How Much are Local Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses Driven By the Feds? A Reply to Libertarians

Sep 12, 2014Mike Konczal

(Wonkish, as they say.)

I wrote a piece in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent protests in Ferguson noting that the police violence, rather than a federalized, militarized affair, should be understood as locally driven from the bottom-up. Others made similar points, including Jonathan Chait (“Why the Worst Governments in America Are Local Governments”) and Franklin Foer (“The Greatest Threat to Our Liberty Is Local Governments Run Amok”). Both are smart pieces.

The Foer piece came into a backlash on a technical point that I want to dig into, in part because I think it is illuminating and helps proves his point. Foer argued that “If there’s a signature policy of this age of unimpeded state and local government, it’s civil-asset forfeiture.” Civil-asset forfeiture is where prosecutors press charges against property for being illicit, a legal tool that is prone to abuse. (I’m going to assume you know the basics. This Sarah Stillman piece is fantastic if you don’t, or even if you do.)

Two libertarian critics jumped at that line. Jonathan Blanks of the Cato Institute wrote “the rise of civil asset forfeiture is a direct result of federal involvement in local policing. In what are known as ‘equitable sharing’ agreements, federal law enforcement split forfeiture proceeds with state and local law authorities.”

Equitable sharing is a system where local prosecutors can choose to send their cases to the federal level and, if successful, up to 80 percent of the forfeited funds go back to local law enforcement. So even in states where the law lets law enforcement keep less than 80 percent of funds to try and prevent corruption (by handing the money to, say, roads or schools), “federal equitable sharing rules mandate those proceeds go directly to the law enforcement agencies, circumventing state laws to prevent “‘policing for profit.’”

Lucy Steigerwald at Vice addresses all three posts, and make a similar point about Foer. “Foer mentions the importance of civil asset forfeiture while skirting around the fact that forfeiture laws incentivize making drug cases into federal ones, so as to get around states with higher burdens of proof for taking property...Include a DEA agent in your drug bust—making it a federal case—and suddenly you get up to 80 percent of the profits from the seized cash or goods. In short, it’s a hell of a lot easier for local police to steal your shit thanks to federal law.”

Equitable sharing, like all law in this realm, needs to be gutted yesterday, and I’m sure there’s major agreement on across-the-board reforms. But I think there’s three serious problems with viewing federal equitable sharing as the main driver of state and local forfeitures.

Legibility, Abuse, Innovation

The first is that we are talking about equitable sharing in part because it’s only part of the law that we are capable of measuring. There’s a reason that virtually every story about civil asset forfeiture highlights equitable sharing [1]. It’s because it’s one of the few places where there are good statistics on how civil asset forfeiture is carried out.

As the Institute for Justice found when they tried to create a summary of the extent of the use of civil asset forfeiture, only 29 states have a requirement to record the use of civil asset forfeiture at all. But most are under no obligation to share that information, much less make it accessible. It took two years of FOIA requests, and even then 8 of those 29 states didn’t bother responding, and two provided unusable data. There's problematic double-counting and other problems with the data that is available. As they concluded, “Thus, in most states, we know very little about the use of asset forfeiture” at the county and state level.

We do know about it at the federal level however. You can look up the annual reports of the federal Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund (AFF) and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund (TFF) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. There you can see the expansion of the program over time.

You simply can’t do this in any way at the county or state levels. You can’t see statistics to see if equitable sharing is a majority of forfeiture cases - though, importantly, equitable sharing was the minority of funds in the few states the Institute for Justice were able to measure, and local forfeitures were growing rapidly - or the relationship between the two. It’s impossible to analyze the number of forfeiture cases (as opposed to amount seized), which is what you’d want to measure to see the increased aggressiveness in its use on small cases.

This goes to Foer’s point that federal abuses at least receive some daylight, compared to the black boxes of county prosecutor’s offices. This does, in turn, point the flashlight towards the Feds, and gives the overall procedure a Federal focus. But this is a function of how well locals have fought off accountability.

The second point is that the states already have laws that are more aggressive than the Fed’s. A simple graph will suffice (source). The Feds return 80 percent of forfeited assets to law enforcement. What do the states return?

Only 15 states have laws that that are below the Fed’s return threshold. Far, far more states already have a more expansive “policing for profit” regime set in at the state level than what is available at the Federal level. It makes sense that for those 15 states equitable sharing changes the incentives [2], of course, and the logic extends to the necessary criterion to make a seizure. But the states, driven no doubt by police, prosecutors and tough-on-crime lawmakers, have written very aggressive laws in this manner. They don't need the Feds to police for profit; if anything they'd get in the way.

The third is that the innovative expansion of civil asset forfeiture is driven at the local level just as much as the federal level. This is the case if only because equitable sharing can only go into effect if there’s a federal crime being committed. So aggressive forfeiture of cars of drunk drivers or those who hire sex workers (even if it your wife’s car) is a local innovation, because there’s no federal law to advance them.

There’s a lot of overlap for reform across the political spectrum here, but seeing the states as merely the pawns of the federal government when it comes to forfeiture abuse is problematic. Ironically, we see this precisely because we can’t see what the states are doing, but the hints we do know point to awful abuses, driven by the profit motive from the bottom-up.

[1]  To take two prominent, excellent recent examples. Stillman at the New Yorker: “through a program called Equitable Sharing…At the Justice Department, proceeds from forfeiture soared from twenty-seven million dollars in 1985 to five hundred and fifty-six million in 1993.”

And Michael Sallah, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Steven Rich of the Washington Post: “There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion.”

If either wanted to get these numbers at the state and local levels it would be impossible.

[2] I understand why one want to put an empirical point on it, and the law needs to be changed no matter what, but the core empirical work relating payouts to equitable sharing isn’t as aggressive as you’d imagine. Most of the critical results aren’t significant at a 5% level, and even then you are talking about a 25% increase in just equitable sharing (as opposed to the overall amount forfeited by locals, which we can’t measure) relative to 100% change in state law payouts.

Which makes sense - no prosecutor is going to be fired for bringing in too much money into the school district, if only because money is fungible on the back end.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

(Wonkish, as they say.)

I wrote a piece in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and subsequent protests in Ferguson noting that the police violence, rather than a federalized, militarized affair, should be understood as locally driven from the bottom-up. Others made similar points, including Jonathan Chait (“Why the Worst Governments in America Are Local Governments”) and Franklin Foer (“The Greatest Threat to Our Liberty Is Local Governments Run Amok”). Both are smart pieces.

The Foer piece came into a backlash on a technical point that I want to dig into, in part because I think it is illuminating and helps proves his point. Foer argued that “If there’s a signature policy of this age of unimpeded state and local government, it’s civil-asset forfeiture.” Civil-asset forfeiture is where prosecutors press charges against property for being illicit, a legal tool that is prone to abuse. (I’m going to assume you know the basics. This Sarah Stillman piece is fantastic if you don’t, or even if you do.)

Two libertarian critics jumped at that line. Jonathan Blanks of the Cato Institute wrote “the rise of civil asset forfeiture is a direct result of federal involvement in local policing. In what are known as ‘equitable sharing’ agreements, federal law enforcement split forfeiture proceeds with state and local law authorities.”

Equitable sharing is a system where local prosecutors can choose to send their cases to the federal level and, if successful, up to 80 percent of the forfeited funds go back to local law enforcement. So even in states where the law lets law enforcement keep less than 80 percent of funds to try and prevent corruption (by handing the money to, say, roads or schools), “federal equitable sharing rules mandate those proceeds go directly to the law enforcement agencies, circumventing state laws to prevent “‘policing for profit.’”

Lucy Steigerwald at Vice addresses all three posts, and make a similar point about Foer. “Foer mentions the importance of civil asset forfeiture while skirting around the fact that forfeiture laws incentivize making drug cases into federal ones, so as to get around states with higher burdens of proof for taking property...Include a DEA agent in your drug bust—making it a federal case—and suddenly you get up to 80 percent of the profits from the seized cash or goods. In short, it’s a hell of a lot easier for local police to steal your shit thanks to federal law.”

Equitable sharing, like all law in this realm, needs to be gutted yesterday, and I’m sure there’s major agreement on across-the-board reforms. But I think there’s three serious problems with viewing federal equitable sharing as the main driver of state and local forfeitures.

Legibility, Abuse, Innovation

The first is that we are talking about equitable sharing in part because it’s only part of the law that we are capable of measuring. There’s a reason that virtually every story about civil asset forfeiture highlights equitable sharing [1]. It’s because it’s one of the few places where there are good statistics on how civil asset forfeiture is carried out.

As the Institute for Justice found when they tried to create a summary of the extent of the use of civil asset forfeiture, only 29 states have a requirement to record the use of civil asset forfeiture at all. But most are under no obligation to share that information, much less make it accessible. It took two years of FOIA requests, and even then 8 of those 29 states didn’t bother responding, and two provided unusable data. There's problematic double-counting and other problems with the data that is available. As they concluded, “Thus, in most states, we know very little about the use of asset forfeiture” at the county and state level.

We do know about it at the federal level however. You can look up the annual reports of the federal Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund (AFF) and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund (TFF) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. There you can see the expansion of the program over time.

You simply can’t do this in any way at the county or state levels. You can’t see statistics to see if equitable sharing is a majority of forfeiture cases - though, importantly, equitable sharing was the minority of funds in the few states the Institute for Justice were able to measure, and local forfeitures were growing rapidly - or the relationship between the two. It’s impossible to analyze the number of forfeiture cases (as opposed to amount seized), which is what you’d want to measure to see the increased aggressiveness in its use on small cases.

This goes to Foer’s point that federal abuses at least receive some daylight, compared to the black boxes of county prosecutor’s offices. This does, in turn, point the flashlight towards the Feds, and gives the overall procedure a Federal focus. But this is a function of how well locals have fought off accountability.

The second point is that the states already have laws that are more aggressive than the Fed’s. A simple graph will suffice (source). The Feds return 80 percent of forfeited assets to law enforcement. What do the states return?

Only 15 states have laws that that are below the Fed’s return threshold. Far, far more states already have a more expansive “policing for profit” regime set in at the state level than what is available at the Federal level. It makes sense that for those 15 states equitable sharing changes the incentives [2], of course, and the logic extends to the necessary criterion to make a seizure. But the states, driven no doubt by police, prosecutors and tough-on-crime lawmakers, have written very aggressive laws in this manner. They don't need the Feds to police for profit; if anything they'd get in the way.

The third is that the innovative expansion of civil asset forfeiture is driven at the local level just as much as the federal level. This is the case if only because equitable sharing can only go into effect if there’s a federal crime being committed. So aggressive forfeiture of cars of drunk drivers or those who hire sex workers (even if it your wife’s car) is a local innovation, because there’s no federal law to advance them.

There’s a lot of overlap for reform across the political spectrum here, but seeing the states as merely the pawns of the federal government when it comes to forfeiture abuse is problematic. Ironically, we see this precisely because we can’t see what the states are doing, but the hints we do know point to awful abuses, driven by the profit motive from the bottom-up.

[1]  To take two prominent, excellent recent examples. Stillman at the New Yorker: “through a program called Equitable Sharing…At the Justice Department, proceeds from forfeiture soared from twenty-seven million dollars in 1985 to five hundred and fifty-six million in 1993.”

And Michael Sallah, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Steven Rich of the Washington Post: “There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion.”

If either wanted to get these numbers at the state and local levels it would be impossible.

[2] I understand why one want to put an empirical point on it, and the law needs to be changed no matter what, but the core empirical work relating payouts to equitable sharing isn’t as aggressive as you’d imagine. Most of the critical results aren’t significant at a 5% level, and even then you are talking about a 25% increase in just equitable sharing (as opposed to the overall amount forfeited by locals, which we can’t measure) relative to 100% change in state law payouts.

Which makes sense - no prosecutor is going to be fired for bringing in too much money into the school district, if only because money is fungible on the back end.

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Taxes Are Never Just a Class Issue

Sep 4, 2014Joelle Gamble

Tax reforms can't solve all economic inequality, because they won't change the reality of race in the U.S. economy.

Tax reforms can't solve all economic inequality, because they won't change the reality of race in the U.S. economy.

The threat of corporate inversions to the American tax base sprung an interesting political dialogue around tax reform in the United States. We’ve seen debates on how to stop the spread of inversions and arguments that they aren’t a problem at all. Some call for the abolition of the corporate tax rate as a whole and others completely reject such suggestions. I find these discussions of tax reform and its effects on the economy informative yet simultaneously slightly disappointing.

What bothers me about how tax reform debates shake out is how absent they can become of socio-political realities, particularly the reality of race.

One line of progressive argumentation follows simply: If everyone pays their fair share of taxes, we can support public spending and job growth, and we’ll all do better. The argument firmly stands, but there is an important caveat.

It’s easy to harken back to the 1950s when tax rates were high, social services were relatively steady and economic security stretched across economic strata. But who was really secure then? Even the high points of job security for the American economy still left African Americans (and other racially marginalized groups) behind. This a structural phenomenon, instituted by socially racist institutions and a deep history of systemically harming the Black community.

We can’t take race out of conversations around economic inequality. The reality of race is that even fixes to the broader federal revenue landscape don’t always address the structural barriers of racism. A rising tide can’t lift all boats, if some boats are bolted to the seafloor.

Black unemployment consistently exceeds that of whites, both post-Recession and since such data has been available. Gaps between white unemployment and black unemployment shrank in 2009. This was not due to falling black unemployment but instead due to skyrocketing white unemployment.

This racial gap in economic success extends beyond the employment rate. In fact, it is deeply entrenched in the way wealth is distributed in the U.S. The gap between median Black wealth and median white wealth stands at about $236,000 dollars. Flagrant discrimination, in part, contributes to this gap. But it is perpetuated by generations of asset accumulation policies that are targeted at those who already own assets.

Corporate tax reform alone isn’t sufficient to fix the effects of decades of second-class status conferred on African Americans. The government does not just need sufficient funding to create equality within the economy. Distribution of these dollars is equally important. It needs to reflect the nuances of structural inequalities built into multiple aspects of our tax code.

Take federal housing spending policies as a prime example. Ending ineffective tax incentives, such as the mortgage interest reduction, can start to tilt the scales toward those who are not already wealthy. Seventy-seven percent of the benefits of the mortgage interest reduction accrued to homeowners with gross incomes of above $100,000. We need to rethink housing subsidies so that the benefits of federal programs do not heavily favor those who already own homes.

We need corporate tax reform to ensure that all participants in our economy are paying their fair share. But we also need a federal benefits structure that ensures that the concept of a "fair share" considers our history of discrimination when determining which Americans need those benefits most.

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Daily Digest - August 22: Sunshine the Cure for Tax Avoidance?

Aug 22, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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

Shareholders, Public Deserve Tax Transparency (WaPo)

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

Shareholders, Public Deserve Tax Transparency (WaPo)

Catherine Rampell argues that requiring publicly traded companies to make their tax returns public would cause companies, over time, to invest fewer resources in tax avoidance.

Homeowner Help Remains Elusive in $16.5bn Bank of America Fine (The Guardian)

David Dayen says homeowners shouldn't count on relief from bank settlements: banks will choose to "pay" as much of the penalty as permitted without helping homeowners.

Injustice in Ferguson, Long Before Michael Brown (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Peter Coy looks at how the frequently racist origins of the St. Louis area's municipal fragmentation created the inequalities that people in Ferguson are protesting today.

How a Part-Time Pay Penalty Hits Working Mothers (NYT)

Claire Cain Miller looks at a new analysis from Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, which shows that across the board, working fewer hours leads to a lower wage in the same job.

Obama Alums Accused of Selling Out (MSNBC)

Many Democrats are particularly concerned by influential Obama campaign staff working in roles that are not supportive of unions, writes Alex Seitz-Ward.

Low-Paid Jobs Now Pay Even Worse Than Before The Recovery Began (ThinkProgress)

Bryce Covert writes that the worst of the declining wages lie in particular sectors like food service, home and care workers, and retail, which employ many low-wage workers.

New on Next New Deal

Campus Network Looks Ahead for Policy Engagement

Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network National Director Joelle Gamble considers the Network's nine years of successes, and lays out some of the goals for the year ahead.

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Daily Digest - August 21: Time to Consider the Mortgage Deduction?

Aug 21, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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

How a Widely Beloved Tax Deduction Really Just Benefits the Well-Off and Exacerbates Inequality (TAP)

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

How a Widely Beloved Tax Deduction Really Just Benefits the Well-Off and Exacerbates Inequality (TAP)

The mortgage interest deduction primarily benefits those who make at least $100,000 a year, and dwarfs funding for housing programs for the poor, writes Alex Ulam.

  • Roosevelt Take: In his latest white paper on tax reform, Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests changes to the mortgage interest deduction that would make it more equitable.

What Would Real Economic Justice Look Like in Ferguson? (The Nation)

Michelle Chen reports on organized labor's involvement in Ferguson, MO, where a millennial labor group called Future Fighters is asking protesters want they want their community to look like.

Fed Dissenters Increasingly Vocal About Inflation Fears (NYT)

The newly released minutes from the Federal Reserve's July meeting show that some Fed officials feel the central bank has done all it can to improve the economy, writes Binyamin Appelbaum.

CEOs are Dumb When it Comes to This (MarketWatch)

Simon Constable reports on a new study that shows that stock option compensation isn't really considered in dollars: CEOs tend to get the same number of options regardless of the stock's value.

Why Bank of America Probably Won’t End Up Actually Paying US$17B in Mortgage Securities Settlement (Financial Post)

Consumer relief as negotiated in this settlement and others rarely cost the banks much at all, says Jeff Horwitz. But with few other sources of consumer relief, advocates welcome this one.

The Latest Attack on Labor, From The Group That Brought Us ‘Harris v. Quinn’ (In These Times)

Moshe Marvit explains the National Right to Work Committee's latest tactic, which aims to end exclusive representation in public sector unions and weaken collective bargaining.

New on Next New Deal

Mean and Lean Local Government

In his video speculation for the Next American Economy project, Stefaan Verlhurst, Co-Founder of GovLab, projects how municipal governments might shift tactics to take advantage of broader resources.

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Daily Digest - August 20: Inequality Among Roots of Ferguson Unrest

Aug 20, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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

Ferguson's Race Injustices Have Their Roots in Economic Inequality (The Guardian)

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

Ferguson's Race Injustices Have Their Roots in Economic Inequality (The Guardian)

Suzanne McGee ties the situation in Ferguson, MO to the severe economic inequality facing the Black community in the U.S., which she says limits Black access to political power as well.

Meet the Ordinary People Who Are Mobilizing Around Monetary Policy (WaPo)

Activist groups concerned with democratizing the discussion of monetary policy are sending low-wage workers to speak a Federal Reserve conference in Wyoming. Ylan Q. Mui reports.

The Tax Dodge That Has Plagued the U.S. for More Than a Decade (The Atlantic)

Joe Pinsker looks at the history of companies looking to reincorporate abroad to dodge U.S. corporate income taxes, and explains how the process has changed (and yet not) in the past decade.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz proposes a full slate of corporate income tax reforms in his latest white paper.

Lagging Demand, Not Unemployability, Is Why Long-term Unemployment Remains So High (EPI)

In a new report, Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz argue that long-term unemployment is still a component of cyclical weakness in the economy from the recession, rather than a structural shut-out.

How to Save the Net: Don’t Give In to Big ISPs (Wired)

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings calls on the Federal Communications Commission to expand its focus to regulate the relationships between companies like his and the Internet service providers.

OSHA fines company $1M for violating truckers' hours-of-service rule (The Hill)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's fine is about protecting workers and the public, reports Tim Devaney. Trucker rest rules are in the limelight after high-profile crashes.

San Diego Defies Mayor, Raises Minimum Wage (CNN Money)

Katie Lobosco reports that the city council overturned the mayor's veto, approving a gradual minimum wage hike that ties the wage to inflation, as well as paid sick leave.

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Curbing Campus Sexual Assault is Not About the Money

Aug 19, 2014Hannah Zhang

The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

On August 13, I stood with Senator Gillibrand, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and survivors, among others, at the Senator’s New York press conference on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). Currently co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators, eight Democratic and seven Republican, this bill represents a tough but common sense reform. It requires universities to designate Confidential Advisors as a resource for survivors, provide a minimum standard of training to personnel processing sexual assault cases, and conduct an annual survey of all students on sexual violence. For schools that do not comply with these requirements, this bill increases the initial financial penalty to up to one percent of their operating budgets and $150,000 (previously $35,000) for each subsequent violation.

As a student attending a university that struggles to combat sexual assault, I hope that this bill will hold my school accountable in the future. As an advocate for progressive change, I was proud to stand with the Senator on this bill that focuses reforms on survivors. 

While increasing financial penalties is a common sense solution, the seemingly common sense objection is that CASA provides no funding for colleges to implement surveys and hire personnel. This much is true, but is financial cost really an issue compared to the cost that sexual assault imposes upon young women?

In introducing CASA, Senator Gillibrand repeats a powerful tagline—“The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted,” a statistic from the White House Report on campus sexual assault.

This cost far outweighs a fine that constitutes one percent of a university’s massive total budget or funds set aside to hire staff. For instance, Stanford University’s operating budget of $4.8 billion is more than the national GDPs of Cape Verde and Bhutan combined. While public universities arguably have fewer resources than these private institutions, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher gave the bill her full support on behalf of the SUNY system.

One critic argues that the fines and expenses of compliance would take money away from academic programs. Lawmakers, another critic writes, have stated that the costs would “compromise the education of a college’s entire student body.” These statements neglect the sad truth that campus sexual assault has already compromised the education of countless students. Stopping sexual assault helps campuses to focus on academics, rather than hindering them from doing so.

Talking about money misses the point. The goal of CASA isn’t to fine universities. It’s to incentivize compliance. By investing in the resources now, universities create a safer educational environment for current and prospective students.

Curbing sexual assault should be a priority for our universities for yet another reason. Sexual assault on campuses exists as part of a larger, global problem – violence against women, which remains a significant barrier to full gender equality.

Charlotte Bunch, founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and speaker at the upcoming Women and Girls Rising Conference, said it best in 1997, “Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today.” Bunch pioneered the inclusion of gender violence in the larger fight for human rights. Her words remain true in today’s world, where almost a third of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence (or both) perpetrated by an intimate partner.

The U.S. has taken action on this issue in the past, most recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. We tend not to associate the U.S. with developing countries where wife beating is condoned and women are raped as casualties of war. Yet the evidence that 20 percent of women who step foot on U.S. college campuses face sexual violence proves that our work is far from over. To stand as a global leader in gender equality, the U.S. must start by fixing problems at home.

Hannah Zhang is the Campus Network's External Engagement Coordinator for the Northeast, and a member of the Columbia University chapter. 

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Daily Digest - August 18: Looking for Strong Statements on Ferguson

Aug 18, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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

Did Obama’s Response to Ferguson Fall Short? (Melissa Harris-Perry)

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

Did Obama’s Response to Ferguson Fall Short? (Melissa Harris-Perry)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren questions why President Obama has avoided unequivocal language to condemn the police state in Ferguson. His segment begins at 6:40.

Why the Liberal Love for Rand Paul is Wrong (MSNBC)

Senator Paul blames big government for what he calls the "erosion" of Black civil liberties, but Dorian Warren counters that local governments do plenty to earn the distrust of the Black community.

Phony Capitalism (Harper's Magazine)

In this excerpt from his recent white paper, Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests better tax policies could lead to a less economically stratified economy.

‘Slack’ in Job Market Hurts Wage Growth, Chicago Fed Paper Says (WSJ)

The paper notes that the slack labor market, with so many unemployed, has an even stronger impact on wage growth for those whose wages are already low, reports Pedro da Costa.

Paul Ryan’s Welfare Reform Ideas Are Even Worse Than You Think (The Nation)

Michelle Chen says that Ryan's proposal for welfare reform marks poor people as the problem in need of fixing, rather than the economic and social structures that hold up poverty.

20 Tax Dodgers: $240 Million for CEOs, Big Loss for the American People (The Fine Print)

Scott Klinger ties tax-deductible CEO pay to a USA Today list of companies that paid no federal income taxes last quarter, and says the combination highlights just how broken our tax system is today.

New on Next New Deal

Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit: The Neoconservative Origins of Our Police Problem

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal ties increased use of police force to neoconservative notions of the "urban crisis" as a failure of liberalism to be targeted with harsh enforcement.

Suspensions are Keeping Students of Color from their Diplomas

Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy Fellow Bassem El Remesh argues that Minnesota needs to adopt stricter rules for when suspensions are permitted due to the impact on graduation rates.

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Suspensions are Keeping Students of Color from their Diplomas

Aug 18, 2014Bassem El Remesh

Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

Despite being ranked as one of the best states to live in, Minnesota still suffers from racial inequality. Even if laws and politics treat everyone equally, the educational experience is different for people of different races. In 2013, only 62 percent of students of color graduated from high school, as opposed to 85 percent of white students. Similarly, a smaller proportion of students of color will finished college compared to their white counterparts: 33 percent of white Minnesotans have a degree, but only 19 percent of black Minnesotans.

Suspension, studies show, is a key reason why students drop out of school. A study conducted in Florida found that being suspended out-of-school even once was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of dropout. Moreover, each additional suspension increased the risk of dropping out by 20 percent. By the end of the suspension period, students tend to lag behind academically and feel very excluded in classes. As a consequence, that feeling of disconnectedness convinces students that they are not smart enough to continue their education and that quitting is a better option. Dropping out of school early can have tremendous effects on someone’s life, taking away employment opportunities and increasing the likelihood of crimes. A paper published by Northwestern University shows that students who drop out of high school have only a 46 percent chance of finding a job, and those who manage to find a job will likely have an income below the national average. Moreover, 22 percent of black males who drop out of high school are jailed. This means, if you are a black male student and you get suspended, it's more likely that your future will involve unemployment, working in in a low paying job, or jail.

Suspension policies in Minnesota schools are further disadvantaging students of color, and are widening the gap between them and white Minnesotans. Students of color have a tremendously higher suspension rates compared to their white peers. In the 2009-10 academic year, 37 percent of male African American secondary school students in Saint Paul, Minnesota were suspended as opposed to nine percent of white male students and only three percent of Asians.

Giving students an equal chance of an enriching classroom experience is an urgent necessity in Minnesota today. It is a first step towards bridging the educational gap between different racial groups and paves the way towards a race less society in Minnesota and the rest of the country. Other states have implemented policies to combat racial disparities in school suspensions. In California, the Department of Education issued a law that limits and specifies cases where suspension and expulsion are allowed. As a result, in-school and out-of-school suspensions dropped 14 percent, and the suspension rate for students of color such as African Americans went down by 9.5 percent from previous year.

Alternatives to suspension should be taken very seriously and the circumstances under which a student can be suspended should be limited and clearly defined. Some of the measures to avoid suspension in California include programs to resolve conflicts by bringing all parties together and offering incentives for good behavior, as well as in-school suspensions, school service, counseling, community service, detention, and mentoring (with a teacher or a counselor). These measures help the students have a stronger connection with their teacher and their school. By implementing such measures in Minnesota, we could begin to close the racial education gap.

Bassem El Remesh is a junior at Macalester College and a Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy Fellow. He was the Campus Network's Field and Political Landscape Intern.

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Daily Digest - August 14: As Maine Goes, So Goes the Internet

Aug 14, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Racial Discrimination Alive and Well in Reproductive Healthcare (The Hill)

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

Racial Discrimination Alive and Well in Reproductive Healthcare (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Andrea Flynn looks at racial disparities in access to health care in the U.S. in light of the U.N.'s periodic review of countries' work to dismantle racism.

How Maine Saved the Internet (Bloomberg View)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford explains how a town in Maine with a population of only 3,321 got a reasonably priced, high-speed fiber optic network.

What’s Lost in the Market Basket Stories (Working Economics)

Workers should not have to rely on a benevolent CEO to ensure they have "good" jobs, writes David Cooper. Better labor laws would make sure everyone had those benefits.

Why Is it So Controversial to Help Poor Mothers Afford Diapers? (The Nation)

Bryce Covert calls out those who see diaper subsidy programs as "controversial," because these programs help children and working families to thrive. They should be a no-brainer, she says.

Working Anything but 9 to 5 (NYT)

Jodi Kantor looks at one mother's struggle with automated scheduling software that threw her and her child's lives into chaos, as she worked unpredictable and sometimes unreasonable hours.

Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote To Join Union (HuffPo)

One worker who voted against unionization in 2011 explained that since the last vote, grievances continued unaddressed, leading to yesterday's decisive win, reports Dave Jamieson.

Silicon Valley Is Ruining "Sharing" for Everybody (TNR)

Noam Scheiber decries the Silicon Valley definition of "sharing," which is more along the lines of under-regulated economic activity that takes advantage of users' skills, possessions, or property.

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Education Left Behind

Jul 31, 2014Edyta Obrzut

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

“Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself’”   — A Nation at Risk, 1983

In August of 1981, Secretary of Education Terrell Bell chartered the National Commission on Excellence to review and synthetize scholarly research on public schools nationwide, with a special focus on the educational experience of teenage youth. In their report, A Nation at Risk, they promised a comprehensive change to the students, their parents, and teachers. Years after National Commission on Excellence’s promise was made, The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Young Invincibles have banded together under the NextGen Illinois project in order to bring a youth-led agenda to state government officials. It is time to assess what has been done and what needs to be improved to completely fulfill the dream of equal access to the quality education and equality of opportunity for young people in the state of Illinois.

To that end, the NextGen project is hosting a series of caucuses across the state that offer an opportunity for young people to brainstorm and create a youth-lead policy agenda for the state of Illinois on issues that matter most to them. They foster discussion about state level politics and some of the most significant problems that are facing Illinois today. Through their participation, young adults offer their own insight about potential solutions to those problems that can result in positive change in their communities.

The NextGen project held its second caucus at DePaul University on Tuesday, May 27, where students pointed out several problems with the current education system in Illinois, including inequality in the distribution of education funding and challenges created by a centralized curriculum. In this system both teachers and students feel pressures created by the demands of accountability and insufficient resources.

Youth from the DePaul caucus further explained that demand for academic achievement and penalties for low-test scores have put extraordinary emphasis on accountability with both students and teachers being measured on their efficiency. The idea of consequences vs. high achievement creates a problem in which teaching in public schools is mostly directed toward test preparation rather than challenging and interesting classes. The lowest scoring schools are struggling with fewer funds and risk being placed on probation or being closed.

The use of standardized tests in high stakes decisions about the individual student is also problematic, as not all students receive an equal opportunity to learn. As recently as 2010, Illinois received a grade of F in equitable distribution of funds per pupil and in relation to the students’ poverty. Education funding distribution in Illinois has been assessed as regressive and unfair. And to make matters worse, in 2009, Illinois law makers cut assistance for P-12 education from the General Fund by more than $861 million (12%). Without addressing these problems, current practices focused on test scores and accountability may only deepen inequality. The top-down accountability model is shifting responsibility for the failure of the educational system from the state to the individuals and hurts not only teachers and parents, but most of all, kids. NextGen youth believe that market-style competition is not working well for them and that it is time to change it.

What can we do to get education back on track? Young people who participated in the caucus at DePaul argue that Illinois has to reevaluate its budget and increase funding for education. Students believe that improved support from the state to schools, granted on a per student basis, will be more effective. They believe that each student should have the same access to quality education and resources so youth can obtain proper preparation for college and competition on the job market. NextGen participants also stress the importance of early career exploration courses and financial counseling, which will help students in their life after high school.

Students’ commitment to the issue of improving the Illinois public schools demonstrates the significance of the problem. They emphasize that improving educational outcomes of students in Illinois requires an effective educational reform that can only take place by including parents, teachers, and most of all- youth into the policy making process. High rate of participation in the NextGen caucuses by Illinois youth proves that if we try hard, we can make a difference!

Edyta Obrzut is the NextGen Illinois Research Fellow for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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