conference seeks to address today’s policy challenges with solutions grounded in and inspired by the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt—including the all-important realization, as FDR remarked years ago—that “government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people.” This event will be livestreamed. Click here for more details.

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

 

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Richard Nixon Knew Family Planning Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Today’s GOP Doesn’t Care

Oct 28, 2013Andrea Flynn

As the Affordable Care Act helps more Americans get health insurance, it's time to increase funding for Title X, because the need for family planning services is only going up.

As the Affordable Care Act helps more Americans get health insurance, it's time to increase funding for Title X, because the need for family planning services is only going up.

For more than 40 years, Title X has provided family planning and reproductive health services to millions of American women. More recently, conservative lawmakers have targeted Title X as part of their obsession with shrinking the social safety net and restricting access to women’s health care. Those same opponents are now likely to argue that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) focus on women’s health renders Title X unnecessary.  But as I argue in my new paper published by the Roosevelt Institute, that is simply not the case. In reality, the success of the ACA and the health of women across the country are dependent on even greater support for existing family planning programs.

Title X is the nation’s only program solely dedicated to family planning. It was passed into law in 1970 with overwhelming bipartisan support and can in fact be credited to two Republican presidents: Richard Nixon, who signed the bill into law, and then-Congressman George H.W. Bush, who led the legislative effort. It provides critical medical care to low-income, immigrant, and young women and enables clinics to pay for and maintain facilities, train and hire staff, and purchase equipment and supplies.

Despite being perennially underfunded, the program delivers incredible health results. Last year it served 4.76 million women, preventing an estimated 996,000 unintended pregnancies, 200,000 of which were among teens. Research has shown that services provided at Title X clinics save federal and state governments more than $3 billion every year.

As millions of Americans gain health coverage for the first time thanks to the ACA, clinics funded by Title X will become an even more critical building block of our nation's health system. Even when individuals obtain coverage, many will continue to choose publicly funded clinics as their main source of care. In the four years following the implementation of Massachusetts’ health care reform, which served as the model for the ACA, publicly funded health centers experienced a 31 percent increase in patients, even though the number of uninsured visiting those facilities fell by more than 15 percent.

Even women who are already fully insured will continue to rely on Title X clinics for family planning because they can do so in complete confidence. Issues like intimate partner violence and religious beliefs of employers, family, and partners, cause many women to circumvent their insurance plans when accessing family planning services and instead rely on public providers.

The fact is, despite the GOP’s relentless strategic misinformation campaigns and the technology problems that bedeviled the rollout this month, the ACA is good for women. It mandates that insurance plans fully cover all methods of contraception, prohibits gender discrimination and denial of care based on pre-existing conditions, and enables young people to stay on their parent’s plans until they are 26. It requires plans to cover pap tests, STD screening, preconception and prenatal care visits, postpartum counseling and breastfeeding support, and one well visit a year. Make no mistake: this is groundbreaking.

Despite these historic advancements, many women will remain uninsured in the years to come. There are lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is the refusal of many states to accept federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid.  

The ACA was intended to be a path to health care for all Americans, and a major pillar of the law was the expansion of Medicaid to all individuals who fall below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,415 for an individual or $26,344 for a family of three), with subsidies for individuals above that level to buy insurance in the marketplaces. But last year the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not constitutionally require states to expand Medicaid, and conservative lawmakers pounced on the opportunity to block a major component of the ACA.

Today, 22 states refuse to expand Medicaid even though the federal government will foot 100 percent of the bill for the first three years and cover at least 90 percent of the cost after that. These states are denying care to more than 3.5 million low-income women who badly need it. The New York Times reported that as a result, two-thirds of poor black and single mothers and more than half of uninsured, low-wage workers will remain without coverage.

Basically, women who fall into the coverage gap are not considered poor enough for Medicaid by their states, but because the ACA originally intended for them to be covered by the expansion, they also don't qualify for subsidies. And even if they did, the cost of subsidized insurance would likely still be prohibitive given their income level. These individuals will have no choice but to rely on the social safety net – in this case, Title X-funded clinics – for care.

The very critics who have staked their political careers on sinking the ACA and preventing scores of women from accessing family planning services – and who shut down the government in an attempt to do so – would love nothing more than to do away with Title X. They have tried unsuccessfully in recent years, and the program will certainly be in their crosshairs as they continue to chip away at the host of social programs on which low-income women rely.

The ACA, while an enormous advancement for women’s health, does not eliminate the need for the Title X program. Rather, Title X will maximize the impact and reach of the ACA and ensure quality care for those who will remain uninsured.

In the forthcoming budget battles, women’s health advocates will have to fight tooth and nail to maintain Title X’s current funding level, which has already been diminished by sequestration. The program is as critical today as it was when it was created. Today’s very different breed of GOP lawmakers could use a reminder that it was their own party four decades ago that realized investing in family planning was a critical way to improve the health of women, communities, and the entire nation. Who ever thought we’d be longing for Nixon? 

Read Andrea's paper, "The Title X Factor: Why the Health of America's Women Depends on More Funding for Family Planning," here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

 

Woman with pregnancy test banner image via Shutterstock.com

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Daily Digest - October 28: Watching the Surveillance State - and its Money

Oct 28, 2013Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Data Shows Democrats Fully Embraced by Surveillance Industry (The Real News Network)

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

Data Shows Democrats Fully Embraced by Surveillance Industry (The Real News Network)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Tom Ferguson speaks to Jaisal Noor about his new working paper, which drew a connection between the surveillance state and campaign donations. When PRISM became public, it was hard to miss the connection in the data.

  • Roosevelt Take: "Party Competition and Industrial Structure in the 2012 Elections," by Tom Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen, is available here.

Post-Partisan: Fixing our ideological divide (Reuters)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Soros argues that geographic segregation among ideological lines is causing more partisanship then gerrymandering. Changing district lines won't fix that, but some alternative election models might.

Politics and Reality Radio (Public Reality Radio)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal speaks with Joshua Holland about how the rollout of Healthcare.Gov vindicates an old-school New Deal style of liberalism. Neoliberal approaches to social insurance are causing the problems here, not progressive ideas.

  • Roosevelt Take: Mike wrote about this topic for Next New Deal last week.

Making government simpler is complicated (WaPo)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal considers what a "simple" regulation really means. If "simple" policies aren't easy to implement with clear and simple results, are they are simple, or just inefficient nudges?

The Republicans' War on the Poor (Rolling Stone)

Elizabeth Drew writes on the GOP's assault on food stamps, which ignores the program's decades of success. This is a prime example of the current government dysfunction, in which the Tea Party disrupts long-standing policies for its anti-Obama crusade.

Bipartisan Budget Love Suddenly in the Air (NY Mag)

Jonathan Chait suggests that there may finally be space for compromise in budget negotiations. For one thing, some Republicans are finally admitting that compromise doesn't mean that the Democrats give in to all their demands.

For Some, Joblessness Is Not a Temporary Problem (NYT)

Floyd Norris looks at the international problem of long-term unemployment, which is even worse in other developed countries than in the U.S., where for the first time since World War II, more people have been unemployed for over a year then for less then four weeks.

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What Kind of Problem is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?

Oct 23, 2013Mike Konczal

“This massive IT launch sure came in on time, under budget, and without headaches” is a statement that nobody has ever said. But even controlling for that, Healthcare.gov looks to be having a disastrous launch.

People are naturally asking about the practical and political implications of this disaster. Is it a problem for the Affordable Care Act as a whole, with its mixture of individual mandates and risk-pooling? Is it a political disaster for President Obama and the Democrats? Does this show us major problems in the way that government procures its contractors?

These are important questions, but some are asking a bigger one: is this a problem for liberalism as a political governance project? Does this rollout failure discredit the core goals of a liberal project, including that of a mixed economy, a regulatory state, and social insurance?

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let's make it clear and explicit here.

So what has gone wrong? People are still trying to figure this out. There are the general problems of doing too much with too little time and resources and rolling out a big final product rather than smaller incremental pieces. These are things that, while problematic, don’t particularly have a political story to tell.

However, four bigger problems jump out.

The first has to do with means-testing the program. The biggest front-end problem is that users, before they can register, must “cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors.”

Why is that? It is because the government needs to determine how much of a coupon it’ll write each person to go and buy private insurance. Beyond the philosophical components of means-testing (what the philosopher Jonathan Wolff calls “shameful revelations), the actual process requires substantial coordination between multiple government agencies with very different infrastructures.

As the GAO notes, “the data hub is to verify an applicant’s Social Security number with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and to access the data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are needed to assess the applicant’s income, citizenship, and immigration status. The data hub is also expected to access information from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Defense (DOD), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Peace Corps to enable exchanges to determine if an applicant is eligible for insurance coverage from other federal programs that would make them ineligible for income-based financial subsidies.”

Rather than just being an example of bureaucratic infighting, each of these pieces of information is necessary to determine how aggressively the government should subsidize the private insurance individuals will buy, and the entire process will stall and fall apart if one of these checks isn’t completed quickly.

This by itself might not be a problem; however, the second issue is that the means-testing is necessary to link individuals up with individual private insurers. As the Washington Post notes, the back-end problems are in part the result of the site being “designed to draw from the offerings of private insurers, each with their own computer systems, rates and offerings.” And though this may be getting better, a serious concern has been inaccurate data being transmitted to the insurance companies. Which is to say that the emphasis on creating a digital marketplace where individuals get means-tested and can then pick and choose among insurers requires syncing on both ends, which is a difficult process.

So what? A third issue, and a major reason this is freaking people out, is that the first two problems could introduce adverse selection, as only the most needy will wait, and wait, to take advantage of the programs. As Yuval Levin has emphasized, the “danger of a rapid adverse selection spiral is much more serious than they believed possible this summer.”

And the fourth and final issue is that the federal government has had to pick up so much slack from rebelling states that didn’t want to implement health care. The state-level exchanges that were actually implemented appear to be doing okay, or at least significantly better. But the general problem is that “More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.”

So this tells a story. Let’s refer to these features of social insurance, which are also playing a major role in the rollout problems, as “Category A.” Now, what would the opposite of this look like? Let’s define the opposite of this as “Category B” social insurance. And let's take these two categories and chart them out:

What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.

This contrasts with the Category B grouping, which we associate with the New Deal and the Great Society. This approach creates a universal floor so that individuals don’t experience basic welfare goods as commodities to buy and sell themselves. This is a continuum rather than a hard line, of course, but readers will note that Social Security and Medicare are more in Category B category rather than Category A. My man Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not have known about JavaScript and agile programming, but he knew a few things about the public provisioning of social insurance, and he realized the second category, while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.

Some of the more cartoony conservatives argue that this is a failure of liberalism because it is a failure of government planning, evidently confusing the concept of economic “central planning” with “the government makes a plan to do something.”

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan's health-care plan -- and his Medicare plan -- would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

I’ll be discussing this more, but the choice between Category A and B above will characterize much of the political debate in the next decade. It’s important we get more sophisticated analysis of what has gone wrong with the ACA rollout to better appreciate how utilizing “the market” can be far more cumbersome and inefficient than the government just doing things itself.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

 

“This massive IT launch sure came in on time, under budget, and without headaches” is a statement that nobody has ever said. But even controlling for that, Healthcare.gov looks to be having a disastrous launch.

People are naturally asking about the practical and political implications of this disaster. Is it a problem for the Affordable Care Act as a whole, with its mixture of individual mandates and risk-pooling? Is it a political disaster for President Obama and the Democrats? Does this show us major problems in the way that government procures its contractors?

These are important questions, but some are asking a bigger one: is this a problem for liberalism as a political governance project? Does this rollout failure discredit the core goals of a liberal project, including that of a mixed economy, a regulatory state, and social insurance?

Conservatives in particular think this website has broad implications for liberalism as a philosophical and political project. I think it does, but for the exact opposite reasons: it highlights the problems inherent in the move to a neoliberal form of governance and social insurance, while demonstrating the superiorities in the older, New Deal form of liberalism. This point is floating out there, and it turns out to be a major problem for conservatives as well, so let's make it clear and explicit here.

So what has gone wrong? People are still trying to figure this out. There are the general problems of doing too much with too little time and resources and rolling out a big final product rather than smaller incremental pieces. These are things that, while problematic, don’t particularly have a political story to tell.

However, four bigger problems jump out.

The first has to do with means-testing the program. The biggest front-end problem is that users, before they can register, must “cross a busy digital junction in which data are swapped among separate computer systems built or run by contractors.”

Why is that? It is because the government needs to determine how much of a coupon it’ll write each person to go and buy private insurance. Beyond the philosophical components of means-testing (what the philosopher Jonathan Wolff calls “shameful revelations), the actual process requires substantial coordination between multiple government agencies with very different infrastructures.

As the GAO notes, “the data hub is to verify an applicant’s Social Security number with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and to access the data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that are needed to assess the applicant’s income, citizenship, and immigration status. The data hub is also expected to access information from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Department of Defense (DOD), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Peace Corps to enable exchanges to determine if an applicant is eligible for insurance coverage from other federal programs that would make them ineligible for income-based financial subsidies.”

Rather than just being an example of bureaucratic infighting, each of these pieces of information is necessary to determine how aggressively the government should subsidize the private insurance individuals will buy, and the entire process will stall and fall apart if one of these checks isn’t completed quickly.

This by itself might not be a problem; however, the second issue is that the means-testing is necessary to link individuals up with individual private insurers. As the Washington Post notes, the back-end problems are in part the result of the site being “designed to draw from the offerings of private insurers, each with their own computer systems, rates and offerings.” And though this may be getting better, a serious concern has been inaccurate data being transmitted to the insurance companies. Which is to say that the emphasis on creating a digital marketplace where individuals get means-tested and can then pick and choose among insurers requires syncing on both ends, which is a difficult process.

So what? A third issue, and a major reason this is freaking people out, is that the first two problems could introduce adverse selection, as only the most needy will wait, and wait, to take advantage of the programs. As Yuval Levin has emphasized, the “danger of a rapid adverse selection spiral is much more serious than they believed possible this summer.”

And the fourth and final issue is that the federal government has had to pick up so much slack from rebelling states that didn’t want to implement health care. The state-level exchanges that were actually implemented appear to be doing okay, or at least significantly better. But the general problem is that “More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.”

So this tells a story. Let’s refer to these features of social insurance, which are also playing a major role in the rollout problems, as “Category A.” Now, what would the opposite of this look like? Let’s define the opposite of this as “Category B” social insurance. And let's take these two categories and chart them out:

What we often refer to as Category A can be viewed as a “neoliberal” approach to social insurance, heavy on private provisioning and means-testing. This term often obscures more than it helps, but think of it as a plan for reworking the entire logic of government to simply act as an enabler to market activities, with perhaps some coordinated charity to individuals most in need.

This contrasts with the Category B grouping, which we associate with the New Deal and the Great Society. This approach creates a universal floor so that individuals don’t experience basic welfare goods as commodities to buy and sell themselves. This is a continuum rather than a hard line, of course, but readers will note that Social Security and Medicare are more in Category B category rather than Category A. My man Franklin Delano Roosevelt may not have known about JavaScript and agile programming, but he knew a few things about the public provisioning of social insurance, and he realized the second category, while conceptually more work for the government, can eliminate a lot of unnecessary administrative problems.

Some of the more cartoony conservatives argue that this is a failure of liberalism because it is a failure of government planning, evidently confusing the concept of economic “central planning” with “the government makes a plan to do something.”

However, the smarter conservatives who are thinking several moves ahead (e.g. Ross Douthat) understand that this failed rollout is a significant problem for conservatives. Because if all the problems are driven by means-testing, state-level decisions and privatization of social insurance, the fact that the core conservative plan for social insurance is focused like a laser beam on means-testing, block-granting and privatization is a rather large problem. As Ezra Klein notes, “Paul Ryan's health-care plan -- and his Medicare plan -- would also require the government to run online insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, the Medicaid expansion is working well where it is being implemented, and the ACA is perhaps even bending the cost curve of Medicare, the two paths forward that conservatives don’t want to take.

I’ll be discussing this more, but the choice between Category A and B above will characterize much of the political debate in the next decade. It’s important we get more sophisticated analysis of what has gone wrong with the ACA rollout to better appreciate how utilizing “the market” can be far more cumbersome and inefficient than the government just doing things itself.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

Website error message image via Shutterstock.com

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