Category Archives: Politics

Why poverty is not a personal choice, but a reflection of society

Source: Shervin Assari, The Conversation, June 30, 2017

…. I believe one reason the United States is cutting spending on health insurance and safety nets that protect poor and marginalized people is because of American culture, which overemphasizes individual responsibility. Our culture does this to the point that it ignores the effect of root causes shaped by society and beyond the control of the individual. How laypeople define and attribute poverty may not be that much different from the way U.S. policymakers in the Senate see poverty.

As someone who studies poverty solutions and social and health inequalities, I am convinced by the academic literature that the biggest reason for poverty is how a society is structured. Without structural changes, it may be very difficult if not impossible to eliminate disparities and poverty. ….

Organizing in Red America

Source: Dissent Magazine, Summer 2017

Articles include:
Left in the Middle
Michael Kazin

….The good news is that a left does exist in Red America—and, amid the failures of the Trump administration, appears to be growing. Its adherents may share, in whole or in part, the cultural proclivities of the more numerous conservatives who live there. But they are arguing and organizing for many of the same demands as are their counterparts in places like New York City and Los Angeles; they are also busy defending the same people at risk from Trump and his allies in Congress and their own states. In this special section of Dissent, you will learn about some of those activists and a few of the politicians who share their goals…..

Working Too Hard for Too Little: An Interview with Senator Sherrod Brown
Michael Kazin

….This spring, the senator issued a lengthy document, “Working Too Hard for Too Little: A Plan for Restoring the Value of Work in America,” which lays out a set of innovative ideas about how to raise wages, make jobs more secure, and compel employers to adhere to decent standards on the job. In late April, Michael Kazin interviewed the senator in his office on Capitol Hill…..

Mississippi Autoworkers Mobilize
Michelle Chen

The workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, had high hopes when the state-of-the-art factory complex moved in fourteen years ago to a small, majority black town where more than a quarter of residents live in poverty and decent jobs are scarce. …. After fourteen years at the plant, he says, “People are hurting inside of my factory.” His fellow coworkers have been concerned by what they see as increasingly unstable working conditions and general deterioration in benefits and safety protections. A few years ago they campaigned to organize with the United Auto Workers (UAW). Since then, he says, the workers have faced growing hostility from management for seeking to unionize, which only confirms its disrespect for a community that’s invested decades of public funding and faith in Nissan’s promise of stable manufacturing careers. ….

Birmingham’s Fight For a Living Wage
Scott Douglas

The election of Donald Trump has turned our attention to the politics of white working-class people, particularly in the states that voted for him last fall. But progressives should not ignore the activism of the black working class in many of those same red states. ….

The Next Operation Dixie
Sarah Jaffe

The election of Donald Trump has led to a lot of soul-searching on the left. In particular, the narrative since the election has focused on Trump’s appeal to working people, and whether this reflects an inherent racism among the so-called “white working class” or a failure of liberals and the left to speak to their economic concerns.

While the divide between “red” and “blue” states is often overstated (just ask the Republican governors of Massachusetts and Illinois), the Deep South has always lagged behind in union organizing. The failure of the CIO’s “Operation Dixie” in the late 1940s and concerted campaigns to divide black workers from white workers in law and on the shop floor left southern workers with fewer rights, lower wages, and, without unions to press their case, with less political representation. Yet there have always been exceptions, unions and organizations that have fought against great odds to build power for workers in the South, and with the accession of Trump, they can offer us advice for how to move forward when workers’ rights are under attack and racism being fomented from the highest levels of government. Dissent’s Sarah Jaffe spoke with three labor organizers from the South about their experiences and what can be learned from their successes….

Standing With Immigrants in Nebraska
Julie Greene

…. Many states have been transformed by immigration in recent decades, but some are better prepared than others to cope with the crisis. Take my home state of Nebraska. A solidly red state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee in more than half a century, Nebraska has nonetheless seen the flowering of a pro-immigrant political culture. Over the past six years, activists across the state built a coalition that has made it possible to confront the harsh words and actions of the Trump administration head on. Examining what they did and how they did it can offer lessons for activists beyond the Great Plains. ….

Bringing Power to the People: The Unlikely Case for Utility Populism
Kate Aronoff

One glaring omission in the postmortem handwringing about the 2016 election is the fact that most poor people in America—of all races and genders—simply didn’t vote. They were prevented from doing so by a number of structural barriers—voting restrictions, second and third jobs, far-flung polling locations—as well as a lack of excitement about two parties they saw as having abandoned them.

Enter: twenty-first-century electric cooperatives, a perhaps unlikely player in the contest for power between progressives and conservatives in the heart of so-called Trump country in rural America.

If there’s one thing poor, rural communities tend to have in common, it’s where they get their power—not political power, but actual electricity. Over 900 rural electric cooperatives (RECs)—owned and operated by their members—stretch through forty-seven states, serving 42 million ratepayers and 11 percent of the country’s demand for electricity. They also serve 93 percent of the country’s “persistent poverty counties,” 85 percent of which lie in non-metropolitan areas. REC service areas encompass everything from isolated farm homes to mountain hollers to small cities, with the highest concentrations in the South, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. And they might just offer an opportunity to curb the right and the climate crisis alike…..

Beyond Urban Versus Rural: Understanding American Political Geography in 2016

Source: Dante J. Scala, Kenneth M. Johnson, University of New Hampshire, Carsey School of Public Policy, National Issue Brief #124, Summer 2017

From the summary:
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, commentators focused on the political polarization separating residents of urban and rural America. Certainly rural–urban differences are only one of several factors that contributed to the surprising 2016 outcome, but rural voters are rightly acknowledged as one key factor in Donald Trump’s electoral success. Yet, defining 2016 as the tale of two Americas—one urban, one rural—hinders a nuanced understanding of the country’s political geography. Many political commentators mistakenly caricature rural America as a single entity, but our research summarized here shows that complex variations in voting patterns persist among both urban and rural places. Rural America is a remarkably diverse collection of places including more than 70 percent of the land area of the United States and 46 million people. Both demographic and voting trends in this vast area are far from monolithic. Here we examine voting patterns over the last five presidential elections, treating rural–urban differences as a continuum, not a dichotomy.

Key Findings:
Although rural voters and urban voters are often portrayed as polar opposites, their differences are best understood as a continuum, not a dichotomy.

From the largest urban cores to the most remote rural counties, we find significant variations in voting behavior that persist over the last five presidential elections.

Hillary Clinton nearly matched Barack Obama’s 2012 performance in most urban areas.

Clinton’s defeat was due, in part, to her failure to match the performance of recent Democratic Presidential nominees in less populated areas.

Anti-Democratic Attacks on Unions Hurt Working Americans

Source: David Madland, Alex Rowell, and Gordon Lafer, Center for American Progress, June 22, 2017

From the summary:
It is highly likely that unions will soon be under attack at the federal level. The exact nature of the attack is still in question, but based on recent state actions—including the passage of new right-to-work laws and attacks on public sector workers’ bargaining rights—and bills that have been introduced in both this and recent sessions of Congress, it is clear the attacks will come.

This issue brief delves into these recent threats to unions, specifically exploring a category of attacks on worker power that would make it harder for workers to organize by undermining the union formation process. Previous and forthcoming reports from CAP Action highlight other likely attacks on unions, such as so-called right-to-work and paycheck protection legislation…..

Repressing Radicalism

Source: Chip Gibbons, Jacobin, June 15, 2017

The Espionage Act turns 100 today. It helped destroy the Socialist Party of America and quashes free speech to this day. …. A century later, as socialist politics gain favor again in the United States, it’s important to remember the role that brute repression played in the SP’s downfall — and the continued threat the Espionage Act poses to democratic freedoms today. ….

What Can Performance Information Do to Legislators? A Budget Decision Experiment with Legislators

Source: Labinot Demaj, Public Administration Review, Volume 77 Issue 3, May/June 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Studies on the influence of performance information on budgeting decisions have produced contradictory findings. This article offers a framework of the parliamentary context that links performance information to legislators’ budgeting decisions. The framework suggests that the impact on politicians’ allocations will differ depending on whether performance information is reflected in the budget proposal, whether the allocation issue concerns a politically difficult trade-off for the decision maker, and whether information falls into a receptive partisan mind. The experimental study uses 57 actual legislators. The results show that the introduction of performance information into legislators’ deliberation process leads to stronger deviations from the status quo allocation. This difference occurs because performance information highlights more clearly the expected consequences of budgetary changes and allows for more pronounced reactions. More informed decisions, however, might make compromise among legislators more difficult because individual positions will become more polarized.
Previous version:
What Can Performance Information Do to Legislators? A Budget Decision Experiment with Legislators
Source: Labinot Demaj, University of St. Gallen, Law & Economics Working Paper No. 2015-04, September 9, 2014

From the abstract:
Existing studies on the influence of performance information on budgeting decisions are limited and have produced contradictory findings. This paper argues that most previous work has somewhat problematically focused on self-reported use of performance information rather than on the legislative context into which performance information is introduced. This study offers a framework that links performance information to legislators’ budgeting decisions. I argue that the impact will differ depending on whether performance information is reflected in the budget proposal, whether the allocation issue concerns a politically difficult value tradeoff for the decision-maker, and whether the implications of the performance information fall into a receptive partisan mind. This paper studies these aspects by manipulating the first two of these factors in an experimental setting involving budgetary decision-making by 57 actual legislators. The control groups consist of 65 undergraduate students. The results show that the introduction of performance information into the legislators’ deliberation process leads to stronger deviations from the status quo allocation. I argue that this difference occurs because performance information highlights more clearly the expected consequences of budgetary changes and allows for more pronounced reactions. This paper concludes that more informed decisions based on good performance budgets might also create a situation in which it is more difficult for legislators to compromise because individual positions become more polarized.

Swing Left

Source: Swing Left, 2017

Swing Districts are places where the winner of the last House of Representatives election was determined by a thin margin. Swing Left helps you find and commit to supporting progressives in your closest Swing District so that you can help ensure we take back the House in 2018. Find your closest Swing District and join the team to learn about actionable opportunities as they become available.

From the FAQ:
What is Swing Left?
Swing Left is an online community that connects you with your nearest Swing District. This is a district where the winner, an elected official who is now serving a two-year term in the House of Representatives, won the November 2016 election by a thin margin, or is otherwise vulnerable in 2018.

Why do we need Swing Left?
Voters in “safe” districts tend to feel powerless about their impact on local elections that have national repercussions. At the same time, House midterm elections, including in Swing Districts, tend to receive less attention than other races. We formed Swing Left to provide a simple way for voters living both inside and outside of Swing Districts to come together and channel their time, resources, and ideas to help progressives prevail in these critical races.

What is Swing Left’s goal?
Swing Left’s goal is to flip the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections and put a check on the Trump and GOP agenda. We will achieve this by organizing and supporting volunteers to have an impact Swing Districts across the country….

Until Death Dues Us Part?

Source: Jim DeWan, Rockefeller Institute of Government, June 1, 2017

One of the most immediate impacts of Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court may be on a case that could have a major impact on public employee unions right here in New York.

CASE OVERVIEW
This case, Janus v. AFSCME, deals with state laws that allow public employee unions to automatically withhold fees or dues from all represented employees’ paychecks, even those who are not members of the union. The plaintiff in the case, Mark Janus, is an employee of the state of Illinois. He is suing his union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), because he believes the Illinois state law allowing AFSCME to deduct monies from his paycheck violates his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. New York has a similar law on its books. Illinois and New York are two of 22 states that allow for arrangements under which all represented employees must make payments to a union as a condition of their employment, even if they affirmatively elect not to join the union….