Leveling the Economic Playing Field is Critical to a Party Platform

The Roosevelt Institute urges the Republican Party and the Democratic Party to incorporate key policies that address economic inequality into the 2016 Republican Platform and the 2016 Democratic Platform. The policies are discussed in detail in three Roosevelt Institute papers on economic growth and shared prosperity listed directly below. In our letters to the Republican Platform Committee and the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee, we summarize our central message and identify the policy areas we believe are most essential.

Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth & Shared Prosperity

Rewrite the Racial Rules: Building an Inclusive American Economy

Untamed: How to Check Corporate, Financial & Monopoly Power

Inequality is not inevitable; it is a choice we make based on the rules that structure our economy. Given the scale and interconnected nature of the issues we face, a tentative, piecemeal response to inequality will not suffice. In Rewriting the Rules, Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate and Roosevelt’s Chief Economist, argues that we must change a web of rules that cover the entire economy from the financial sector, tax policy and campaign finance reform, to labor law and trade policy.

We believe that to level the playing field it is critical that the Platform include:

1. Policies that check corporate, financial and monopoly power, to curtail the ability of entities with those powers to write economic rules primarily for their own benefit. In particular, policies should include:

 

a. Financial Reform – Ensuring the financial sector returns to its essential functions to support productive economic growth and provide financial stability by (see Section II, beginning on pg. 40, of Untamed: How to Check Corporate, Financial, and Monopoly Power for more detailed policy solutions):

Tackling Too Big to Fail through:

  • Preserving and strengthening Dodd-Frank.
  • Regulating the whole bank balance sheet by requiring higher leverage, risk-weighted capital requirements and more long-term debt.
  • Continuing to push for credible “living wills” to ensure a clear liquidation process when a bank fails.
  • Strengthening international derivatives coordination to reduce the risk of contagion and requiring banks deal only in backstopped derivatives.

Reining in the Shadow Banking System through:

  • Prudentially regulating, i.e., extending deposit insurance to institutions conducting bank-like activities, such as money market mutual funds, to prevent bank-like panics.
  • Regulating leverage for entities funding their activities with short- term debt instruments, such as repurchase agreements, over-the- counter derivatives, and securities lending.
  • Overhauling the bankruptcy regime, specially revoking the “safe harbor” for repurchase agreements.
  • Enhancing transparency and access to information in the shadow banking industry by strengthening the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s (FSOC) authority to evaluate and monitor the financial sector for emerging risks.

Curbing Short-Termism through:

  • Limiting share repurchases through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), amending the 10b-18 Rule and requiring more extensive reporting on share repurchases.
  • Investigating company’s pension obligations through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and the agency using its authority to directly limit share repurchases for companies with underfunded pensions.
  • Reforming private equity by limiting leverage and forbidding new debt to pay dividends to shareholders.
  • Reforming CEO pay, allowing alternative share approaches and affirming board power.

b. Taxes – Restructuring the tax code for fairness and efficiency by (see pages 28- 33 of Untamed: How to Check Corporate, Financial, and Monopoly Power for more detailed policy solutions):

  • Equalizing capital and personal income tax rates to reduce tax avoidance among investment firms and wealthy individuals, including neutralizing the “carried interest” loophole.
  • Increasing funding for the IRS as a cost effective method of raising revenue and fairness without altering rates.

c. Monopoly & Competition – Restoring competition in the U.S. economy through revamping competition policy for the 21st century by (see page 18 of Untamed: How to Check Corporate, Financial, and Monopoly Power for more detailed policy solutions):

  • Revising merger guidelines in order for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to assess market structure, scrutinize vertical deals and adopt “per se” standards.
  • Passing a new antitrust law to adopt a “public interest” standard to guide competition policy.
  • Reducing platform power and preventing discrimination arising from data consolidation through adapting antitrust and public utility regulation to address new forms of data monopolies.

2. In order to address vast and persistent inequities, race and gender must be an explicit consideration in any new policymaking.

 

a. We can improve racial equity by: (see Rewrite the Racial Rules: Building an Inclusive American Economy):

  • Reckoning with our history and its continued impact on current socioeconomic outcomes. For example, passing H.R. 40, introduced by Rep. John Conyers, to study proposals for reparations.
  • Acknowledging that “race-neutral” policies are rarely “race-neutral,” and for example, evaluating all policies and programs using a Racial Equity Impact Assessment to reduce adverse consequences those policies can impose on communities of color.
  • Recognizing that trickle-down policies have disproportionately hurt people of color as well as white middle and working class Americans, and that neo- liberal economics and race-neutral policies are founded on flawed assumptions about the market. For example, failure to expand Medicaid disproportionately impacts people of color, but also contributes to rising mortality rates for lower-income white Americans.
  • Moving toward targeted-universal policies and away from general, universal policies by being explicitly inclusive in all policymaking processes and political discourse. For example, implementing a domestic Marshall Plan focused on infrastructure-building, municipal broadband and direct job creation by investing at least $200 billion a year over 10 years in areas with the highest levels of concentrated poverty.
  • Enacting education rules to promote desegregation.

b. We can improve gender equity by: (see Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda For Growth and Shared Prosperity)

  • Making family leave universally available to workers – for both parents, regardless of sex. This should include job protections for pregnant workers.
  • Ensuring all women have access to family planning and reproductive healthservices by increasing investment in Title X.
  • Expanding existing state and federal childcare programs that have proved most effective.
  • Promoting gender pay equity by supporting transparency.

3. It is also essential that the Platform include policies that improve job opportunities and build worker rights.

 

a. Full Employment (see pg. 73, Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda For Shared Prosperityand pg. 37, Untamed: How to Check Corporate, Financial, and Monopoly Power)

  • Increasing federal borrowing and improving financing for private investment to boost public spending with a focus on infrastructure investment.
  • Supporting increased borrowing by state and local governments by providing cheap credit to invest in long-term projects.
  • Providing loan guarantees for qualified private borrowers to seed desirable private projects and cushion against potential project losses.
  • Establishing a national infrastructure bank so that international capital flows funnel into transformative public investment.
  • Prioritizing public and private “green” investment by also funneling international capital flows into low-carbon public investment, such as building retrofits.

b. Strengthen the Bargaining Power of Workers (see pg. 77, Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda For Shared Prosperity)

  • Amending labor laws to adapt to the changing nature of work and redefining critical labor concepts of bargaining unit, employer, secondary action, etc.
  • Attaching strong pro-worker stipulations to public sector contracts, such as raising wages for government agencies, improving labor standards and reducing discrimination.
  • Granting government contracts to corporations that meet high labor standards and possess strong anti-discrimination/pro-inclusionary hiring practices.
  • Increasing funding for enforcement and raising penalties for violating labor standards.

Finally, Roosevelt Institute is also home to the nation’s largest network of emerging doers and thinkers— young people who are committed to reimagining and rewriting the rules in their communities. Our members are organized on 130 campuses in 40 states nationwide. Please expect to receive a separate letter from our network leadership.

The Roosevelt Institute brings together thousands of thinkers and doers—from emerging leaders in every state to Nobel laureate economists. We reimagine the rules that guide our social and economic realities. Follow us on Twitter @rooseveltinst and like us on Facebook.

Trump

By Martin Mohacsek

newwave“The New Wave” by Michele Battimiello

 

Analysis

The Trump campaign is a current example of emoting power. The strategy was practiced by many before, the most recent example being Berlusconi. Its aim, as shown by Putin among others, is a public emotional emergency that suppresses the remains of a political or open society in order to calm the senses of the body politic. The absurd desire to use the lessons of the American entertainment industry for a personal obsession to enter history and to increase riches in an age of devastating narcissism, calls for an emotional pool to reflect the image. It seems obvious that this pool can be found only on the right of the political spectrum. Here the waters reflect all the shades of a disillusioned people. The pool of the left, the progressives, holds no promise. The well has run dry like the water crisis the world faces, and the puddle that remains is guarded by the status quo so as not to let evaporate what remains.

Nor will the tears of the world replenish the protected source. Once the emotional pool is tapped by the Trump organization, all that has to be done is to change appearance continuously. This will empower the desperate to believe that their confusion is a work of art.

The emoting power once put into motion means dependence. It’s an addiction, an addiction corresponding with the deadly desire of the assassin. He is nourished by rage, vulnerability, and the adjustment of the image. (Hence video observation suggested as the antidote, the disappearance of the individual as the ultimate ratio of the status quo.) What is true for the addict is also true for the assassin. Both have to be nourished.

This constitutes the power and the simultaneous foreseeable collapse of the Trump campaign. Whether this individual and collective collapse is accompanied by the raw power of American economic and military might is up to the electorate. Yet substance-abuse supported by the technologically-induced information bomb remains a grand obstacle for preventing Trump’s self-distractive tendencies.

 

Two Architectural Follies 

  1. The Bridge

One of Berlusconi’s offerings to the Italian public was a bridge to Messina. A span from the Italian mainland across the blue straits to the island of Sicily. These waters are some of the deepest in the Mediterranean. Years ago some mariners pulled two bronze sculptures out of the turquoise depths. Two millennia had they remained amongst the currents. Countless ferries had passed back and forth between the lands and above the glass-eyed beauties. When they appeared again in the bright stagelight of ancient summers, their sculptured veins still pumped blood from neck to genitals, their teeth white, their brows attentive and cunning.

Today you can confront these glamorously simple males at the Museum of Reggio Calabria. Fished from the salty waters, they rest on earthquake-proof pedestals. Their residence has climate control as an added luxury. The earth shakes violently in these parts that has provided the humans with unspeakable beauty since the beginning of time. The depth of the sea and the movement of the planet present two of the great riddles of modern engineering.

What is left of the bridge is an empty planning office and millions of dollars, provided by the people of Italy and beyond, disappeared from the known world into bank accounts of friends and associates.

For a moment this undoing of land and sea, this lofty ark, became the hope of Sicily’s nameless poor on the richest island in the Mediterranean.

 

  1. The Wall

A wall, of course, is a much less audacious project than a bridge. The historical precedence lends it some gravity no doubt. Yet it remains the most basic of architectural endeavors. It seems that Trump—compared to his high-flying predecessor in architectural imagination—has chosen a rather simplistic expression. Yes, there remain questions to be answered about the material that would be used for its construction and above all who the contractors would be and even more the workers employed to complete this project. Everybody interested in its construction should at least ask if migrant workers would be needed for its realization.

But the flight of imagination Trump is seeking to induce in his admirers is not the edifice itself, unlike the bridge. It is the question: What is in front of and beyond that wall?

Using the aesthetics of his wall-constructing business, sometimes referred to as “development,” one can assume that the side facing the USA will be very basic and of little aesthetical value. Like the well-groomed lawns of suburban homes and their meaningless perfection.

Thereby the wall becomes the borderline of nothing. Protecting nothing against the invasion of something. Strangely, it is referred to as a barrier that allows the citizens of the USA to reconstruct what is no longer there.

To understand the popular appeal of the wall, one has to look beyond it. Let’s imagine what it looks like behind the wall, on the other side. A collective fantasy, sold to American tourists by American travel agencies for decades.

It is as if the Mexican people are asked to pay for the luxury of the American colonial imagination. Let’s try to put it in words. Right behind the wall we encounter fields of dust, weeds—in short an unregulated wilderness. Followed by dwellings that know neither front nor back door, frequented by human beings as well as domesticated animals, garbage not disposed of, the smell of human sweat mixed with pungent spices and a constant noise pollution of various rhythmic and vocal expressions accompanied by strange brass sections playing devious chords.

And what lies beyond that? Two lane highways, run-down gas stations, high savannas, and dark green forests until one reaches the plateau of one of the most populous urban assemblies of all the Americas.

In the blazing sun and cool nights of the metropole, private limousines accompanied by bodyguards transport imaginary travelers to air conditioned luxury hotels where the concierge will point out folkloristic hotspots of nightlife without being touched by the smoldering million-eyed human mass.

Leaving the ancient capital of the Aztecs, sophisticated wall-builders themselves, we head south with Trump’s great American caravan of the other side and enter the jungles of lower Mexico.

Now we see the familiar sights, portrayed in endless high-resolution portfolios: the climb of the Mayan pyramids, heartrate-measuring devices attached to the wrists of human adventurers who scale the ancient objects of civilization. And the reward, the turquoise waters and beach chairs of the Caribbean’s sandy beaches. The service, as expected, is excellent.

We take to the skies to fly over the plantations of Central America. Or stumble through the dark corridor that connects the two Americas to the general store, Columbia, which provides quick fixes to the endless sufferings of the U.S. identity crisis. For what the electoral caravan of the U.S. parts on the way south are the killing fields of Central America. Never has the fear of the beyond been more rational and bleak. Millions rise from the graves of civil wars produced, financed, and outfitted by the North. Just now, just decades ago. Every civil engineering project has a secret: Trump’s Wall is built to keep out the victims of American greatness.

Let us now move on over the breathtaking green heights of the Andes, the foggy ports of Chile, and arrive at our destination: beyond the Wall. The endless bare wind-swept cold ice sheets of the Antarctic. This is the true purpose of the wall.

To protect us from the cold in our hearts.

 

Historical Note

Clear to every visitor to Washington, D.C., the architectural features of power are fashioned after the Roman republic and empire. One can agree that among many things, the Romans were great bricklayers and walkers. Their vast empire, conquered by foot and horse, was enclosed by a wall. Frequently, in times of great inequality, masses were aroused by populist orators, their language being the language of their listeners. The result of such upheaval, more often than not, led to strife and civil war. Inside the walls of the empire. The weapons being knives and sticks. Unlike today.

 

Every actor recognizes the terrible persona in the mirror. And we look for this affirmation in others.

 

Michele Battimiello is a painter and mail carrier who lives under Vesuvius, south of Naples, Italy. The theme of his work is the illumination of the mystical aspects of daily life.

Martin Mohacsek is a poet who lives in New York City and Napoli.

We live in the worst cyberpunk future: a review of Zero Days

by Janet Bruesselbach

Zero days is a documentary by Alex Gibney about Stuxnet, a computer virus discovered in 2010 that was almost undeniably the work of the the U.S. and Israel attacking the Iranian nuclear program. According to sources claiming to be from within the NSA, its working name was Olympic Games, or OG. The documentary combines talking heads, archive footage, and cheesy Matrixish animation, to reveal to the public the extent to which American intelligence agencies are pursuing undeclared cyber warfare without accountability under the protection of classification.

The talking heads fall into three categories: named former or current U.S. and Israeli government officials, cyber security experts, and media. There is a very self-conscious and funny setup of the first category before beginning those interviews, in which every pasty old spook proclaims their inability to discuss classified operations. Only the retired director of the CIA gets close to boasting about U.S. responsibility.

The story begins with the first public awareness of Stuxnet by those who named it: cyber security professionals. From them we get an alarmist and somewhat patronizing explanation of the title of the documentary. A zero day exploit allows malware to spread between hardware without any user initiation in the software, accidental or otherwise, and Stuxnet had a redundancy of these rare and expensive exploits, which are usually not necessary for mere spying or financial gain, but meant the worm aggressively needed to get somewhere off the internet (behind an “air gap”) to do physical sabotage. They also describe the detective work involved at looking at the code and realizing it targeted a specific piece of hardware used in uranium enrichment centrifuge arrays, intending to make the centrifuges not only over and under spin, but preventing the monitoring software from reporting the errors.

It became very clear just through these third parties and their mapping of the spread of the virus from Iran outward that it did not originate in Iran, but that agents installed it where technicians who brought software into the enrichment facility would spread it. And it did work – at slowing Iran’s uranium enrichment down for a year. But the political repercussions, Iranian state-sponsored retaliation, worldwide paranoia, and the swift recovery of the program made it most probably not worth millions of U.S. tax dollars.

The third talking head category include former military and a reporter urged to silence after publishing his investigation into Stuxnet, which the public, if they paid attention at all, worried was a more general threat. It also includes the spokesperson of the Iranian-American council, who does a decent job explaining how Iranians reacted to Americans thinking it was their place to curtail the nuclear capability of any other country, when it was already inspected by an international commission to ensure it not be used for weapons. There was a tendency to blame Israel for the U.S.’s silent war on Iran, which would most likely, at least in the majority, otherwise not be interested in attacking the U.S.

There is additionally an anonymous informant representing people who hack for the government and are critical of the secrecy around it and the dangerous precedent they have set. The film’s gimmick around this informant is a blonde woman put through a digital rotoscoping filter similar to the layered-characters animation style used during its voiceovers. Tellingly, she is the only woman among the talking heads. Spoiler alert: she’s an actor reading a script assembled from several anonymous leaks. This is actually fairly obvious from how forthright and dramatic her statements are, especially concerning the other infiltration the NSA’s collaborative department of cyber offense (I did not take notes on what this is actually called, but they have a seal involving an eagle or something) did into Iran, supposedly to curtail hot war, besides OG’s politically counterproductive overkill. That itself just sounds like intimidation, just as the informants’ description of surveillance in Iraq sounds like bragging.

Most of what we get out of the officials is claiming that this covert cyber warfare was intended to prevent Israel from outright bombing Iran, which the U.S. felt it would be drawn into more than just financially, provoking war with pretty much the entire world, which is, at this point, everyone who wants American imperialism to end, including an under-armed majority of Americans. But they also agree that weapons like Stuxnet/OG set a bad precedent for nation states, especially without the kind of democratic accountability that developed around nuclear weapons. There is a dramatic irony to the crisis of covert cyber warfare developing out of the first nuclear superpower’s insistence that another nation be stopped from developing those weapons and disregard for the regulations set up to prevent them from killing the entire world accidentally.

The archive footage of Ahmedinejad’s inspection of the uranium centrifuges that provided intelligence to the developers of Stuxnet/OG contains no women, because, Iran. Archive footage of American politicians during the time they okayed using the worm includes, naturally, Hillary Clinton. Both Bush and Obama knew about and okayed the operation, although the original (and more subtle) version of it included a cutoff date just before Obama’s inauguration.

There is a darkly humorous interlude about the Department of Homeland Security, indicating what a clueless, hopefully doomed, pure bureaucratic entity it is, since once Stuxnet started incidentally affecting more machines than just Iranian centrifuges, the DHS spent massive resources investigating Stuxnet as an external threat to U.S. infrastructure, with no indication from other agencies or politicians about its true intent, or, apparently, honest consultation with the security professionals investigating it.

But the way Zero Days is truly a cyber thriller isn’t just the repeated layered code animations that I, as a cyberpunk fetishist, love. It’s how it means that this clumsy use of government resources to attack a legal industrial activity in an ideologically hostile country, while maintaining militarized secrecy, and with deliberate deflection of public accountability, means that other nations and extranational interests would be able to use similar aggressive exploits to target a barely-defended infrastructure. Rarely are humans actually motivated enough to pursue that scale of generalized destruction, but there is very little development of cyber defense in place, primarily due to the same neoliberalism that U.S. government cyber warfare supports. Other countries can, and already do this, and though the results are not as immediately drastic as those of nuclear attack, the intersection that Stuxnet already represents, and the Kafkaesque maze of denial and diversion, say it is very likely to take lives before it can be optimistically regulated.

Photo George Segal

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