Future Hindsight

By Mila Atmos

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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcast that takes big ideas about civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday people. Host Mila Atmos shares in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers, helping listeners realize the power they have to make real change.

Episode Date
Ending Subminimum Wage: Saru Jayaraman

The Legacy of the Subminimum Wage

The devaluation of Black lives and women's work is at the heart of the subminimum wage. Until the 1850s, restaurant workers were white men who were unionized and were tipped on top of a living wage. But business owners started hiring women and black people for free, making them rely on tips to make their living. This means that the customer—instead of the employer—is responsible for paying the worker. A century and a half later, the subminimum wage has increased to only $2.13.

Tipped Work in the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how precarious tipped work is. Full time tipped workers, such as in bars or restaurants, often did not qualify for unemployment benefits because their tips were never reported, and it made them look ineligible for not having worked enough hours or earned enough pay. We have an opportunity to get rid of the subminimum wage by advocating for the Raise the Wage Act, supporting restaurants that pay their workers a livable wage, and demanding the same from businesses that don’t.

Who Gets Paid Subminimum Wages?

The restaurant industry makes up a big piece of the work force, but it’s not alone. Nail salon workers, car wash workers, parking attendants, sky caps at airports all work for tips. Subminimum wage laws also take advantage of a subset of people who are deemed ineligible for a proper minimum wage. Incarcerated workers are often paid even below the subminimum wage per hour; teenage workers produce the same work as adults but get paid less; and people with disabilities also perform the same as other workers but do not get paid the same amount.


Saru Jayaraman is the President of One Fair Wage and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley. Saru has spent the last 20 years organizing and advocating for raising wages and working conditions for restaurant and other service workers. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She was listed in CNN’s “Top 10 Visionary Women” and recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House in 2014, a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award in 2015, and the San Francisco Chronicle ‘Visionary of the Year’ in 2019.

Saru has written several books, including Behind the Kitchen Door (Cornell University Press, 2013), a national bestseller, Bite Back: People Taking on Corporate Food and Winning (UC Press, 2020), and most recently One Fair Wage: Ending Sub Minimum Pay in America (The New Press, 2021).

You can learn more at onefairwage.com.

You can follow Saru on Twitter at @SaruJayaraman

Nov 25, 2021
Stand Up for Science: Lee McIntyre

Our Responsibility to Defend the Truth

Science denialism has existed as long as science has existed. As a part of our social contract, we’re responsible for challenging the spread of misinformation and understanding, especially when it comes to science. If we open ourselves up to these difficult conversations, we can offer up a path into more logical reasoning and avoid a culture where science and truth are rejected.

Science Denialism is Dangerous

All science denialism relies on a flawed blueprint of cherry-picking evidence, trusting conspiracy theories, trusting fake experts, and relying on illogical reasoning. The internet has given denialism a chance to be amplified, which is especially dangerous because it confuses people and muddies the line between fact and falsehood. Science denialism hurts us in so many ways, from killing our planet by ignoring climate change to taking lives because people don’t trust vaccines and masks.

Technique Rebuttal

Content rebuttal is using facts to combat false claims. Technique rebuttal is challenging the logic of the argument. It may seem logical to defend the truth with the facts, but you can make more progress by talking about the core of people’s beliefs. If someone has already made the choice to deny the facts, presenting them with even more facts will not be effective. Instead, build trust by making them feel heard, then point out inconsistencies in their reasoning and use facts judiciously.


Lee McIntyre is a philosopher of science and the author of the 2018 book Post Truth. His new book How to Talk to a Science Denier, tries to figure out how we can have constructive dialogue with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason. Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. Formerly Executive Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, he has also served as a policy advisor to the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and as Associate Editor in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

McIntyre is the author of several books, including Post-Truth, Respecting Truth: Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age, and How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who Defy Reason. Other work has appeared in such popular venues as the The New York Times, Newsweek, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the New Statesman, the Times Higher Education Supplement, and The Humanist.

You can follow Lee on Twitter at @LeeCMcIntyre

Nov 18, 2021
Our Public Health: Michele Goodwin

The Social Contract and Our Bodies

The pandemic has given us a glimpse into the ways our health is woven into the social contract. The high number of deaths from COVID are the result of the government’s failure to collaborate with international organizations and with our own state lawmakers. We leaned on essential care workers, many of whom are people of color. And yet, they often lacked PPE, challenging what it really means to be “essential.”

The Inequality of Health

Racism is a preexisting health condition in the United States. COVID unveiled the institutional and infrastructural inequalities that have existed in our healthcare system for decades, which we see with the alarming rates of death among Black and Latino children. These inequalities and social stereotypes affect every corner of healthcare. For example, Black adults are 2 to 6 times more likely to suffer an amputation than a white adult, especially for common conditions like diabetes.

Women’s Health

Increasingly, aspects of women’s health, such as reproduction, pregnancy, abortion, birth, and motherhood have been criminalized in the United States. Criminalization especially affects Black and brown women so that medical care has become a weapon to turn health issues like a stillbirth into a criminal offense. However, in creating these sorts of precedents, all women—regardless of race—are then subject to suffering under this weaponization of healthcare, which we see happening across the country right now.


Michele Goodwin is a Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California Irvine and founding director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy. She is the recipient of the 2020-21 Distinguished Senior Faculty Award for Research, the highest honor bestowed by the University of California. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute, as well as an elected Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and the Hastings Center (the organization central to the founding of bioethics). She is an American Law Institute Adviser for the Restatement Third of Torts: Remedies.

Goodwin has won national awards for excellence in scholarship, outstanding teaching, and committed community service. Gov. Paul Patton of Kentucky commissioned her a Colonel, the state’s highest title of honor for her outstanding contributions to K-12 education. She’s the recipient of the Be The Change Award, the Sandra Day O’Connor Legacy Award by the Women’s Journey Foundation, and was named Teacher of the Year by the Thurgood Marshall Bar Association in 2018. Goodwin received a commendation from the United States House of Representatives for Outstanding Teaching

You can follow Michele Goodwin on Twitter at @michelebgoodwin

Nov 11, 2021
Contract for the Climate: Keya Chatterjee

Racial Injustice in the Climate Crisis

Economic and racial injustices are at the center of the climate crisis. White communities have largely avoided things like polluting power plants and detrimental pipelines in their neighborhoods. Instead, communities of color have faced that burden. The willingness to sacrifice communities of color has made it easier for governments to tolerate climate chaos.

Aiding Youth Activism

Successful social movements often start with activism by young people, and in fact cannot be successful without them. However, it’s up to the adults in our democracy to make sure their voices are heard since they are the ones who can vote and have the financial resources. It’s been proven that just 3.5% of a population can topple a dictatorship. What can it do for climate justice?

Disruptive Humanitarianism

Disruptive humanitarianism challenges the status quo and forces the system to change immediately for the better. It counters the idea that it’s everyone for themselves. It can be as simple as planting a garden where a pipeline is being placed. Taking action together in a democracy is imperative because it’s hard to create change as an individual.


Keya Chatterjee is Executive Director of US Climate Action Network and author of The Zero Footprint Baby: How to Save the Planet While Raising a Healthy Baby. Her work focuses on building an inclusive movement in support of climate action. Prior to joining USCAN, Keya served as Senior Director for Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), where she worked for eight years. Before that, she was a Climate Change Specialist at USAID.

Keya also worked at NASA headquarters for four years, communicating research results on climate change. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco from 1998 to 2000. She served on the board of the Washington Area Bicycling Association from 2013 to 2021. Keya received her Master's degree in Environmental Science, and her Bachelor's in Environmental Science and Spanish from the University of Virginia.

You can follow Keya on Twitter @keya_chatterjee.

Nov 04, 2021
A New Social Contract: Minouche Shafik

Architecture of Opportunity

We lose talent in our society when we overlook those from poor backgrounds or minority families. For example, Lost Einsteins are children who harness above-average skills, but don’t have a chance to invent and create later in their lives because they lack access to opportunity. John Rawls' Veil of Ignorance provides the template for a just society where the luck of your birth need not be a factor in your life’s outcomes.

The Importance of Childcare

Our social contract has widely depended on women to provide free labor to care for children and the household. Because of the imbalance in structures like maternity leave, the gender pay gap can largely be attributed to children. By investing in affordable and accessible quality childcare, our society will benefit from the productivity and talents of all the women who are now subject to this child penalty.

The New Social Contract with Business

Global corporate taxes have been lowering for decades as countries fight to attract major corporations. Using taxes to invest in our society is part of the social contract, and a minimum global corporate tax will ensure that large companies can no longer shirk this responsibility. In addition, the current economic model lacks any measurement of how we degrade our environment. If these costs were measured, a carbon tax can be designed to reflect them and incentivize sound choices about our environment.


Baroness Minouche Shafik is the Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a leading economist whose career has straddled public policy and academia. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, she received her MSc at the London School of Economics and her DPhil at the University of Oxford. By the age of 36, she had become the youngest ever Vice President of the World Bank. She’s taught at Georgetown University and the Wharton Business School. She later served as the Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Development from 2008 to 2011, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund from 2011-2014, and as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England from 2014-2017.

Baroness Shafik has served on and chaired numerous boards and currently serves as a Trustee of the British Museum, the Supervisory Board of Siemens, the Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Economy Honours Committee. She was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2015. In July 2020, she was made a crossbench peer in the House of Lords. Her new book is What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract.

Oct 28, 2021
The Social Contract - History of a Big Idea: Melissa Lane

The Social Contract

The state of nature is a human condition that exists in any space that lacks a civil authority. With the social contract, we're prepared to make a deal with each other in order to live together as best we can and exit the state of nature. Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau expressed versions of the social contract that influence governments around the world today.

Co-Creating Reality

We are all co-creators of our community politics and social outcomes. The ancient Greeks embraced civic thought as a pervasive and abiding concern for the matters belonging to the community in common. Classical ideas can provide a lens for choosing to embrace or to abandon the obligation to sustain and participate in a mutually beneficial reality.

Mutual Aid

Where is the social contract working today? In response to the pandemic, mutual aid sprung up to meet people’s needs in many communities. Members participate as much as they're able to and ask for what they need. In doing so, the group can work together to sustain and provide for its members. 


Melissa Lane is the Class of 1943 Professor of Politics and the Director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Her research and teaching are focused in the area of the history of political thought, with a special expertise in ancient Greek thought, and in normative political philosophy, including especially environmental ethics and politics. She is an associated faculty member in the Princeton Department of Classics and Department of Philosophy.

Her books include The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter (PUP, 2015); Plato’s Progeny (Duckworth, 2001); and Method and Politics in Plato’s Statesman (CUP, 1998).

At Princeton, she was the first director of the Program in Values and Public Life, and is co-chair of the Steering Committee for Service and Civic Engagement and of the Climate Futures Initiative. She received a Phi Beta Kappa teaching prize in 2015. Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2009, she taught in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge and was a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Royal Historical Society, and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA).

Oct 21, 2021
Season 16: The Social Contract

Our all-new season is all about something that we most often hear about in terms of its brokenness: the social contract. We will be asking big questions about how we live together, what we owe each other, what we can ask of governments, and how we can repair what’s broken, renegotiate what never worked, or what’s not working anymore. 

Oct 19, 2021
Introducing Some of My Best Friends Are...

Subscribe to Some of My Best Friends Are at http://podcasts.pushkin.fm/futurehindsight

This week, we're sharing an episode of Some of My Best Friends Are... 

The show is hosted by Khalil Muhammad and Ben Austen, two best friends who grew up together on the South Side of Chicago in the '80s. Khalil is Black; Ben is white. They invite listeners into their conversations about the absurdities and intricacies of race in America. Mixing anecdotes, entertaining storytelling, and thoughtful debate, Some of My Best Friends Are... helps listeners make sense of our deeply divided country.

In this episode, Khalil and Ben tell each other for the first time about trips they each took to prisons abroad. Ben traveled to Finland and Norway. Khalil traveled to Germany. They ask: How did the Nazi occupation influence Germany’s modern day prison industrial complex? How is the prison guard and inmate dynamic in Norwegian facilities different from America? They dish on what made these trips so monumental and talk about whether America could ever replicate the models they observed.

Oct 07, 2021
Legislating for Change: Jessica González-Rojas


As an Assemblymember, González-Rojas works to address a variety of intersectional issues facing her community, ranging from housing to healthcare. Her prior experience as a reproductive justice advocate has trained her well for intersectional lawmaking, which is often siloed by the political process. This approach serves the people most marginalized and helps create dynamic bills that tackle multiple areas of injustice to help constituents.

Excluded Workers’ Rights

Excluded workers are not protected by many of the labor laws that govern most sectors, which include undocumented, part-time, and contract workers. They perform critical duties in our economy and have little recourse against various forms of exploitation and discrimination. During the COVID pandemic, excluded workers were labeled ‘essential’, and should be protected because they protect us and our economic system.

Reimagining Public Financing

New York City has publicly subsidized elections, but New York State and most of the rest of the country do not. An easy way to help democracy is to pass sweeping campaign finance reform to level the playing field and remove wealth from the equation. This allows a new crop of diverse voices and perspectives to succeed in elections, creating stronger, broader, legislation to help all Americans, not just rich ones.


Jessica González-Rojas serves in the New York State Assembly representing the 34th Assembly District, which includes the diverse Queens communities of Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, Woodside and Corona. She is an unapologetic social justice leader fighting for the values of dignity, justice, and equity. Jessica has dedicated her life – on both the local and national level – to fight for immigrant rights, racial justice, and gender equity.

For 13 years, Jessica served in leadership at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, the only national reproductive justice organization that is dedicated to building Latina power to advance health, dignity, and justice for 29 million Latinas, their families, and communities in the United States. She has been a leader in progressive movements for over two decades. Jessica successfully forges connections between reproductive health, gender, immigration, LGBTQ liberation, labor and Latinx civil rights, breaking down barriers between movements and building a strong Latina grassroots presence.

Jessica is a long-time leader in community and electoral politics. Prior to running for State Assembly in 2020, she was elected to the New York State Committee from 2002-2006. She has received proclamations from the New York State Senate, New York State Assembly, New York City Comptroller and New York City Council for her local and national advocacy.

You can follow her on Twitter @votejgr.

Sep 16, 2021
The Power of Voting: Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Youth Vote Power

Young people wield a lot of power when they vote. A whopping 73% of youth who were registered to vote by NextGen turned out to vote. This type of turnout can change the outcome of an election. Because voting is a habit, investing in youth leads to long-lasting change in the electorate. Letting young people know the power they have can make a tremendous difference.

Voting Rights and Immigrants

The current battle over immigrants is not just about immigration. It is also about race, power, and voting. Purging naturalized citizens, preventing DACA recipients from becoming citizens, and undercounting in the US census are all efforts to enact racist policies and to suppress votes.

Keep the Door Open

When Cristina first organized undocumented workers in Texas, she was met with hostility from pro-labor unions. Over time, they realized the work she was doing benefited everyone, and are now her allies. Leaving the door open for others to change their mind and work with you is a valuable tool that can yield positive results.


Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is a civil rights leader and former 2020 U.S. Senate candidate. She has spent the last twenty years taking on some of the most powerful special interests in her home state of Texas, organizing construction workers, immigrant mothers and young voters to build a government and economy that works for all of us.

Today, Cristina is the Executive Director of NextGen America, the nation’s largest youth voting rights organization. NextGen has registered and mobilized millions of young people to the polls, with the goal of harnessing the power of young people to reshape the political outcomes of our country – not for an election cycle but a generation.

Previously, Cristina founded two of Texas’ largest voting and civil rights organizations. She founded Jolt, a statewide organization focused on mobilizing the Latino vote, when she was six-months pregnant and in the wake of the 2016 election. Under her leadership, Jolt mobilized tens of thousands of young Latinos and developed some of the nation’s most creative strategies to engage young Latinos, like #Poderquince that supports young quinceañeras to use their sweet 15 birthdays as a platform to register and mobilize Latino voters.

You can follow her on Twitter @cristinafortx.

Sep 09, 2021
Building Progressive Power: Lala Wu

The Power of State Legislatures

State legislatures pass the laws that affect our daily lives. When Democrats won the ‘trifecta’ in Virginia in 2019, they controlled both chambers of the House and the governor’s office. Immediately, they passed voting rights legislation, abolished the death penalty, improved the criminal justice system, abolished no-knock warrants, and more.

Purple District Network

Sister District identified a gap in resources for legislators from purple districts. The Purple District Network focuses on providing support by sharing best practices, governance techniques, and strategies for being effective. They also give lawmakers access to alumni of their program, allowing for mentorship, networking, and strategizing across state lines.


Flipping and holding districts is key to progressive strategies in 2021-22, especially because of the redistricting process after the 2020 census. Democrats were unable to take any state legislatures back from Republican control last year. However, several states do have bipartisan redistricting commissions, which will make redistricting fairer for Democrats; and there are several competitive upcoming state races.


Lala Wu is a Co-Founder and the Executive Director of Sister District. Since its founding in 2016, Sister District has raised millions in small dollar donations directly for candidates and reached out to voters through doors, calls, texts, and postcards on behalf of over 100 state legislative candidates in key swing districts.

Lala has successfully led the expansion of the organization's volunteer infrastructure to over 50,000 and has also led the development of strategic partnerships with local and national organizations such as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, EMILY’s List, Human Rights Campaign, Vote Save America, and more.

Prior to Sister District, Lala clerked for federal judges in the Northern District of California and the District of Massachusetts. She was also an attorney at Morrison & Foerster LLP in San Francisco and Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP in Denver where she counseled renewable energy and real estate clients on land use, regulatory, transactional, and litigation matters. Lala graduated from U.C. Berkeley, School of Law and Barnard College of Columbia University. While at Berkeley, she served as Co-President of the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative and successfully represented a Chinese asylum-seeker through the California Asylum Representation Clinic.

You can follow her on Twitter @_lala_wu.

Sep 02, 2021
Run for Something: Amanda Litman

Helping Diverse First Time Candidates Run

Since its founding, Run for Something has helped elect 515 young, local officials across 46 states. A third of those elected officials are between 25 and 30, 10% are between the ages of 18 and 24, a third are women of color, and 11% are LGBTQ. Electing young diverse candidates compounds on itself. After transwoman Danica Roem was elected in 2017, many other trans people decided to run for office.

Local and State Races

Run for Something focuses on local and state elections because of their impact on people’s daily lives. Members of state legislatures have control over election administration, school boards have real power over what children learn, city and municipal officials have real control over police reform, and more. Winning local office is often easier to achieve than state or national leadership and has more direct impact on constituents.

Better Governance

Electing younger, more diverse candidates has resulted in better governance. Jessica Ramos of New York State has introduced groundbreaking legislation to combat wage theft; Florida State Rep Ana Eskamani helped more than 30,000 Floridians access unemployment insurance; and Texas State Rep James Talarico helped lower the price on insulin in his state.


Amanda Litman is the co-founder and executive director of Run for Something, which recruits and supports young, diverse progressives running for down-ballot office. Since launching in 2017, RFS has identified more than 75,000 young people who want to run, endorsed nearly 1,500 and elected nearly 500 across 46 states, mostly women and people of color.

Politico named Run for Something (and Amanda) one of the 50 ideas driving politics in 2018. Bloomberg called her one of the people to watch in 2019. Fortune named her to their annual 40 under 40 list in 2020.

Before launching Run for Something, Amanda worked as a digital strategist — she served as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, the digital director for Charlie Crist's 2014 Florida gubernatorial campaign, the deputy email director for Organizing for Action, and an email writer for Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

You can follow her on Twitter @amandalitman.

Aug 26, 2021
Electing New York Women: Brette McSweeney

Pro-Choice Democratic Women

Eleanor’s Legacy specifically helps pro-choice Democratic candidates for several reasons. First, due to a long-standing Republican majority in the state legislature, New York State had not codified Roe v. Wade protections until 2019. Second, not all Democrats are pro-choice, and Eleanor’s Legacy only supports candidates who are pro-choice. Lastly, clearly stating your values and building your brand always helps in politics.

Importance of State and Local Office

Controlling state and local office can mean huge differences for everyday voters. When Democrats took control of the New York State legislature in 2019, they significantly expanded access to voting, immediately protected abortion rights, began to address climate change, and protected survivors of childhood sexual abuse. None of these laws would have been passed if Democrats hadn’t won in local elections.

Healthy Political Landscape

Although things are improving politically in New York, there is still work to be done to create a truly healthy political landscape. For instance, voter turnout needs to climb beyond the usual 20%. Just as important, more women need to be elected to executive roles. The gains made by women in local and state offices are promising. However, electing a woman mayor of NYC would go a long way in creating a healthier political landscape.


Brette McSweeney is the president of Eleanor’s Legacy, the only statewide organization in New York focused on recruiting, training, and funding pro-choice Democratic women candidates at the state and local level. She was a member of the New York Leadership Council for Hillary for America in 2016 and the deputy New York State director for women’s outreach in 2008. Brette is a graduate of Georgetown and Columbia.

You can follow her on Twitter @blmcsweeney.

Aug 19, 2021
Black Women’s Political Power: Glynda Carr

Normalize Black Women’s Leadership

Normalizing Black women’s leadership means that it is as plausible to have a Black woman represent a majority-white district as it is to have a white man represent a majority-Black district. Supporting Black women candidates in all districts will allow more qualified, more diverse candidates everywhere.

Political Power of Black women

Black women are the building blocks of successful political coalitions on any level of government. They were instrumental in Obama’s election, the “Blue Wave” in 2018, and in 2020. They are the best return on our voting investment because they also organize their families, neighborhoods, churches, unions, and other social groups. Black women have immense political power.

Participating in Democracy

Voting is only a starting point for participating in our democracy. Organizing for a cause, proposing legislation, and holding power accountable are all ways to be governing partners for our elected officials all year long. By being active participants, we create an environment to innovate our democracy and shape public policy.


Glynda C. Carr is at the center of the national movement to grow Black women’s political power from the voting booth to elected office.

In 2011, she and Kimberly Peeler-Allen co-founded Higher Heights to address the dearth of organizing resources for politically active Black women and the lack of support for prospective candidates seeking elected office. Through her leadership, the organization has developed several innovative programs and efforts that have quickly solidified its reputation as the political home and go-to resource for progressive Black women.

Carr is the co-creator of #BlackWomenLead—a powerful coalition movement that is creating an environment for Black women to run, win, and lead—and the Higher Heights-powered #BlackWomenVote, a nonpartisan voter-activism campaign that serves as an independent and trusted voice for Black women’s political concerns. Her work to date has helped to elect 11 Black women to the U.S. Congress, including one to the Senate, and increase the number of Black women holding statewide executive office, including helping to elect the first Black woman to serve as New York State attorney general.

You can follow her on Twitter @GlyndaCarr.

Aug 12, 2021
Electing More Women: Amanda Hunter


Women need to highlight their credentials early and often, particularly in economics. Voters do recognize that women understand kitchen table issues and that they mostly shoulder the emotional labor of a family. Effective campaigns use action-oriented language that illustrates how women are effective leaders in a crisis, will be accountable team leaders, and listen to experts and constituents. Finally, women who appear likable are more electable.

Addressing Sexism

Voters expect women candidates to call out sexism. It’s a chance for a woman to show how she can stand up for herself and, in turn, for her constituents. Gender bias against women is common among both men and women. Confronting these biases—such as ending the double standard in what we perceive as required qualifications—will make it possible for more women to run for office.

Building a Pipeline of Women Candidates

Electing a woman to the White House requires building a pipeline of strong women candidates in public office nationwide. Writing grants and working with groups that promote women make it possible for more women to win elections. When we see more and more powerful women in politics, gender stereotypes are less likely to be reinforced.


Amanda Hunter leads the Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s nonpartisan efforts to advance women’s political equality and increase women’s representation. With extensive communications experience, Amanda brings her strategic insight to the Foundation’s work.

Prior to becoming Executive Director, Amanda was the Foundation’s Research and Communications Director. In this role, she was responsible for promoting the Barbara Lee Family Foundation’s mission to advance women’s representation in American politics by leading all research and communications efforts.

Previously, Amanda served as Director of Marketing and Communications at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, America’s first museum of modern art, and as Senior Press Representative at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, leading media relations efforts on events like The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and Kennedy Center Honors. She also served as Deputy Communications Director at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade association for record companies.

You can follow her on Twitter @ahuntah.

Aug 05, 2021
Diverse Women in Politics: Kelly Dittmar

Motivations and Perspectives

The goal of promoting women to run for office is not simply to achieve parity in Congress or in State legislatures. Rather, it should be to recognize that women offer a variety of perspectives and lived experiences that men lack. In addition, women have faced more barriers than men to be elected and are generally more motivated to get things done. 

Confronting Our Biases

Toughness, experience in national security, and negotiating tactics are often thought of as ideal leadership qualities, which are viewed as inherently male characteristics. Although female leaders do often possess these skills, championing women also means that we need to confront such biases and value traits like compassion, cooperation, and consensus building skills.

Women’s Interests

All women, like all men, are motivated by a large number of factors in forming political opinions. Our senses of identity are not solely based on gender, which is why there is no such thing as the “women’s agenda.” Women see the world through racial, social, and class identities, which often conflict with and supersede gender identity. However, these factors do intertwine with gender in public policy decisions.


Kelly Dittmar is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University–Camden and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. At CAWP, she manages national research projects, helps to develop and implement CAWP’s research agenda, and contributes to CAWP reports, publications, and analyses. She also works with CAWP’s programs for women’s public leadership and has been an expert source and commentator for media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, PBS, The New York Times, and The Washington Post

She is the co-author of A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Representation Matters and author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns. Dittmar’s research focuses on gender and American political institutions.

Dittmar was an American Political Science Association (APSA) Congressional Fellow from 2011 to 2012. Dittmar earned her B.A. from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI and her Ph.D. from Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

You can follow her on Twitter@kdittmar.

Jul 29, 2021
The Chicago 7: Mark Levine

Publication of Transcript

Levine and the co-editors were outraged by what was happening in the trial and wanted to make sure the general public knew what was going on in that courtroom. They decided to buy the transcripts from the court reporter and edited over 22,000 pages of transcript into a compilation of the most shocking colloquies, which reveal the immense effort put forth by the government to quash dissent against the war in Vietnam and the injustice of Judge Hoffman’s court. About 180,000 copies were sold shortly after the book was published.


Judge Julius Hoffman was anything but fair and impartial during the Trial of the Chicago 7. He openly disdained the defendants and their attorneys, accused them of insulting him, threw some of the defense attorneys in jail, and even ordered the physical gagging of Bobby Seale, the sole Black defendant who was not even part of the protests during the convention, for four days. The guilty verdict and the trial proceedings radicalized a lot of young people at that time.

Power of Protest

The Trial of the Chicago 7 helped popularize the anti-war movement, which was critical in America’s eventual withdrawal from Vietnam. In response to the trial and the beating of protesters during the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, massive marches by conscientious objectors became more intense around the country. The United States ended the war in 1974, not only because it was losing, but also because of public pressure to do so.


Mark L. Levine is a lawyer, writer, and teacher who practiced corporate banking and publishing law in New York City for over forty years. Together with George McNamee and Daniel L. Greenberg, they published The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Levine is also an experienced voter protection lawyer. His previous books include Negotiating a Book Contract and The Complete Book of Bible Quotations. A graduate of Columbia College, NYU School of Law, and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, he has taught at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Zicklin School of Business/Baruch College.

Jul 08, 2021
Responsible Drug Use: Dr. Carl L. Hart

American Ideals

The Declaration of Independence clearly lists the promises Americans are entitled to: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If people want to use drugs to pursue that happiness, they have a right to do so under the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson himself argued that a government deciding what we are allowed to ingest would be like living under tyranny. Drug prohibition policy, which is based on lies about the negative effects of drug use, would be un-American to him.

Legalization and Decriminalization

Legalization is the foundation of a humane drug policy because it makes room for regulation. Regulation can generate tax revenue and allows for quality control, which in turn ensures users are not taking adulterated substances that may not be safe. Decriminalization of drugs means you will not go to jail for using or owning certain drugs. However, selling drugs is still a criminal offense. America needs both legalization and decriminalization.

Average Users

The average drug user in America is the average American across all income brackets. The vast majority of drug users are responsible adults who hold jobs, pay taxes, are good parents, and will never be addicted. They consume drugs in the way most people use tobacco or alcohol. Only between 10-30% of drug users—even of substances like heroin and alcohol—are addicted. The false narrative that drug users are criminals, addicts, or mentally deficient is harmful and perpetuates prohibition drug policies.


Dr. Carl L. Hart is the Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University and the Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry. Professor Hart has published numerous scientific and popular articles in the area of neuropsychopharmacology and is co-author of the textbook Drugs, Society and Human Behavior (with Charles Ksir). He has appeared on multiple podcasts, radio and television shows—including Real Time with Bill Maher—and has also appeared in several documentary films including the award-winning “The House I Live In.” His essays have been published in several popular publications including The New York Times, Scientific American, The Nation, Ebony, The Root, and O Globo (Brazil’s leading newspaper).

You can follow him on Twitter @drcarlhart.

Jul 02, 2021
The Punishment Bureaucracy: Alec Karakatsanis

Punishment Bureaucracy

The Punishment Bureaucracy defines the array of institutions that powerful members of our society have constructed to enforce their dominance in society. This includes police officers, probation officers, prosecutors, judges, private prisons, companies who profit off prisoners, handcuff and police gear manufacturers, and many others involved in the caging of Americans. Instead of being a justice system, the Punishment Bureaucracy helps maintain the status quo and profits massively from incarceration. 

Who Gets Incarcerated?

Our current system is used for social control, not public safety or preventing crime. Police often justify their existence to protect civilians from violent crime. However, only 4% of all police time is spent on violent crime. Most police time is spent punishing those who cannot afford to pay fines or those in possession of marijuana or other drugs. The most common arrest in the US is driving with a suspended license, and suspension most often occurs when someone can’t afford to pay a court fee. Police spend most of their time controlling sections of the population to protect the interests of elites, not solving crime and arresting criminals.

Justice Reform

Many of the leading ‘criminal justice reformers’ are the same people who built up mass incarceration and the punishment bureaucracy. For example, bail reform from the 1980s has paradoxically resulted in tripling the number of pre-trial detainees. Instead of calling for additional funding for police training or body cameras, we need to increased spending on arts and education, proper mental health counseling, and many other real improvements that improve everyday lives. Our current legal system is designed to control the population; working within that framework is unlikely to yield positive results.


Alec Karakatsanis founded the non-profit Civil Rights Corps and serves as Executive Director.  Before that, he was a civil rights lawyer and public defender with the Special Litigation Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia; a federal public defender in Alabama, representing impoverished people accused of federal crimes; and co-founder of the non-profit organization Equal Justice Under Law. Alec is interested in ending human caging, surveillance, the death penalty, immigration laws, war, and inequality. 

He graduated from Yale College in 2005 with a degree in Ethics, Politics, & Economics and Harvard Law School in 2008, where he was a Supreme Court Chair of the Harvard Law Review.

If you’re a teacher or professor assigning this book to your class, be sure to reach out to contact@civilrightscorps.org so that you can get a free copy for your students and for an incarcerated person!    

You can follow him on Twitter @equalityAlec.

Jun 24, 2021
White Collar Crime: Jennifer Taub

White Collar Crime

White collar crime, as originally defined by Edwin Sutherland in 1939, are offenses committed by someone of high social status and respectability in the course of their occupation. Today, we tend to define white collar crime by the nature of the offense, instead of the status of the offender. We think of financial crimes such as fraud or embezzlement, which have a devastating impact on huge portions of the country. Precisely because of the high status of white collar criminals, very few are prosecuted and held accountable for their actions.

Massive Scale

White collar crime operates on a massive scale. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, has pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to its opioid marketing scheme. Over 200,000 people have died of prescription opioid overdoses. In addition, embezzlement and fraud cost US citizens an estimated $800 billion per year. By contrast, property crimes like larceny and theft are heavily policed and account for only about $16 billion in costs per year.

Future Accountability

The Department of Justice can, and should, create a new division that focuses on prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating big money criminals. Prosecutors need better tools to succeed, such as: strengthening laws surrounding white collar crime; ending the practice of anonymous shell companies to prevent money laundering; corporate transparency laws; as well as protecting and promoting whistleblowers and journalists who uncover these types of crimes.


Jennifer Taub is a legal scholar and advocate whose research and writing focuses on corporate governance, banking and financial market regulation, and white collar crime. Her latest book is Big Dirty Money: The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime.

Taub is a professor of law at the Western New England University School of Law where she teaches Civil Procedure, White Collar Crime, and other business and commercial law courses, and was the Bruce W. Nichols Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School during the fall 2019 semester.

You can follow her on Twitter @jentaub

Jun 17, 2021
Abuse and Accountability: Martha Nussbaum


Pride and greed are vices of domination that are at the root of sexual harassment and assault. Narcissistic gender pride casts women as objects to be used, instead of full human beings. This objectification has made it acceptable to subjugate women. Greed prevents holding the rich and powerful members of society accountable, often making it easier for them to offend repeatedly with impunity.

Sexual Assault and Harassment

Sexual assault and harassment are abuses of power, most often of men over women. Sexual harassment is a federal offense, defined as unwanted sexual discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which includes hostile work environments, and a pattern of unwelcome discrimination by gender. It can be purely verbal and discriminatory. By contrast, sexual assault means any non-consensual sexual act that includes a wide range from touching to rape, and depends on each state. This is a crime, and thus is prosecuted at the state level.

Radical Love and Justice

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated for purifying anger and discarding retributive punishment. Retribution and outrage do not create healing or overcome grief. Instead, he proposed combining outrage with a forward-looking faith and a love of humans that recognizes the root of goodness in everyone. Seeking justice through reconciliation and love is a radical way to construct new structures and new relationships, free of revenge and retribution.


Martha C. Nussbaum is currently the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, appointed in both the Department of Philosophy and the Law School. In addition, she is an Associate in the Classics Department, the Divinity School, and the Political Science Department and a Member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies. She received her BA from New York University and her MA and PhD from Harvard University. She has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford Universities.

Professor Nussbaum is internationally renowned for her work in Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, feminist philosophy, political philosophy, and philosophy and the arts and is actively engaged in teaching and advising students in these subjects. She has received numerous awards and honorary degrees and is the author of many books and articles. She has received honorary degrees from sixty-three colleges and universities in the US, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Jun 10, 2021
Coercive Work: Erin Hatton

Non-Traditional Labor

Several kinds of non-traditional labor in the US leave Americans vulnerable to coercion at work. Prisoners work during their sentence at reduced or even no wages. Student athletes also work hard in employment-like conditions but do not get remunerated. Workfare workers are forced to do menial labor in order to qualify for welfare. Graduate students also work for their advisors and don’t qualify for minimum wage. Although not technically considered employment in the US, these are jobs and should be considered as such.

Status Coercion

Unfair treatment is allowed to proliferate in non-traditional workplaces because bosses hold enormous power. Prisoners are forced to work to keep their “good standing” status, and are denied the right to exercise, purchase better meals, or call loved ones. Student athletes are at the whim of their coaches and must strive to stay in their good graces to receive playing time. Workfare workers are forced to work the menial tasks set forth by their bosses or risk losing their welfare eligibility. Graduate students must stay in the good graces of the professor they work under or risk losing their work or place in the university.

Reframing Coercive Work

The first step to ending status coercion is to reframe how we think about work. We must acknowledge that graduate students and student athletes—no matter how lucky or privileged—are workers and deserve the protection other workers get. We need to acknowledge that prisoners are also laborers, and that workfare workers are performing real work. Once they are treated as workers, we must give them the tools to bargain collectively, assert their rights, and earn minimum wage.


Erin Hatton, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her research focuses on work and political economy, while also extending into the fields of social inequality, labor, law and social policy.

Hatton’s new book, Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment analyzes four very different--and unusual--groups of workers:  incarcerated, workfare, college athlete, and graduate student workers. Drawing on more than 120 in-depth interviews across these four groups, in this book she uncovers a new form of labor coercion and analyzes its consequences for workers in America.

Her first book, The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America, weaves together gender, race, class and work in a cultural analysis of the temporary help industry and rise of the new economy.

You can follow her on Twitter @Eehatton.

Jun 03, 2021
Understanding Poverty: Mark Rank

Musical Chairs

American poverty is a bit like a game of musical chairs. The US only has good opportunities for 8 out of 10 Americans, meaning 2 people always lose. Instead of adding new opportunities or chairs, we shuffle the opportunities around, but 2 of every 10 people still end up without the opportunities. This shows that poverty is a result of the systems we have in place, not personal shortcoming, and if we continue shuffling the opportunities, we will continue having a poverty problem.

Poverty Myths

Being poor in the US is subject to several damaging myths that make it harder to reduce poverty rates country wide. We think of a poverty rate between 10-15% of the US population, but shockingly 60-75% of Americans will spend at least one year of their lives in poverty. Another myth blames poor Americans for their own poverty, not the systems that maintain poverty in America. We also assume the costs of poverty are borne by the poor, but US taxpayers pay more than $1 trillion per year due to the externalities of poverty.

Social Safety Nets

The US has a much weaker social safety net than other developed countries. We view poverty as a personal shortcoming that is not to be rewarded with welfare programs or healthcare. Since we think the poor are undeserving of help, we do not invest in social safety nets, creating high rates of poverty. Social safety nets reduce poverty by 75-80% in other counties, whereas the US safety net only reduces it by 25-30%. The most successful anti-poverty program in the US is Social Security.


Mark R. Rank is recognized as a foremost expert on issues of poverty, inequality, and social justice. His research on the life course risk of poverty has demonstrated for the first time that most Americans will experience poverty at some point during their lives. To date, he has written 10 books on a range of subjects, including an exploration of the American Dream, a new understanding of poverty and inequality, and the role of luck and chance in shaping the course of our lives. In addition, he has published articles in numerous academic journals across a wide variety of fields.

He has provided research expertise to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as many national organizations involved in issues of economic and social justice. His work has been cited by then-President Barack Obama, as well as Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

You can check out his book Poorly Understood here.

May 27, 2021
Better Peacebuilding: Séverine Autesserre

Ideal Peacebuilding

The ideal peacebuilding model is context-specific. It heavily relies on grassroots peacebuilding efforts by the local community to address specific causes of violence. It also relies on outsiders using the traditional top-down approach to connect with government officials, elites, rebel leaders, and other power players. These responses should be led by locals with knowledge and supported by outsiders with resources. Communities must make the decisions that impact themselves, instead of outsider interveners.

Bottom-Up Peacebuilding

Bottom-up peacebuilding is a way to end conflict that focuses on identifying the roots causes of violence in a specific community, and addressing them directly. It engages all participants to reach long-lasting solutions to distinct and sometimes unrelated issues, resolve disputes through mediation, and work with outside organizations to help fund grassroots operations. Bottom-up peacebuilding has often succeeded where top-down peacebuilding efforts have failed.

Peace, Inc.

Peace, Inc. refers to the standard worldwide system of intervention and peacebuilding, also known as top-down peacebuilding. It focuses on brokering deals between elites, leaders, diplomats, and other high-level players, while ignoring the communities that are directly affected by conflict. It treats outsiders as experts and relegates locals to an inferior status. While outside intervention can bring expertise and resources to war-torn areas, Peace, Inc. tactics are often practically ineffective and can even result in harm. 


Séverine Autesserre is an award-winning author, peacebuilder, and researcher, as well as a Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is the author of The Trouble with the CongoPeaceland, and The Frontlines of Peace, in addition to articles for publications such as Foreign AffairsInternational Organization, and The New York Times.

She has been involved intimately in the world of international aid for more than twenty years. She has conducted research in twelve different conflict zones, from Colombia to Somalia to Israel and the Palestinian territories. She has worked for Doctors Without Borders in places like Afghanistan and Congo, and at the United Nations headquarters in the United States. Her research has helped shape the intervention strategies of several United Nations departments, foreign affairs ministries, and non-governmental organizations, as well as numerous philanthropists and activists. She has also been a featured speaker at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the United Nations Security Council.

You can follow her on Twitter at @SeverineAR.

May 20, 2021
Public-Private Paradox: Colin Jerolmack

Public-Private Paradox:

America has clearly delineated public and private domains: the public domain is regulated, and the private domain is not. A public-private paradox occurs when a decision made in the private domain creates issues in the public domain. In the case of fracking, choosing to allow drilling in your land is a private decision. That decision creates many externalities such as overuse of roads, unwanted sights and sounds, contaminated well water for the neighborhood, which harms the public good.

Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons explains how individual decisions pertaining to common resources can lead to degradation of that resource, hurting everyone. It’s in everyone’s own best interest to use as much of a common resource as possible, because if they don’t, someone else will. Unfortunately, when everyone does this the shared resource is often quickly degraded. In the case of fracking, many landowners decided to lease land because their neighbors were doing it, and choosing not to lease would mean absorbing the externalities of fracking without any compensation.

American Property Rights

American landowners own their land “up to heaven, and down to hell,” meaning they own both the air and subsurface rights along with their land. This is quite different from almost all other countries, where subsurface mineral rights are owned, regulated, and sold by government bodies. Landowners in the US make entirely private decisions to allow oil and gas drilling on their property without the consent of their neighbors, and in some cases without any regulation from local, state, or federal governments.


Colin Jerolmack is a professor of sociology and environmental studies at NYU, where he also teaches courses on human-animal relations and chairs the Environmental Studies Department. His first book, The Global Pigeon explores how human-animal relations shape our experience of urban life. His second book, Up To Heaven and Down to Hell: Fracking, Freedom, and Community in an American Town follows residents of a rural Pennsylvania community who leased their land for gas drilling in order to understand how the exercise of property rights can undermine the commonwealth. He also co-edited the volume Approaches to Ethnography: Modes of Representation and Analysis in Participant Observation with Shamus Khan. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.

You can follow Colin on Twitter @jerolmack.

May 12, 2021
Boosting Mental Immunity: Andy Norman

New Socratic Method

Socrates used direct questioning to make ancient Athenians reflect critically on their views, which often made people look foolish. The New Socratic Method is a kinder, gentler version that can actually change people’s minds without resentment. Clarifying questions can reveal why ideas are bad without antagonism. The New Socratic Method can be used to strengthen mental immunity and root out bad ideas.

Reason’s Fulcrum

Reason’s Fulcrum is a key part of the mind’s mental immunity. It states that if two people have differing points of view, the one with the best reasons supporting their argument will “win” and the loser must reflect and change their mind. When Reason’s Fulcrum is used, good reasons can change people’s minds. When it isn’t working, people lose the sense that speech and actions have accountability, and it becomes very difficult to change minds.

Substantive Collaborative Dialogue

One of the best ways to strengthen mental immunity in yourself and others is to have the difficult conversations you might otherwise shy away from. Asking hard and often philosophical questions like “What is a bad idea?” or engaging with family and friends who hold bad ideas can actually boost your mental immunity. Collaborative reasoning and exchanging honest dialogue is the best way to spread good ideas and build mental immunity.


Andy Norman, Ph.D., directs the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. A public philosopher and award-winning author, he is developing the conceptual foundations of cognitive immunology—the emerging science of mental immunity. He thinks this science explains how demagogues short-circuit minds and how ideologies corrupt moral understanding. In his book Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think, he identifies several mental immune disorders and develops the kind of mind-vaccine that could inoculate future generations against the worst outbreaks of viral nonsense.

You can follow him on Twitter @DrAndyNo.

May 06, 2021
The Erosion of America: Sarah Kendzior

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The Erosion of America

Since the 1980s America has experienced an erosion of government regulations, societal norms, and equality. Trickle-down economics created a massive wealth gap. The Iran-Contra scandal set a new, low accountability standard for the highest levels of government. 24-hour news appeared as the Fairness Doctrine fell. This background, coupled with reality TV and social media, provided the perfect conditions to mainstream someone like Donald Trump.

Myth of American Exceptionalism

Every country is susceptible to democracy decay. American exceptionalism has helped mainstream government corruption because it blinds us from warning signs like illegal government acts or the threat of authoritarianism. Pretending that institutional collapse cannot happen in the US, makes it difficult to admit that we have experienced decades of decline in our institutions.

Trump: Political Insider

The idea that Trump is a political neophyte is a PR fiction the media attached itself to in the run-up of the 2016 election. Trump was mentored by GOP operative Roy Cohn and flirted with a presidential run as early as 1984. He considered running again in 1988, and then ran in 2000, and again in 2012. Trump has a more than 40-year interest in politics and has remained close with political operatives like Roger Stone throughout.


Sarah Kendzior is a writer who lives in St Louis, Missouri. She is best known for her book Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America,  her reporting on political and economic problems in the US, her prescient coverage of the 2016 election and the Trump administration, and her academic research on authoritarian states in Central Asia.

She is also the co-host of Gaslit Nation, a weekly podcast which covers corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of authoritarianism around the world.

Since 2017, she has been covering the transformation of the US under the Trump administration, writing on authoritarian tactics, kleptocracy, racism and xenophobia, media, voting rights, technology, the environment, and the Russian interference case, among other topics. She is an op-ed columnist for the Globe and Mail, where she focuses primarily on US politics. She is also a frequent contributor to Fast CompanyNBC News, and other national outlets. From 2012-2014 she was an op-ed columnist for Al Jazeera English.

In addition to working as a journalist, she is a researcher and scholar. She has a PhD in anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis (2012) and an MA in Central Eurasian Studies from Indiana University (2006). Most of her work focuses on the authoritarian states of the former Soviet Union and how the internet affects political mobilization, self-expression, and trust.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahkendzior.

Apr 29, 2021
America’s Evil Geniuses: Kurt Andersen

Evil Geniuses

Influential conservatives have capitalized on a wave of cultural nostalgia after the turbulent 1960s to turn our economy into a version of extreme capitalism. Economists like Milton Friedman, politicians like Ronald Reagan and Mitch McConnell, and CEOs like the Koch Brothers have used money, policy, secrecy, and cultural movements to demonize the federal government and rig our economy for the rich. Together with neoliberalism from the left, the New Deal was replaced by the raw deal. 

Investing in America

The US government is responsible for many of the greatest inventions of the last century, but does not capitalize on these discoveries. If the government acted like a private enterprise, it would have more money to invest in communities as well as support innovation. In Republican-led, individualist Alaska, royalties earned from natural gas and oil drillers is distributed to all Alaskans every year. The program is a form of socialism, a universal basic income. The government could use the Alaska model to reap the benefits of its assets, like charging industry for air pollution.

Constant Engagement

Continuous civic engagement is the way to undo decades of economic and civic destruction. Showing up to vote once every two or four years is not enough. Doing the steady work of championing good candidates who believe in the big ideas, and discussing the issues in a non-binary way are key to achieving basic fairness. Engagement looks different around the US, and what works in Queens, New York, will not work in Colorado or Nebraska.


Kurt Andersen is a writer. He spent his first 20 years in Nebraska, and most of the rest in New York City. His most recent book is Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History, a companion volume to Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, both of which were New York Times bestsellers.

He was the host and co-creator of Studio 360, the cultural magazine show produced by Public Radio International from 2000 to 2020. It was broadcast on 250 stations and distributed by podcast to almost 1 million listeners each week. Andersen was honored twice by New York State Associated Press for the best radio interview of the year, and the program won Peabody Awards twice.

As an editor, Kurt co-founded the transformative satirical magazine Spy and served as editor-in-chief of New York. He also co-founded Inside, a digital and print publication covering the media and entertainment industries, oversaw a relaunch of Colors magazine, co-founded the online newsletter Very Short List, and served as editor-at-large for Random House.

He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, has been awarded honorary doctorates by the Rhode Island School of Design and Pratt Institute, and taught at the Art Center College of Design (where he was "Visionary in Residence") and the School of Visual Arts. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Anne Kreamer.

You can follow him on Twitter @kbandersen.

Apr 22, 2021
Season 14 Trailer

We are launching an all-new authors’ season, focusing on books that get into the weeds of America’s most vexing problems. We’ll be talking about everything from criminal justice, philosophy, to economics, labor, and poverty.

Our first guest is the legendary Kurt Andersen, on his latest book: Evil Geniuses, The Unmaking of America: A Recent History. He looks under the hood of the movements that powered our continuous shift to the right, starting with a strong yearning for nostalgia.

Sarah Kendzior, author of Hiding In Plain Sight, The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, follows on the heels of that interview with a deep dive into how the former president was decades in the making.

And after that, we speak to Andy Norman, the author of Mental Immunity, Infectious Ideas, Mind Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think. He offers tools to inoculate our minds against the worst forms of ideological contagion.

It will be a thought-provoking season of visionary and practical ideas to reimagine our future.

Apr 17, 2021
Pandemic Podcasting: Laura Joyce Davis

Being a Good Neighbor

Solving community problems can begin with a simple, common goal of being a good neighbor. Deep human relationships with people make the hard conversations—where we don’t agree—possible. Finding common ground with different backgrounds can be hard, but focusing on caring for your neighbors strengthens communities and personal relationships alike.


Personal stories are an incredibly powerful tool for community building. Stories are the ways we make sense of life. When you tell someone your story, they stop seeing you as an issue or an enemy, and look at you as a person. This shared humanity lets us see the world through others’ perspectives, which is critical to being a good neighbor. 

Society’s Full Potential

Future Hindsight and Shelter in Place share a common goal: to help us realize our best selves. Shelter in Place focuses on the microscale through personal stories and motivation. Future Hindsight hopes to inspire listeners go from the personal to get engaged on the community level and help realize our society’s full potential.

Find out more about Laura and Shelter in Place:

Many whose life has been overturned by the pandemic are struggling — yet the Shelter in Place team’s response was not simply to flee, but to create. Narrated by Laura Joyce Davis, Shelter in Place  is the podcast that follows their travels — physical and emotional — through the pandemic. Through open-hearted storytelling and with an inviting voice, Laura gives us the agency to face the day, with a friend.

She writes to explore the triumph of the human spirit in a broken world. A Fulbright scholar, Laura also won the Poets & Writers Exchange Award, earned Pushcart Prize and Best New American Voices nominations for fiction, and was a finalist for WNYC’s podcast accelerator. In previous lives, she was a running coach, a capella singer, and scholarship athlete.

Laura's writing has often intertwined with nonprofit work. She writes for Micro Business Mentors, a nonprofit providing entrepreneurial loans and training in developing countries. As a Fulbright scholar to the Philippines in 2010, Laura spent a year working with sex trafficking survivors, whose courage in the face of corrosive injustice inspired her novel, which won the 2013 California Writers Exchange Award.

You can follow her on Twitter @LauraJoyceDavis.

Apr 15, 2021
Our Unjust SCOTUS: Adam Cohen

Campaign Finance Laws

The Supreme Court often operates like a conservative activist group to help the GOP. One of the most egregious ways they've tipped the scales is in campaign finance. Starting with their infamous Buckley ruling in 1976, SCOTUS categorized corporate political donations as free speech. Their 2011 follow-up, Citizens United, removed almost all limitations on political spending, creating a vast increase in campaign spending. Rich Americans and corporations are now free to give as much as they want to whoever they want. This has greatly benefitted Republicans at the cost of electoral fairness.


The liberal, pro-New Deal, Warren Court was replaced in 1969 by the conservative Burger Court. The contrast was stark. One of the Warren Court's last cases provided significant due process protections to poor Americans whose welfare benefits were in danger. As soon as the Nixon-appointed Burger stepped in, decisions changed. The Burger Court immediately heard a case involving family caps on welfare and ruled in the opposite direction. Families with more than four children could only receive benefits for the maximum cap of four children, exacerbating poverty for large families. With that ruling, a new tone was struck and SCOTUS has ruled against the poor ever since.


The conservative Burger Court also devastated public education. It reversed a Texas decision, which had ruled that the state must fund rich and poor school districts equally. This SCOTUS decision essentially created a tiered school system with affluent neighborhoods on the top and poor ones on the bottom. Next, it ruled that desegregation efforts in schools could not cross urban/suburban lines. This transformative ruling undercut desegregation efforts and exacerbated schooling inequities. Today, many schools are segregated by both race and class because of these rulings.

Find out more:

Adam Cohen, a former member of the New York Times editorial board and senior writer for Time magazine, is the author of Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America. He is also the author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck and Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was president of volume 100 of the Harvard Law Review.

You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamscohen.

Apr 08, 2021
Raising White Kids: Jennifer Harvey

Race-Conscious Parenting

Race-conscious parenting affirms that we should notice race, and to recognize racism and racial injustice. It rejects colorblindness, which is essentially white silence. Race-conscious parenting embraces multicultural, multiracial communities and encourages children to be active participants in anti-racist engagement. Race-conscious parenting is a commitment to teach about racism and activate for racial justice.

Smog of Racism

Racism is like smog: it exists whether we notice it or not. It’s worse when we don’t realize it exists because then we do not counter it. It doesn’t take an adult to actively teach racism to children. White families often don’t realize or talk about the smog of racism, which creates a space for children to interpret the world themselves. They will draw their own conclusions when systems of injustice remain invisible to them.

Health White Identity

Healthy white identity in the US is anti-racist. It acknowledges the full history of the nation, both good and bad, from enslavement and genocide to the abolition and civil rights movements. It also rejects white guilt, minimizing vulnerability to white nationalist recruitment. Whites have agency to choose what kind of white person they want to be, reject racist legacies, and to work across racial lines to create a more just society for everyone.

Find out more:

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey is an award-winning author, educator and public speaker. Her work focuses on ethics and race, gender, sexuality, activism, spirituality and politics—with particular attention to how religion shows up in these dimensions of our shared social life. Her greatest passion and longtime work, however, persistently and pointedly return to racial justice and white anti-racism.

Her most recent books, Raising White Kids and Dear White Christians, take a decidedly practical turn. They bring her experience as an anti-racist activist and educator to bear on conversations about how white communities can more deeply support racial justice work being led by communities of color. She is also the author of Whiteness and Morality: Pursuing Racial Justice through Reparations and Sovereignty and a co-editor of Disrupting White Supremacy: White People on What We Need To Do.

As our nation grapples with how to challenge and change white socialization to support anti-racist development in children and youth, she draws on her experience as both a seasoned activist and a parent to offer concrete and accessible models for doing so. Her work is rooted in evidence-based developmental theory, but also a relentless vision of a more just future in which all of us can flourish.

You can follow her on Twitter @DrJenHarvey.

Mar 24, 2021
Equity in Healthcare: Georges Benjamin, MD

Expanding Access

Health insurance is essential to accessing healthcare. The uninsured do not get routine preventive care and, therefore, experience lower health outcomes. We must have a system that includes everyone, whether through private or public sector options. The Affordable Care Act, which was just bolstered by the newly passed American Rescue Plan, goes a long way, but many states still need to expand Medicaid in order to close the insurance gap.

COVID in Minority Communities

COVID hit minority communities hardest. African-Americans were three times more likely to get COVID, and twice as likely to die from it, as their white counterparts. Structural discrimination means more minorities are in public-facing jobs, working in grocery stores or driving buses, increasing their exposure to the virus. Minorities also traditionally suffer from being in jobs that don’t offer health insurance, living in neighborhoods with no doctors, and facing discrimination within the healthcare system.

Representation in the Medical Profession

Diversity at all levels of our medical system, from the top down, is critical to building more equitable health infrastructure. Increasing diversity in healthcare professionals, such as doctors, would be a good place to start. Currently, the rate of African-American men going to medical school is lower than when Dr. Benjamin attended school. In addition, diverse health professionals should be groomed and trained, and given the opportunity to become leaders.

Find out more:

Dr. Georges Benjamin is known as one of the nation's most influential physician leaders because he speaks passionately and eloquently about the health issues having the most impact on our nation today. From his firsthand experience as a physician, he knows what happens when preventive care is not available and when the healthy choice is not the easy choice. As Executive Director of the American Public Health Association (APHA) since 2002, he is leading the Association's push to make America the healthiest nation in one generation.

Prior to APHA, Benjamin served as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He became Secretary of Health in Maryland in April 1999, following four years as its deputy secretary for public health services. As Secretary, Benjamin oversaw the expansion and improvement of the state's Medicaid program.

Benjamin, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. He is board-certified in internal medicine and a fellow of the American College of Physicians, a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, a fellow emeritus of the American College of Emergency Physicians and an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health.

You can follow the American Public Health Association @PublicHealth.

Mar 18, 2021
Inclusive Excellence: Franklin Gilliam

Inclusive excellence

Diverse leadership and promoting inclusive excellence benefits everyone. In fact, it’s critical to success in any organization. Always including women and minorities in a pool of job candidates increases the likelihood in finding the best possible person. This is also especially important in traditionally non-diverse positions or departments, like the IT department. Diverse leaders can both promote new ways of thinking and prevent harmful decisions from being made.

Social Mobility

Higher education provides social mobility to many students, and is perhaps the most important aspect of a college degree. Many of UNC Greensboro’s students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but arrive with intelligence and drive to succeed. UNCG is committed to replicating some of the advantages of well-off students for its own student body and delivering excellence in education. Unsurprisingly, UNCG is rated number 1 for social mobility in North Carolina. 

Get Invited to the Cookout

Cross cultural understanding is key to an open and diverse future. Getting invited to the cookout by a person from another cultural background is a great way to get outside of your own identity, form new connections with new groups, and learn about different ways of life. The most important step in overcoming ignorance and indifference involves listening and being open to the experience of discovering the norms and traditions of other groups.

Find out more:

Dr. Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., was elected the eleventh Chancellor of UNC Greensboro (UNCG) in 2015, and brings a wealth of experience from a career that spans more than 30 years in higher education. During his tenure, UNCG has surpassed a record 20,000 students; grown its endowment, research enterprise, and overall facilities and campus infrastructure; significantly increased its fundraising; and elevated the presence, reputation, and real-world impact of the largest university in the North Carolina Triad region.

Prior to this appointment, Chancellor Gilliam served as Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs for seven years and was a longtime UCLA Professor of Public Policy and Political Science. His research focused on strategic communications, public policy, electoral politics, and racial and ethnic politics.

As Dean of UCLA Luskin, Dr. Gilliam shepherded a $50 million naming gift and launched and executed an ambitious strategic plan and capital campaign, establishing the school as a regional leader in addressing and finding solutions to some of society’s most pressing problems.

You can follow Chancellor Gilliam on Twitter @UNCGChancellor.

Mar 11, 2021
Implicit Teacher Bias: Dr. Walter Gilliam

Implicit Bias in Preschool Teachers

In a study to detect implicit bias, preschool teachers were instructed to watch a video of four young children (black and white, boy and girl) and identify potential behavioral issues. By tracking their eyes, the study showed that the teachers watched the black children more closely for behavioral problems than white children. When asked, teachers said they thought they had a gender bias and watched the two boys more closely. In fact, the defining factor was race.

Preschool Expulsion

Preschool children, ages 3 and 4, are expelled at a rate more than three times that of K-12 combined. More shockingly, they are expelled for normal, age-appropriate behavior, such as running in hallways or being rambunctious. Preschool programs are supposed to prepare children how to behave in school; instead, they often punish children who don’t know the very rules they are meant to teach. Expulsion at such a young age can have wide-ranging negative impacts on a child.

Free, universal Pre-Kindergarten offers a way to mitigate implicit bias because it would provide access to underprivileged children and create diverse learning spaces. Many preschool and childcare options today are segregated because of de-facto housing segregation. Instead of teaching different groups of children differently – whether in expensive private preschools or in low-income neighborhood programs – all children would learn the same set of standards, rules, and preparatory practices, promoting equality at an early age.

Find out more:

Walter S. Gilliam is the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center, as well as the Director of The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy.

Dr. Gilliam is co-recipient of the prestigious 2008 Grawemeyer Award in Education for the coauthored book A Vision for Universal Preschool Education. His research involves early childhood education and intervention policy analysis (specifically how policies translate into effective services), ways to improve the quality of prekindergarten and child care services, the impact of early childhood education programs on children’s school readiness, and effective methods for reducing classroom behavior problems and preschool expulsion. His scholarly writing addresses early childhood care and education programs, school readiness, and developmental assessment of young children. He has led national analyses of state-funded prekindergarten policies and mandates, how prekindergarten programs are being implemented across the range of policy contexts, and the effectiveness of these programs at improving school readiness and educational achievement, as well as experimental and quasi-experimental studies on methods to improve early education quality.

Dr. Gilliam actively provides consultation to state and federal decision-makers in the U.S. and other countries and is frequently called to provide U.S. Congressional testimony and briefings on issues related to early care and education.

You can follow him on Twitter @WalterGilliam.

Mar 04, 2021
Unapologetically Indigenous: Sarah Pierce and Amy Sazue

Achieving Education Equity

Championing Indigenous students to be successful in school systems starts with school curriculums – telling the accurate history of the United States – and leadership that represents the Indigenous Americans they serve. Schools need to create spaces where Indigenous students can be unapologetically Indigenous by building immersion units and hiring Indigenous teachers. Most importantly, Native leaders, educators, and students need to be involved in each step of the process.

Education Today

The US education system was built to eliminate the Indigenous, and curriculum choice continues to perpetuate the silencing and erasure of Indigenous history. As a result, Native students are often subjected to discrimination by white teachers and administrators, and suffer high disciplinary rates. Native students in South Dakota today have one of the lowest achievement rates, graduation rates, and even mobility rates. Though they add up to about 10% of South Dakota public school students, only 1.6% of staff is Indigenous.


Starting in 1868, Western education was imposed on Native Americans. Children were forcibly taken and put in boarding schools. Native elders refer to this now-abandoned practice as the "severing of the sacred loop." The goal was to "tolerate" or assimilate Indigenous students, removing them from their cultures and ways of life. Trauma has been the biggest repercussion of the boarding school movement, and the current education system has failed the Indigenous for generations.

Find out more:

Sarah Pierce, Director of Education Equity at NDN Collective, is Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Pierce has 8 years of experience working and advocating for Title VI Indian Education Programs, working at Rapid City Area Schools in South Dakota and at Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a master’s in education degree from Creighton University, and a PK-12 Administrator endorsement from the University of South Dakota. Pierce will lead NDN Collective’s education equity campaign work, expanding opportunities for Native American students to have access to culturally relevant and culturally responsive learning environments.

Amy Sazue, NDN Collective Organizer, is Sicangu and Oglala Lakota, and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She is a teacher and program coordinator, and also has experience working in development. She has associate degrees from Bay Mills Community College in Education, a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Oglala Lakota College, and is currently working on a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership through Arizona State University.

You can follow NDN Collective on Twitter @ndncollective.

Feb 25, 2021
Separation and Supremacy: Laura Briggs

Child Separation Policy’s History

The United States has a long history of using child separation to further racial nationalism. The two main groups targeted by these terrorizing policies were African Americans and Native Americans. Enslaved families were routinely split up, and Black families continue to suffer from child separation today thanks to 20th century laws like Suitable Home Rules and other similar legal mechanisms. Children of Indigenous Peoples were forcibly removed and put in boarding schools. The current separation of Central American children at the southern border follows these precedents.

Boarding Schools

The removal of Native children was originally considered a progressive policy to end the Indian Wars. Putting Indigenous children in boarding schools was touted as a non-violent solution to ending a ‘native problem’ at the time of westward expansion. The true ultimate goal was to turn Native children into a servant class, so it is not surprising that these boarding schools were rife with abuse. This program created mass trauma for entire generations of Native Americans, which is still felt heavily today. It also caused incalculable harm to the transmission of tribal culture, language, and tradition.

Foster Homes 

As the Black freedom movement transformed into a movement of desegregation in public accommodations, Black children became the focus of the civil rights movement. At the same time, white segregationists focused attention on welfare and impoverished mothers, pushing narratives of welfare fraud. The more Black communities fought for their freedom, the more welfare was cut. Eventually, the small child welfare program that primarily served white families became an agency that actively worked to take Black children. Through Suitable Home Rules, the government villainized Black mothers and remove their children. This welfare system remains in place today.

Find out more:

Professor Laura Briggs, PhD is an expert on U.S. and international child welfare policy and on transnational and transracial adoption. She received her A.B. from Mount Holyoke College, her M.T.S. from Harvard University, and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Brown University. Her research studies the relationship between reproductive politics, neoliberalism, and the longue durée of U.S. empire and imperialism. Briggs has also been at the forefront of rethinking the field and frameworks of transnational feminisms.

Her newly published book Taking Children: A History of American Terror, examines the 400-year-old history of the United States’ use of taking children from marginalized communities—from the taking of Black and Native children during America’s founding to Donald Trump’s policy of family separation for Central American migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border—as a violent tool for political ends.

Briggs is a public intellectual whose work has been featured in court cases, podcasts, and journalism, including National Public Radio, Slate, PBS, New Republic, Indian Country Today, and Ms. Magazine. She began her intellectual career as a journalist for Gay Community News. She regularly teaches seminars on transnational feminisms, reproductive politics, and contemporary feminist theory.

Feb 18, 2021
Unions & Racial Justice: Tamara Lee

Colorblind Organizing

US unions traditionally operate on a 'colorblind' approach to organizing, but focusing on class issues alone often fails to acknowledge that class is also racially coded. Unions need to combat racial disparities and inequality within its own membership and leadership. Diverse leadership brings lived experience to decision-making and problem-solving that can work against racist and classist discrimination.

Union Innovation

Innovation in organizing helps better serve union members. 'Whole-union organizing' looks at all the problems facing a union demographic. These may include immigration, police violence, and institutional safety issues, as well as race and pay issues. Working to alleviate these types of problems improves members' lives. Addressing issues of justice, in addition to economics, is key to the future of the labor market and labor movements.

New Labor Laws & Equity Creation

Current labor laws are 90 years old and need to be updated and reimagined. New laws should strive to create racial and economic equity, as well as social, prison, and climate justice. For example, setting pay-scales by industry can eliminate race and gender discrimination; and loan forgiveness could be based on wealth instead of income, alleviating the burden of student debt for the poor.

Find out more:

Tamara L. Lee, Esq. is an industrial engineer, labor lawyer, and Rutgers professor. She received her Ph.D. from the department of labor relations, law and history from the ILR School at Cornell University. Her academic research focuses on the popular participation of workers in macro-level political and economic reform in Cuba and the United States. She also conducts research on the political practice of workers under the National Labor Relations Act, the intersection of labor and racial justice, cross-movement solidarity building and the impact of radical adult education on workplace democracy. Her teaching focuses on identity politics in the workplace, and labor market discrimination.

You can follow her on Twitter @tamilee2003

Feb 11, 2021
State-Sponsored Segregation: Richard Rothstein

Government Created Segregation

The US government codified overt segregation in housing policy at the beginning of the 20th century. The New Deal created the Federal Housing Administration, which required all new public or government-backed housing developments to be segregated. Zoning laws and plans around the country segregrated urban areas that were already integrated, and relegated African-Americans to less desirable areas. The government sought to solve the housing crisis after WWII by underwriting the development of suburbs for whites only. It also mandated racial covenants against African-Americans to secure housing loans and created red-lining and income-based discrimination to segregate urban areas.

Unequal Access

African Americans were excluded from government programs designed to create homeownership by being denied access to purchase a suburban home and to qualify for a mortgage. The Home Owners Loan Corporation provided government-backed, low-interest loans to whites who wanted to buy a house but refused to insure African Americans' loans. After World War II, the VA provided subsidized huge housing developments for white returning soldiers by allowing them to buy homes on mortgage without a down payment. Finally, real estate developers would not receive government-secured loans from banks to build suburban neighborhoods if they sold homes to African-Americans. These economic policies created and then entrenched housing segregation.

Segregated Labor

Organized labor flourished during and after the New Deal, but only whites felt the benefits. Unions were allowed to segregate their workforces, and some unions – like the construction workers’ union – excluded Blacks outright. Blacks were routinely denied jobs held for whites and were never promoted if it meant overseeing whites. African American workers were forced to pay full union dues but only received partial fringe benefits, and the benefits of collective bargaining sometimes only applied to white workers. Being forced into lower-paying jobs exacerbated the income and wealth disparities between Blacks and whites.

Find out more:

Richard Rothstein is a Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a Senior Fellow (emeritus) at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He is the author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, which recovers a forgotten history of how federal, state, and local policy explicitly segregated metropolitan areas nationwide, creating racially homogenous neighborhoods in patterns that violate the Constitution and require remediation. He is also the author of many other articles and books on race and education, which can be found on his at the Economic Policy Institute. Previous influential books include Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black–White Achievement Gap and Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right.

If you’d like to get a notice about the New Movement to Redress Racial Segregation, send an email to Carrie at carrie@nmrrs.org.

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Feb 04, 2021
Ending The Filibuster: Eli Zupnick

What is the Filibuster?

In the Senate, a bill passes if it receives more than half of the vote. To bring a vote to the floor, the Majority Leader asks Senate members if anyone has any objections before moving to a simple majority vote. If any member objects, the filibuster comes into play. The filibuster forces a debate on the bill. A ‘cloture’ vote must be taken to end this debate and move forward with the original vote. This cloture vote requires 60 votes, significantly more than is needed to pass the legislation. Since any senator can object to any bill and force a debate that can only be overcome with 60 votes, the minority party can effectively scuttle any legislation without a vote if they control 41 or more seats.

Undemocratic Filibuster

Proponents of the filibuster argue that it promotes bipartisanship because it forces the majority party to negotiate its way out of the cloture vote. The Senate is already an undemocratic institution because it favors rural (mostly red) states and is not based on population. The filibuster further increases this undemocratic nature by forcing any vote to overcome a supermajority—something nearly impossible in today’s polarized world. It also increases the power of a small minority of senators who can use to unilaterally end a vote on any bill they don’t like and allows them to do so at will, without negotiation. The filibuster has a long history of terminating civil rights discussions and scuttling equality proposals for this reason. Ending the filibuster would force the minority party to negotiate with the majority to create better legislation instead of killing anything that comes to the floor. 

Eliminating the Filibuster

Both Democratic and Republican Majority Leaders have already set a precedent for ending the filibuster in the last decade. Abolishing the filibuster outright would require 67 votes—an impossibility. There is another way, however. First, a cloture vote on a bill must be taken. If it fails to reach 60 votes, the Senate Parliamentarian will rule that the vote failed, ending its chances to become law. Once this occurs, the Senate Majority leader can object to the Parliamentarian’s ruling. Only 51 votes are needed to overturn this ruling. That sets a new precedent, dictating only 51 votes are required to end cloture. Since the Senate operates on precedent, this will be the new standard, and the filibuster will no longer need a supermajority to end cloture, effectively ending its minority power.

Find out more:

Fix Our Senate is a campaign committed to tackling the filibuster problem head-on and making sure that Biden and the Senate majority can deliver on the promises they made to voters and make the progress our country desperately needs. 

Its highest priority is the elimination of the filibuster, an outdated Senate tool that gives veto power to a fraction of senators representing as little as 11% of the American population. President Obama recently called it “a Jim Crow relic” that cannot be allowed to continue standing in the way of progress.

Fix Our Senate is focused on the rules and procedural changes needed to fix the broken Senate, but the campaign is ultimately about moving toward a government that can respond to its citizens and address the major problems we face. From COVID-19 response efforts, to critically-needed democracy reforms, the climate crisis, poverty and rampant inequality, the gun violence epidemic, police brutality and structural racism, health care access and affordability, child care, education and student loans, and so much more – meaningful progress will be impossible until the Senate is fixed.

You can follow Eli on Twitter @elizupnick, and Fix Our Senate @fixoursenate.

Feb 02, 2021
Critical Race Theory: Mari Matsuda

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory is a theory of justice designed to respond to the endemic racism in America’s legal system. It places intersectional anti-racism at the center of analysis of law, politics, and power. It examines the origins of the idea of race and seeks to understand how institutions continue to perpetuate racism today. Although slavery and the genocide of Indigenous people have ceased, these past practices continue to inform our institutional systems and create injustice. Critical Race Theory reveals unconscious bias and systemic disenfranchisement as legacies of racist attitudes and legislation.

Inequality as a Threat to Freedom

Inequality harms our freedoms in many ways. Corporate monopolization harms our freedom to choose where we get our food, products, and information. Inequality in the form of sexism and racism harms our freedom of expression, such as valuing some people’s ideas over others. Education inequality can harm our freedom to learn, communicate, and succeed. Income inequality can dictate who people listen to in politics through campaign contributions and investments. Solving these inequalities will create a level playing field for everyday citizens to thrive in our society.

Harmful Speech

Valuing all speech necessitates cracking down on harmful speech. Hate speech has spread rapidly around the internet, which has a stifling effect on many who would otherwise make their voices heard. Hate speech is often directed toward women leaders, journalists, and authors. It can result in resignations and the withdrawal from public life—effectively stifling free speech. Free speech is critical to democracy, so we must keep tabs on speech that decreases the democratic conversation, like racism and misogyny. The market of ideas is suffering a failure, and like the real financial markets, we need better regulation to keep it working correctly.

Find out more:

Mari J. Matsuda is an American lawyer, activist, critical race theorist, and law professor at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii.

Prior to returning to Richardson in the fall of 2008, she was a professor at the UCLA School of Law – the first Asian American woman to be tenured at a law school in the US – and Georgetown University Law Center. She specialized in the fields of torts, constitutional law, legal history, feminist theory, Critical Race Theory, and civil rights law.

From her earliest academic publications, Matsuda has spoken from the perspective and increasingly used the method that has come to be known as Critical Race Theory. She is not only one of its most powerful practitioners, but is among a handful of legal scholars credited with its origin. Voices from the bottom, Matsuda believes—and critical race theory posits—have the power to open up new legal concepts of even constitutional dimension. Paradoxically, bringing in the voices of outsiders has helped to make Matsuda’s work central to the legal canon. A Yale Law School librarian ranked three of her publications as among the “top 10 most cited law review articles” for their year of publication. Judges and scholars regularly quote her work. She has also published several books, such as Words that Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment and We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action.

Matsuda serves on national advisory boards of social justice organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian American Justice Center. By court appointment, she served as a member of the Texaco Task Force on Equality and Fairness, assisting in the implementation of the then-largest employment discrimination settlement in U.S. history. A Magazine recognized her in 1999 as one of the 100 most influential Asian Americans.

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Jan 28, 2021
White Too Long: Robert P. Jones, Ph.D.

The Lost Cause

Before and during the Civil War, Southern Baptist leaders argued that slavery was just and the slaveholding South represented the pinicle of human civilization. After the South lost, they began to espouse the idea of the Lost Cause—that the war on Earth may be lost, but God would ultimately redeem the South with the Second Coming. This idea became widespread throughout the South, and can still be seen today in Confederate Monuments like the one in Richmond, VA which reads “God Will Vindicate’ in Latin, a direct reference to the idea of the Lost Cause, and the salvation awaiting Southerners.

White Churches Perpetuate White Supremacy

The Southern Baptist Church was founded on white supremacist principles and helped maintain a quasi-caste system where white Christians benefited. Other denominations like Protestant and Catholic display similar blind spots to—and even affinities for—white supremacy. Regular churchgoers are no less racist than the average American, and church-going evangelicals hold more racist attitudes than the average. Under the Doctrine of Discovery, the Catholic Church encouraged Catholic explorers to claim the lands of non-white, non-Christians, and thus has held up white supremacy for hundreds of years.

White Christian America’s Warped Morality

White supremacy has warped and stunted the morality of white Christian Americans. After the Civil War, Southern Baptists argued civilization was in decline that could only be rectified by Jesus’s Second Coming. This belief focused on inner piety while waiting for Jesus to reappear – being “good Christians” – and overlooked the injustices caused by white supremacy in society. This inward looking theology created a moral framework that sought reconciliation without the work of repairing the damage and/or achieving justice.

Find out more:

Robert P. Jones is the CEO and Founder of PRRI and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, culture, and politics. He is the author of “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” and “The End of White Christian America,” which won the 2019 Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Jones writes regularly on politics, culture, and religion for The Atlantic online, NBC Think, and other outlets. He is frequently featured in major national media, such as CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others.

Jones serves on the national program committee for the American Academy of Religion and is a past member of the editorial boards for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and Politics and Religion, a journal of the American Political Science Association. He holds a Ph.D. in religion from Emory University, an M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a B.S. in computing science and mathematics from Mississippi College. Jones was selected by Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion as Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 2013, and by Mississippi College’s Mathematics Department as Alumnus of the Year in 2016.

Before founding PRRI, Jones worked as a consultant and senior research fellow at several think tanks in Washington, D.C., and was an assistant professor of religious studies at Missouri State University.

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Jan 21, 2021
Surveillance Capitalism: Shoshana Zuboff

Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance Capitalism is the dominant economic logic in our world today. It claims private human experience for the marketplace and turns it into a commodity. Vast amounts of personal data are necessary -- often harvested without our knowledge or consent –- in order to predict future behavior. Surveillance capitalists create certainties for companies by modifying people's behavior.

Instrumentarian Power

Instrumentarianism seeks to modify, predict, monetize, and control human behavior through the instruments of surveillance capitalism, our digital devices. Having mined all of our data, instrumentarians can tune and herd users into specific actions through triggers and subliminal messaging. It is ultimately a political project intended to install computational governance instead of democratic governance.

Protecting Your Privacy

A myriad of programs and apps can block tracking and scramble your location, making your behavioral data less accessible or even inaccessible. Since instrumentarians gain their power through our use of their devices, limiting internet use and working in-person reduces the power they have over you.

Find out more:

Shoshana Zuboff is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and a former Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Her masterwork, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, synthesizes years of research and thinking to reveal a world in which technology users are neither customers, employees, nor products. Instead, they are the raw material for new procedures of manufacturing and sales that define an entirely new economic order: a surveillance economy.

In the late 1980s, her decade-in-the-making book, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, became an instant classic that foresaw how computers would revolutionize the modern workplace. At the dawn of the twenty-first century her influential The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism (with James Maxmin), written before the invention of the iPod or Uber, predicted the rise of digitally-mediated products and services tailored to the individual. It warned of the individual and societal risks if companies failed to alter their approach to capitalism.

You can follow her on Twitter @shoshanazuboff

Jan 08, 2021
Fixing Public Schools: Ted Dintersmith

Innovation in the Classroom

Classroom innovation stems from teachers and students working together to pursue subjects that excite students to learn. Examples include allowing students to design robots and make documentaries about local landmarks. In the age of Zoom learning, keeping students engaged by letting them solve community problems or pursue independent learning goals will achieve much more than endless worksheets and standardized test prep.

Standards V. Standardized Tests

Implementing and upholding academic standards are not the same as demanding high scores on standardized tests. Engaging and exciting students about a topic should be the focus, like teaching students to think critically like scientists. Information retention rates are abysmal when the emphasis is to just regurgitate scientific facts for a test. Other basic standards should include knowing how democracy works, reading, writing, and thinking critically.

High School Education

A high school education should prepare all Americans for a life of civic and economic success. Our current education system fails to deliver this promise, which has resulted in many of our current social problems. Maintaining a functioning and thriving democracy requires high-quality education that equips students with pragmatic life and civic engagement skills.

Find out more:

Ted Dintersmith is one of America's leaders in innovation, entrepreneurship, and education.

Ted has become one of America's leading advocates for education policies that foster creativity, innovation, motivation, and purpose. He knows what skills are valuable in a world of innovation, and how we can transform our schools to prepare kids for their futures. His contributions span film, books, philanthropy, and the hard work of going all across America. He's funded and executive produced acclaimed education documentaries, including Most Likely To Succeed, (Sundance, AFI, and Tribeca). With co-author Tony Wagner, he wrote Most Likely To Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. During the 2015/16 school year, he went to all fifty U.S. states, meeting with governors, legislators, educators, parents, and students, and encouraging communities to work collectively to re-imagine school and its purpose. The culmination of that effort was his recent book What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America. 

Ted's professional experience includes two decades in venture capital, including being ranked by Business 2.0 as the top-performing U.S. venture capitalist for 1995-1999. He chaired the Public Policy Committee of the Board of the National Venture Capital Association. In the public sector, he was a staff analyst in 1976-78 for the U.S. House of Representatives, and was appointed in 2012 by President Obama to represent the U.S. at the United Nations General Assembly. Ted earned a Ph.D. in Engineering from Stanford University and a B.A. from the College of William and Mary, with High Honors in Physics and English.

Learn more about his work from his website or by following him on Twitter @dintersmith.

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Dec 22, 2020
Reimagining Higher Education: Leon Botstein

Democracy and Education

Democracy and education are inextricably linked. A democracy can only work when voters have an open mind, the ability to think critically, and are tolerant of others and their beliefs. A good education should be designed to cultivate these instincts, and the result should be we well-rounded citizens who respect each other, engage in healthy public discourse, and are able to think critically to uncover lies and bad ideas. Education should prepare all citizens to properly participate in civic life.

The 4 Pillars of Good Education

First, students should gain a firm grasp on language, and be able to read and write critically, uncover lies and discuss opinions respectfully. Second, students need strong mathematic, scientific, and computational literacy. Third, we need to understand and be able to think critically about the past, because the way we understand history has an impact on what we do in the future. Finally, we need to encourage creative thinking, and learn to understand the beauty and importance of things like poetry, art, and design.

The Bankruptcy of US Education

Our education system does not prepare us for the nation and the economy we live in. First, a high school degree does not prepare students for a life of work. With the current level of specialization and technology, we must make higher education free in order to give graduates a way to succeed. Our education system is also failing us civically. Most adults can’t name the three branches of government, a huge percentage of the electorate can be easily manipulated by obvious falsehoods, and many lack critical thinking skills as evidenced by COVID denial.

Find out more:

Leon Botstein’s entire life and his work in all its aspects is devoted to one mission: the improvement of peoples’ lives through education and exposure to the arts. A child of a generation that experienced extreme prejudice and barbarity, his firm belief that a better and more equitable world can be created by cultivating the life of the mind remains the principle that informs and connects all of his performances, writing, public service, and teaching.

He was born in Zurich and immigrated to the US as a child. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Chicago and earned a PhD in history from Harvard University.

In 1975 Botstein became the president of Bard College, a position he still holds. Under his leadership, Bard has developed into a distinctive liberal arts institution offering a vast range of undergraduate and graduate programs.

In 1990 Botstein established the internationally admired Bard Music Festival, the success of which helped in the development of the beautiful Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, a multi-functional facility designed by Frank Gehry on the Bard College campus. Opening in 2003, the Fisher Center inspired a programmatic expansion, Bard SummerScape, that includes opera, dance, theater, and cabaret over six weeks every summer.

In 1992 he was named music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, a position he still holds. During his directorship, he transformed ASO into a pioneer, presenting great works that have long been ignored by history, alongside the acknowledged masterpieces, in concerts curated thematically, using history and ideas to catch the imagination of a wider and non-traditional audience.

On January 23, 2020, Botstein was named chancellor of the Open Society University Network, of which Bard College and Central European University are founding members.

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Dec 17, 2020
Ending the Counter-Revolution: Bernard Harcourt


Since 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US warfare has focused on counterinsurgency. America now uses this counterrevolutionary playbook to govern domestically. Counterrevolutionary theory identifies a passive majority in all populations and a small insurgency. The first step is to brutally eliminate the rebellion, and then win over the passive majority. Using counterrevolutionary measures necessitates creating an internal enemy—for instance, Muslims, immigrants, minorities, or ANTIFA. Counterinsurgency establishes brutal violence as a policy, which quickly becomes the norm, as we’ve seen with the current level of government violence directed at US citizens.

Legalizing Brutality

America is a profoundly legalistic country, which looks to the law for the protection of rights. At the same time, it also has a long history of rendering questionable actions legal. The CIA redefined torture under the Bush Administration to require organ failure, which legalized many torture techniques that fell short of this standard. The summary drone strike execution of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki required a 41-page legal memo to frame it as legal under due process. Prisoners are legally held indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay through convoluted legal justification. Counterinsurgency requires state-sponsored violence, and America is adept at legalizing actions that are normally viewed as illegal to achieve this. Once these actions are legalized, they then become normalized.

Abolition Democracy

To move past counterrevolution as a governing theory, we should look to WEB Dubois’s idea of Abolition Democracy. Abolition Democracy stated that no action was taken after slavery’s end to support former slaves with education, employment, and other necessities. Because of this failure, we are still combatting the legacy of slavery in the US. Abolition theory can be applied to the counterrevolution as well. We cannot merely disassemble the drones and/or shutter the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. We need a new governing paradigm, new institutions, and new norms to ensure we move away from the institutionalized brutality of counterinsurgency in a country with no insurgents.

Find out more:

Bernard E. Harcourt is a distinguished contemporary critical theorist, justice advocate, and prolific writer and editor. In his books, articles, and teaching, his scholarship focuses on social and critical theory with a particular interest in punishment and surveillance.

Harcourt is the founding director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, which brings contemporary theory to bear on current social problems and seeks to address them through practical engagement including litigation and public policy interventions. He is also the executive director of Columbia University’s Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights, which sponsors courses, public events, student internships, and fellowships dedicated to strengthening the pillars of all communities—truth, justice, and law.

Harcourt is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. Critique & Praxis (2020) charts a vision for political action and social transformation. In The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens (2018), Harcourt examines how techniques of counterinsurgency warfare spread to U.S. domestic policy.

Harcourt served as a law clerk for Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He began his legal career representing death row inmates, working with Bryan Stevenson at what is now the Equal Justice Initiative, in Montgomery, Alabama. He continues to represent pro bono inmates sentenced to death and life imprisonment without parole. In 2019, Harcourt was awarded the New York City Bar Association Norman J. Redlich Capital Defense Distinguished Service Award for his work on behalf of individuals on death row.

You can follow him on Twitter @BernardHarcourt.

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Dec 10, 2020
Reimagining Law Enforcement: Norm Stamper

Community Policing

The future of public safety is community police partnership. Stamper suggests a plebiscite in which neighborhoods elect representatives to work side by side with the police department. These citizens would be involved in every single aspect of modern policing from setting policy, crafting procedures, selecting new police officers, developing the curriculum for police academy training, and partnering with those best equipped to deal with substance abuse, homelessness, and mental illness.

Cop Culture

The structure of American policing is top-down, paramilitary, bureaucratic, and antagonistic to democratic values. Patterns of behavior are institutionalized through interactions in locker rooms, patrol cars, and other unmonitored places. The paramilitary structure of police forces leads to an “us-vs-them” mentality, which results in a toxic culture of distrusting civilians. Undoing this culture begins with undoing the existing structure of the organization and reshaping it to meet the needs of civilians, municipalities, and communities.

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is actually a War on Americans. Most drug dealers and users swept up in the War on Drugs are low-level offenders who are addicts, mentally ill, or chronically poor. They need medical and financial help. Instead, police treat them as enemy combatants, resulting in death and destruction for many Americans, including police officers. Ending the War on Drugs would make it possible to repurpose some police funding for rehabilitation and mental health services. Demilitarization is also a critical factor to creating a safer America.

Find out more:

Norm Stamper was a police officer for 34 years, the first 28 in San Diego, the last six (1994-2000) as Seattle’s Chief of Police. He earned his Ph.D. in Leadership and Human Behavior, and is the author of two books: To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police (2016) and Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing (2005). He recently finished a novel and is at work on another.

Throughout his career and into “retirement,” Norm has served as a trainer, consultant, expert witness, and keynote speaker. His commitment to police reform and social justice has shaped an agenda that calls for an end to the drug war; abolition of the death penalty; vanquishment of domestic violence from our society; a concerted effort to drive bigotry and brutality out of the criminal justice system; development of broad respect and support for the nation’s police officers; a campaign to make every school, every workplace, every neighborhood and home a place of safety, particularly for our children; rejection of mass incarceration; and a fully-fledged dedication to our civil liberties and constitutional guarantees.

Norm lives in the San Juan Islands off Washington State, and is a proud and humble father, father-in-law, grandfather, uncle, brother, and friend.

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Dec 03, 2020
The Precarity of Taxi Work: Veena Dubal

Proposition 22

Prop 22, the most expensive California ballot initiative in history, carves out app-based gig economy workers as a new employee class that lacks the benefits and protections that other workers in California get. Prop 22 also makes it more difficult for drivers and delivery workers to unionize. Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and other app-based services threatened their workers with lack of flexibility and job loss. They also spent more than $200M to persuade voters. The passage of Prop 22 is a significant loss for labor law, and copycat legislation in other states is already following.

Taxi Unions

The San Francisco chauffeurs’ union was powerful and effective because it had 100% participation from taxi drivers and built a strong collective identity for drivers. It even had a union hall! Unions negotiated fair contracts – wages and hours – and prevented oversaturation in the taxi market. For most of the 20th century, US taxi drivers were unionized. Today, most app-based drivers are completely atomized, lack tools to communicate with each other, and don’t see driving as a craft identity.

Laws and Regulations

Since the 1930s, taxi work was considered a public utility. In San Francisco, the Taxi Commission regulated fares and worker supply in order to ensure a living wage. Although the San Francisco Taxi Commission is disbanded, the Municipal Transportation Agency could again take up regulation and supply management. In addition, employment protection should be strengthened by including proper unemployment and work place insurance.

Find out more:

Veena Dubal is a law professor at UC Hastings. Her research focuses on the intersection of law, technology, and precarious work. Within this broad frame, she uses empirical methodologies and critical theory to understand (1) the impact of digital technologies and emerging legal frameworks on the lives of workers, (2) the co-constitutive influences of law and work on identity, and (3) the role of law and lawyers in solidarity movements.

Professor Dubal has been cited by the California Supreme Court, and her scholarship has been published in top-tier law review and peer-reviewed journals, including the California Law Review, Wisconsin Law Review, Berkeley Journal of Empirical and Labor Law, and Perspectives on Politics. Based on over a decade of ethnographic and historical study, Professor Dubal is currently writing a manuscript on how five decades of shifting technologies and emergent regulatory regimes changed the everyday lives and work experiences of ride-hail drivers in San Francisco.

Professor Dubal joined the Hastings Faculty in 2015, after a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University (also her undergraduate alma mater). Prior to that, Professor Dubal received her J.D. and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, where she conducted an ethnography of the San Francisco taxi industry. The subject of her doctoral research arose from her work as a public interest attorney and Berkeley Law Foundation fellow at the Asian Law Caucus where she founded a taxi worker project and represented Muslim Americans in civil rights cases.

You can follow her on Twitter @veenadubal

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Nov 24, 2020
The Future of Antitrust: Zephyr Teachout

Monopolies are Anti-Democratic

A monopoly is a company that has the power to set the terms of interactions, from the pricing of consumer goods to interactions with suppliers and resolving disputes. The most insidious and anti-democratic example is private arbitration, a judicial system where the parties to the suit pay the judges. Large companies force employees and even customers to litigate all grievances through arbitration courts, making a mockery of justice and infringing upon our civil rights. In essence, monopolies exert a form of private governing power and control over citizens within our democracy.

US History of Trust-Busting

America has a long history of trust-busting, dating back to the late 19th century. At that time, thousands of antitrust leagues around the country verified that companies were not controlling large market shares. Anti-monopolism was once a vital facet of American political activism, and it could be again. US antitrust law still exists; it just isn't being enforced—and hasn't been since Reagan's administration. The Biden-Harris administration could start enforcing existing laws, which would create a sea-change in the antitrust landscape. We have the tools to break up monopolies, but we lack the political and organizational will-power.


Chickenization refers to the ways large poultry distributors subjugate independent chicken farmers who depend on them to bring their chickens to market. These regional monopolies exercise immense control over these farmers by forcing them to use their feed, abide by their coup house specifications, and accept the equivalent of poverty wages. They also require arbitration contracts, ban communication between farmers, and retaliate against farmers who break the rules. Other sectors of the economy are following suit: delivery apps control restaurants and ride-share apps control taxi drivers.

Find out more:

Zephyr Teachout is an Associate Law Professor and has taught at Fordham Law School since 2009. In addition to Break ‘Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money, she published Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens’ United and has written dozens of law review articles and essays.

Teachout was a death penalty defense lawyer at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina. She co-founded a non-profit dedicated to providing trial experience to new law school graduates. She is known for her pioneering work in internet organizing and was the Sunlight Foundation's first National Director.

She grew up in Vermont and received her BA from Yale in English and then graduated summa cum laude from Duke Law School, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. She also received an MA in Political Science from Duke. She clerked for Chief Judge Edward R. Becker of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

She ran unsuccessfully for New York State Attorney General in 2018, for Congress's 19th Congressional District in 2016, and for the Democratic nomination of the Governor of New York in 2014.

You can follow her on Twitter @ZephyrTeachout.

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Nov 20, 2020
A Keynesian Future: Zach Carter

Keynes's Goals

Keynes concerned himself with his day's most significant problems: WWI and WWII, the rise of fascism and revolution, and the Great Depression in the United States. He believed that assuaging fears about an uncertain future was most important, and that a more equal society would also be more secure from deflation, deprivation, and dictatorship. He aimed for policies that would grapple with crisis and uncertainty.

Economics as Politics

Keynes firmly believed that economics was an extension of politics and government, not a separate entity that existed outside of the governmental sphere of influence. Governments needed to manage their economies to ensure success, by controlling wages and working conditions, as well as setting interest rates and fiscal policy. Economics and monetary policy were political tools to achieve healthy and stable societies.

A Keynesian Future

A Keynesian in the incoming Biden administration would prioritize solving the problems of climate change, COVID, and economic inequality through a large-scale project like FDR’s New Deal. Together with traditional infrastructure spending, decarbonizing our economy would require massive public works efforts similar to the New Deal’s WPA, creating millions of new jobs, buoying the working class, and mitigating income inequality.

Find out more:

Zachary D. Carter is a senior reporter at HuffPost, where he covers economic policy and American politics. He is a frequent guest on cable news and whose work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, and The American Prospect, among other outlets. He is also the author of The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, which was just selected as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly.

Carter began his career at SNL Financial (now a division of S&P Global), where he was a banking reporter during the financial crisis of 2008. He wrote features about macroeconomic policy, regional economic instability, and the bank bailouts, but his passion was for the complex, arcane world of financial regulatory policy. He covered the accounting standards that both fed the crisis and shielded bank executives from its blowback, detailed the consumer protection abuses that consumed the mortgage business and exposed oversight failures at the Federal Reserve and other government agencies that allowed reckless debts to pile up around the world.

Carter graduated from the University of Virginia, where he studied philosophy and politics. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

You can follow him on Twitter @zachdcarter.

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Nov 13, 2020
Season 12 Trailer

This is a thought-provoking season of visionary and practical ideas to reimagine our future in a post pandemic and post trump world.

We cover everything from needing to be civically engaged all the time, which is to say in between elections, education, policing our communities, and having the courage to think big when it comes to rebuilding our economy.

Nov 09, 2020
Lasting Civic Engagement: Maria Yuan

Civic Engagement Online and In-Person

Technology can make participating in democracy easier than ever before because it’s scalable and makes it possible for everyone’s voices to be heard. However, civic engagement must also be done with human connection and in person, like in community conversations, town halls, and organizing. IssueVoter uses its online platform to motivate users to perform civic engagement in the real world. Thirty percent of IssueVoter users say the platform is the reason they voted, showing that the more information the user has, the more he or she is motivated to take action.

Fostering Accountability

IssueVoter fosters civic engagement in between elections by making it easier for users to know what bills are being proposed in Congress, and sending their opinions on those bills to their representatives. Then, users are informed how their representatives voted. It turns out that representatives aren’t always in alignment with their constituents. Knowing how your elected representatives voted is key to holding them accountable. In fact, 33% of users have changed their voting decisions based on IssueVoter information. IssueVoter stresses the importance of primary elections to vote for candidates in line with your values.

Policy Impacts Lives

We need to do a better job of connecting the dots between public policy and politics. Policies are created and enacted by the politicians we elect. All policies, ranging from healthcare to education, impact all of us, regardless of who we voted for or whether we voted at all. IssueVoter helps us understand how our elected politicians vote on policy matters and bills in Congress so that we know whether they are representing us and whether we should vote for them again.

Find out more:

Maria Yuan is the Founder of IssueVoter. an innovative non-profit and non-partisan platform that offers everyone a voice in our democracy by making civic engagement accessible, efficient, and impactful.

The time between elections is when the work that impacts our lives gets done. IssueVoter answers the question, “The election is over, now what?” Individuals use IssueVoter to get alerts about new bills related to issues they care about, send opinions to their Representative before Congress votes, and track how often s/he represents them. In partnership with companies, organizations, and candidates, IssueVoter encourages year-round civic engagement with their employees, customers, members, or constituents.

Maria’s political experience includes introducing and passing a bill as a constituent, working in a State Representative’s office in Texas, and managing and winning one of the most targeted races in Iowa – an open seat in a swing district. Maria earned degrees from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania and The University of Texas at Austin. Maria’s writing has appeared in Huffington Post and The Hill, and she has spoken at SXSW, The Social Innovation Summit, Shearman & Sterling, UBS, NYU, and the University of Pennsylvania.

You can follow IssueVoter on Twitter @IssueVoter.

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Nov 06, 2020
October Surprise: Devlin Barrett

October Surprise

The term ‘October Surprise’ refers to a type of dirty trick that comes so late in the election calendar that a candidate does not have the time or space to respond, and voters don’t have the time to consider what it might mean. Comey’s letter to Congress a mere 11 days before Election Day 2016, announcing a renewed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, is one of the most significant October Surprises on record. Trump contracting COVID-19 in October does not fit the description because a political opponent or third party did not orchestrate it; it was merely a surprising event in October.

Restoring Trust in the FBI

In the aftermath of 9/11, the FBI pivoted from criminal justice to national security. National Security agents soon came to run the bureau, instead of agents whose focus was on law enforcement, including in high-profile political cases. Comey’s security-focused inner circle lacked the insight of agents with such expertise, who might have cautioned him against his investigations and actions in 2016. To regain America’s trust, the FBI must reinvest in their public corruption and public integrity offices, demonstrating they have the leadership to stay impartial in elections, political investigations, and high-profile cases of public importance.

Lessons from 2016

Though Comey’s ill-advised letter helped tip the scales in Trump’s favor, some of the onus falls on the voting public who were prone to believing in conspiracy theories and fake news stories. We need to bolster a healthy skepticism of our leaders, teach more civic engagement, and reemphasize the importance of critical thinking over blind devotion. Giving Americans the tools to rationally analyze news stories is vital to remedying our collective failure in 2016 and providing a better future for our democracy.

Find out more:

Devlin Barrett writes about the FBI and the Justice Department for the Washington Post and is the author of October Surprise: How the FBI Tried to Save Itself and Crashed an Election. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for National Reporting, for coverage of Russian interference in the U.S. election. In 2017 he was a co-finalist for both the Pulitzer for Feature Writing and the Pulitzer for International Reporting. He has covered federal law enforcement for more than 20 years, and has worked at The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, and the New York Post.

You can follow him on Twitter @DevlinBarrett.

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Oct 30, 2020
Building Authoritarian Power: Nathan Stoltzfus


Hitler is one of the early modern autocrats for whom legitimacy was crucial to his claim to power. He recognized the importance of including the people and representing himself as presenting the will of the people. Being legitimately elected provided Hitler with a mandate to propagate Nazi ideology within Germany and beyond, and build a popular mass movement. Hitler’s example continues to serve as a model in fascist politics today.


Hitler enjoyed immense popularity, which he carefully cultivated and constantly orchestrated in public appearances. He built a reputation as a mythic Führer who could do no wrong. If something were wrong, his followers would commonly say that Hitler must not know about it because if he did, he would fix it. He portrayed himself as always striving for Germans on Germany’s behalf. General belief of Hitler's greatness was so impeccably maintained that it became nearly impossible to shake in the masses.


Hitler firmly believed in the superiority of National Socialism as an ideology. In fact, he wanted to fundamentally change his society's norms to align with those of Nazism – such as the primacy of Aryans and euthanasia for useless eaters – and replace Christianity as the dominant belief system in Germany. By using propaganda and the aesthetics of consensus around National Socialist thought, he and his ministers worked to ensure Germans were deeply internalizing Nazi beliefs so they would be Nazis both in public and even in private when no one was watching.

Find out more:

Nathan Stoltzfus is the Dorothy and Jonathan Rintels Professor of Holocaust Studies at Florida State University and author or editor of seven books, including Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany and Resistance of the Heart. Resistance of the Heart was the Fraenkel Prize co-winner and a New Statesman Book of the Year and prize winner of Munich’s Besten Liste for nonfiction.

His work has been translated into German, French, Swedish, Greek, Turkish, and Russian. Stoltzfus has been a long-term member of the faculty of the National Judicial College. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, and has been a Fulbright and IREX scholar in East as well as West Germany, a Friedrich Ebert Stiftung grantee, a DAAD research scholar, a Humboldt German American Center for Visiting Scholars grantee, and a H.F. Guggenheim Foundation Scholar as well as a Florida State University “Developing Scholar.” His work has formed a basis for several films, and he has published in the Atlantic Monthly, the Daily Beast, Der Spiegel, The American Scholar, and Die Zeit.  His current book projects include the study of the memories of World War II as a basis for national myths and social cohesion.

You can follow him on Twitter @nate_stoltzfus.

Oct 16, 2020
Building Power Online: Alice Marwick

Hashtag Activism

Black Lives Matter is the epitome of ‘hashtag activism.’ #BLM is a native social media activist movement that started on the internet and builds support for itself there. #BLM combines traditional protest with online activism, allowing people to express support on social media without necessarily going to a protest. This has proven to reveal wide-spread support for #BLM, amplifying and mainstreaming the group’s cause. Low overhead actions like retweets, Instagram stories, and Facebook posts helped the movement grow meaningfully.

Politicians on Social Media

Lawmakers are increasingly turning to social media as a campaign strategy. The most successful congressmembers, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are able to humanize themselves, put forth policies, connect with constituents, and build a broader base of support. Others, such as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have struggled to gain a solid footing online. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for a powerful social media presence, which has been challenging for new candidates who cannot capitalize on in-person events to grow their online following. 

Social Media and Politics

Social media has opened up new ways to participate in politics. Previously, gate-keeping legacy media controlled most of the coverage surrounding politics. Users can now directly analyze and interpret world events, policies, and politics. Unfortunately, social media also accounts for a vast array of misinformation, disinformation, and hyper partisanship. While social media can make us feel more involved and optimistic about what’s possible in demanding accountability and good governance, it can also feel overwhelming to be inundated with an endless stream of bad news.

Find out more:

Alice E. Marwick is Associate Professor of Communication and a Principal Researcher at the Center for Information Technology and Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she researches the social, political, and cultural implications of popular social media technologies. Marwick is also a Faculty Advisor to the Media Manipulation project at the Data & Society Research Institute, which studies far-right online subcultures and their use of social media to spread misinformation. 

Her first book, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Branding in the Social Media Age (Yale 2013), draws from ethnographic fieldwork in the San Francisco tech scene to examine how people seek social status through attention and visibility online. Marwick was formerly Director of the McGannon Communication Research Center and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, and a postdoctoral researcher in the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England.

You can follow her on Twitter @alicetiara.

Oct 09, 2020
Digital Labor Organizing: Jess Kutch

Democracy at Work

Our work lives are an important place to practice democracy. Union members learn negotiation and problem solving skills to determine wages and working conditions. They have a voice when voting on a contract. The decline in union participation coincides with the decline in American civic life. Promoting more workplace democracy also increases civic engagement in America.

Digital Labor Organizing

Coworker.org offers digital tools to help non-union workers mobilize around the country. Digital organizing has successfully won wage increases, scheduling reform, and parental leave benefits. Digital advocacy is meant to work in tandem with more established trade unions and regulatory bodies. Organized labor has a long history of experimenting with different paths to success, and digital organizing represents an exciting new chapter.

Worker Voice

Workers should have a say in their working conditions, industry standards, mechanisms for whistleblowing, and in negotiating their wages. Making worker voices heard, especially in the gig economy, is key to eliminating precarity in the workplace. Almost all Americans are currently “at-will” employees, meaning they can be fired at any time without cause. Removing this status would create more stable work environments and give workers agency.

Find out more:

Jess Kutch is the co-founder of Coworker.org, a platform that deploys digital tools, data, and strategies to help people improve their work lives.

Since its founding in 2013, Coworker.org has catalyzed the growth of global, independent employee networks advancing wins like paid parental leave benefits at Netflix, scheduling reform at Starbucks, and wage increases for workers at a Southern restaurant chain. In 2015, Coworker.org hosted the first-ever digital townhall at the White House on the future of worker voice with President Obama.

A digital innovator, Kutch has 15 years’ experience working at the intersection of technology and social change. Prior to launching Coworker.org, she led a team at Change.org in raising the company’s profile around the world and inspiring hundreds of thousands of people to launch and lead their own efforts on the platform. Kutch also spent five years at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) where she pioneered digital strategies for the labor movement.

Jess Kutch is an Echoing Green Global Fellow and J.M. Kaplan Innovation Prize winner.

You can follow Jess on Twitter @jess_kutch

Oct 02, 2020
Civics Club: Adam Cohen

Wondering what being a member of our Civics Club is like on Patreon? Well, here’s a free look at our bonus content from our talk this week with Adam Cohen! Each week we take time to ask our guests personal questions about their involvement with democracy, why they’re so engaged, and maybe even who inspired them. The questions change every week, so make sure to join The Civics Club so you never miss another round of bonus questions.

Sep 26, 2020
Supreme Inequality: Adam Cohen

Supreme Court’s Agenda

Although we are taught to believe the Supreme Court is a neutral institution whose primary concern is justice, it is actually an extremely powerful legal body with its own agenda. For the last 50 years, that agenda has been staunchly conservative. Instead of functioning as a check on executive and legislative powers, it operates as its own power building machine, often making decisions that favor itself or the conservative lawmakers who put a majority of the justices in power. The Supreme Court is confident in its position and its conservative views, and has no qualms about overruling democratic decisions to keep itself—and conservative lawmakers—in power.

Far-Reaching Impacts

Decisions made by the Supreme Court have long and far-reaching consequences. On the positive side, single Supreme Court decisions helped desegregate American schools, create due process protections like Miranda Rights, and legalize same-sex marriages. At the same time, the conservative Supreme Court has greatly inflated the power of corporations over ordinary citizens; consistently ruled against the poor and welfare rights; and allowed our electoral system to become overrun by powerful interests with their campaign finance rulings. Their decisions have very real consequences for everyday Americans, whether we all understand that or not.


With the exception of the progressive Warren Court of the 1950-60s, the Supreme Court has showed itself to be antagonistic towards America’s poor. It has continually ruled against welfare rights, labor rights, voting rights, and even equal funding for education. The court has also refused to give poor Americans the protected minority status they so desperately need. Instead, the court has repeatedly ruled in favor of America’s rich and on behalf of corporations, further exacerbating the plight of the poor. Companies have substantially increased protections in their power over workers, while organized labor has lost much of their ability to protect workers.

Find out more:

Adam Cohen, a former member of the New York Times editorial board and senior writer for Time magazine, is the author of Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court's Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America. He is also the author of  Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck and Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he was president of volume 100 of the Harvard Law Review.

You can follow Adam on Twitter @adamscohen.

Thank you to Podcorn for sponsoring this episode. For more information, visit Podcorn.com

Sep 25, 2020
Decolonizing America: Nick Tilsen


Self-determination empowers those who are most affected to be in the driver’s seat of policy-making decisions. For example, if an oil company wants to run a pipeline through Indigenous land, Indigenous communities themselves would decide based on their values and the impact on their families, water, air, and land. NDN collective works to restore self-determination through three pillars: defense, development, and decolonization.


European colonization was a system of white supremacy that annihilated complex Indigenous populations, cultures, languages, beliefs, land, and governing systems. The work of decolonization includes dismantling white supremacist systems of economic extraction and governance; education about the totality of colonial history; and the revitalization of Native languages and ways of being. Reclaiming Indigenous heritage is also an act of healing past traumas from colonization.

Land Back

A key tenet of self-determination and decolonization is the “land back” movement. Theft of Indigenous lands was one of the fundamental ways Europeans colonized America. Stealing land and extracting its resources decimated both the land and the people who lived on it. The land back movement aims to right this wrong by returning public lands, like National Parks and National Forests, to the care of Indigenous People. Land back does not mean removing Americans from their homes. Instead, it means returning the land to Native stewardship focusing on preservation and rejuvenation.

Find out more:

Nick Tilsen is the President & CEO of NDN Collective, and a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Tilsen has over 18 years of experience building place-based innovations that have the ability to inform systems change solutions around climate resiliency, sustainable housing, and equitable community development.

He founded NDN Collective to scale these place-based solutions while building needed philanthropic, social impact investment, capacity and advocacy infrastructure geared towards building the collective power of Indigenous Peoples. Tilsen has received numerous fellowships and awards from Ashoka, Rockefeller Foundation, Bush Foundation and the Social Impact Award from Claremont-Lincoln University. He has an honorary doctorate degree from Sinte Gleska University.

You can follow him on Twitter @NickTilsen
And you can follow NDN Collective on Twitter @ndncollective

Sep 18, 2020
Building Civic Power: K. Sabeel Rahman

Civic Power

Civic power puts communities most impacted by legislative decisions in the drivers’ seat of making public policy. Community members get to have a say in areas like policing, zoning, education, taxation, voting rights, and more. Participatory budgeting creates a structure of representative decision making that is responsive and reflective of the affected communities. This form of civic power exists around the world and can be replicated in the United States on a large scale.

Radical Democracy

True bottom-up democracy is a radical but simple concept that fully espouses civic power. The representative democracy in the US puts bureaucrats, not affected communities, in control of many aspects of public policy. To achieve true democracy, we need to demand a policy shift in institutions, which creates more power for citizens in the long run. It’s a demand about changing the way policy is made tomorrow, and not just today.

An Inclusive and Equitable Society

The markers of a society’s success must include the flourishing of low-income workers and black and brown communities. It would require restructuring work and capital that does not exploit workers; investing in universal public services like health care and education; ending predatory lending practices as well as the system of crippling debt, especially for education; and dismantling systemic and systematic racism.

Find out more:

K. Sabeel Rahman is the President of Demos, a dynamic think-and-do tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy.

Rahman is also an Associate Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, where he teaches constitutional law, administrative law, and courses on law and inequality. He is the author of Democracy Against Domination, which won the Dahl Prize for scholarship on the subject of democracy. His academic work explores the history, values, and policy strategies that animate efforts to make our society more inclusive and democratic, and our economy more equitable. His new book, Civic Power, looks at how to build a more inclusive and empowered bottom-up democracy.

He has previously served as a Special Advisor on economic development strategy in New York City, a public member of the NYC Rent Guidelines Board, and the Design Director for the Gettysburg Project, an initiative working with organizers, academics, and funders to develop new strategies for civic engagement and building civic capacity.

You can follow him on Twitter @ksabeelrahman.

Sep 11, 2020
State Capture: Alex Hertel-Fernandez

Capturing State Legislatures

State capture refers to the idea that a set of organizations, businesses, and movements can capture a political office and dictate its agenda, decisions, and resource allocation to benefit their interests. Capturing state legislatures is especially effective because state governments – as opposed to the federal government – have control over significant aspects of our daily lives: taxes, minimum wage, health insurance, and administering elections. 

The Troika

Three powerful conservative organizations, commonly referred to as the troika, work in tandem to capture state legislatures: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the State Policy Network (SPN), and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). ALEC works with lawmakers directly to pass legislation it often writes and provides. SPN is a network of think tanks that works outside of government, creating reports, legislative testimony, and polling that champion conservative bills often created by ALEC. AFP operates like a political party with national, state, and local offices, all aimed at electing conservative lawmakers around the country.

Public Policy Changes Politics

Public policy can and does change politics. The troika has successfully promoted the adoption of so-called “right-to-work” laws, which weaken labor unions. These laws make it more difficult to unionize, collect dues, and support pro-labor candidates for office. In fact, they are a direct response to the unionization of public sector workers and their successful organizing, specifically the National Education Association in the 1960s-70s. Once anti-labor policies were in effect, it became easier for conservatives to continuously win elections and cement their political power.

Find out more:

Alexander Hertel-Fernandez is Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public affairs, where he studies the political economy of the United States, with a focus on the politics of organized interests, especially business and labor, and public policy.

His most recent book, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation, examines how networks of conservative activists, donors, and businesses built organizations to successfully reshape public policy across the states and why progressives failed in similar efforts.

Hertel-Fernandez received his B.A. in political science from Northwestern University and his A.M. and Ph.D. in government and social policy from Harvard University.

You can follow him on Twitter @awh.

Sep 04, 2020
Organized Power: Theda Skocpol and Caroline Tervo

Political Learning

In response to the elections of Obama and Trump, grassroots political movements sprung up on the right and the left. Members of these groups demonstrated an eagerness to learn about and understand local and state politics, which is where they are most actively engaged. After the 2016 election, Resist groups used many of the Tea Party movement’s tactics, like writing to law makers, running local candidates, and knocking on doors to get out the vote.

Impact on Politics

Grassroots movements are highly impactful across the political spectrum, often revitalizing local capacities of both political parties. Resist groups on the left are dominated by women, who are organizing and insisting on a more open and inclusive Democratic Party. Increasing voter turnout has had the strongest impact on both sides. Boosting the margins for the Democratic candidate in a swing state could lead to electoral victory in 2020.

Organized Groups Swing Elections

Organized groups helped swing the 2016 election. Donald Trump met with select groups who hold power over large swaths of voters, notably far right evangelical ministers, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the NRA. In the case of the Fraternal Order of Police, Trump pledged to protect white officers, leading to an endorsement from the Order—something Mitt Romney did not receive. Research shows that endorsement led to extra Republican votes in key battleground states like Pennsylvania.

Find out more:

Theda Skocpol (PhD, Harvard, 1975) is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. At Harvard, she has served as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (2005-2007) and as Director of the Center for American Political Studies (2000-2006). In 2007, she was awarded the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science for her "visionary analysis of the significance of the state for revolutions, welfare, and political trust, pursued with theoretical depth and empirical evidence." Skocpol's work covers an unusually broad spectrum of topics including both comparative politics and American politics. Her books and articles have been widely cited in political science literature and have won numerous awards, including the 1993 Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association for the best book in political science for the previous year. Skocpol's research focuses on U.S. social policy and civic engagement in American democracy, including changes since the 1960s.

Caroline Tervo is a research coordinator in the Harvard Government Department, working with Theda Skocpol and others on studies of citizen grassroots organizing, state and local party building, and the local effects of federal policy changes. A native North Carolinian, Tervo holds a BA in government from Harvard University.

You can follow her on Twitter @CarolineTervo.

Aug 28, 2020
Energizing Local Politics: Drew Kromer

Building Precincts

Precincts are critical to building local and regional party power. Kromer started Davidson’s Democratic party precinct with only four other people. Once established, they gained political legitimacy as well as access to state and county voter databases. This allowed them to organize and knock on doors, inform their constituents about the candidates who are running, and get out the vote. As a result, Davidson had a higher voter turnout rate than other local towns.

Politics Flows Up

The road to high-ranking state or federal positions often begins with local offices where only tens or hundreds of votes decide elections. Holding local office serves as validation for a candidate’s run for higher office. The mayor of your small town could become your congressional representative in the next election cycle. Focusing on local politics and seriously opposing bad candidates makes it harder for them to succeed and climb the political ladder.

Showing Up

We often think of party politics as exclusive clubs or murky organizations full of political operatives, but this is not the case. According to Kromer, 90% of becoming civically engaged is simply showing up. The best way to make sure your voice is heard is by attending local group or precinct meetings. Most local political organizations will welcome you to their initiative, to be engaged, and help solve the issues of your community.

Find out more:

Drew Kromer studied at Davidson College in North Carolina, where he became involved in the local College Democrats and built the local Democratic precinct in the town of Davidson, NC. He has served as the Vice-Chair of the National Council of College Democrats and currently serves as a DNC delegate in North Carolina. He is now in law school at UNC Chapel Hill.

You can learn more about the work Kromer did to revitalize his community here.

Aug 21, 2020
Politics is for Power: Eitan D. Hersh

Politics Begins with Service

Political power starts with service to others. For instance, Russian immigrant and Boston resident Naakh Vysoky began his political career by helping his fellow Russian immigrants gain citizenship and keep their government benefits. He also advocated on their behalf in Washington. Members of his community recognized his leadership and initiative, and began to follow his lead politically. They voted according to his recommendations. By building a voting bloc, Naakh created lasting political power to make government more responsive to his community.

Politics Solves Problems

Politics is about working together to solve problems. Uniting like-minded citizens through political organizing builds political power, which can be used to ask the government to help resolve the particular issues facing communities. Naakh Vysoky created a voting bloc of more than 1,000, and his precinct voted at three times the state average. When he called the governor’s office, the governor called back. The politics of empowerment helps a community grow and thrive, addressing issues like government benefits, the relationship of the police with the community, and communications between parents and the school district.

Political Hobbyism

Political hobbyism is distinct from power building: it is time spent thinking or worrying about politics without actually doing anything to change it. Political hobbyism includes news binges, political tweets, petition signing, and other forms of "shallow" activism. Further, this makes us look at politics from the "horserace" perspective, entrenching tribalism and making politicians misbehave. By engaging in political hobbyism, we learn the wrong lessons and acquire the wrong skillset, like paying attention to significant national issues. Instead, we should be engaged in local politics, where we can actually have an outsized influence.

Find out more:

Eitan D. Hersh is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, focusing on American politics. He studies US elections, civic participation, and voting rights. Much of his work utilizes large databases of personal records to study political behavior.

His second book, Politics is for Power, was published in January 2020. His first book, Hacking the Electorate, was published in 2015 (Cambridge UP). His peer-reviewed articles have been published in venues such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

His next major research project, now underway, is about the civic role of businesses and business leaders.

You can follow him on Twitter @eitanhersh.

Aug 14, 2020
Introducing the Future Hindsight Civics Club

Introducing the Civics Club!

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By supporting Future Hindsight, you're helping this independent podcast deliver the information you need every week to stay civically engaged. You'll also get bonus content, transcripts, early access to the show, and personal access Future Hindsight team—all for the price of a latte per month.

We look forward to your support, and thanks again for listening!

Aug 07, 2020
Sexual Citizens: Jennifer S. Hirsch & Shamus Khan

Sexual Citizenship

The concept of sexual citizenship asserts that people have the right to sexual self-determination, including young people. Recognizing young people’s sexual citizenship prepares them to both say no and yes, as well as to be able to hear other people when they do or don’t want to have sex. It also recognizes their fundamental humanity. Establishing sexual citizenship and autonomy for young people is a critical step in preventing campus sexual assault and promoting relationships based on trust, kindness, and love.

Power and Precarity

Meaningful action against sexual assault in its many forms must be grounded in a general project of equality because experiences of assault are fundamentally about power and precarity. Studies show young people who have difficulty paying for basic needs are at a significantly elevated risk of sexual assault. The highest rates of sexual assault reports come from LGBTQ communities because of systemic invalidation of queer identities. Racism, gender discrimination, transphobia, homophobia, and income inequality exacerbate the occurrence of sexual assault.

Comprehensive Sex Ed

Comprehensive sexual education goes well beyond biology, teaching healthy habits and boundaries around consent and mutual respect. Women who have learned refusal skills are half as likely to be assaulted as their less educated peers. Multi-faceted sex education should begin at a young age, so that by the time they mature, young people are prepared to safely and responsibly explore their sexuality. Parents also play a critical role in how to bring values like trust and empathy to any sexual interaction.

Find out more:

Jennifer S. Hirsch is professor of socio-medical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Her research spans five intertwined domains: the anthropology of love; gender, sexuality and migration; sexual, reproductive and HIV risk practices; social scientific research on sexual assault and undergraduate well-being, and the intersections between anthropology and public health. She's been named one of New York City's 16 'Heroes in the Fight Against Gender-Based Violence.' In 2012 she was selected as a Guggenheim Fellow.

You can follow her on Twitter @JenniferSHirsch.

Shamus Khan is professor and chair of sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of dozens of books and articles on inequality, American Culture, gender, and elites. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and many other media outlets. In 2018 he was awarded the Hans L. Zetterberg Prize for "the best sociologist under 40."

You can follow him on Twitter @shamuskhan.

Sexual Citizens reveals the social ecosystem that makes sexual assault a predictable element of life on a college campus. The powerful concepts of sexual projects, sexual citizenship, and sexual geographies provide a new language for understanding the forces that shape young people’s sexual relationships. Bringing attention to the importance of physical spaces, of peer influences and norms, of alcohol, and most of all, to the many forms of inequality on campus helps shine new and powerful light upon the ways in which young people experience and interpret sex and assault. The result is an innovative lens that transforms our understanding of sexual assault and provides a new roadmap for how to address it.

Jul 23, 2020
Surveillance Capitalism: Shoshana Zuboff

Surveillance Capitalism

Surveillance Capitalism is the dominant economic logic in our world today. It claims private human experience for the marketplace and turns it into a commodity. Vast amounts of personal data are necessary -- often harvested without our knowledge or consent –- in order to predict future behavior. Surveillance capitalists create certainties for companies by modifying people's behavior.

Instrumentarian Power

Instrumentarianism seeks to modify, predict, monetize, and control human behavior through the instruments of surveillance capitalism, our digital devices. Having mined all of our data, instrumentarians can tune and herd users into specific actions through triggers and subliminal messaging. It is ultimately a political project intended to install computational governance instead of democratic governance.

Protecting Your Privacy

A myriad of programs and apps can block tracking and scramble your location, making your behavioral data less accessible or even inaccessible. Since instrumentarians gain their power through our use of their devices, limiting internet use and working in-person reduces the power they have over you.

Find out more:

Shoshana Zuboff is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and a former Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Her masterwork, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, synthesizes years of research and thinking to reveal a world in which technology users are neither customers, employees, nor products. Instead, they are the raw material for new procedures of manufacturing and sales that define an entirely new economic order: a surveillance economy.

In the late 1980s, her decade-in-the-making book, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, became an instant classic that foresaw how computers would revolutionize the modern workplace. At the dawn of the twenty-first century her influential The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism (with James Maxmin), written before the invention of the iPod or Uber, predicted the rise of digitally-mediated products and services tailored to the individual. It warned of the individual and societal risks if companies failed to alter their approach to capitalism.

You can follow her on Twitter @shoshanazuboff

Jul 17, 2020
Canvassing with Love: David Fleischer

After listening to this episode, try deep canvassing yourself! Click HERE to read the step-by-step guide. We'd love to compare notes and see how you did. After you've canvassed, tell us about your experience by leaving a message at (929) 262-0752. Thank you!

Deep Canvassing

Deep canvassing was developed to better understand voters in response to California’s Prop 8 legislation, which outlawed gay marriage. Sharing personal stories and active listening techniques establish common ground, even among voters with totally different opinions. These kinds of meaningful exchanges lead to constructive, positive dialogue that can change minds and achieve political results at a higher rate than traditional canvassing.

How to deep canvass

Start with the change you seek. Put together a list of people to talk to. Recruit a buddy. Before the call, think about someone you love and why you love them. On the call, genuinely listen to people and ask meaningful questions based on what they say. Share a personal story with a loved one where decency and kindness -- instead of judgment -- was extended. Connect the issue with that person’s real lived experience. Reconnect with the buddy and compare notes.

Voting is Personal

Voting is both a political and a personal act. Thinking about voting as a gift to our loved ones is a powerful way to make clear what the stakes are around voting and the world we live in. Deep canvassing taps into the real lived experience of how we treat each other, connecting the dots to why we vote and who we vote for.

Find out more:

David Fleischer is the Director of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Leadership LAB. The Center’s carefully honed method of “deep canvassing” delivered the first empirically tested and proven process where a single conversation decreases prejudice in a long-lasting way. Developed after the shocking 2008 win for Prop 8, which made gay marriage illegal in the state of California, Fleischer was motivated to figure out why, in this seemingly open-minded state, people voted against gay and lesbian people who wanted to marry. To find out, he and the Leadership LAB organizers and volunteers went to the neighborhoods where they had lost the worst; 15,000 one-on-one conversations later, they had learned several universally actionable pieces of information.

You can learn more about David and his work here, and you can follow the LA LGBT Center on Twitter @LALGBTCenter

Jul 10, 2020
Deconstructing the Alt-Right: Alexandra Minna Stern

Culture Informs Politics

The Alt-Right believes politics is downstream from culture. They operate in this meta-political sphere where changing American politics must start with changing culture, discourse, and language. The internet allowed the Alt-Right’s ideology to proliferate through memes, in online communities, and finally into mainstream culture. After the 2016 election collapsed the timing between culture and politics, the internet continues to serve as a platform to disseminate their cultural values. Conversely, de-platforming prominent Alt-Right voices like Gavin McInnes and Alex Jones has reduced their ability to gain new adherents.

Gateway to Extremism

The Proud Boys, McInnes’s group, is a gateway to right-wing extremism. They often claim plausible deniability by saying anti-Semitic or transphobic memes are jokes and using seemingly harmless initiation rituals to lure young white men into their orbit. They attempt to “red-pill” their followers and decry modernity, liberalism, egalitarianism, and feminism. They would like America to re-embrace a “traditional” natural order in which white men are at the top of the pyramid, one of the central ideas of white supremacy.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, groups like The Proud Boys are often the first step toward white nationalism.

Countering the Alt-Right

We must support democratic uses of social media to create a fair online environment. Pressuring companies like Facebook and YouTube to call out and remove hate; exposing the farce of nostalgia for a dominant white culture; and pushing back against tribalistic tendencies, especially among teenagers online, is critical. The Alt-Right is focused heavily on gender norms, so supporting transgender and LGBTQ+ rights is an actionable way to promote and support an inclusive society. Further, we should infuse our public discourse with a positive and racially pluralistic message.

Find out more:

Alexandra Minna Stern is Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate of History, American Culture and Women’s and Gender Studies and Associate Dean for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. She also directs the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab housed in the Department of American Culture.

Her research has focused on the history of eugenics, genetics, society, and justice in the United States and Latin America. Through these topics, she explored the dynamics of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, social difference, and reproductive politics.

Her book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right is Warping the American Imagination, applies the lenses of historical analysis, feminist studies, and critical race studies to deconstructing the core ideas of the alt-right and white nationalism.

You can learn more at her website: http://www.minnastern.com/.

Jul 03, 2020
The Roots of Conservative Media: Nicole Hemmer

Conservative media activism

Beginning with the America First Movement, conservative political activists also became conservative media figures. In addition to writing conservative books and hosting radio or television programs, these activists also created civic organizations and worked on political campaigns from Eisenhower to Goldwater and Reagan. Media is an important part of their political activism, and not a separate, objective endeavor.

Politics of Ideas

Conservatives believe political change starts with ideas. They build political power through spreading and popularizing their ideas through their own media outlets where ideology trumps facts on the ground. Conservative audiences -- primed only to right-wing views -- believe that only their sources are right, both factually and ideologically. Hence, conservative voices became the only ones telling the truth.

Epistemological divide

We are experiencing an epistemological divide where liberals and conservatives have fundamentally different understandings of the truth. This divide is partly born out of the rise of conservative media, which is based on faith claims, or claims of personal authority and knowledge, rather than observable facts. Because many conservatives believe what conservative media and political personalities tell them, they are often impervious to fact-checking and the promotion of truth.

Find out more:

Nicole Hemmer is a professor and political historian specializing in media, conservatism, and the far-right. She is the author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.

In addition to being an associate research scholar with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project, she is also co-founder and co-editor of Made by History, the historical analysis section of the Washington Post, and co-host of the Past Present podcast.

Hemmer’s historical analysis has appeared in a number of national and international news outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic, Politico, U.S. News & World Report, New Republic, PBS NewsHour, CNN, NPR, and NBC News.

You can follow her on Twitter @pastpunditry.

Jun 26, 2020
Political Communication Ethics: Peter Loge

Ethical Communication

Ethical communication involves respect and civil discourse. Taking time to listen to other sides and treating lawmakers with civility are key to a healthy democratic process. Respecting procedures that bolster the institutions of democracy and working together can help us achieve a better America.

The truth is click bait

The truth is not boring. We can be clever about presenting truth and facts. Presenting the truth in a click bait format—with catchy headlines, good photos, and a listicle—is possible. Ethical communication doesn’t have to be dry, like eating our vegetables.

Improving the media

The media can and should cover politics in a way that encourages citizens to be engaged participants in a democracy, instead of spectators. Recognizing robust and ethical leadership in our lawmakers will encourage a high bar of communication among all politicians. Supporting substantive reporting through subscriptions is imperative.

Find out more:

Peter Loge is the founding director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication and an Associate Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, as well as a strategic communication consultant.

He has served in senior positions for Senator Edward Kennedy, for three members of the US House of Representatives, and in the Obama administration. Loge has led and advised a range of campaigns and organizations, put the first Member of Congress on the internet, lobbied for “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” served as a Senior Policy Advisor for health care in the US House during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, and was a Chief of Staff in the House of Representatives during the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

You can follow him on Twitter @ploge.

Jun 19, 2020
Fact-Checking for Truth: Jon Z. Greenberg

Who Gets Fact-Checked?

PolitiFact finds statements of “fact” by American politicians that can be verified and are highly visible, or pertinent, to a current national conversation. This is the reason why high-ranking officials such as Members of Congress, Senators, Cabinet members, and the President are at the top of the list. The President gets checked a lot—and fails nearly 70% of the time! 

The Fact-Checking Process

PolitiFact looks for evidence to support that a statement is accurate or less than entirely accurate: scouring independently verifiable information from sources like the Bureaus of Labor Statistics or Economic Analysis; turning to experts in a given field; and also asking the person who made the statement to provide whatever information they used. Once all of the facts have been checked, the rating of the statement is determined on the Truth-O-Meter. It has six ratings in decreasing levels of truthfulness from true to pants on fire.

Speaking Truth to Power

PolitiFact’s reason to publish is to give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy. One of the most rewarding ways PolitiFact sees its work in action and check power is in the White House Press Room. Often reporters will confront the President or the White House Press Secretary with PolitiFact analysis. Challenging a person in power with the facts is an essential way to get the truth out and keep America more honest at the highest levels.

Find out more:

Jon Greenberg is a senior correspondent with PolitiFact. He was part of the PolitiFact team during the 2012 presidential election and was one of the fact-checkers who launched PunditFact in 2013. Prior to that, he was executive editor at New Hampshire Public Radio and a Washington reporter for National Public Radio. He has twice won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting.

You can follow him on Twitter @JonZGreenberg.

Jun 12, 2020
The New Conspiracism: Nancy Rosenblum


A functional conspiracy theory uses facts and rational arguments to prove that things are not as they seem. Conspiracism is a conspiracy without the theory. Conspiracism takes the form of a bold assertion without any evidence, even fake evidence, to back it up. It’s an assault on common sense. Prominent examples are “climate change is a hoax!” and “the election is rigged!” Conspiracy claims spread quickly because they require no explanation and are impossible to counter. Moreover, they ring “true enough” by playing into an emotional narrative of fear or hatred. When the president engages in conspiracism, such as the press being the enemy of the people, he imposes his reality on the nation, with violent consequences.

Dangers of conspiracism

One of the most devastating side effects of conspiracism is the delegitimation of democratic institutions, such as the party system. The notion of a loyal opposition party is key to democracy; without it, democracy ceases to exist. Republicans rely heavily on this delegitimating tactic to hold power, and it’s growing more rampant. Birtherism towards Obama and painting Hillary Clinton as a criminal mastermind are examples of this. By equating Democrats with traitors, as the president has explicitly done, he implies they are not a loyal opposition but enemies of the state. Once delegitimated, violence against them becomes acceptable. This is an old tactic, but one we’re seeing for the first time in the US.

Protecting Reality and enacting democracy

Conspiracism is destructive, delegitimating, and disorienting. However, it has no program, no policy, and no ideology. Conspiracism is now mainly used by conservatives, but it can easily travel across the political spectrum. In fact, conspiracism has already replaced ideology as the dominant political tool in the US. It is critical to speak truth to conspiracism—not for the person spreading it, who is unlikely to be persuaded—but for yourself and others. For starters, it is morally right. Speaking truth also reinforces reality, shows other truth-seekers they are not alone, and creates solidarity. Equally important is voting for politicians who emphasize facts and explain how and what their actions are accomplishing. Lawmakers help sustain democratic norms when they are transparent and make acts of government open and legible.

Find out more:

Nancy Rosenblum is the Harvard University Senator Joseph S. Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government emerita. Her field of research is historical and contemporary political thought. She is the co-author of A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy, among other books.

Prof. Rosenblum is Co-Editor of the Annual Review of Political Science and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science. She has served as the President of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy, Vice-President of the American Political Science Association, Board Member of the Russell Sage Foundation, and Chair of the Department of Government from 2004 to 2011.

Jun 05, 2020
The Risks of Fake News: Travis I. Trammell & Elisabeth Paté-Cornell

Viral Model

Trammell created a viral disease model to mimic how fake news spreads. People must come in to contact with the fake information in order to be infected, just as with a virus. The more people are exposed, the more it spreads. The research shows that individuals who claim to be online for more than 10 hours a day are more susceptible to fake news. Flattening the curve of false information requires countermeasures on multiple fronts.

Counter Measures

Fake news is likely here to stay, but it is possible to mitigate its spread and efficacy. France effectively employed a “pre-bunking” strategy in its last presidential election. The government warned citizens that fake news would be coming from Russia, and preemptively distributed factual information to counter false narratives. Other necessary counter measures are aggressively attacking fake accounts (bots), building a reputation system to identify bad actors and reliable sources, educating schoolchildren to be vigilant consumers of the news, and cultivating a habit in citizens to never rely on a single source for information.

Future of Fake News

Artificial Intelligence is revolutionizing the fake news frontier. The rise of Deep Fake videos is an alarming trend because they are virtually unidentifiable as fake, and humans are much more likely to believe audio or video. AI can also glean audience predispositions and specifically target fake news to susceptible users, like Google targets ads. Coupling Deep Fakes and AI targeting with “nuanced” fake news—information that is mostly true with only certain key details changed—will make fake news a more and more trenchant problem in the months and years ahead.

Find out more:

Lieutenant Colonel Travis Trammell is a career U.S. Army Officer with operational experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt. At Stanford, Travis is a Ph.D. Candidate with the Management, Science and Engineering Department, inside the Engineering Risk Research Group and a Predoctoral Fellow with the Program on Democracy and the Internet. His research focuses on quantitative risk analysis of nation state promoted fake news and influence campaigns.

Dr. Marie-Elisabeth Paté-Cornell is the Burt and Deedee McMurtry Professor in the School of Engineering and Professor and Founding Chair (2000-2011) of the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. Her specialty is engineering risk analysis with application to complex systems (space, medical, offshore oil platforms, etc.). Her recent work is on the use of game theory in risk analysis with applications that have included counterterrorism, nuclear counter-proliferation problems, and cyber security. She is the author of more than one hundred publications, and the co-editor of a book on Perspectives on Complex Global Problems (2016).

May 29, 2020
The Truth Sandwich: George Lakoff

Truth sandwich

George Lakoff invented a construct called the Truth Sandwich in order to effectively frame the truth and negate a lie. In it, true statements act as "bread," and the lie is the "filling." A truth sandwich always starts with the truth because framing first is an advantage. Next, indicate the lie and state that it is a lie. Return immediately to the truth. The truth must always be repeated more than the lie.  Simply negating a lie without first stating the truth helps liars because it highlights the lie first. The Truth Sandwich formula of truth-lie-truth is key to combatting lies and fake news.

Truthful Reporting

Democratic societies depend on newspapers and the media overall to lead with the truth in their reporting and to root out lies. Everyday citizens are ill-equipped to fact-check every piece of media they consume. We need capable editors and reporters to fact-check, call out lies, and point to the consequences of the lie versus the truth. Reporters and editors should use the Truth Sandwich model to convey factual information and debunk lies to the public. High quality and truthful journalism is critical to a functioning democracy.


Our morals depend on how we understand ourselves, our families, and our politics. Republicans and Democrats have different ideas about morality, and give their loyalty to the party they think most likely to defend their values. Illegal conduct, lies, and other usually "immoral" actions are tolerated when they are deemed as furthering a specific set of goals and morals. As long as the party is carrying out the values of its constituents, the party faithful will keep their values.

Find out more:

George Lakoff is Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society and is now retired Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. He previously taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He graduated from MIT in 1962 (in Mathematics and Literature) and received his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Indiana University in 1966. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!, among other works, and is America's leading expert on the framing of political ideas.

You can follow him on Twitter @GeorgeLakoff.

May 22, 2020
Post-Truth: Lee C. McIntyre


Post-truth is the political subordination of reality. It is not a failing of knowledge, but one of politics. Authoritarians use post-truth to corrupt our faith in the truth. The end goal is not to make citizens believe lies, but to make them so cynical and uncertain, they think they can never know the truth. Once this control over the information stream is achieved, leaders begin to have direct control over the populace. Post-truth marks the beginning of the descent into fascism for this reason.

Fake News

Fake news is intentionally false news. It’s a key tool in the pursuit of post-truth because it muddies the waters of reality. Once misinformation is in the public sphere, it is impossible to remove. The more fake news saturates the information market, the more jaded the target population becomes. Authoritarians can further confuse people by labeling the truth as fake news; they deny facts and demonstrate their control over their country’s information stream.


Propaganda is the most potent weapon in a post-truth leader’s arsenal. It is not designed to simply fool a population. Instead, it exists to demonstrate the government’s command of truth and that the truth is subordinate to the will of the leader. It shows the government’s ability to lie with impunity. Even if the population doesn’t believe the lie, it overwhelms their defenses, making them easier to rule.

Find out more:

Lee McIntyre is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. Formerly Executive Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, he has also served as a policy advisor to the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and as Associate Editor in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

McIntyre is the author of several books, including Post-Truth and Respecting Truth: Willful Ignorance in the Internet Age. Other work has appeared in such popular venues as the New York Times, Newsweek, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New Statesman, the Times Higher Education Supplement, and The Humanist.

You can follow Lee on Twitter @LeeCMcIntyre.

May 15, 2020
Authoritarianism Under COVID-19: Thomas O. Melia

COVID & Authoritarianism

COVID-19 has created an excuse for authoritarians around the world to consolidate power. Repressive regimes such as China have jailed political prisoners, and citizen journalists reporting on the pandemic have disappeared. Russia clamped down on free reporting to protect powerful warlords. Free speech is under attack in the U.S., as was the case when Captain Brett Crozier was fired for expressing concern about COVID-19 onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Navy nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

Long term danger of surveillance

Under the guise of public safety, governments are increasingly collecting our data, such as through contact tracing. It might make sense to share our personal information at this time. However, once these habits become established, they are hard to break. We could soon be subject to temperature or blood checks at border crossings, airports, or even public buildings. If governments obtain and track our medical histories, they will know much more about us than whether or not we have COVID-19.

Seeing Through Trump’s Response

The U.S. federal government’s response to COVID-19 utilizes the authoritarian playbook. Scientists like Dr. Fauci are muzzled while Trump spews angry rhetoric, total fabrications, and rewritten narratives to make himself look better. Trump can usually avoid repercussions for his lying, but a mounting virus death-toll is one fact-check he cannot shrug off. In time, the truth about his management of the crisis will come out thanks to media reporting, whistle-blowers, and congressional investigations.

Find out more:

Thomas O. Melia is Washington Director at PEN America. Previously, he served in the Obama Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, responsible for Europe and Eurasia, south and central Asia, and the Middle East, and as Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) until January 2017. Melia is a monthly columnist for The American Interest and chair of the board of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). He was also a Fellow with the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, helping to lead a bipartisan initiative to reinvigorate American leadership in defense of human rights and democracy at home and abroad.

PEN America is a non-profit organization working at the crossroads between human rights and literature. They champion free speech around the world, celebrate creative expression, and defend the liberties that make it possible.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @thomasomelia and PEN America @penamerica.

May 08, 2020
Civic Engagement, Social Distancing, and Democracy Reform

Recently, Mila sat down with other podcast hosts from our podcast network The Democracy Group, to discuss the impact COVID-19 is having on our democracy, vulnerable populations, and more.

“COVID, the pandemic … has really brought to bear not just the inequities and the inequalities, but also the necessity to have a much more active sense of democracy as a verb — democracy as an action that we can all be part of.” — Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, 70 Million

Host: Richard Davies, Co-host, How Do We Fix It?

Mila Atmos, Host, Future Hindsight

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, Founder and CEO of Lantigua-Williams and Co., Creator and Executive Producer, 70 Million

Carah Ong-Whaley, Associate Director at James Madison Center for Civic Engagement at James Madison University, Co-host, Democracy Matters

Lee Drutman, Senior Fellow at New America, Co-host, Politics in Question

May 04, 2020
ExxonMobil’s Dirty Secret: Geoffrey Supran

ExxonMobil’s Knowledge

Beginning in 1959, ExxonMobil became scientifically aware of the dangers of human-caused climate change. By the 1970s-80s, they had a detailed, precise understanding of climate change. Their peer-reviewed and well-respected internal research gave them access to government meetings and academic conferences. In turn, knowledge about the status of the science and policies helped guide and inform business decisions. Internal memos show that in response to the scientific evidence, executives chose to publicly spread uncertainty and denial.


ExxonMobil invented the advertorial, a paid advertisement that is written and presented like an editorial. This content ran every Thursday on the New York Times Opinion page beginning in 1972. Its longevity and proliferation make it one of the largest propaganda campaigns in history. Approximately 80% of the company’s advertorials denied, obfuscated, or encouraged skepticism about climate science. During the same time that these public climate denial ads ran, the company’s peer-reviewed academic literature accepted and acknowledged that global warming is real, human-caused, and solvable.


Supran is a scientist and an activist, calling for MIT to divest from fossil fuels and organizing the first major scientist protest against the Trump administration. He believes that speaking truth to power about climate change is his civic duty, especially because he is a scientist. He quotes Einstein, who would agree: “Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” Due to a long history of interest group pushing academics and scholars to be impartial, many scientists are reluctant to be activists. The stakes are too high for silence.

Trustworthy climate news sources:

Climate Feedback

InsideClimate News

The Guardian - Environment

The New York Times – Climate and Environment

Find out more:

Geoffrey Supran is a Research Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. Working alongside Professor Naomi Oreskes, he investigates the history of global warming politics; particularly the climate communications, denial, and delay tactics of fossil fuel interests. He is also a Postdoctoral Affiliate with Professor Jessika Trancik at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Supran’s academic publications include the first ever peer-reviewed analysis of ExxonMobil’s 40-year history of climate change communications, which demonstrated that the company has misled the public. It was the seventh most talked-about climate change article of 2017, with global news coverage reaching a potential audience of half a billion people, and it was cited by Anderson Cooper during CNN's 2019 U.S. Democratic presidential Climate Town Hall.

Supran has briefed U.S. Senators and Governors, testified as an expert witness to European (EU) Parliament and the Philippines Commission on Human Rights, and co-authored several amicus briefs in support of climate litigation.

You can follow him on Twitter @GeoffreySupran.

May 01, 2020
Ending the Nuclear Era: Fred Pearce

Legacy of Secrecy

Nuclear technology has a long history of secrecy, cover-up, and deceit from military officials and government leaders, starting with the creation of nuclear weapons. Secrecy has hampered scientists in conducting rigorous research and data collection. They are often faced with studying the effects of radiation after an accident, which means they lack baseline data for comparison. This is most notable in Chernobyl, where the surrounding exclusion zone is now teeming with wildlife. Scientists disagree whether the detected DNA changes in the animals are due to radiation or to natural evolution, and how harmful it is. A combination of disinformation, a lack of understanding, and fundamental disagreements about the danger posed by radiation feeds public skepticism of nuclear technology.

Dangerous Waste

Nuclear technology's longest-lasting legacy is radioactive waste. It produces plutonium, a highly radioactive isotope that takes thousands of years to decay. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that the world currently has about 550 tons of plutonium. Most of the waste sits in silos designed for temporary storage, which is expensive. We still need to find a way to treat, move, and bury it in a permanent storage space that is deep underground. The immense cost of waste management is one of the main reasons that nuclear reactors are being decommissioned. After deciding to abandon nuclear power, Germany is now struggling with its waste. Some of it is stored in salt mines that are not secure enough in the long term, and some is in the UK for treatment. It’s unclear if Germany will take back the nuclear waste that is overseas. How the world will eventually safely maintain nuclear waste is an open question.

Nuclear Disarmament

The heart of Pearce’s opposition to nuclear energy is the danger of nuclear proliferation. The creation of nuclear weapons is a Faustian pact that poses a vast and unnecessary risk to the world. The hydrogen bombs that were developed after WWII would kill millions of people instantly, which are now in silos all over the world, ready to be deployed. He argues that nuclear weapons are not a security measure, but instead create global insecurity. Every year they lie dormant, the chances they fall into the wrong hands increases. Nuclear weapons disarmament needs to be our highest priority, and should be achievable in the next 30 – 40 years. The only way to do so is by eliminating atomic technology, which also means eliminating nuclear power.

Find out more:

Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in London. He has reported on the environment, science, and development issues from 88 countries over the past 30 years. Trained as a geographer, he has been an environment consultant of New Scientist magazine since 1992. He writes regularly for The Guardian newspaper, including the weekly Greenwash column, and published a 12-part investigation of the 'Climategate' emails affair at the University of East Anglia. He is also a regular contributor to Yale University's prestigious e360 website.

Fred is the author of numerous books, including Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age, and The Last Generation: How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Climate Change. His books have been translated into at least 14 languages.

Apr 24, 2020
Our Radioactive Ocean: Ken Buesseler

The Pacific Ocean is Safe

After the Fukushima reactor accident, radiation leaked into the Pacific Ocean, sparking global worry. In the months after the accident, levels were high, but not high enough to cause marine life die-off. For the last five years, all fish caught off Japan has been below the radiation thresholds for consumption. Radioactive cesium levels have been low since 2014, and levels of radiation off the California coast are lower today than they were in the 1960s when the US detonated hydrogen bombs in the Marshall Islands. Swimming in the Pacific for eight hours every day is less risky than one dental x-ray.

Our Radioactive Ocean

A crowdsourced science campaign called Our Radioactive Ocean was created to measure ocean radiation at various points in the Pacific. Interested citizens collected ocean samples and sent them to Woods Hole to be analyzed. The campaign became a hit, and more than 300 data points have been plotted up and down the West Coast. More than 1 million people have visited their site. Once citizen scientists got involved in the project, they wanted to learn more and engaged their communities. Communities, like Laguna Beach, began to band together to pay for samples. The data used is credible and has resulted in at least one scientific paper. Thanks to the public nature of the effort, new data points are continuing to be analyzed today.

Radioactive World

Radiation is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and we live with it every day. Even without human interference, the ocean still has radiation because of dissolved radioactive agents found in salt. Radiation in small doses is natural and perfectly healthy. Living at a high altitude exposes you to cosmic radiation and flying from New York to Japan gives you a dose of radiation much higher than background levels. Living in New England exposes you to elevated levels of radiation thanks to the large amounts of granite, which releases it. Many foods, like bananas, have trace amounts of radiation. Getting a dental x-ray or CAT Scan gives you a dose of radiation. We live with radiation and should not be afraid of it, except in extremely high doses.

Find out more:

Ken Buesseler is a marine radiochemist who studies the fate and distribution of radioactive elements in the ocean at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. His lab has also been active in response to radioactivity released from disasters such as the impact of radioactivity released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, and from earlier sources such as Chernobyl or atomic weapons testing at the Marshall Islands.

He created the Our Radioactive Ocean project, which uses citizen scientists to measure radiation levels on the West coast of United States. He also leads WHOI's Café Thorium, which analyzes marine samples for both natural and artificial radionuclides.

You can follow him on Twitter @cafe_thorium.

Apr 17, 2020
A Renewable Future: Mark Z. Jacobson

Nuclear Power is Impractical

Building nuclear power plants is extremely costly and time-consuming; projects are often plagued by cost overruns and construction delays. Between permitting, planning, and construction, it takes 10-19 years for a plant to become operational. To meet our climate goals, we need to transition 80% of our energy to carbon-free solutions by 2030. From a logistical standpoint, nuclear cannot become our carbon-free energy source because it will arrive too late. In addition, aging nuclear power plants become more expensive to maintain and operate, which necessitate additional subsidies. Maintenance requirements shut down the whole plant and energy production goes to zero during that time.

Nuclear Technology Risks

In addition to the practical barriers of building a nuclear grid, nuclear technology has inherent risks. Some of the radioactive nuclear waste takes hundreds of thousands of years to decay, posing long term problems for safe maintenance. The technology can and has been used for weapons proliferation. The catastrophic risk of a nuclear reactor meltdown is currently at 1.5%, which is astronomical. In comparison, we would not accept a 1.5% chance of planes crashing. The cost of cleanup for the Fukushima disaster alone has exceeded $500 billion, or more than $1 billion per reactor worldwide, which makes nuclear much more costly than many acknowledge.

Electrifying our lives with renewable energy

Transitioning to clean renewable energy and electrifying all sectors of the economy can achieve a savings in energy demand of 57%. The heating and cooling of buildings can be achieved through heat pumps; electric cars can replace fossil fuel models; high-temperature electric processes can be used in heavy industry. Clean energy electricity can be generated through large concentrated solar farms, offshore wind power, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. Sources like solar and wind can come online much faster than nuclear, cutting emissions more quickly and stay clean forever. Once electrification is widespread, it becomes easier to store excess power with batteries, hydroelectric reservoirs, and gravitational storage.

Find out more:

Mark Z. Jacobson is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Senior Fellow of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University.

His career has focused on better understanding air pollution and global warming problems and developing large-scale clean, renewable energy solutions to them. Toward that end, he has developed and applied three-dimensional atmosphere-biosphere-ocean computer models and solvers to simulate air pollution, weather, climate, and renewable energy. He has also developed roadmaps to transition countries, states, cities, and towns to 100% clean, renewable energy for all purposes and computer models to examine grid stability in the presence of high penetrations of renewable energy.

You can follow him on Twitter @mzjacobson.

Apr 10, 2020
COVID-19 Special Edition

Stephen Pimpare is a nationally recognized expert on poverty and U.S. social policy. Hedebunks the idea that COVID is the great equalizer, and explains why immediate cash transfers are critical to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the poor.

Joe Huston is Managing Director of GiveDirectly, the first and largest non-profit organization that gives cash directly to people in poverty. He shares how they are reaching the needy and providing thousands with critical funds right now.

Maria Foscarinis is the Founder and Director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. We talk about successful strategies to house the homeless and give them cash, as well as special funding to address homelessness in the CARES Act.

Robin Steinberg is the founder and CEO of The Bail Project. Her organization is doing the immense work to release as many Americans held on bail as possible at this time, what states are doing to help, and how decarceration is now quickly gaining traction around the country.

Find out more:

Stephen Pimpare is a nationally recognized expert on poverty, homelessness, and U.S. Social policy. He is also a Faculty Fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and teaches courses on American Politics and Public Policy. His most recent book is Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down & Out on the Silver Screen, a history of poverty and homelessness in the movies.

Follow him on Twitter @stephenpimpare.

Joe Huston is the Managing Director of GiveDirectly, the first and largest non-profit organization that gives cash directly to people in poverty and that works to reshape the way we think about international donations.

Follow GiveDirectly @GiveDirectly and Joe @JHust

Maria Foscarinisis the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and has advocated for solutions to homelessness at the national level since 1985.

Follow her on Twitter @MariaFoscarinis.

Robin Steinberg is the founder and CEO of The Bail Project, an unprecedented national effort to combat mass incarceration by transforming the pretrial system in the U.S.

Follow The Bail Project on Twitter @bailproject.

Apr 09, 2020
A Nuclear Future: Joshua Goldstein

Green Power

Nuclear energy offers large amounts of power, produces no carbon dioxide, uses a comparatively small amount of land, and runs around the clock. Although nuclear power produces hazardous waste, the amount of material and risk to civilians is small. The risk is hugely outweighed by the risk posed by climate change. According to Goldstein, nuclear power represents the best source of carbon-free energy available to us as we transition from fossil fuels. In the span of one decade, Sweden cut its emissions in half while also growing its economy, thanks to a large-scale nuclear program.

Nuclear Waste or Air Pollution?

Air pollution kills millions of people world-wide every year because of the particulate matter that coal-powered plants emit freely into the atmosphere. What people should be afraid of is coal, but what people are afraid of is nuclear power. The fear of radiation is exacerbated by disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, as well as generational trauma about the potential use of nuclear weapons in the 1950s to the 1970s. Although large amounts of radiation are fatal, we actually live safely with small, naturally occurring amounts every day. The stigma against nuclear power caused Germany to shutter its plants in favor of solar and wind. They replaced one green fuel source with another instead of replacing coal with a green fuel. Unfortunately, because Germany’s renewables are not meeting demands for electricity, they are now burning more fossil fuels to fulfill that need.

Small Modular Reactors

Instead of giant nuclear plants, which can take decades to build, the future lies in small modular reactors. These new, pre-fabricated, transportable, and scalable reactors are in current development by the US and China. They are projected to be operational in the middle of the coming decade. These smaller reactors can be mass-produced and distributed to high-need areas. In addition, small modular reactors carry less stigma because of their size. The Chinese model can sit on a barge, be towed to a location, and immediately begin producing power.

Find out more:

Joshua Goldstein is professor emeritus of international relations at American University and a research scholar at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He researches, writes, and speaks about global trends including war and society, economic forces, and world energy trends and climate change. Goldstein co-authored A Bright Future, How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow.

You can follow him on Twitter @GoldsteinJoshua.

Apr 03, 2020
Criminalizing Ecocide: Jojo Mehta

What is Ecocide?

The crime of ecocide is the "extensive loss, damage, or destruction of ecosystems such that their inhabitants can no longer enjoy life peacefully." Ecocide happens on a large scale; examples include the ravaging of the Brazilian rainforest, the consequences of widespread fracking, and toxic erosion from strip-mining. Corporations perpetrate almost all ecocide and millions of people are devasted by ecocide's effects every year. Currently, there is no legal pathway to compel corporations to stop committing ecocide.

Criminalizing Ecocide

The International Criminal Court oversees the prosecution of four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. During its inception, the crime of ecocide was proposed but never codified thanks to pushback from countries like the US, UK, France, and the Netherlands. All of them hold significant nuclear and fossil fuel interests. Since the ICC operates on a "one nation, one vote" policy, it is conceivable for small nations directly impacted by climate change to work together and criminalize ecocide, even if larger, fossil fuel burning countries oppose it. Criminalizing ecocide on an international level holds the world's worst polluters to account.

Shifting Public Opinion

Once something is outlawed, social stigma is quick to follow. Banning ecocide internationally, or even publicly considering doing so, leads to a shift in public opinion. As entire cultures become aware and fight against ecocide, many corporations will change their business models to meet public outcry. We already see this phenomenon around the world. Recently, the CEO of Siemens wrote a letter outlining the ways his company became greener but noted his legal duty was to his shareholders. Making ecologically devastating practices illegal will ensure that corporations change their polluting behavior.

Find out more:

Jojo Mehta is the co-founder and director of Earth Defense Integrity (EDI). EDI's international team is working with climate- and ecocide-vulnerable states which have the power to propose an Ecocide amendment to the Rome Statute, the governing document of The ICC. The International Criminal Court's annual Assembly in December is the critical forum for advancing this work. They have accompanied Small Island ("Great Ocean") Developing State representatives and helped amplify their voices and concerns there for four consecutive years, as the nations most impacted by climate emergency.

You can follow her on Twitter @Jojo_Mehta.

Mar 27, 2020
Climate Policy Failures: Leah Stokes

Fighting for Climate Policy

Dismantling the energy system is crucial to breaking the energy crisis. Implementing clean energy policies is the most effective way to change our current energy system and undo the playbook of the fossil fuel and utility industries. Citizens need to demand legislators to support green policies because a policy problem can only be fought with policy solutions. Mass public pressure, such as the youth protests led by Greta Thunberg, can disrupt the status quo and compel lawmakers to act.

Policy Feedback

Policy feedback is the idea that once policies are enacted, they reshape the next generation of politics. In the case of clean energy, the implementation of policies would kick start new industries and create jobs. As these industries become entrenched, they would defend the policies that created them and promote additional policy aimed at more green energy. Once this path dependence is created, a totally clean and renewable energy future is the result.

Policy Retrenchment

Fossil fuel and utility companies have immense power in state legislatures to reverse clean energy policies. Utilities around the country know how to run profitable power plants that burns fossil fuels and thus do not have incentives to switch to renewables. They fight against decarbonization by resisting implementation; rolling back existing guidelines for retrenchment; and even challenging pro-renewable candidates in primary races.

Find out more:

Leah Stokes an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and affiliated with the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). She is the author of the forthcoming book Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American State.

She works on energy, climate and environmental politics. Within American Politics, her work focuses on representation and public opinion; voting behavior; and public policy, particularly at the state level. Within environmental politics, she researches climate change, renewable energy, water and chemicals policy.

She completed a PhD in Public Policy in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s Environmental Policy & Planning group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); received a masters from MIT's Political Science Department; and completed an MPA in Environmental Science & Policy at the School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

You can follow her on Twitter @leahstokes

Mar 20, 2020
Climate Justice: Julian Brave NoiseCat

Climate Justice

Many low-income communities bear the brunt of industrial pollution or the harshest consequences of climate change. In order to address global warming in a meaningful way, we must also address systemic inequality. The Green New Deal offers a solution to both: transitioning to clean energy while also ensuring low-income communities get the funding they need, and blue-collar workers get good-paying jobs.

Promoting Policy

Climate Change is a global collective problem, and individual actions alone are not going to suffice to combat it. Currently, only the Democratic Party in the US is willing to acknowledge this reality and work towards enacting durable decarbonization policies. Therefore, voting for Democratic leaders is paramount in this year's election. Organizing, activism, and raising awareness should support and prioritize policy-making success.

Indigenous Wisdom

Indigenous peoples have deep insights as to how we can relate to the environment, such as in the management of fisheries and – more profoundly – in surviving a loss of their world. Colonization was an apocalyptic experience for them, yet many of these indigenous communities have endured, and some are even resurging today. As the climate crisis poses an existential threat, learning the history of First Nations people might help us understand what it means for humans to live through catastrophic destruction.

Find out more:

Julian Brave NoiseCat is Vice President of Policy & Strategy at Data for Progress; Change Director at The Natural History Museum; and a Fellow at Type Media Center & NDN Collective.

The belief that Indigenous peoples can contribute to understanding and solving the world's most pressing challenges inspires his work. In 2019, NoiseCat helped lead a grassroots effort to bring an Indigenous canoe journey to San Francisco Bay to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Alcatraz Occupation.

He has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, The Guardian, and The Nation, among many others.  

Previously, he led 350.org’s US policy work and was an Urban Fellow in the Commissioner’s Office of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development. He studied history at Columbia University and the University of Oxford, where he was a Clarendon scholar.

He is a proud member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen and a descendant of the Lil’Wat Nation of Mount Currie.

You can follow him on Twitter @jnoisecat

Mar 13, 2020
Writing Climate Policy: Jerry Taylor

Carbon Tax

The climate crisis is a global collective problem that requires a collective global solution. Robust and bipartisan public policy must be at the center of any effort. Taylor argues that we can harness capitalism to mitigate global warming, and proposes a combination of legislation together with a carbon tax on producers. Taxing carbon at $45 a ton creates serious incentives for cities, corporations, and individuals to cut emissions. A carbon tax is a swift fix because it can pass more quickly than substantial regulations that may take years to go into effect.

Changing Public Opinion

Changing public opinion starts with changing the minds of thought leaders. Elite Republicans are thought leaders for their party, so it is paramount to convince them that risk-management on climate change is essential for human survival on Earth. Many conservative leaders acknowledge reality, but there is currently no political window for change. Taylor and the Niskanen Center are working behind the scenes to ensure Republicans and Democrats will pounce when the opportunity presents itself with a new administration in the White House.

Facts Over Ideology

Climate denial is mostly a psychological argument in the face of overwhelming facts and scientific consensus. It is a reaction to left-leaning environmental activists, who many on the right believe are anti-industry, anti-fossil fuel, and anti-consumerist. Deniers believe that the climate change movement exists to attack the free market instead of to mitigate global warming. Accepting the facts and evidence of a warming planet is critical for passing bipartisan climate change legislation.

Find out more:

Jerry Taylor is the President of the Niskanen Center. Prior to founding the Center in 2014, Taylor spent 23 years at the Cato Institute, where he served as director of natural resource studies, assistant editor of Regulation magazine, senior fellow, and then vice president. Before that, Taylor was the staff director for the energy and environment task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Over the past two decades, he has been one of the most prominent and influential conservative voices in energy policy in Washington. He is also the author of numerous policy studies and has testified often before Congress.

You can follow him on Twitter @Jerry_JTaylor

Mar 06, 2020
The Actual Cost of Fast Fashion: Jussara Lee

Use Your Purchasing Power

Corporations only care about their bottom-line, so boycotting stores you don’t believe in does make a difference. Taking responsibility for your purchases is one of the most powerful non-violent tools available. Naysayers argue that individual actions have no effect, but these actions reverberate and impact the decisions of others. Recently, clothes giant H&M found itself with a $4.3B surplus, thanks in large part to changing consumer demands. As purchasers become more environmentally friendly, they moved away from fast fashion en masse, forcing the retail chain to change their behavior. H&M now operates clothing recycling centers in many of its store in a bid to appear more environmentally friendly. While this is only once instance, consumers can apply this action to a wide variety of stores and businesses and enact change in them.

The Impact of Fast Fashion

Fast fashion relies on the same business model as fast food: a high volume of cheap product for a low cost. Cheap textiles and materials as well as cheap labor come at the expense of exploited workers and the environment. To grow the cotton for one white t-shirt requires 713 gallons of water; leather tanneries use toxic metals like mercury and lead to dye their materials; cheap synthetic materials leech plastic microbeads into our water-system and food sources, eventually finding their way into our bodies. On top of this, the amount of oil used to create plastic hangers, bags, and other plastic accessories coupled with the carbon created during transportation creates a significant impact on the environment and climate. The actual cost of production, which should include pollution and other hidden costs, are not included in the price of fast fashion items.

Stay Small and Local

Unfortunately, there is no way to be entirely carbon neutral. Producing waste is inherent to life. The problem of pollution is essentially one of scale: the bigger you or your company are, the more pollution you produce, regardless of whether you use sustainable practices. Resource distribution is incredibly unequal throughout the world, so it’s important to use only what you need and not more. This way, we can ensure our resources do not go to waste and that others have access to what they need, as well. Staying local is also important to fighting climate change. A huge amount of carbon is produced in the transportation of goods. Consider using a local store to purchase new goods, instead of Amazon or eBay.

Find out more:

Jussara Lee has developed a small scale business operation in which luxury fashion and sustainable practices work in tandem. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, she launched her own label, which was embraced by prominent international retailers. For the past 18 years, she has worked to scale back the company to focus on making the best-fitting custom-made clothes with the gentlest impact on the environment. Hand-tailoring, local production, biodegradable materials, natural dyes form the core of her brand. The addition of mending services and a collection of transformed vintage clothes are part of her efforts to fit into a circular economic model, where the least amount of resources are consumed and waste is given a new purpose.

You can follow her on Twitter @JussaraLeeNYC

Feb 28, 2020
The Future of Food: Lenore Newman

Sustainable Food Supply

We can create a sustainable food supply for future populations with technology and a change in diet. We cannot feed the world the way we feed North America because 40% of the world’s arable land is currently used for food production. Most of that land is used to feed the animals that we then eat ourselves. Animal protein takes 10 times the amount of resources to grow than plant protein. We could reduce beef consumption by 70% if we replace hamburgers with artificial meats like the “impossible burger.” Doing so would be a huge step for the environment. As technology improves and becomes less costly, artificial meats will become the norm. In addition, we need to focus on efficient, crop-specific farm practices, and shifting farm subsidies to vegetables instead of sugar.


Humans have been mismanaging their food supplies for thousands of years. The Roman equivalent of vanilla, a plant called silphium, was prized so highly that Emperors hoarded it, yet it went extinct very rapidly due to mismanagement. Roughly two millennia later, clouds of billions of passenger pigeons ruled the American Midwest but went extinct in a short timespan because of overeating. More recently, the Canada’s Atlantic Cod stock disappeared, again thanks to mismanagement. Humans struggle with large scale, long term management efforts to ensure that our foods survive. This is a skill we desperately need to learn in order to ensure that our food supplies do not disappear.

Protecting What We Have

Think of the natural world as a library where each species is a book. Thanks to our current environmental and agricultural practices, we are burning these books; and once a species is gone, we can’t get it back. We need to focus on protecting what we have and managing our food supplies in a sustainable way. Ocean life is now most at risk from warming, pollution, and overfishing. A lot of ocean species travel in flocks like passenger pigeons, which makes them easy to kill. We need to stop eating the mega-fauna of the sea, like bluefin tuna and other big fish. Instead, we should focus on farmed fish and shellfish, like lobster and shrimp. Anyone who has an acre or two of land, should put in bee-friendly landscaping and avoid using chemicals that kill bees.

Find out more:

Lenore Newman holds a Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley, where she is an Associate Professor of Geography and the Environment. Her opinion pieces on the future of farmland use and other food-related issues have been published widely, including in The Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, and Georgia Straight. She holds a PhD in Environmental Studies from York University.

Her current research focuses on three main areas: (1) Technology and the future of food, including the evolution of the food system including bioengineering, cultured meat, dietary trends and indoor agriculture; (2) Agricultural land use policy, including agricultural land preservation, agriculture on the rural/urban fringe, and global land use patterns; and (3) Place making through food and agriculture, including direct marketing, edge city zoning, and culinary tourism experiences. In 2014, Lenore was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. She has authored over forty academic papers and reports in her areas of research. She is particularly proud of her work on foraged foods and on the impact of climate change on cuisine.

You can follow Lenore on Twitter @DrLenoreNewman.

Feb 21, 2020
A Call to Arms: Bill McKibben

Nonviolent Social Movement

Through non-violent social movements, we can demand meaningful change in the political and economic calculus for polluters. Climate strikes, extinction rebellions, and concerted efforts to stop devastating environmental policies have inspired a new generation of activists. The successful opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline showed that people could stand up to oil companies, and win. By stopping or delaying new fossil fuel projects, renewables have a better chance to take hold and in the meantime the technology has time to get cheaper and better. The divestment movement is another key piece of non-violent activism. Divestments from fossil fuels now total more than $12 trillion, and has become a material risk for those businesses.

Reducing Our Carbon Footprint

We must all address our individual carbon footprint in order to solve climate change. One Vermont family reduced their carbon footprint by 88% overnight. With the help of Green Mountain Utility, they fully insulated their house and installed high-efficiency air source heat pumps and solar panels. Even after including the costs of new appliances and insulation, their energy bills were still lower than before. We can all do similar makeovers because this technology is widely available at places like Home Depot. The technology and science to move toward carbon-neutrality already exist, we just need to use them.

What if?

Oil giant Exxon knew as early as the mid-1980s that climate change was real and man-made. Exxon was so aware of the impending crisis that they started building their offshore drilling rigs to compensate for the rise in sea levels that they knew was coming. Instead of telling the public, they hid their findings and denied climate change. McKibben wonders what the world would be like if they had been honest and had been part of the solution. His hypothesis is that the price of renewables, such as solar panels and wind turbines, would have fallen much earlier; new oil and gas exploration would have stopped; homes would be better insulated; and that a modest price on carbon would have been enacted. The result? A dramatically less polluted planet and a much different economy. Had we started earlier to combat warming, course correction would have been both easier and less costly.

Find out more:

Bill McKibben is a legendary environmentalist, author, and educator whose 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change. He has written dozens of books, is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and founded 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement.

The Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he was the 2013 winner of the Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize, and holds honorary degrees from 18 colleges and universities. Foreign Policy named him to their inaugural list of the world’s 100 most important global thinkers, and the Boston Globe said he was “probably America’s most important environmentalist.” In 2014, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’ 

A former staff writer for the New Yorker, he writes frequently for a wide variety of publications around the world, including the New York Review of Books, National Geographic, and Rolling Stone. He lives in the mountains above Lake Champlain with his wife, the writer Sue Halpern, where he spends as much time as possible outdoors. In 2014, biologists honored him by naming a new species of woodland gnat — Megophthalmidia mckibbeni — in his honor.

You can follow Bill on Twitter @billmckibben and 350.org @350.

Feb 14, 2020
Towards a Sustainable Future: Katherine Richardson

The UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda

The United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030 lists 17 goals designed to improve human well-being, while also managing the Earth’s resources for the future. We have been moving further from completing our environmental goals every year because well-being comes at the expense of the global environment. The sustainable development goals are a set of tools to maximize human well-being and minimize the negative effects of increased development. For instance, making sure everyone in the world has access to electricity is a well-being goal, and making sure that energy is clean is an environmental goal.

Resources as Money

We currently undervalue the use of natural resources because our economic model is designed to maximize profits, not protect the environment. Prices need to accurately reflect the reality that these resources are finite and must be used as efficiently as possible. No one uses more money than necessary to purchase a good or service, but all of us use more resources than necessary to maintain our lifestyle. We are able to regulate a global economy; we should also be able to regulate the global commodities market of resources.

Tipping Points

There are two types of tipping points in the climate change debate: environmental and social. Environmental tipping points include scenarios like losing all of the ice on the North Pole, which makes climate change much worse. There are also tipping points in social systems, such as the dramatic fall in smoking, or the use of seatbelts in cars. People can change, and consequently, societies can change very quickly. If we can manifest social tipping points around climate change that impact governance, our economic systems, our behavior, and our technology, we can mitigate the damage caused by climate change, and hopefully avoid the most devastating tipping points in our environment.

Find out more:

Katherine Richardson is the Leader of the Sustainability Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen and ​​​a Professor of Biological Oceanography at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate. She is also a member of the 15-person panel that wrote and delivered the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

You can follow her on Twitter @KRichardsonC.

Feb 07, 2020
The End of Welfare: Kathryn Edin (Rebroadcast)

The end of welfare

Welfare ceased being guaranteed after reform in 1996. Although the safety net for the working class was strengthened through tax credits, the safety net for those who are jobless disappeared. In its current state, the welfare system is overwhelming and underfunded. States are given block grants that they can spend at their discretion. For example, Louisiana spends its money on anti-abortion clinics. As a result, over the course of a year, about 3.5 million children live in households with virtually no cash income for at least 3 months.

Cash is king

Cash has the ultimate function: it can be used to pay rent, utilities, food, school supplies, and more. Although food stamps (SNAP) and Medicaid help needy families, these cashless forms of assistance cannot address other necessities in life. Access to cash can be pivotal to keeping a job – to fill your car with gas so you can go to work – or a roof over your head while you look for a new job after being downsized.

The poor are true Americans

America’s poor are the very embodiment of American ideals. Living in poverty is incredibly complex, a daily challenge to which the poor rise. They take pride in their work and find purpose at the workplace. They are hard-working, resourceful, and enterprising. Poor families spend their money wisely to keep their children fed and sheltered, and they stretch every dollar to make ends meet.

Find out more:

Kathryn Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers, working in the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family, life, and neighborhood contexts through direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income populations. A qualitative and mixed-method researcher, she has taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work, such as how do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work?

She has authored 8 books and some 60 journal articles. $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtutally Nothing in America, co-authored with Luke Shaefer, was met with wide critical acclaim. It was included in the NYT 100 Notable Books of 2015, cited as “essential reporting about the rise in destitute families.”

You can follow Kathryn on Twitter @KathrynEdin

Jan 31, 2020
Democracy and Freedom: Season Round Up

Empowering citizens

Many Americans are unsure of how their government works. Civic education is the manual for democracy, which Civics 101 offers in the form of a popular podcast. Over the last hundred years, the United States became more democratic through the activism and litigation of concerned and well-educated citizens. Still, some unfairness in our system prevails. One important holdover from the institution of slavery is the Electoral College, which was originally designed to grant outsized electoral power to slaveholding states. The system continues to give about one third of American voters an advantage at the expense of the majority. Our responsibility is to understand the rules, participate, and empower ourselves to make this democracy work us.

Undermining the Press

The President is allowed to say whatever he wants about the press as a private citizen because of his First Amendment protections. However, the President cannot use the power of the federal government to exact reprisals against the press. For instance, when the White House revoked press passes earlier this year, it contravened the Constitution. Never before has a President undermined and used retributive action against the press like this, and other countries are taking note. Repressive measures like these come directly from an authoritarian playbook, and according to PEN America, the number of journalists jailed worldwide for “fake news” tripled last year because of it. America was once the moral leader on free speech issues around the world, but the current administration’s repressive tactics are withering that leadership.

Technology for Democracy

Democracy Works remedies some of the most pervasive and mundane reasons we don’t vote. TurboVote is a tool that enables online voter registration, sends out election day reminders, and even provides absentee ballots. Those mailed-in ballots are then tracked by the Ballot Scout initiative. The Voting Information Project produces the polling place and ballot data that is then used by Google and get-out-the-vote drives. By using current technology to take the hassle of voting out of our busy lives, the initiatives of Democracy Works are building a more engaged society.

Citizens’ forum

Deliberative mini publics innovate democracy by engaging citizens in constructive dialogue about the issues facing society. While many in parliament assumed citizens would always favor more spending and lower taxes, it turned out that voters who were presented with detailed information came to develop nuanced policy positions. After listening to presentations by experts, they actually favored higher taxes in certain areas and reached complex compromises about government spending. By doing so, they proved to lawmakers and skeptics that ordinary Irish citizens could be trusted with vital policy work.

Find out more:

Future Hindsight is a weekly podcast that aims to spark civic engagement through in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers. American democracy is a living, breathing mechanism whose well-being deserves to be cultivated and protected, and now more than ever, the need to be an engaged citizen is critical. We explore how each of us has the power to shape our society and fulfill our shared civic responsibility.

You can follow us on Twitter @futur_hindsight and our host Mila Atmos @milaatmos

Jan 25, 2020
Ending Urban Violence: Thomas Abt

Focus on Violence First

Abt’s central thesis for solving violence in urban areas is fairly straightforward: focus on the violence—and not other factors—first. Exposure to violence may be the central mechanism that keeps poor children poor because it inhibits their ability to escape poverty. Violence occupies the brain with lifelong repercussions. Studies have shown elevated rates of cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses based on childhood trauma. Trauma also impacts the ability to sleep, focus, and behave, all of which impact academic and job performances. By reducing violence first, we can provide a measure of safety and stability, which makes it easier to improve education, health outcomes, and attract business investments in a community.

Focused, Balanced, and Fair

Successful urban violence reduction efforts need to be focused, balanced, and fair. Urban crime “sticks” to certain locations, such as a liquor store or a gas station; certain high-risk individuals; and certain behaviors, such as the illegal possession of weapons. Tightly focusing on high risk areas, behaviors, and people, is key to reducing violence. A balanced mix of tactics includes increased policing as well as increased violence prevention programs. This carrot-and-stick method offers success consistent with human nature. Fairness builds trust between law enforcement and marginalized communities. When people don’t trust law enforcement and institutions, they’re less likely to use them to solve disputes, leading to an increasing cycle of violence. Law enforcement also overburdens many of these communities with constant policing – think stop and frisk – but underserves them because they are still not safe.

Targeting Behavior

The people who are on the giving or receiving end of violent urban crime are usually heavily traumatized individuals. Constant trauma and violence lead to a condition known as hypervigilance, an elevated flight-or-fight response. Those who are hypervigilant can go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, which makes it difficult to function in a normal setting. By targeting trauma-caused behavior through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), we can help them achieve the results they want. CBT addresses anger management, interpersonal problem-solving, and future orientation issues. It’s hard to work with a young man who cannot visualize that actions today might have long ranging consequences when he doesn’t believe that he’s going to live longer than another two or three years. Once these behaviors are identified and addressed, opportunities such as job placements are easier to utilize, and success is easier to achieve.

Find out more:

Thomas Abt is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Criminal Justice, and was previously Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Development. He formerly served as Deputy Secretary for Public Safety under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Chief of Staff to the Office of Justice Programs at the United States Department of Justice, and founding member of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative.

Bleeding Out is his first book, focusing on evidence-informed approaches to reduce urban violence. It argues the best way to reduce violence is through direct action against violence first, before treating deeply rooted societal issues like poverty.

You can follow Thomas on Twitter @Abt_Thomas

Jan 18, 2020
The Meritocracy Trap: Daniel Markovits

The Cost of Human Capital

Meritocracy gives the illusion that we are all equally competing at a level playing field. The reality is that the elite is able to purchase better education, which means they are more qualified when it comes to college admissions and high-income jobs. By heavily investing in education and training, elites build human capital within themselves. They become superordinate workers who are paid enormous wages. The flip side is that human capital enslaves us because we have to yield intensive and alienated labor. In order to maintain status in the elite and reap the benefits of the capital invested in them, meritocrats must work continuously at the highest paying jobs they can find. A member of the elite works punishingly long hours under intense pressure. While meritocracy allows some to become extremely wealthy, they do so at the cost of their own freedom, and ultimately their own happiness.

Meritocracy Erodes Democracy

Meritocracy erodes democracy in two key ways. First, meritocracy frames the reality of systemic failure to provide economic opportunity as the failure of individuals to measure up in society. It tells the person who didn’t get into Harvard or get a job at Google that if only they worked harder or were smarter, they would have succeeded, when in fact they are victims of structural exclusion. This creates deep disaffection among those who are unfairly excluded, who then begin to question the underlying institutions that hold American society together. Populists and nativists are able to harness this sentiment, blame ‘the other,’ rise to power, and attack democratic norms. Second, meritocracy creates a massively wealthy elite minority who can legally buy influence in media, politics, and even reduce tax obligations. Between the alienation of the middle and lower classes, and the outsized power of the elite, meritocracy has been one of the leading causes of the erosion of democracy.

Solving the Meritocracy Trap

Meritocracy compounds inequality through unequal access to quality education. Expensive, elite schools prepare those who can afford them for the most selective universities and then high-paying jobs. In addition, because of the way social security tax works, employers now have a huge tax incentive to hire one superordinate worker and robots as opposed to more middle income workers. Markovits proposes two policies to address these problems: expanding elite education and extending the social security tax. Opening up elite institutions will make them less exclusive and more accessible, providing more opportunities to the middle class to higher income. Currently, the social security tax is capped at $137,700, which means that the person who makes $150,000 and the person who makes $2,000,000 pay the same amount in social security tax. Eliminating the cap would raise almost 1.5% of GDP in steady state, which could help fund expanded education.

Find out more:

Daniel Markovits is Guido Calabresi Professor of Law at Yale Law School and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Private Law. Markovits works in the philosophical foundations of private law, moral and political philosophy, and behavioral economics.

The Meritocracy Trap is his latest book. It places meritocracy at the center of rising economic inequality and social and political dysfunction, and provides solutions to these problems.

You can follow Daniel on Twitter @DSMarkovits

Jan 11, 2020
Bipartisan Civil Discourse: Michael Baranowski

Agreeing on the basic fundamentals

The need for positive, bipartisan discourse is acute. In today’s politically charged environment, it's important to disagree in a constructive and civil way. The first step in good-faith dialogue is to start by finding fundamental policies or values you both agree on and build on them. In fact, most Americans hold the same ideals, but value them differently. Mike and his conservative co-host Jay both value justice and freedom, though to different degrees. Since they both agree justice and freedom are important, fair and rational debate becomes much easier. Equally important are the ability to keep an open mind, and to be able to see and understand other perspectives.

The System is Working

The Trump Administration is undeniably attacking institutions in a way that we’ve never seen from the executive branch before. While this is deeply worrying, the good news is that our system appears to be bearing the brunt of his attacks well. For instance, the election process worked in 2018, giving Democrats the House, which in turn led to renewed scrutiny and accountability in the form of impeachment. Many of Trump’s promises have not been enacted because parts of our governmental system have worked correctly and stopped them. Trump has been frustrated in many areas, just as his predecessors were. The fact that all presidents cannot achieve all of their goals is a sign that the system is working and continues to work.

Returning Debate to the Center

Our media landscape often showcases the two political extremes as the dominant modes of American political thought. While this helps ratings, it is not the case. Most Americans fall somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, where there is much overlap and common ground to be found. They are not deeply ideological, and are not interested in big things, whether that’s a massive wall or a complete remaking of the American health care system. Healthy political discourse needs to keep in mind that policy options should serve the majority of the country, and not just the ten percent of extreme voters on either side. By elevating these center-oriented voices, bipartisan debate becomes easier, and solutions are easier to create.

Find out more:

Michael Baranowski is a political scientist with a Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. His focus is on American political institutions, public policy, and media. He is a co-founder of the Politics Guys and serves as one of the show’s liberal hosts.

The Politics Guys is a podcast for bipartisan, rational, and civil debate on American politics and policy. It features independent and bipartisan political commentary, as well as interviews with liberal and conservative experts and policymakers. The Politics Guys strives to balance liberal and conservative voices equally.

You can follow the Politics Guys on Twitter @PoliticsGuys

Jan 04, 2020
Protecting Free Speech: Suzanne Nossel

The First Amendment

The First Amendment protects four types of freedom of expression: freedom of speech, belief, assembly, and the ability to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It states that “Congress shall make no law” to infringe on these four freedoms. Over time, “Congress” has been extended to include the executive branch, as well as state and local governments. The court’s view of the First Amendment is extremely broad, which means that America protects more speech than any other country in the world. Defamation, harassment, and speech that incites imminent violence are the only kinds of speech that are not protected. The First Amendment also does not extend to private institutions such as universities or companies like Facebook.

Undermining the Press

The President is allowed to say whatever he wants about the press as a private citizen because of his First Amendment protections. However, the President cannot use the power of the federal government to exact reprisals against the press. For instance, when the White House revoked press passes earlier this year, it contravened the Constitution. Never before has a President undermined and used retributive action against the press like this, and other countries are taking note. Repressive measures like these come directly from an authoritarian playbook, and according to PEN America, the number of journalists jailed worldwide for “fake news” tripled last year because of it. America was once the moral leader on free speech issues around the world, the current administration’s repressive tactics are withering that leadership.

Protected Speech

The problems of hateful speech and fake news are uniquely difficult because in most cases they are protected by the First Amendment. While hateful speech is protected by the government, private institutions are allowed to police content on their own platforms or campuses. The ability to share unpopular ideas should coexist in a way that still allows for open debate, but that is not always the case. At dozens of campuses, controversial speakers who are invited to speak about their views were shut down by students. Fake news poses a threat by eroding the facts democracy is based on. We cannot let the government control it by shutting down websites because they may start shutting down legitimate sites—such as climate change websites—based on political ideology. Instead, we can counter it by educating the public about how to identify fake news, and taking steps as a society to disavow propaganda and misinformation.

Find out more:

Suzanne Nossel is the CEO of PEN America, which she has run since 2013. In that time, she has doubled the budget, staff, and membership. She previously served as COO of Human Rights Watch, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations.

PEN America is a non-profit organization working at the crossroads between human rights and literature. They champion free speech around the world, celebrate creative expression, and defend the liberties that make it possible.

You can follow Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneNossel, and PEN America @PENAmerica.

Dec 28, 2019
Practical Equality: Robert L. Tsai

Law as a Framework

Equality creates a framework for how we should treat others, and how we should expect to be treated by others. The institution of laws enforces the rules of equality within that framework. Law helps shape the conversations in public life and in politics about what can, and cannot, be done when dealing with more abstract concepts like fairness, freedom, and equality. Law also acts as dispute resolution when we see our intangible values being infringed upon. It helps create compromises and resolutions to problems that arise from differing values, viewpoints, and ideologies.

When the Law Fails

Law can fail when judges fail to empathize with someone’s complaint about equality, such as in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. Judges struck down a complaint because they thought the plaintiff was imagining his own discrimination. Their failure was one of empathy, but the legacy was one of racism and segregation. Law also fails when judges ratify policies that make broad judgements about social or racial groups. By doing this, they legitimize incorrect and dangerous ideas. They end up establishing a policymaker’s incorrect judgement as law, as though it had been correct. This in turn encourages other people to increase their attacks on these groups, because they see their own views as legitimized by the law.

Reframing the Debate

When fighting against policies that infringe on equality, consider more than one angle of argument. For instance, Trump’s Muslim ban was clearly an attempt to disenfranchise immigrants from Muslim majority countries, but it never actually mentioned Muslims. This made judges uneasy about declaring it discriminatory on the basis of religion. Instead, those opposed re-framed the debate around another American value: fairness. By arguing the ban impacted many residents already in the US with green cards, it violated their right to expect free and fair treatment. This argument was successful enough in court that the Trump Administration had to completely rewrite the ban, leaving out new countries and providing exceptions benefiting hundreds of thousands of people.

Find out more:

Robert L. Tsai is a Professor of Law at American University. He is also an acclaimed essayist and author, focusing on constitutional law and history. He is the author of three books: Practical Equality: Forging Justice in a Divided Nation (W.W. Norton Feb. 19, 2019), America’s Forgotten Constitutions: Defiant Visions of Power and Community (Harvard 2014), and Eloquence and Reason: Creating a First Amendment Culture (Yale 2008).


You can follow him on Twitter @robertltsai.

Dec 21, 2019
Deliberative Democracy: Jane Suiter and David Farrell of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly

Citizens’ forum

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly was formed in response to the severe social and economic crisis caused by the global financial meltdown of 2008. A group of political scientists, led by Jane Suiter and David Farrell, advocated for citizens to be included in debates about the necessary political reforms to address the failures of the executive. Deliberative mini publics innovate democracy by engaging citizens in constructive dialogue about the issues facing society. While many in parliament assumed citizens would always favor more spending and lower taxes, it turned out that voters who were presented with detailed information came to develop nuanced policy positions. After listening to presentations by experts, they actually favored higher taxes in certain areas and reached complex compromises about government spending. By doing so, they proved to lawmakers and skeptics that ordinary Irish citizens could be trusted with vital policy work.

The case of abortion rights

The first Citizens’ Assembly considered the issue of overturning the ban on abortion in the Irish constitution. Over the course of five weekend-long sessions, everyday citizens heard arguments from impartial experts, medical professionals, as well as activists on both sides. At the end of their deliberations, they produced a series of recommendations, which were sent to the Irish Parliament in June 2017. 64% of the Citizens’ Assembly participants recommended that abortion be legalized. In turn, Parliament put the question of legalizing abortion to the Irish public in a nationwide referendum in May 2018. It passed with 66% of the vote. The result indicates that the counsel of the Citizens’ Assembly was an accurate and meaningful representation of the Irish electorate. Since then the Assembly has given policy recommendations on issues such as how the state can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change and how to respond to the challenges and opportunities of an aging population.

Ireland is a Beacon for Democracy

The Assembly has strengthened trust and communication on both sides of the democratic equation – citizens and politicians – and has bolstered the legitimacy of democracy at a time when democracies around the world are under attack. Through the innovation of using citizens’ assemblies, the Irish experience is showing a path to overcome the problems of democracy in decline. Politicians learned about the willingness and capacity of everyday people to make serious, nuanced policy choices for the good of the country. The Assembly has led many in Parliament to consider the advice of constituents in a new way, and to seek advice from their voters. Conversely, Irish citizens see the Assembly as a way to augment their democracy beyond voting. Other countries have noticed this. At the launch of Scotland’s Citizens’ Assembly earlier this year, the constitutional minister for the Scottish government praised Ireland’s success as an example to follow.

Find out more:

David Farrell and Jane Suiter have been collaborating in research focused on Irish citizens’ assemblies for over 10 years. During the economic crisis of 2008-2009, they led a group of political scientists who proposed that citizens should be brought into the heart of debates over constitutional and political reform. This culminated in the establishment of We the Citizens – Ireland’s first national citizens’ assembly. In 2012 the Irish government established the Convention on the Constitution: David and Jane led the academic advisory group. This was followed, in 2016, by the Irish Citizens’ Assembly: David and Jane secured Irish Research Council funding to provide research leadership.

David Farrell is Head of the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy. He is formerly the research leader of the Irish Citizens' Assembly and currently a member of the Stewarding Group of the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly.

Jane Suiter is Director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism at Dublin City University as well as an Associate Professor in the School of Communications. She helped found the Irish Citizens’ Assembly (2016-2018) and the Irish Constitutional Convention (2012-2014). She is also a founding member of We the Citizens (2011), Ireland’s first deliberative experiment.

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly is an exercise in deliberative democracy, placing the citizen at the heart of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society. With the benefit of expert, impartial, and factual advice, 100 citizen members have considered the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (on abortion); making Ireland a leader in tackling climate change; challenges and opportunities of an aging population; manner in which referenda are held; and fixed term parliaments.

US-based deliberative democracy projects mentioned in the episode are:

  1. James Fishkin, Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University
  2. Kevin Esterling and his work with online town halls. He wrote Politics with the People, Building a Directly Representative Democracy.
  3. Citizens’ Initiative Review in Oregon

You can follow David on Twitter @dfarrell_ucd, Jane @JaneSuit, and The Citizens’ Assembly @CitizAssembly.

Dec 14, 2019
Responsible Statecraft: Stephen Wertheim

Responsible Statecraft

Responsible statecraft should derive from serious consideration of the public interest, with robust public debate and a strong role for Congress. The Quincy Institute believes that democratizing US foreign policy to include diverse points of view from minority, immigrant, and outsider communities – in addition to foreign policy experts – will lead to more vigorous diplomacy and less military intervention. Responsible statecraft would also require Congress to take its war-making responsibility back from the Executive Branch. US foreign policy should engage the world with peaceful discourse.

Military Hegemony

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the US and the Soviet Union embarked on a decades-long arms race. During this time, the American military-industrial complex grew to become a vital tool of national security. When the USSR collapsed, the US became the world’s only superpower. In order to secure unipolar primacy, America pursued greater military hegemony and dominance over potential rivals. Regional conflicts were viewed as existential threats to American democracy, embroiling us in needless conflict around the world. America’s imperial overstretch is a result of its militarized foreign policy that believes dominating a region by force, such as in the Middle East, can lead to stability. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred. Instability in the Middle East has led to a vicious cycle of violence and built permanent enmities worldwide.

Vigorous Diplomacy

The American diplomatic corps has been devastated under the current administration, coming at the heels of years-long decline. US foreign policy has repeatedly prioritized military force over diplomacy, espousing the idea of “peace through strength.” This rigid and devastating doctrine has resulted in near-endless war. Instead of being neutral, the US is often on one side of a conflict and hence cannot be a mediator. As we face the climate emergency and other transnational problems, the US must prioritize rebuilding the State Department and investing in more vigorous diplomacy. American power and influence should be wielded to resolve conflicts, end wars, and enhance peace.

Find out more:

Stephen Wertheim is Deputy Director of Research and Policy at the Quincy Institute. He is also a Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. He specializes in the role of US policy on the global stage, from the late nineteenth century to the present.

The Quincy Institute promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace. It launched on December 4, 2019.

You can follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenwertheim and the Quincy Institute @QuincyInst.

Dec 07, 2019