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Richard Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and currently a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York. He has a PhD in Economics from Yale University as well as degrees from Harvard University (history BA) and Stanford University (economics MA).
Nothing unites Democrats like Social Security. No program has worked so well, for so many, for so long. But what about making changes to Social Security? Well, that’s harder. On Thursday, my colleague Lori Montgomery reported that “Democrats are sharply divided over whether to tackle popular but increasingly expensive safety-net programs for the elderly, particularly Social Security.” They shouldn’t be.
I’m on record saying Social Security is the last place in the federal government we should look for cuts. It’s a lean, efficient program that, if anything, is too spartan. In 2009, the average monthly benefit was slightly more than $1,000 — hardly lavish. That makes it one of the stingiest national-pension programs in the developed world, actually. And once we finish phasing in the cuts passed in the ’80s, it’ll only replace about 31 percent of the average beneficiary’s income. In a time of underfunded 401(k)s and high unemployment, that’s just not enough for many retirees. Saying Social Security is too generous is like saying a Mini Cooper is too roomy.
But the program’s problems don’t end there. It’s underfunded, ill-designed for certain features and facts of the modern world, and — probably most important — overused. Beyond Social Security, America’s retirement system is, in general, patchy and insufficient, which leaves retirees too reliant on Social Security. They then learn the hard way that the program is not what they’d hoped. We should do better. And we can.
Gene Sperling is now the director of President Obama’s National Economics Council. But in 2005, he was just another Clintonista-in-exile with a desk at the Center for American Progress, watching in horror as the Bush administration tried to privatize the crown jewel of the New Deal. In response, he released his own proposal for “a true bipartisan agreement on Social Security reform that increases national savings, individual ownership and ultimately retirement security.” Perhaps predictably, Bush ignored it. Obama should not.
Sperling correctly sees that there are two separate problems in our retirement system: Social Security has too little money, and so, too, do most retirees. Fixing the former, as it happens, is the easier task. Sperling suggests a 3 percent surcharge on all income over $200,000, which would wipe out half of Social Security’s shortfall. He suggests the rest could be made up through bipartisan agreement on benefits cuts or tax changes. A simpler solution perhaps would be to uncap the payroll tax that funds Social Security. Right now, income over $106,000 is protected, meaning someone making $80,000 pays payroll taxes on every dollar of income while someone making $1 million pays on barely one of every 10 dollars. Does that make sense to you? Yeah, me neither.
Uncapping it would pretty much wipe out the shortfall on its own. Add in some changes to the benefit itself — perhaps benefits for the wealthy could grow more slowly, as they rely on it less — and you’re done. Social Security is fully funded.
But Sperling then ventures beyond Social Security and into the broader world of retirement security. He suggests a universal 401(k) that would be layered on top of Social Security. Every American would get one, and for low-income Americans, the government would provide a 2-to-1 match for the first $2,000 every year, while moderate-income Americans would get a 1-to-1 match to the same amount. This would give families a strong incentive to start saving for retirement early and aggressively, all but ensuring that they approach old age with a substantial cushion. As he notes, you could more than pay for this by reinstating the estate tax on those worth multiple millions of dollars.
If there’s a flaw in Sperling’s proposal, it’s that aside from closing the funding gap, he pretty much leaves Social Security alone. As Christian Weller, also of the Center for American Progress, points out in a new report, the program itself has developed flaws over time: It’s not set up to handle extreme old age, by which point many Americans have depleted their savings and need a bigger benefit to stay afloat; its rules for dealing with the divorced are archaic; the minimum benefit often leaves seniors beneath the poverty line; and the rich are a lot richer than when we last looked at how the program divides its payouts. Many of Weller’s reforms would complement Sperling’s by fixing these problems.
Too often, however, the folks most resistant to reforming Social Security are also those most committed to its mission. Many of the program’s defenders are so concerned that conservatives will slash benefits — now or down the road — that they are afraid to open the pension plan to any reforms at all. I think they’re wrong. This country is better than that. A political party that tries to tell ordinary Americans their retirements are too secure and too long will quickly learn its lesson when the election rolls around. Poll after poll shows the vast unpopularity of cutting Social Security benefits, and Republicans can read those surveys as easily as Democrats can. A politician may as well burn a flag on the Capitol’s lawn.
At the heart of Social Security is a simple vision: The richest country the world has ever known can guarantee its citizens a decent retirement. That’s vastly truer now than it was in 1935. Adjusting for inflation, our gross domestic product that year was $865 billion. In 2009, it was more than $12 trillion. And Social Security itself has proven an extraordinarily popular and efficient program. But today, the vision doesn’t just need to be defended. It needs to be completed.
Eric Cantor: “50% of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? Listen, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.”
The White House and Senate Democrats are hoping to shape the debate so that they look like the reasonable ones, The Hill‘s Erik Wasson reports. The $20 billion in cuts are intended to look like Democrats are meeting Republicans halfway, so that blame for a shutdown falls on GOP shoulders.
Hot Air’s Allahpundit, a conservative, ventures that maybe this deal is worth doing. Republicans should take what cuts they can get, he writes, and then “focus all our energy on where the real money is–a balanced-budget amendment and entitlement reform, which will mean full-scale political war later this year.” Compromising on Fiscal 2011 won’t hurt Republicans’ ability to wage “the real war for solvency”–but forcing a shutdown might, if Democrats win the war for public opinion.
Just two weeks ago, after he watched 54 of his own members defect from an emergency spending bill to keep the government from shutting down, House Speaker John Boehner realized he was in a fix. The numbers told an important story — that to keep the federal lights on, Boehner would need help from Democrats just to pass legislation through the House. And that would mean cutting a deal, and enraging his conservative rank and file.
At a jobs forum in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitors Center, he softened his rhetoric and acknowledged his weakened hand.
“It’s never been lost on me that because we only control the House there are a lot of other players that we need to work with in order to come to any agreement to keep the government open,” Boehner said. “But I’m confident that we’ll be able to find a way to cut spending — which we believe will lead to a better environment for business to hire people in America — and keep the government open.”
Something changed between then and now. This week, Boehner and House Republicans are drawing thick lines in the sand in budget negotiations with Democrats, and the threat of a shutdown — something Boehner has insisted he wants to avoid — has spiked. On Tuesday, principals on both sides spoke as if a shutdown wasn’t just inevitable, but imminent. Cue finger-pointing.
Democrats won’t be responsible for a shutdown, said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. “It’s self-evident by the statements of so many Republicans and the votes of 54 people…that voted not to continue government…unless they got what they wanted.”
Hoyer was one of several high-profile Democrats to make this case.
Mike Konczal has been blogging about the continuing conservative insistence that slashing government spending is actually expansionary, as embodied in the recent JEC report (pdf). As he says, it’s a remarkable thing: the empirical case for expansionary austerity has collapsed on examination, but the doctrine lives on regardless.
One thing Mike fails to note is that the recent AEI paper on deficit reduction, which is cited by that JEC study in a way that might make you think that it supports the case for expansionary austerity, actually never provides any evidence to that effect; it focuses only on deficit reduction as an end in itself. In fact, it comes close to conceding defeat on the issue:
While the tendency for spending cuts to be more effective at driving down debt levels is widely accepted, there is a great deal more controversy concerning the impact of successful consolidation on GDP growth. Although empirical studies have found many consolidations coupled with expansion, the degree to which consolidation drives rather than merely accompanies expansion is disputed. Various mechanisms have been proposed through which consolidation may spur growth, including credibility effects on interest rates and the effects outlined under the expectational view. However, the literature has identified endogeneity issues in many of these studies that may cause them to overstate expansionary effects.
Not that this will make any difference to the GOP position, of course. It’s notable that the JEC report blithely cites Canada and Sweden in the 1990s as demonstrations of its case, even though both have in fact been extensively debunked.
Meanwhile, this just in from Britain, the poster child for expansionary austerity:
U.K. business confidence declined in March to the lowest in two years, suggesting the economy may struggle to gather strength in the second quarter.
A gauge of sentiment, which aims to predict economic developments four months in advance, fell to 1 from 3 in February, London-based Lloyds Banking Group Plc (LLOY) said in an e- mailed statement today. The share of companies that were less optimistic about economic prospects increased to 44 percent from 36 percent in the previous month.
58,000 citizens can use a petition to call for a vote that will let them keep taxes at the existing level for five years, and 55% of the state’s voters approve of raising corporate taxes, but only a handful of Republican legislators are required to block the vote and thwart the democratic process. What’s wrong with this picture?
California’s “supermajority” rule–with aid and comfort from the astroturf organization Americans for Prosperity, that’s what.
This, from a state Republican party that was delivered a shellacking in 2010 with no wins in important state seats and LOSSES in the State Senate and Assembly.
Supermajority dictates that 2/3 of the legislature in both houses must vote yes on budgetary matters. California has a majority, but not a supermajority, of Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate. Thus the logjam when it comes to passing a budget every time. The Republican minority flaunts its it coronation by doing what it does best–not a damn thing–and any ill will voters have magically rubs off onto the democratic process or government itself as opposed to the deserving party.
Americans for Prosperity was behind the acrimonious Tea Party town halls of the summer of 2009, protesting meaningful health insurance reform. David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity conservative astroturf organization has provided aid and direction to California Republicans who formed a bloc resisting Governor Brown’s proposed budget plan.
A key part of Brown’s budget proposal would have the state legislature refer extensions of existing taxes on income, gas, and vehicles to a June public vote.
If Californians vote to extend these existing taxes, which will otherwise expire in July, 2011, they’ll be able to cut the $25 billion budget shortfall nearly in half by guaranteeing continued revenue.
Where this will hit hardest is in education and social services. According to the California Department of Education, about 52% of California K-12 budgets come from state sources. Already, over 19,000 teachers in the state have received layoff notices in anticipation of the worst-case scenario budget cuts. It’s clear not all will be hired back in the fall. A southern California district in one of the GOP 5′s state senate districts estimates per pupil spending will drop by $760.
The grassroots group Parents for Great Education has also consistently been organizing and calling for the legislature to let Californians vote on extending current taxes, along with several other grassroots groups…
But on two key points, and after days of negotiations with the Republican bloc, Governor Brown’s budget is at an impasse. Fifty thousand voters thwarted by the “GOP 5” (pdf) — five state senators and about four times as many Assembly members.
UPDATE: Brown: “Today, I announced my decision to halt budget discussions with Republican legislators.”
It was supposed to be one of the clearest messages of the 2010 elections: Voters were finally fed up with government spending.
It felt like the usual rules had changed, and that Americans were worried enough about the size of government to support a new era of belt-tightening. They wanted leaders to make the tough choices – and would stick by the ones who did.
Now, a new wave of polling has challenged that consensus, raising serious questions about whether voters really are yearning for a grown-up conversation about the cost of government — or would simply rather keep punting the problem down the road, just like in the past.
Almost every governor who’s tried to deliver a take-your-medicine message has paid a price. And widespread polling data suggests a chasm between what Americans say they want and the price they’re prepared to pay to get there.
Rutgers-Eagleton poll director David Redlawsk went further, suggesting that voters don’t “have a really good sense of what significant cuts really mean.”
How can the corporate economy be so profitable while the jobs economy remains so weak? Part of the answer lies in improved productivity. When the recession hit, businesses fired millions of workers then asked the rest to make up the difference—and, in many cases, they did. Productivity increased 3.9 percent in 2010, while labor costs fell. To simplify: Businesses paid fewer workers to do more. In addition, big corporations found customers overseas. Americans might not be ready to spend just yet, but consumers in Asia and elsewhere are—exports climbed 21 percent to $1.28 trillion in 2010.
It also helps to look at which companies are really raking it in. For most of 2009 and 2010, a range of U.S. corporations saw post-recession rebounds in profits. The manufacturing sector, for instance, made about $140 billion in annualized profits in the second quarter of 2009, a recession-era low. Last quarter, it made about $241 billion. Similarly, auto manufacturers lost about $50 billion in the last quarter of 2008. Today, the sector is breaking even.
But in the last quarter of 2010, the story was all about Wall Street. Profits actually decreased a bit at nonfinancial firms. But companies like investment banks and insurers saw profits climb to an annualized $426.5 billion. The financial sector now accounts for about 30 percent of the economy’s overall operating profits.
What makes America’s financial firms so profitable, so soon after the housing collapse and financial crisis? At the heart of the matter is a decrease in competition: The recession knocked out Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros., scores of banks, and dozens of other companies, leaving the survivors bigger fish in a less-crowded stream. Additionally, financial firms have enjoyed ample support from Uncle Sam. Since the recession hit, the availability of cheap cash from the Federal Reserve has helped increase banks’ margins, and thus their profits.
Still, record-high profits do not necessarily translate into improvements in the economy—as the country’s 14 million jobless workers would be (not so) happy to tell you. For the past year, companies have hesitated to spend all of that cash, worried about a lack of good investment opportunities and fearful about demand. The upside is that it seems they are beginning to spend down their $1.9 trillion pile. The downside is that it does not seem that it will be to the immediate benefit of American workers.
Buy-backs and dividend payments might make investors wealthier, and that has a positive impact on the economy. But it does not translate into jobs, at least not quickly. Plus, mergers often bring layoffs. In other words, corporate America isn’t using its historic horde of cash in ways that will immediately benefit working America—meaning the long slog is not looking like it will get any shorter.
With the official jobless rate still hovering around 9 percent and the real damage a good deal higher than that, states have been spending a lot of money—borrowed federal money to the tune of $45.9 billion—on unemployment compensation benefits. Having implied or stated outright that these government payments make laid-off workers lazy, several Republican governors and Republican-led legislatures want to avoid or at least reduce their obligations to pay such benefits. Michigan leads the pack. Governor Rick Snyder signed into law Monday a cut in future benefits from the nationwide standard of 26 weeks to 20 weeks beginning in January 2012.
Cuts they had long sought. One more round in the class war. There’s a reason why Michigan has been paying unemployment checks in such large numbers. The jobless rate there is still 10.4 percent, and it’s been considerably higher than that over the past two years. Florida, another state with Republican leadership and a higher than average jobless rate, 11.5 percent, is also in the process of trying to cut future benefits to 20 weeks. As is Arkansas.
The idea that jobless benefits are some kind of undeserved welfare giveaway that drains the pockets of hard-working Americans for the benefit of ne’er-do-wells may play to the audiences of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, but it’s BS. Money paid out in benefits is immediately spent. These interim paychecks don’t just keep food on the table and a roof over people’s heads, they keep businesses from folding and boost the economy better than any other stimulus except for food stamps. The Department of Labor estimates that for every $1 spent on jobless benefits, $2 is added to the gross domestic product. Mediocre as they are in some states, the benefits help stabilize an economy that otherwise would be a good deal worse.
A study released Tuesday by the Pew Environment Group suggests that investment in clean energy among the world’s 20 leading economies, a k a the G-20, is generally on the rebound after a grinding global recession.
It also suggests that the narrative in the United States, which has been marked by partisan bickering and general paralysis over energy and climate policy, continues to weaken its position as a locus for investment.
One bright spot for the United States: it remains the favored playground for particular sorts of investment: venture capital and private equity financing.
Though the report notes that these account for only about 4 percent of clean energy investments over all (most of the rest runs the gamut from internal asset financing and public markets to investments in small-scale projects), venture capital and private equity are crucial bellwethers of the health of the clean-tech sector.
“Venture capital financing in 2010 rebounded from sharp declines the previous year to record a gain of 26 percent, for a total of $8.1 billion,” the report noted.
The United States scooped up $6 billion, or roughly three-quarters of that.
More than one billion urban residents will face serious water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens effects of urbanization, with Indian cities among the worst hit, a study said Monday.
The shortage threatens sanitation in some of the world’s fastest-growing cities but also poses risks for wildlife if cities pump in water from outside, said the article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study found that under current urbanization trends, by mid-century some 993 million city dwellers will live with less than 100 liters (26 gallons) each day of water each — roughly the amount that fills a personal bathtub — which authors considered the daily minimum.
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Adding on the impact of climate change, an additional 100 million people will lack what they need for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing and toilet use.
“Don’t take the numbers as destiny. They’re a sign of a challenge,” said lead author Rob McDonald of The Nature Conservancy, a private environmental group based near Washington.
“There are solutions to getting those billion people water. It’s just a sign that a lot more investment is going to be needed, either in infrastructure or in water use efficiency,” he said.
Frustrated by the Obama administration’s slow pace in restarting offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon accident last year, Republicans in Congress are proposing a range of bills to force the administration to accelerate the granting of drilling permits and open new offshore areas to oil and gas exploration.
The new drilling measures are part of a concerted Republican effort to undercut or reverse the administration’s energy and environmental policies. Republicans in the Senate and House are moving on bills to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate climate-altering gases and are using pending budget measures to limit enforcement of a variety of other environmental laws.
When a drug to prevent babies from being born too early won federal approval in February, many doctors, pregnant women and others cheered the step as a major advance against a heartbreaking tragedy.
Then they saw the price tag.
The list price for the drug, Makena, turned out to be a stunning $1,500 per dose. That’s for a drug that must be injected every week for about 20 weeks, meaning it will cost about $30,000 per at-risk pregnancy. If every eligible American woman were to get Makena, the nation’s bloated annual health-care tab would swell by more than $4 billion.
What really infuriates patients and doctors is that the same compound has been available for years at a fraction of the cost — about $10 or $20 a shot.
“Ther-Rx is fundamentally committed to the community of women, children and families it serves and has been carefully listening to all stakeholders following the announcement of the list price for Makena,” the company said in an e-mail.
Critics are challenging that claim, noting that the main study used to demonstrate the drug’s effectiveness was a $5 million project conducted by the National Institutes of Health — paid by taxpayers.
“It’s not like this drug is something they invented,” said George Saade, president of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, which, along with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, sent KV a letter protesting Makena’s price. “I think the company is taking advantage of their FDA approval and their monopoly to make money.”
In addition to making the drug unaffordable for some women, experts fret about the added costs for insurers that choose to pay for it, especially Medicaid programs already being slashed in states struggling with deficits
Each insurance company and state Medicaid program must decide whether to cover the drug. But even women whose insurance will pay could face thousands in out-of-pocket costs to satisfy co-payments and deductibles.
FDA officials said that they had no idea how much the company planned to charge for the drug and were surprised by the cost but that the agency has no power over pricing.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, an FDA official said that, if requested, the agency could approve a lower-priced generic version of the drug for another use that doctors could prescribe “off label.”
In addition, the official said the agency would not prevent compounding pharmacies from continuing to provide 17P unless patient safety is thought to be at risk.
“We have our hands full pursuing our enforcement priorities,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. “And it’s not illegal for a physician to write a prescription for a compounded drug or for a patient to take a compounded drug. We certainly are concerned about access of patients to medication.”
Several members of Congress have sent letters to KV complaining about the price and demanding justification and have asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Federal Trade Commission for investigations.
Outside experts said the FTC could sue KV if it concludes the company is illegally impairing competition.
Rasmussen apparently isn’t even trying to appear non-partisan, any more.
The national group (with Texas roots) backing efforts to replace federal health care programs with interstate “health care compacts” is the newest sponsor of the “Daily Update” from polling firm Rasmussen Reports — with Monday’s email containing survey results critical of federal policies and ‘Obamacare.’
Advertisements for the Health Care Compact Alliance, whose leadership includes Houston construction mogul Leo Linbeck III, are plastered all over Monday’s email from Rasmussen, containing the results of two surveys, one showing that nearly 70 percent of respondents are “Still Angry At Government’s Current Policies” and one showing that 58 percent “Now Favor Health Care Repeal.
What a shock. The polling is done by Rasmussen, apparently for the Alliance, and are certainly outliers. The majority of major polling done in the past month shows a much more even split between support for the law and support for repeal, including a KFF poll. The same poll found that, rather than anger being the predominant reaction to the law, confusion is the most common response.
Bill Sammon, who’s responsible for the network’s Washington coverage, linked Obama to socialism many times during the 2008 campaign, but didn’t believe the allegation, he acknowledged.
Now it turns out he didn’t really believe what he was saying.
Bill Sammon, now the network’s vice president and Washington managing editor, acknowledged the following year that he was just engaging in “mischievous speculation” in raising the charge. In fact, Sammon said he “privately” believed that the socialism allegation was “rather far-fetched.”
These remarks, unearthed by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, raise the question of whether Sammon, who oversees Washington news coverage for Fox News, was deliberately trying to sabotage the Democratic presidential candidate. He has come under fire before for memos he sent to the network’s staff that have seemed less than fair and balanced.
Sammon’s admission came on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise—cabin rates ranged as high as $37,600 per couple—sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College. Here is what he said, according to an audio recording here.
Reviewing the television coverage of GE’s tax avoidance, ThinkProgress found that the story was covered 23 times by Fox News between March 25 and March 28. Certainly, with an anti-Obama axe to grind, it is not surprising that the network chose to excoriate a company that is considered close to the Obama administration and whose CEO is the head of an outside White House jobs panel.
Yet, as FAIR’s Peter Hart points out, this blockbuster story received scant coverage on another major cable news outlet: MSNBC. A review of MSNBC coverage finds that, over the same three-day period, the General Electric story received relatively little mention. It was only mentioned three times on MSNBC — one of these mentions was by host Rachel Maddow during a conversation with the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and another mention was made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a guest on the network.
To his credit, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell extensively covered GE’s tax dodging. O’Donnell ran a whole segment about the company on his show last Friday night, saying that in a fair world the network’s parent company would pay the most taxes, because it’s the country’s biggest corporation.
The wider failure of MSNBC to report about GE’s tax avoidance provides a cautionary tale about the dangers of over-reliance on corporate conglomerates to provide news to the American people. And it also highlights the importance of not-for-profit media and public media — like the public broadcasting conservatives are trying to defund.
Update General Electric’s tax avoidance was mentioned this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. The hosts joked that Comcast was actually MSNBC’s parent company and claimed that it paid a 40 percent tax rate. “You are a good corporate citizen now, Willie Geist!” joked Erin Burnett.
A friend who is a reader of Fixes recently told me she was often frustrated by the column. She doesn’t run a nongovernmental organization or design products to help bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers get drinkable water. She isn’t going to take six months to volunteer in Nepal. She’s a New Yorker with a job — what can she do, she asked, to contribute to changing the world?
There’s always writing a check, of course. Money is what every project needs most. Beyond that, however, there is a relatively new way for individuals to participate in social change through crowdsourcing, which is a fix in itself.
The crowdsourcing concept — collecting contributions from many individuals to achieve a goal — was being used long before Wikipedia. The National Audubon Society has been organizing people to do an annual count of all the birds in the Western hemisphere since Christmas Day, 1900. The Pilsbury Bake-Off — crowdsourcing for a commercial cause — is now 62 years old.
But online crowdsourcing is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the efficiencies it brings to communicating within a large group make it useful in many new ways. Many of us use crowdsourcing without thinking about it. If you’ve ever made a purchase on eBay, read customer reviews on Amazon.com to help you decide which rollerblades to buy or used comments on TripAdvisor.com to plan a vacation, you’ve taken advantage of crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing is being applied in many fields. […].
But we are mainly interested in what crowdsourcing can do to help civilians contribute to social change in a way that is both useful and emotionally satisfying. A lot of people want to connect to a cause in a way that goes beyond writing a check. Crowdsourcing can help.
Since money is what most social change projects need most, many crowdsource Web sites are really there for crowdfunding. On Friday, I’ll write about how giving to causes through these sites differs from donating to charity in more old-fashioned ways. Today, I’ll look at how crowdsourcing can help with something else: aggregating and organizing knowledge.
One prototype for this kind of crowdsourcing is Ushahidi.com. Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was developed in Kenya in 2008 to map numerous reports of post-election violence. Ory Okolloh, a blogger, simply asked her readers: “Guys looking to do something: Any techies out there willing to do a mash up of where the violence and destruction is occurring using Google Maps?”
A few days later, Kenyans had a Web site that allowed people to text or e-mail reports and see them plotted on a Google map of the country. It became useful not only for rapid intervention, but — as the name suggests — to document the deaths, injuries and destruction when virtually all other media were blacked out.
Ushahidi has tracked reports of election fraud in Mexico, damage caused by the Gulf oil spill and critical shortages of important medicines at public health clinics in Uganda. During Washington’s Snowmageddon last winter, Ushahidi was used to map obstacles like stuck cars and toppled trees. The idea was not to just give information to official work crews, but to allow ordinary citizens to organize themselves. Anyone with a shovel and a strong back could check the map for a site nearby and go. It has since been used in snow emergencies in other cities, including New York.
How can you be sure the information on a crowdsource site is trustworthy? Well, you can’t. But Ushahidi is taking a stab at vetting its data through, of course, crowdsourcing. Its Swift River project aggregates and plots on maps not only data sent or texted to Ushahidi, but combines it with data from Twitter, YouTube and other sources. When data comes in, anyone can rate it for trustworthiness. The higher the rating it gets, the more prominently it is displayed.
Crowdsourcing can aggregate ideas as well as data. The California-based design firm Ideo has a site called openideo.com, which posts various challenges: How can we get people to register to be bone-marrow donors? How can we use cell phones to improve maternal health in poor countries? How can we get kids more interested in eating fresh food? Each challenge has a financial sponsor: a group interested in solving the problem — the kids and food challenge, for example, was sponsored by British chef and healthy food crusader Jamie Oliver.
For all their novelty, crowdsourcing projects like these will only have a connection to a small numbers of readers’ lives. Many people’s impulse to better the world around them is usually satisfied by giving money. Crowdsourcing offers ways to do that, as well — but in ways that may offer donors more impact and a stronger connection to the social change happening on the ground. On Friday, I’ll explain how it works.
Fixes explores solutions to major social problems. Each week, it examines creative initiatives that can tell us about the difference between success and failure. It is written by David Bornstein, author of “How to Change the World,” and founder of dowser.org, and Tina Rosenberg, contributing writer for The New York Times magazine and author of the forthcoming “Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World.”
Readers with ideas for future columns can write to the authors at fix...@nytimes.com.
During an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Show on March 23, 2011, Republican strategist Karl Rove addressed some of the issues surrounding U.S. involvement with its allies in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.
At one point, Hannity said: “The United States is basically saying, ‘We’re not going to lead this thing.’ So, France is actually proposing a political steering company to run the war.”
Rove said, “Who is on that committee? American troops have never been under the formal control of another nation. Why should we start now?”
[W]e asked nine military historians and other experts in the field. And their view was unanimous.
“No, that’s not correct,” said Brett Schaefer, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“Absolutely false,” concluded Richard H. Kohn, a historian at the University of North Carolina.
“Rove’s comment is misleading and uninformed,” added Lance Janda, a historian at Cameron University.
“Coalition warfare and the leadership of foreign commanders has played a part in U.S. history since the War for Independence, when the commander of the troops of the predecessor colonies, George Washington, entrusted a key mission and command of 2,000 Continental soldiers to a French Major General, the Marquis de Lafayette,” wrote the Congressional Research Service in a 2001 report. “Since 1900, there have been at least seventeen military operations in which the United States has placed U.S. troops under a foreign commander.”
Our panel of experts pointed to a litany of historical examples:
• The Boxer Rebellion…
• World War I…
• Russian Revolution… • World War II. …
• Cold War. …
• Recent conflicts…
Finally, experts told PolitiFact that small American units regularly operate under the tactical command of allied leaders in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, there are at least 17 examples, stretching back longer than a century, in which U.S. forces have worked, mostly successfully, under foreign operational leadership. So we rate Rove’s statement False.
Potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney earlier this month endorsed a lobbying push by multinational corporations that are trying to cajole Congress into granting them a big tax break. These corporations — many of which already have very low effective tax rates — want Congress to enact a tax repatriation holiday, allowing them to bring money they have stashed offshore back to the U.S. at a dramatically lower tax rate. Usually, money brought back to the U.S. is subject to the statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent.
Pawlenty is right that, currently, money that U.S. corporations have stashed offshore is untaxed. But that’s because the U.S. tax code has the incentives completely backwards, allowing corporations to stow money offshore while still claiming domestic tax credits. This enables them to dramatically lower their effective tax rate by stashing money in tax havens.
The solution to this problem is not, as Pawlenty and Romney claim, allowing corporations to repatriate the money tax free. The corporations claim that allowing a repatriation holiday would enable them to invest in domestic operations and job creation. But Congress approved a tax repatriation holiday in 2004, and the result was corporate executives lining their own pockets and then increasing the amount of money they moved offshore, in the hopes that they could sucker Congress into approving another tax holiday sometime down the line.
The data shows that the corporations benefiting the most from the tax holiday actually cut jobs in the subsequent two years. So while a tax holiday may make “perfect sense” for Pawlenty, in terms of tax policy, it makes absolutely no sense at all.
A PPP poll of registered voters released today shows that in a hypothetical re-do of last year’s gubernatorial election, Florida Gov. Rock Scott (R) would lose to Democrat Alex Sink by a nearly 20-point margin, 56%-37%. Scott won a squeaker of an election last year, edging out Sink by about one point.
But since taking office, Scott has pursued a number of controversial proposals, such as one that permits the state to randomly drug test many public employees. And last week, Scott signed a bill that effectively eliminates tenure for new teachers and ties future pay levels to performance.
As a result, the poll found that just 32% of voters aprove of Scott’s job performance, compared to 55% who disapprove.
Scott is the latest Republican governor whom voters are expressing incredible buyers remorse for electing last November. Polls have also shown Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder losing do-over elections against the candidates they defeated last year, the result of broad change each has sought to make to their state’s political landscape.
The PPP poll was conducted March 24-27 among 500 registered voters. It has a margin of error of 4.4%.
One of the most powerful lines in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech was his call for racial unity even in Alabama, a state with “its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification.” Indeed, following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, nearly every southern congressman signed the “Southern Manifesto,” which asserted that states were free to ignore federal laws and directives. Now, 48 years later, the unconstitutional idea that states can invalidate federal laws which they don’t like is making a comeback in conservative circles.
This week, the nullification camp, led by right-wing historian Thomas Woods, got a boost from a sitting congressman: Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).
Despite Paul’s insistence that nullification is proper and constitutional, Article 6 of the Constitution clearly states that Acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land…anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” That’s why one of our founding fathers, James Madison, argued that nullification would “speedily put an end to the Union itself” by allowing federal laws to be freely ignored by states.
ThinkProgress legal expert Ian Millhiser noted that nullification isn’t just blatantly unconstitutional, it’s “nothing less than a plan to remove the word ‘United’ from the United States of America.”
The growth and spread of breast cancer tumors may be delayed with a promising treatment that combines two innovative strategies: blocking the enzyme needed to “energize” cancer cells and infusing a potent drug directly into the tumor, with minimum exposure to healthy tissues, indicate researchers at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 36th Annual Scientific Meeting in Chicago, Ill.
Progressive groups are going up today with a compelling new ad that features ordinary Wisconsinites making the case for the recall of multiple GOP state senators, and while the national media has largely stopped covering this story, the minute-long spot succeeds in capturing the grassroots energy and drive that continues to make it so interesting and remarkable:Fight over whether Wisconsin union law has taken effect heads to court
The spot, which is being paid for by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America and will run in multiple media markets, can be viewed as chapter two in an ad campaign that began with a spot that featured Wisconsinites making the case against Governor Scott Walker. Now it features them arguing for the recall of a half dozen state senators who enabled him, directing viewers to a new recall Web site. http://recalltherepublicans.com/
In an effort to sustain the recall drive’s momentum — Dems say they’ve gathered more than half the signatures they need to trigger recall elections, but the last half is always far harder to gather than the first — the ad strikes an optimistic tone about eventual victory.
“Republicans declared war on the middle class,” a woman in the ad declares. “Now, with this recall campaign, we are fighting back. And we are going to win.”
Labor and Dems have staked a tremendous amount on the recall campaign, and all indications are that the Wisconsin and national Dem base remain engaged in the fight.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s administration insists a new law eliminating most collective bargaining rights for state employees has gone into effect. Other state and municipal leaders who dispute that are looking to a Tuesday court hearing for some clarity on the issue.
The latest wrangling over the collective bargaining law began Friday when the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau published the law by posting it on a website, and Walker, a Republican, said that was all that was needed for it to take effect. Typically, a law goes into effect when it’s published by the secretary of state, but Democrat Doug La Follette had been prevented from taking action by a temporary restraining order.
The state had appealed that restraining order, but on Monday, the Justice Department led by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked to withdraw its appeal and cancel the Tuesday hearing, saying the whole thing was moot now that the law had been published.
Walker’s administration said it was moving to implement the law Republicans pushed through earlier this month despite massive protests that drew up to 85,000 people to the state Capitol and a boycott by Democratic state senators. Along with removing most of public employees’ collective bargaining rights, the new law requires them to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, which amounts to an 8 percent pay cut.
But La Follette, the head of the office that posted the law, the Madison city attorney and others maintained the law is not in effect until the secretary of state acts.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, filed briefs Monday evening asking the judge for just such a declaration on Tuesday. Ozanne argues the secretary of state and the reference bureau work in tandem to publish laws. The secretary of state sets the publication date and the bureau executes publication on that day, he contends.
“Mere electronic posting, absent the other steps, particularly the involvement of the secretary of state …. is itself meaningless and has no legal effect,” Ozanne wrote.
Given the difference of opinions, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards told districts that are still negotiating with teachers not to take any official action until the courts resolve the dispute.
NARAL, an abortion-rights group, tries to track each piece of abortion-related legislation making its way through state legislatures. Last year they tracked 174 bills. This session’s count is already up to 351.
…Those on the anti-abortion side have little to lose by throwing whatever bills they can at the wall and seeing what sticks. Even if their measures conflict with Roe v. Wade, a subsequent court battle provides opportunities to publicize their position. And there’s always the next session to revise the language and have another go.
Three hundred and fifty one pieces of legislation designed to subvert the autonomy and agency of more than half the population, and our “pro-choice” and “feminist” Democratic president cannot be arsed to give a national address protesting this legislative assault on a guaranteed right.
In the three weeks since the New York Times broke the story of a child’s rape there, the events in Cleveland, Texas, have morphed into a category five media storm. The Times piece, which echoed and amplified currents of victim-blaming in the town, generated a tide of criticism. Yet beneath the outrage was a parable of modern media. Aside from the familiar and incendiary themes it contained, the Times article seemed an object lesson in what happens when cash-strapped newspapers parachute a reporter into a complex situation hoping for coverage on the cheap. In-depth coverage requires resources and the time to do the deliberate, painstaking gathering of facts that were in short supply in James McKinley’s article. “The New York Times,” as one friend put it, “can no longer afford nuance.”
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Aside from musicians, record collectors and D.J.’s, the name Clyde Stubblefield does not make many ears perk up. But no matter who you are, you probably know his drumming.
If you’ve heard Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” or “Fight the Power,” you know his drumming. If you’ve heard LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” or any number of songs by Prince, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A., Run-D.M.C., Sinead O’Connor or even Kenny G., you definitely know his drumming, even though Mr. Stubblefield wasn’t in the studio for the recording of any of them.
That is because he was the featured player on “Funky Drummer,” a 1970 single by James Brown whose 20-second drum solo has become, by most counts, the most sampled of all beats. It’s been used hundreds of times, becoming part of hip-hop’s DNA, and in the late 1980s and early ’90s it was the go-to sample for anyone looking to borrow some of hip-hop’s sass (hence Kenny G.).
Yet Mr. Stubblefield’s name almost fell through the cracks of history. The early rappers almost never gave credit or paid for the sample, and if they did, acknowledgement (and any royalties) went to Brown, who is listed as the songwriter.
“All my life I’ve been wondering about my money,” Mr. Stubblefield, now 67 and still drumming, says with a chuckle.
A new project tries to capture at least some royalties for him. Mr. Stubblefield was interviewed for “Copyright Criminals,” a documentary by Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod about the gray areas of music copyright law, and for a special “Funky Drummer Edition” DVD of the film released on Tuesday, Mr. Stubblefield recorded a set of ready-to-sample beats. By filling out a basic licensing form, anyone willing to pay royalties of 15 percent on any commercial sales — and give credit — can borrow the sound of one of the architects of modern percussion.
You might expect Mr. Stubblefield, who has appeared on some of the greatest drum recordings in history, to have gone on to fame, or at least to a lucrative career playing sessions. But for the last 40 years he has happily remained in Madison, Wis., playing gigs there with his own group and, since the early 1990s, playing on the public radio show “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know?”
The lack of recognition has bothered Mr. Stubblefield more than the lack of royalties, he said, although that stings too.
“People use my drum patterns on a lot of these songs,” he said. “They never gave me credit, never paid me. It didn’t bug me or disturb me, but I think it’s disrespectful not to pay people for what they use.”
In 2002 Mr. Stubblefield had a tumor in his kidney removed, and now he suffers from end-stage renal disease. He qualifies for Medicare but has no additional health insurance.
For Mr. Stubblefield, lack of credit is not only an issue with D.J.’s and producers sampling his beats. It was also a bone of contention with Brown, who was famous for running a tight ship — he fined his musicians for missing a beat or having scuffed shoes — and also for not giving his musicians more credit.
“A lot of people should have gotten a lot of credit from James Brown,” Mr. Stubblefield said, “but he only talked about himself. He may call your name on a song or something, but that’s it.”
This raises the question of whether Mr. Stubblefield is himself violating any of Brown’s copyrights by recording beats in the style of those original recordings in Brown’s band. Mr. McLeod dismissed that suggestion, saying that the beats are not identical, and that the original copyright registration forms for Brown’s songs mention melody and lyrics but not rhythm.
And besides, Mr. McLeod added, what you’re getting is simply a great drummer doing his thing.
“This differs from buying a sample pack for GarageBand,” he said, referring to Apple’s home-recording program, “because you know that what you are listening to and what you are sampling is the genius labor of this incredible musician. It’s Clyde Stubblefield.”
April 4, 2011 is shaping up to be one of the most important progressive days of action in nearly a decade.
It’s the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed 43 years ago while traveling to Memphis to stand in solidarity with striking sanitation workers demanding their chance to attain the American Dream.
Now, in response to the new wave of Republican attacks on unions and working people, the entire labor movement has called for a massive national day of protests, vigils, and work site events on April 4. Virtually the entire progressive movement has joined in.
Can you help make next Monday an overwhelming day of solidarity for working people by attending an event in your area? Click here to find the April 4 event closest to you.
Working people in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana have inspired an activist spirit that’s spreading across the country, and this is our chance to keep the momentum going. This is our chance to stand up to the Republicans and demand protection for workers’ rights and the restoration of the American Dream for all of us.
The events are part of “We Are One,” a grassroots effort led by a broad coalition of unions and progressive allies committed to realizing Dr. King’s goal of economic justice for all. The events include actions, teach-ins, work site discussions, vigils, faith events, and more.
You can simply attend an event in your area or if you have creative ideas for an event in a public place like a park, in your work site, a teach-in at a college near you, or even something at your house, you can volunteer to host your own.
We need to keep building our strength until the American Dream can finally be attained by everyone. On April 4, we will keep the momentum going. And we will not stop.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work,
but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery