Expanding Our Horizons

I’ve been a bit concerned of late that the Democratic Party isn’t offering much of a vision to compete with the Republican misery machine. What little has been offered is just that – little. It doesn’t go big. It doesn’t present principles and then offer big ideas to fulfill those principles. So, here are some ideas:

– Everyone fed. Everyone clothed. Everyone housed. Everyone educated. Everyone healthy or being treated. Everyone employed if they can work.
– A Constitution that allows the people to govern themselves. A Government that lifts up its people and does not oppress them.

These are not radical ideas. These are basic ideas. These are not optional ideas. These are necessary ideas. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. This isn’t just an “economics” platform. This is an equal rights platform.

We have to restore our government and restore our vision if we’re going to have communities and a country that meet our founding promises. We can only accomplish big things if we’re willing to imagine that accomplishing big things is possible – and then try.

The American Dream is a popular rhetorical allusion for politicians, as I explored in my research book. But the American Dream is only possible when our leaders are willing to dream big too – to dream up new ideas to help keep and make the Dream real. Every era in American history when there has been opportunity for an entire generation to advance, big creative policies have led the way.

We need bolder leadership for the post-Soviet age and the Internet-access age than we have had so far, particularly since those turning points are themselves decades old.

I don’t want our vision to be constrained by achievements we made 50 or 80 or 100 years ago. I want us to come up with – and then implement – ideas they’ll be talking about 100 years from now.

“We Can Do Better”
“Big government, for the few or the many?”

Abstract from: “I Accept Your Nomination: American Dream Rhetoric in Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speeches, 1932-2008”

Europe Must Strengthen and Expand Its Refugees Policy

The European project was born in the ashes of World War II and its own massive refugee crisis.
Guest Post by Etienne Borocco of France.


On August 28, 2015, 71 corpses were found in a truck at the Austrian border. They were refugees, mainly from Syria. Days later, after the latest ship full of refugees sank in the Mediterranean, images seen worldwide showed the drowned victims, including a small child. All were trying to escape a horrific war, which has reached a death toll greater than 200,000 casualties after a 4-year conflict.

Syrians are not alone, however. There are a lot of refugees from Eritrea, which is sometimes called “Africa’s North Korea.” Or from South Sudan, prey to a merciless civil war. Or from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and so on…

All these refugees are qualified to a granted asylum because the situation is terrible in their home country. However, they cannot apply to asylum in a European embassy. They must first travel illegally to apply. This trip is dangerous and creates a big opportunity for unscrupulous human traffickers.

The latter can be grateful to the European countries for their flourishing business. The situation on the European side results from an absence of agreement for a common policy to host refugees.

Moreover, the Dublin convention has serious pitfalls. The first Member State where fingerprints are stored or an asylum claim is lodged is responsible for a person’s asylum claim. The countries at the border of the EU are then overwhelmed.

160,000 refugees landed in Greece between January and July 2015, to say nothing of those who came in the previous two years. This figure alone is already comparable to the Irish exodus during the Great Famine in 1847. In that era, 215,000 Irish immigrants fled to the United States.

Recently, Germany decided to not enforce the Dublin regulation anymore. The German government decided to grant asylum to all the Syrian refugees regardless of which country of the Dublin-regulation area they landed in first .

On the other hand, Hungary has recently built a wall at the border with Serbia, and Austria seeks to control its borders more strictly. The whole European project is threatened because governments are tempted to act alone without coordination.

The irony is the European project was born from the ashes of the Second World War. During this period, a lot of refugees fled conflicts. French citizens crossed the borders with Spain, where they were illegal aliens. Francoist Spain used to deport them and a great part was directly delivered to Nazi Germany. They were promised to a certain death.

However, those who managed join the Free Forces participated to the French liberation. In the Netherlands, the “England-Voyagers” (Engelandvaarders) took makeshift boats to cross the North Sea to England. Some famous Dutch resistance members like Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema were part of the “England-Voyagers”.

London also hosted the central command of the French Resistance directed by General de Gaulle, as well as several other governments-in-exile of Nazi-occupied territories.

Several other countries hosted significant numbers of refugees from Axis countries during the war. Many wartime refugees risked and lost their lives crossing borders or the Mediterranean to flee. When the borders were being redrawn after the Axis surrender in 1945, millions more people were also displaced. It was in this context that the European project began.
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Guatemala has a lot to celebrate this independence day

Today Guatemala celebrates its Independence Day and it is quite a different country than it was just 365 short days ago, or even six months ago, when I left Guatemala after finishing my two years of Peace Corps service in the rural, western highlands of the beautiful country.

Photo taken by Kelley in Cajolá, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala at a girls' leadership camp hosted by Kelley and local health center staff.

Photo taken by Kelley in Cajolá, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala at a girls’ leadership camp hosted by Kelley and local health center staff.

When people ask me if I am glad to be back, I sincerely respond that I am not sure if I’m glad to be back in the United States, but I am definitely glad that I am not in Guatemala anymore. You see, Guatemala is an extremely difficult place to live. Bus drivers are frequently shot by cartels when bribes are not paid; men present a real and constant danger in the street and at home because of an oppressively “machismo” mindset that persists in the country; and 50% of children are chronically malnourished, an unfathomable and heartbreaking statistic.

Not only is Guatemala a hard place to live, it is a really hard place to get things done, Decades of impunity, staggering inequality, and corrupt governments make Guatemala a perfect storm of inefficiency and the people of Guatemala, particularly the large indigenous population, are the ones who suffer. According to the World Bank, of every country in the world, Guatemala spends the least on health, education, and infrastructure, proportionate to its economy. The Executive Director of the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala (Fundesa), Juan Carlos Zapata, reports “We believe that 30 percent of the budget is lost to corruption.”

However, today as I think about Guatemala, I am able to reflect more softly on my experience and I have brighter hopes for what’s ahead in Guatemala. Maybe that’s just because my months at home have allowed me to physically and emotionally begin to recuperate from an exhausting two years.

But I think it has more to do with the political revolution that is well under way in Guatemala. Guatemalans in the capitol, Guatemala City, and around the country, have begun to say “enough is enough”. Maybe, like many other countries, this is because of the smart phone revolution, allowing people to spread pictures and ideas more easily. Maybe Guatemala is finally shedding the yoke of a 36-year-long civil war, which ended in 1996 but still stains every part of society. Whatever the reason, the actions taken by ordinary Guatemalan citizens in the past few months make me proud of the time I worked in the endlessly fascinating country of Guatemala.

Protests began in April after the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG), an international body backed by the United Nations and responsible for prosecuting serious crimes in Guatemala, charged the Vice President and others in the administration with taking bribes for reducing import and customs taxes.

The first big victory for Guatemalans seeking a less corrupt government was the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti on May 8, 2015, who prosecutors claim took $3.7 million in bribes as part of the customs scandal. At the time, President Otto Pérez Molina claimed no wrongdoing, but CICIG and the Guatemalan people were suspect.

So, protests continued with the simple phrase “Renuncia Ya” (Resign Already) at the heart of it all. For nineteen weeks, concerned citizens protested, employing only nonviolent protest tactics, even going to far as to offer flowers to police. Then the unthinkable happened, on August 31st, the 132 members of Congress who were present for voting (out of 158 members total), voted unanimously to rescind the presidential immunity, which had formerly protected Perez from prosecution. In a country where lawlessness abounds because people are not held accountable for their actions, 132 members of Congress and tens of thousands of protesters decided that Guatemala needed to change.

Then, on September 2nd, the embattled president, Otto Pérez Molina, finally resigned.

Now, with the former Vice President and President in jail, the world’s eyes are watching what Guatemala does next. In Guatemala’s first round of voting for a new president, which occurred on September 6, Jimmy Morales, a comedian with no political experience won the first round. (This election had already been scheduled before Molina’s resignation.) A run-off election will occur on October 25, between Morales and former first lady Sandra Torres. Morales is running on a simple platform of “Not corrupt, not a thief” and is touting his position as an outsider, while Torres is reminding the country of the social work she did as First Lady. There are lingering questions about each of their abilities to continue to rid the government of corruption.

The battle against corruption is far from won, but today, Guatemala’s Independence Day, is a day to celebrate the hard work done by men and women over the past 365 days to ensure a better future for the citizens of Guatemala. Guatemala has been referred to as one of the worst places in the world to be a child, but the progress made in the past few months makes me hopeful that the impoverished, indigenous children I worked with in Guatemala might grow up to live in a country whose government strives to serve them and their families.

Op-Ed | The Future of Living Wages

This essay was originally published in The Globalist.


What can governments do for incomes in an era of intense global labor competition and automation?

Whose duty is it to ensure a living wage in a global economy where jobs can be moved easily to more “flexible” jurisdictions? And how is that goal of a living wage best achieved, regardless of any moral responsibility?

Increasingly, those questions may have two very different answers, as abstract ideals diverge from realistic solutions in the 21st century.

Aging policies

One common policy solution of the 20th century industrialized world was legal compensation floors, mainly hourly minimum wage laws. Companies were simply compelled to meet their duty to workers.

The first country to authorize a government role in setting minimum wages was New Zealand in 1894. The United States saw its first state minimum authorized in 1912, just over a century ago.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S.’s 32nd President and the leader of America’s New Deal, in 1933 explained the principle behind such mandates:

It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.

In 1933, that statement was not just a moral argument, but also an enforceable policy position. Today, in many cases, it is not.

No enforceability

Large multinational corporations that operate worldwide have more leverage and flexibility in the global marketplace than any single national government. Their transnational character allows them to avoid national efforts to compel them to do their fair share under a more democratic capitalism.

In many sectors, if a large business has – in the words of Roosevelt – no “right to continue [operating] in this country” due to its preference for paying sub-living wages, it can and will simply go elsewhere.

The century-old mechanism of a legal wage minimum — while still critical — is losing its effectiveness against poverty and labor abuses due to the radical transformation of the global economy. New mechanisms are now urgently required to supplement it.

The underlying goal – the need for a living wage – that once led to the creation of minimum wages have not changed – but the toolbox must expand.

Until lately, the issue has stalled. In most of the industrialized world, strong social safety nets often reduced the perceived need for higher wages. Meanwhile, U.S. activists were tarred as closet socialists seeking the Europeanification of free-market America.

Everywhere, the poor typically lack political leverage. Their demands are frequently written off as ignorant populism detached from economic realities.

Tipping point

But we have reached a tipping point. Even techno-optimists – those who have long boosted the life-easing benefits of the arrival of robots – are now concerned.

They are starting to acknowledge that the pressure on wage levels (and employment levels themselves) will no longer just come from cheap, surplus human labor overseas. It will also come from increased mechanization, automation and robotics.

And this time, the pressure will affect (and is already starting to affect) workers with higher incomes, too. Read more

Op-Ed | Trump’s Bankruptcies In Perspective

The following op-ed originally appeared in The Globalist.


U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has publicly described his business empire’s four bankruptcies in the following terms: “I have used the laws of this country…the [bankruptcy] chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family.”

Because his businesses entered “Chapter 11” bankruptcies – named for the provision of the U.S. legal code that allows businesses to restructure without closing shop and liquidating – he sees the four episodes in utilitarian and strategic terms, not as failures.

While I am not defending Donald Trump’s view of his practices, one key question needs to be answered: Are Trump’s business bankruptcies really worse than other corporate legal manipulations and practices?

Gaming the system

True, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is uncommon by comparison to other maneuvers through American business and tax law. Certainly bankruptcy still carries a bit of a scarlet letter stigma even if the risk is somewhat controlled, and so it is generally avoided.

But is manipulating corporate bankruptcy law really worse than those other tactics? Major U.S. companies use and abuse legal provisions constantly to evade and avoid taxes to the government.

Trump, by contrast, used the law to avoid creditors at major investment banks and funds (and most of them came out the other side of his restructurings with lucrative deals).

Some U.S. companies do complicated maneuvers like “offshore reincorporation” and other tax-avoidance mergersa loophole Trump has actually criticized on the campaign trail.

The entertainment mogul used Chapter 11 for cashflow management purposes (and to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in company debts). If companies use the U.S. legal code to boost their profits and cashflow via tax avoidance, how is that less dubious than using Chapter 11 bankruptcy?

Donald Trump made business deals on the (correct) assumption that he could fall back on restructuring laws. Other firms make deals based on assumptions that they can fall back on tax loopholes.

Firm defenders of American business law might dismiss the existence of business law loopholes as irrelevant either way and might prefer to judge his record solely on what these bankruptcies says about his ability to run businesses responsibly.

Poor financial management

Well, what about comparing it to popular and trendy legal maneuvers that are questionable long-term business practices? Many U.S. companies have been borrowing heavily to reward their shareholders, instead of using it to invest in expansion.

This practice effectively means shareholders are profiting against the company’s future financial health, rather than from current (or future) returns on its previous (or current) investments. That means literally raiding the companies’ future earnings to generate payout cash now.

Such a company will eventually have to pay back the borrowed money with interest. In the meantime, it will not have gained anything from that borrowing because it was used to rain money down on shareholders instead of actually growing the company’s operations.

The vast majority of American stock is held by a very small number of people with a lot of money to throw around. This means companies are putting themselves deeper into a long-term hole, even as wealthy shareholders rake in money in the short-term.

Trump may be incorrect when he asserts that “virtually every person” at the top of the business world has made use of bankruptcy protections. But his claim might simply be a bit ahead of its time – given the short-termist (mis)management of so many major U.S. companies today.

Down the line, by borrowing to benefit shareholders, a lot of American companies could have very high debt burdens. They would also be very underdeveloped compared to foreign competitors who invested in keeping up with the times and growing their long-term potential earnings.

That will make them uncompetitive, as well as vulnerable to bankruptcy or Japanese-style zombification.

And even all of this is to say nothing of the Wall Street debacles in 2008 that would have forced massive bankruptcies were it not for backstop loans by the Federal government.

Trump, business law exploitation pioneer

Sure, Donald Trump flew closer to the sun (and did so sooner) than these other future Icaruses, but the effect may eventually be the same. Singling him out would be mistaken, if not hypocritical.

Once again, as with his xenophobic appeals, one finds that Trump is merely reflecting back a refined and purified vision of what America has become in its re-expanding dark corners – in this case corporate America and the wealthiest 1%.

Those corners of our society exercise financial and political power in a dangerous direction. But he did not make it that way, and he is not the exception.

There is a separate set of rules in the United States accessible only to the very wealthy and their mega-corporations that allows them to evade and avoid debts and taxes that are seemingly inescapable for average Americans.

That lack of fairness in the rules is undermining voter confidence in the political and economic governance system. Ironically (and worryingly), that mix of frustration and apathetic helplessness has created the opening for someone like Trump to step into the breach.

The Only Way is Blair?

Questioning a fundamental tenet of the Tony Blair mythos (and the Bill Clinton mythos).


One of the major talking points put forward by Tony Blair allies (and the former Prime Minister himself) in the aftermath of the 2015 election fiasco and again now during the leadership contest with the rise of leftist Jeremy Corbyn has been that Blair’s strain of Labour Party ideology (“New Labour”) was superior to all others because he “won three elections in a row” with it and brought Labour out of its nearly two decades in the opposition wilderness. Blair’s own snide phrasing, which he even dared to utter long before the election loss, was “a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result” implying that a traditional left-wing party can’t win elections (not that Labour ran a particularly or consistently left-wing campaign this year).

Similarly, we sometimes hear roughly the sentiment echoed in the United States with regard to Bill Clinton’s centrist/triangulating Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and the “New Democrats.” Blair explicitly modeled his 1997 election campaign on Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns (and Clinton’s wider political philosophies), so there are always comparisons between the two. At minimum, they both ran on highly personality-oriented campaigns that claimed to be bringing a new direction to politics on the whole, not just to their own parties. Something transcending those “tradition” right and left alignments, supposedly.

Let’s examine these dual contentions, though. Did the Democrats re-take the White House in 1992 because of Clinton’s Democratic Party centrism? Did Labour re-take parliament in 1997 because of Blair’s New Labour approach?

Blairites and Clintonites alike fervently believe that centrism is what won them power. I would contend instead that inevitability did. Eventually, the opposing major party returns to power.

Blair going centrist didn’t “save” Labour from itself. Conservatives held power for 18 years. Prime Minister John Major’s net approval rating across the early 1990s was in -60 to -20 range. The Labour leadership had higher net approval before Blair took over as opposition leader in 1994, and Major’s net approval really fell off a cliff even before Blair’s ascent. I would conclude from that that any reasonably competent politician (left or center) could have led Labour back to power in 1997 after a whopping eighteen (bleak) years of Conservative rule. (True, leadership ratings are not wholly predictive at the ballot box, but they’re indicative of strengths or weaknesses in broad terms.)

By comparison, Democrats panicked after losing the White House only 3 times in a row in merely 12 years (1980, 1984, 1988). In all likelihood, rota fortunae (the ever-rotating wheel of fortune), not DLCism, won the White House back for Democrats in 1992. The relatively centrist Democratic Congressional caucus also kept shrinking before and after Clinton’s ascent to power, eventually leading to the loss of its House majority in 1994 for the first time since the 1950s. It’s a little hard to square that fact with the Clinton hype.

Much like Prime Minister Major, of course, President George H.W. Bush was struggling with rather low popularity by 1992. Where the year before his high ratings had deterred every single top-tier Democrat from challenging him (leaving Clinton to emerge startlingly from the third tier), by July 1992 George H.W. Bush had the approval of less than 30% of Americans. Not a ringing endorsement for him, and also not really a function of anything Clinton was doing. I believe a reasonably competent progressive Democrat — anyone who could connect with voters on their top concerns and tap into their frustrations — could have won the White House in 1992.

“Inevitability” is, of course, a loaded word in politics. But I’m speaking in broad, big-picture terms based on historical and structural realities. The odds were very low that, in both the U.S. and the U.K., during the 1990s, the major left-leaning parties (Democrats and Labour respectively) would completely wither away and die out as a major party. Thus, regardless of ideology, they would have remained the only serious voting options for people who had lost patience with the incumbent governments. Eventually, in democratic systems, people always get tired of single party rule and change horses.

That’s why three terms in a row for one party to rule is already relatively unusual, 4 terms is rarer, and 5 almost never happens. At a certain point, how far left/center/right your party runs in a breaking-point election becomes pretty irrelevant in a system dominated by two parties. People get frustrated enough to vote for the opposition party automatically. It doesn’t even take that long, considering just 12 years seems to be a pretty common point for voters to jump ship.

Republicans have learned that fact very well and used it to their advantage to continue winning elections with ever-more conservative platforms. Rather than giving up and moderating, they just wait it out and organize for the next moment of frustration in which to bring extreme candidates into office to enact steadfastly conservative agendas.
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Why We Should Keep the (Whole) 14th Amendment

Margaret Thatcher once said, “Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy.” When a country is united by ideals and not bloodlines, defining citizenship is a unique challenge, one that the United States has grappled with time and time again in its history.

In recent weeks, many of those seeking to be the GOP’s candidate for president have begun talk of getting rid of a constitutional amendment in order to redefine who is a citizen. Frontrunner Donald Trump and others would like to see the United States do away with the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to anybody born within US borders and subject to the the jurisdiction of federal laws (i.e. the baby’s parents are not foreign diplomats or have other formal relationships with foreign governments). Rick Ungar, a contributor for Forbes writes:

It turns out that those who have long enjoyed portraying themselves as the “Guardians of our Constitution”, through strict interpretation of the same, and the proponents of law & order as the bulwark of an orderly society — of course I’m speaking of Republicans — are the very folks who no longer have much use for the Constitution when it fails to meet their desires or live up to their expectations.

The argument around the 14th Amendment is largely due to frustration over so called “anchor babies”, a derogatory term for babies born to illegal immigrants in the United States supposedly under the pretense that the child will somehow help the parent gain legal status. It is true that for the past 147 years, all children born within US borders are legal US citizens, regardless of their parent’s legal status.

However, the idea that these babies and US citizens are helping to grant their parents legal status in the United States is a fallacy for which there is no legal backing. In fact, in 2011 there were 5,000 children in state care or foster homes because their parents had been deported. In 2013, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement deported 72,410 people who had at least one child who was a US citizen.

Still, the term “anchor baby” and the vitriolic desire to get rid of the 14th Amendment persist. The amendment was a Reconstruction Amendment, adopted on July 9, 1868, with the goal of providing citizenship to African-Americans who had formerly been slaves with no protection under the law. The Citizenship Clause of the Amendment overruled the Supreme Court’s findings in Dred Scott v. Sanford, which stated that African-Americans, even those who were free, were not American citizens and therefore could not sue in federal court.

When the 14th Amendment was originally debated, there were a few mentions of children born to immigrants on the debate floor. However, in 1868 there was no limit to immigration into the United States, meaning there was no illegal immigration at the time of the amendment’s adoption. In 1898, the Supreme Court cleared this up in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, by ruling that the children of immigrants born in the US are indeed entitled to citizenship.

Since that time, America has continued to grapple with immigrant policy and citizenship laws, but with little exception, those born within the borders of the United States are citizens of our country. While American immigration policy leaves much to be desired, the 14th Amendment has provided continuity and stability to the definition of citizen. Our country’s greatness is derived from the diversity of our citizens and the uniqueness of our history. Paternity tests or another arbitrary way to obtain citizenship would rob future generations of the philosophy and ideology on which this country was founded and continues to grow.

14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, section 1. (National Archives of the United States.)

14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, section 1. (National Archives of the United States.)