Archive

August 13th, 2016

When federal and local leaders work together

    During the next several months of the election season, we're likely to hear a lot about what's not working in the federal government. But in fact, much is going right across the country, especially when federal and local leaders work closely together on common goals.

    My organization, the Partnership for Public Service, recently collaborated with more than 20 federal agencies to create a new training program for their employees who work directly with local governments, nonprofits and businesses tackling issues such as economic development, education, transportation and public health.

    At the local level, citizens are directly affected if problems like high crime and school drop-out rates are not addressed. At the federal level, big problems often take time to research, to get appropriate funding and ultimately to implement-though often from a distance and without direct involvement.

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Unions could make a comeback - if we help them

    You won't hear opponents admit it, but unions are popular and have been for a while. Last year Gallup found that 58 percent of Americans approved of unions. Since Gallup first asked people about their support for unions in 1936, approval dipped below 50 percent just once - when it dropped to 48 percent at the height of the Great Recession in 2009.

    Anti-union advocates prefer to focus on the long-term decline of union membership in the United States, which can suggest that unions are unnecessary or in an inevitable decline. It is true that union density has shrunk from its peak of 35.4 percent of the workforce in 1945 to 11.1 percent in 2015. But the erosion in union membership is not a natural, pre-ordained outcome - the reality is that intentional policy choices significantly contributed to fewer people becoming union members.

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Trump, Clinton have very different relationships with the truth

    The latest polls from CBS/New York Times and ABC/Washington Post show Hillary Clinton with a secure lead, but they also show that voters believe her to be roughly as honest as reality-show veteran Donald Trump. This has clearly nettled close observers of this presidential race. Over the weekend two prominent columnists have attempted to outline the relationship between the major party nominees and the truth.

    On Sunday, the New York Times' Nick Kristof argued that when comparing Trump and Clinton as liars, Trump wins and it's not close:

    "The idea that they are even in the same league is preposterous. If deception were a sport, Trump would be the Olympic gold medalist; Clinton would be an honorable mention at her local Y. . . .

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Thanks, Trump: The Muslim community benefits from an unexpected spotlight

    I, an American Muslim, want to thank Donald Trump.

    I am not one of his supporters. No way, never. He might even think I am one of his many nemeses: Born in Baghdad and brought to this country by my parents in 1964 as they fled the persecution of a military dictatorship, I believe that Islam's place is America. In America, Muslims can practice their religion more freely than any other country in the world, including Muslim countries.

    I am both Muslim and American. I don't have to choose one or the other. Yet many Americans don't understand that.

    It's only starting to make sense to many of my fellow citizens - and for that growing clarity, I have Trump to thank.

    We all agree that we live in dangerous times. Terrorism and xenophobia are fires that exponentially fuel each other. As Americans, we live in the nightmares of what has been happening since 9/11 and what can happen. As American Muslims, we add another layer of fear with the thought of deportation for immigrants and internment camps for the native-born.

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In Congress: the Zika Games

    For the purposes of this discussion, let’s think of Congress as a fetid pool of ideologues.

    In frosty February, many weeks before mosquito season, President Obama foresaw an emergency and acted on it. He requested $1.9 billion in funds to combat a disease seen as threatening Americans. Time was on our side.

    Came spring’s thaw, and summer, and, well . . .

    It is now mid-August, and Congress has patty-caked the time away as Zika cases paint a splatter portrait in red, a swarm approaching America from the tropics.

    The problem is that while Republican leaders agreed to budget something -- about half of what Obama requested, $1.1 billion -- they attached riders that they knew Democrats, and the president, would not accept.

    Then they left on summer vacation.

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Growth and fairness are not trade-offs

    Issues of inequality, fairness, middle-class living standards and job creation have been central to the U.S. presidential campaign. Rightly so. For many years, the incomes of all groups tended to move together. Indeed, as a graduate student in the late 1970s, I was taught that it was a "stylized fact" that the shares of U.S. total income going to profits and to wages, and to the rich and to the poor, were constant. All of this has changed. It is totally appropriate that widening inequality and the associated stalling of middle-class living standards should become an urgent political issue.

    What is unfortunate is that many, in their eagerness to focus on fairness, neglect the single most important determinant of almost every aspect of economic performance - the rate of growth of total income, as reflected in the gross domestic product. Because those emphasizing strategies that center on business tax-cutting and deregulation, and that favor the wealthy, have placed the most emphasis on growth over the past 35 years, the objective of increasing growth has been discredited in the minds of too many progressives.

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Clinton's establishment insurgency

    Hillary Clinton's campaign is not exactly the same thing as Hillary Clinton. The woman herself is a paragon of the establishment, a fixture of the last quarter century of American politics, an insider, familiar both as a political personality and as an experienced purveyor of political goods and services.

    The campaign is that and something more.

    The election of 2008 is viewed as an American watershed, the year the emerging majority of nonwhites first elected one of its own to the presidency. That's basically true. But the context matters. The incumbent party had made such a mess of things that the out-group, led by the most out-candidate in American history, suddenly had an inside track, aided by a financial collapse perfectly timed to benefit the outsider.

    It could have been a fluke. David Dinkins was elected the first black mayor of New York City in 1989. But Dinkins's tenure was widely perceived as a failure. He lost his bid for re-election. New York, unlike the U.S., already has a nonwhite majority. Yet it hasn't elected a nonwhite mayor since Dinkins -- a hiatus of 27 years and counting.

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Clinton's email server did not lead to an Iranian scientist's death

    Despite what you might read on Donald Trump's twitter feed, the Iranian execution of a nuclear scientist who defected to the United States and then changed his mind was not caused by Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. The scientist outed himself; it wasn't Clinton's fault.

    The Iranian government announced Sunday it had executed Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who spent about 14 months in the United States in 2009 and 2010. Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., noted on Sunday's Face the Nation that Amiri's case had been discussed by top Clinton State Department officials on emails that passed through her private server.

    "I'm not going to comment on what he may or may not have done for the United States government, but in the emails that were on Hillary Clinton's private server, there were conversations among her senior advisors about this gentleman," Cotton said. "That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information on a private server."

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Business, labor don't have to be enemies

    In the United States, the image of a powerful union connotes rapacious groups of workers, jockeying to get perks and salaries beyond what they rightfully deserve. In this zero-sum world, union gains - if unsubstantiated by productivity growth - become public losses. So why should we think that strong unions are ever a good idea?

    In reality, stronger and more involved unions could help the United States develop better public policy. Elsewhere in the world, unions enjoy much higher levels of support from the public - in many countries, they cover most workers and play a crucial role in forging public policies. Paradoxically, they do this in conjunction with equally strong employers' associations.

    In Nordic countries, centralized associations covering business and labor have the legal right and responsibility to negotiate employment policy. Some policies are created through collective wage bargains, which then pertain to everyone. Others are developed by tripartite committees that include representatives of the major associations, which create binding policies governing issues such as family leave, active labor-market programs and part-time work.

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Time to Borrow

    The campaign still has three ugly months to go, but the odds — 83 percent odds, according to the New York Times’ model — are that it will end with the election of a sane, sensible president. So what should she do to boost America’s economy, which is doing better than most of the world but is still falling far short of where it should be?

    There are, of course, many ways our economic policy could be improved. But the most important thing we need is sharply increased public investment in everything from energy to transportation to wastewater treatment.

    How should we pay for this investment? We shouldn’t — not now, or any time soon. Right now there is an overwhelming case for more government borrowing.

    Let me walk through this case, then address some of the usual objections.

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