By Matt Robison
Great IdeasOct 20, 2022
Why Are We So Miserable, And How We Can Be Happier?
Something is wrong in America, and we’ve gotten so used to it, we don’t really talk about about, or not enough anyway. We are in a major happiness recession, and we have been for a long time. The highest proportion of Americans ever (80%) say they are satisfied with their family’s financial situation, while an all-time low reports being “very happy” in their lives (14%). Over the last 40 years, a median of 66% of Americans have told Gallup they were “dissatisfied.” In the decade or so before the pandemic sent our despair into overdrive, major depression was rapidly rising, the suicide rate was up 35%, drug use and death were skyrocketing, birth rates were down 23%, and Americans told Pew researchers that they had become deeply pessimistic about the future.
Our guest today, Catherine Sanderson, has become a widely cited author for her contributions on positive thinking and achieving better parenting, happier aging, and more courage in our lives. Dr. Sanderson is the POLER Family Professor and Chair of Psychology at Amherst College. In 2012, she was named one of the country's top 300 professors by the Princeton Review. Her talks have been featured in numerous mainstream media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Atlantic, CNN, and CBS Sunday Morning.
Is the 2022 Election Going to Work?
We've all heard about profound challenges facing American elections and the people who run them. As we approach the 2022 midterms we wanted to check in with one of America's leading experts to see whether things are on track to run smoothly, or if maneuvers to harass election administrators, suppress votes, or even subvert elections are still coning to be a major concern. Bob Brandon helped establish the Fair Election Center 16 years ago, and it continues to support election reform, litigation, advocacy, student engagement, and getting people to work at the polls to make the cogs and gears of our democracy run.
Is Big Tech Just Poison, or Can It Be Fixed?
Recently the Center for American Progress issued a report that said “Online service companies have produced substantial wealth, but these gains have failed to reach the American workforce more broadly. Pervasive, ubiquitous digital surveillance has eroded Americans’ civil liberties. Exploitation of people’s data has created novel consumer threats around privacy, manipulation of consumer behavior, and discrimination. Americans face these and other harms from online services, including but not limited to widespread fraud, abuse of small businesses, abuse of market power, faulty algorithms, racist and sexist technological development, cybersecurity challenges, threats to workers’ rights, curtailed innovation, and challenges with online radicalization and misinformation.”
But one of the authors of that reports says that despite this massive litany of destructive problems, big tech platforms can be fixed, and the Internet can be...good! Erin Simpson of CAP joins to explain.
Was Gorbachev...A Failure?
What is the real legacy and meaning of the life and work of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev? Erik Loomis, Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island, says in a new article on The Editorial Board that "Despite what Americans want to believe about the man whom they credit with doing much to end the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev is probably best described as the greatest failure of a leader in Russian history." We unpack the complicated history and ongoing significance of one of the most important world leaders of the 20th century.
Fixing the Broken, Backwards Bail System
The system of paying cash bail is so familiar to us in this country that it's faded into the background of our awareness. But in recent years, reform advocates have been sounding the alarm about the disastrous consequences of a system that is profoundly broken: more damaged lives, more economic ruin, and ironically, more crime. In fact, the practice of assigning cash bail as a condition of an individual’s pretrial release has led to a two-tiered system of justice. People with money can return to their communities while they await trial, while those without money are forced to choose between remaining incarcerated—and facing the harms that accompany pretrial detention—and entering into a predatory contract with a commercial bail company to obtain release.
Rachael Eisenberg is the Senior Director of Criminal Justice Reform at American Progress, where she leads the organization’s efforts to shrink the footprint of the criminal justice system and promote justice and safety.
The Rise of Christian Nationalism in America
In this crossover edition of Great Ideas and Beyond Politics, we take a closer look at Christian nationalism. Recently, controversial Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said that she’s a Christian nationalist...and the Republican party should be too. In fact, increasing numbers of candidates have embraced the language of Christian nationalism, if not the outright label, in the past year. But what does it actually mean? Is Christian nationalism an extreme religious and political ideology as practiced by Viktor Orbán of Hungary, or simply an expression of patriotic fervor combined with religious identity that fits into long-standing American traditions? Our guest today, Dr. Paul Miller, is a political scientist and a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is a devout Christian, a fervent patriot and military veteran, a conservative Republican, and the author of The Religion of American Greatness: What's Wrong With Christian Nationalism. And he explains why Christian nationalism is fundamentally un-Christian and un-American.
Does the Debt Actually Matter?
We are used to hearing absolutely gigantic numbers about how much debt our country has and how we keep adding to it through government deficits every year. Politicians frequently remind us that this is an enormous burden, one that we are passing on to our children. But recently, some economists have argued that we should stop worrying so much. They say that this is just money we owe to ourselves, or that eventually our economy will grow so big that we won’t really have to pay the money back at all. But our guest today economist Steve Robinson of the Concord Coalition begs to differ. He says the debt definitely does matter...and he’s here to explain why.
Is the Death Penalty Ending in America?
Many Americans of a certain age remember when the death penalty was one of the most fraught and divisive issues in America. In fact, it was the wedge issue that most defined the presidential election of 1988. Some of the biggest political headlines in the year 2000 were generated by the Republican governor of Illinois deciding to halt all executions. And the last decade has seen controversy over the method of executions with pharmaceutical companies unwilling to supply the chemicals used in lethal injections. But today we may be approaching a new era of the death penalty in America. Executions have fallen, public interest is waning, and when was the last time you saw the death penalty discussed as a major issue in a political campaign? To help us understand where we’ve been where we are now and where we may be going on the death penalty in America we are fortunate to have Maurice Chammah, a staff writer for the Marshall Project and the author of "Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty," which won the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Book Award. He recently wrote an article for the NYT titled "The Supreme Court Let The Death Penalty Flourish. Now Americans are Ending It Themselves." And he’s here to tell us all about it.
What's Next for Carbon Regulation After the Big Supreme Court Ruling?
The Supreme Court has just decided to limit what the EPA can do to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act. So the big question now is: what's next? Christy Goldfuss, Senior Vice President of Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress, explains how we've regulated air pollution in this country under the Clean Air Act, what happened in the West Virginia v. EPA case, and what the future of carbon emission limits looks like now.
How to Fix Inflation (And Maybe Avoid a Recession)
The question on everyone's minds right now is what can be done to tame inflation...and can we do it without creating a recession. Zach Moller, the Director of Third Way’s Economic Program, oversees a team that specializes in developing innovative economic policy, and he has a few ideas about dealing with supply chains, increasing the labor force, lowering people's out of pocket expenses, and investing in longer term growth.
Homelessness in America: What's Working, What's Not
Homelessness is America's national shame, a problem that we out to be able to solve in the wealthiest country in the world. There has been a growing awareness of the many factors that contribute to homelessness and a determination from political leaders, including our current president, to end homelessness in America. And yet, homelessness remains an intractable problem and in some of our biggest cities seems to be growing even more acute. So are any of the currently applied solutions working? And is there a realistic prospect of ending homelessness in America anytime soon? Dr. Stephen Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor of City Journal. He researches social policy questions such as homelessness and mental illness. Eide has written for many publications, including National Review, the New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Times, Politico, the Wall Street Journal.
Understanding the American Schism, and How to Fix It
Author Seth David Radwell has a theory about where the great divide in America comes from. It was here at the start. His book American Schism traces those roots to two different views of the Enlightenment, and then follows the course of how we've compromised around -- and fought over -- those differences ever since. He argues that understanding this history, and returning to finding strength in the differences, is the key to finding a path forward as a country.
Real, Achievable Things That We Can Get Done on Gun Violence
Like many people, we are still reeling from the mass shooting in Texas that killed 19 children and two adults and injured many others. Parents like me are raw with anger, despair, and hopelessness. And what feeds our hopelessness is that at the federal level, there is no prospect of doing even the slightest thing to stop more of this from happening again. Which is why an article caught my eye this morning that is about the real, achievable, practical things that counties and cities can do to curb gun violence. One of the authors of that article, Alex Barrio, is the Director for Advocacy for Gun Violence Prevention at the Center for American Progress, and he joins us to talk about the very real prospect of making a difference on the local level even if our federal government won't.
This is a crossover episode of Great Ideas and Beyond Politics.
Could "Approval Voting" Fix the Biggest Problem in American Elections?
Today, we cover the system we use for determining the winner of an election. It has as much impact on our current political dysfunction -- including lack of trust in elections -- as any other factor. Many scholars contend that if we could get the system right, we could fundamentally improve faith in our democracy and lower the chances of a complete meltdown (which are uncomfortably high). One of those experts is Aaron Hamlin, the Executive Director of the Center for Election Science. He’s been featured as an electoral systems expert on MSNBC, NPR, and many other outlets, and he not only believes that better election systems using alternative voting methods would be better for America, but he also has a particular favorite to suggest. Approval voting" is a system that fewer people have heard about than Ranked Choice Voting, but it may deliver many of the same benefits while being simpler, easier to understand, and better for restoring trust in the system.
Not Just Abortion: The Broad and Lasting Implications of the Draft SCOTUS Ruling
America is still reeling from the landmark, albeit draft, opinion that was leaked from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, holding that the 50 year precedent of Roe V. Wade is no longer going to be valid constitutional law in America. There are obviously deep ramifications for the issue of abortion, but there are also implications that extend well beyond the question of a woman's right to choose, and that impact all kinds of economic, social, and legal questions for the future of how we live and work in America. Elyssa Spitzer is a policy analyst for the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. She’s served as a clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and now also serves as the senior fellow in law and neuroscience with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior.
Men and Women Are Increasingly Living In Two Different Worlds
The idea that men and women are different is baked into our culture, from rhymes about sugar and spice and all things nice to the notion that we are from entirely different planets - Mars and Venus in particular. A new study from the Survey Center on American Life suggests that the differences between men and women - in the ways they live their lives, spend their time, interact with each other, and engage in politics - are actually growing. This isn’t just about men and women migrating to different political parties, it is about an increasing divide in the mental worlds that we inhabit in America. One of the authors of that study is Daniel Cox, the Director of the Center on American Life at the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Cox‘s work is frequently featured in the Atlantic CNN and the Washington Post.
Rick Hasen - Election Law Expert - On How "Cheap Speech" is Poisoning America
**This episode was immediately popular in the Beyond Politics podcast (please subscribe to it!!!), so we are bringing it to our Great Ideas Listeners** Today, in America, the system is blinking red. Experts are sounding increasingly dire alarms that our politics have become so distorted by anger, partisanship, lies, manipulation, and disinformation – not to mention deliberate steps to subvert American elections – that American democracy itself is in real peril. There may be no more widely respected expert on election law and the role of disinformation that Rick Hasen. He's a Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine and is Co-Director of the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center. Dr. Hasen also served in 2020 as a CNN Election Law Analyst, and is the author of numerous books and articles, including op-eds and commentaries in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Politico, and Slate. His most recent book is “Cheap Speech: How Disinformation Poisons Our Politics—and How to Cure It.”
Making the US the Arsenal of Clean Energy
Today, breaking the West's addiction to Russian oil and gas. The war in Ukraine has unified the US and most European countries and led to almost unprecedented cooperation on sanctions and economic measures to try to stop Russian aggression. But the hardest area to navigate has been energy. Oil is a global commodity that is very sensitive to price shocks like the current war, while Europe is highly dependent on both oil and gas from Russia's vast supply. Already, gas prices in the US have risen because of the war and European leaders have balked at cutting off Russian sources of supply fearing the consequences for their own economies. Is there a way out of this Russian energy trap? Our guest today says yes. Josh Freed is Senior Vice President for the Climate and Energy Program at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington DC.
Should President Biden Cancel Even More Student Debt? The Pros and Cons.
During the 2020 presidential primaries, talking about relieving or even outright canceling student loan debt became all the rage. Even Joe Biden, who was much less aggressive on this issue than his fellow candidates, supported canceling $10,000 for each of the 43 million federal student loan borrowers in America. Now President Biden is facing mounting pressure to do more. The president's supporters point out that he has already canceled $17 billion, more than any other president in history. But advocates are agitating for him to go farther, and warning of serious political consequences if he doesn't. So what's what's the case for and against, and are there other things that policymakers could and should be doing to deal with the problem? Our guest Michelle Dimino is Senior Policy Advisor in Education at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington DC and she’s here to unpack it all for us.
What to Do About the Greatest Refugee Crisis in Europe Since World War II
More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, the fastest-moving refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War II. The massive displacement of millions of people threatens not only a humanitarian disaster, but an ongoing challenge for European nations and the United States. Elisa Massimino is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Executive Director of the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law. She led a team that recently issued a report titled “What the European Union and United States Need to Do to Address the Migration Crisis in Ukraine.”
How Does the Fed Control Inflation?
Today, it appears that we are on the verge of the Federal Reserve Bank taking a major step to control inflation, which remains the number one topic on Americans’ minds after setting a 40-year high in February. But what exactly is the Fed doing, and why? Why is their step today different from anything they have tried before? And what will the consequences be? Our guest is Steve Robinson, the chief economist at the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating the public and finding common sense solutions to our nation’s fiscal policy challenges.
Are Microschools the Future of Education in America?
There are 13,000 different school districts in this country and 13,000 different ways to try to tackle learning, especially during the pandemic. One approach that has taken off in the past two years is "microschooling." America has a long history of small-school environments, such as one-room schoolhouses and homeschools. But the Covid pandemic kicked the search for new or revived models of school into high gear. All of which begs the question, is this back to the future approach better? Is it scalable? And who does it serve better than the current way we do school? Andy Smarick is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where his work focuses on education and civil society. He’s previously served as the chair of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and as president of the Maryland State Board of Education. He's just released three case studies that describe how Idaho, New York, and Arizona have handled microschools, and he joins us to explain whether this really is the wave of the future.
Removing America's Scars: How Did We Get Them, and What It Be Done?
Today, scars on America…though maybe not the kind you’re thinking about. This is a story about how economics, technology, and arrogance changed the face of America, and how some cities are now trying to unwind that complicated history. Our guest is Eric Kober, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and former director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning.
The Story of Moundsville, and What It Tells Us About America
Moundsville, directed by David Bernabo and John W. Miller and currently playing on PBS, is the biography of a classic American town: Moundsville, WV (pop. 8,400), on the Ohio River, where Appalachia hits the Midwest. Told through the voices of residents, the film diverts from the well-trod paths – opioids, coal, Trump – to trace the many forces that have buffeted this proud town, diminishing it but also offering new promise and opportunities. In this crossover episode with the Beyond Politics Podcast, director and former Wall Street Journal reporter John Miller joins the show to tell us what he learned after a year talking to the people of Moundsville, and what they can teach all of us about the future of America.
Congress Has Become Bad Performance Art. Can We Fix It?
Today, looking closer at just how dysfunctional the United States Congress has become, and what we might do to fix it. The Gallup poll found in January 2022 that American approval of the job the US Congress is doing had fallen to 18%, one of the lowest points in the last 50 years. The last Congress under President Trump passed the fewest bills that got signed into law of any Congress going back to 1973. And that record-breaking level of futility has become almost commonplace in the last decade, since the three sessions of Congress from 2011-2017 were some of the least productive on record. The Congress almost never does its annual homework assignment of passing individual appropriations bills, engages in stunts like the House voting to repeal or amend the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times with no hope of success, and seems continually locked in partisan flame wars.
Our guest today examined a slice of this problem in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post titled “House committees are hearing from fewer witnesses. That hurts public policy.” So today we look not only at that specific problem, but also the larger issue of just how off track one of our three branches of government has gone, and what we can do to fix it.
Dr. Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he studies the US Congress, the administrative state, American politics, election reform, and the US Postal Service. Dr. Kosar spent more than a decade working for the Congressional Research Service, where he focused on a wide range of public administration issues. He has taught public policy at New York University and lectured on public administration at Metropolitan College of New York. He’s written numerous books including “Moonshine: A Global History” (Reaktion Books, 2017) and “Whiskey: A Global History” (Reaktion Books, 2010).
Beyond Politics Crossover Episode: What is Happening in Ukraine, and What the US Should Do
In this crossover episode that appeared on the Beyond Politics Podcast, with the eyes of the world on Ukraine, we look at why Russia has pushed the world to the brink of war. Max Bergmann is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he focuses on Europe, Russia, and U.S. security cooperation. From 2011 to 2017, he served in the U.S. Department of State in a number of different positions, including as a member of the secretary of state’s policy planning staff, where he focused on political-military affairs and nonproliferation; special assistant to the undersecretary for arms control and international security; speechwriter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry; and senior adviser to the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.He helps us understand why there is a brewing conflict, what the options are, and what the path ahead should be.
We're Thinking About Poverty in America All Wrong
Today, understanding poverty, and particularly child poverty, in America. An expansion of the child tax credit or earlier this year shone a bright light on the nature of poverty particularly among America's children. The American Rescue Plan raised the maximum child tax credit to $3,000 or $3,600 per kid, depending on age. That’s up from $2,000. During 2021 estimates began to pour in about the number of American children who had been lifted out of poverty. Estimates ranged from 3 million up to a potential of even 5 million. But what was really stunning was the understanding that in America, nearly 11 million children are poor. That’s 1 in 7 kids, who make up almost one-third of all people living in poverty in this country. This number should be unimaginable in one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Kathryn Anne Edwards is an economist at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Her research spans diverse areas of public policy, including unemployment insurance (UI); the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education pipeline and labor market; women's labor supply; the challenges in retirement facing older Americans; and labor market issues for workers without a college degree.
Can Some Simple Election Reforms Save Us From a Total Meltdown?
This week, Democrats are desperately trying to figure out how to fix Senate rules in order to pass two election and voting reform bills – the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — that they believe could be all that stands between us and a total meltdown of our system of government in the next two years. So how big a threat is there to democracy, really? And how would these bills help?
Today, top election reform expert Alex Tausanovitch of the Center for American Progress answers both questions, and describes what we need to do long term to protect our freedom.
Starship Might Change the World
In the last two years, former NASA engineer Casey Handmer has written a series of articles that come to a startling conclusion: Elon Musk's "Starship" project at SpaceX has a real chance of changing everything about space travel, and with it, the world. It could revolutionize major industries, the economy, the technology we live with in the world around us, and the future of humankind. Sound like a stretch? Perhaps...but if even just a bit of this revolution comes to pass, Starship could make the world of ten or twenty years from now very different. So, today on Great Ideas, what is Starship, what does it mean, and why are the implications so profound?
Alternative Policing With Mental Health Counselors: Why Is It Fraught With Risk?
High profile incidents in recent years, including the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives
But a third approach does appear to be moving forward. The FCC has required phone companies to make the number 988 operational by July 2022. It is intended as a new alternative to 911 for “Americans in crisis to connect with suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors.” Its purpose: to isolate these cases so that they can be responded to in a more specialized fashion—with social workers and, in some cases, specially trained police. Advocates believe that the new system may lead to fewer mental-health-related shootings by police and less involvement of the mentally ill in the criminal-justice system.
But our guest today says that cities should proceed cautiously. In an article in City Journal entitled “The Future of Crisis Response, replacing cops with social workers for mental-health emergencies is fraught with risk, Stephen Eide argues that there are many unanswered questions and problems to consider. Dr. Eide is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor of City Journal. He researches social policy questions such as homelessness and mental illness. He has written for many publications, including National Review, the New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Times, Politico, the Wall Street Journal. He has a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Boston College.
Why Are Oil and Gas Prices Up? And Is There Anything We Can Actually Do About It?
The biggest issue on Americans' minds today is the rise in prices. It has overwhelmed American's perceptions of the the economy, which by most other measures has been doing well. At the root of recent inflation is a significant rise in energy costs, which Americans mostly experience in gasoline prices, but also through the rising cost of natural gas that affects home heating and even the price of electricity. Today on Great Ideas, understanding what is driving these price increases, where prices will be headed next, and what policymakers can actually do to achieve stable, affordable energy. Our guest experts are Mike Sloan, Senior Director, Energy Markets, and Andrew Griffith, Senior Energy Markets Consultant, both of ICF.
It costs more than homeland security, housing, and justice combined. We never talk about it.
An issue we never talk about -- and don't want to -- is how the federal government collects tax revenue. We have a voluntary tax compliance system in America, and it turns out that there are a lot of folks who cut corners or outright cheat the system when it comes to paying their taxes. This is a big problem. America loses $600 billion dollars a year in unpaid taxes that are owed under the law. $163 billion of those dollars come from the very richest 1% of us. That segment from the richest Americans is more than we spend on housing, homeland security, and the Department of Justice …combined. And the total that we are losing from all that tax cheating is almost as much as we pay for Defense.
But of course the solution it's not something that most Americans like to think about or find particularly appealing. 52% of Americans have an unfavorable view of the IRS. And let's face it, no one enjoys the process of paying their taxes or likes to think about ways to give the IRS more teeth. But that is exactly the direction the Democrats have been trying to suggest going in the Build Back Better bill. The mere suggestion has opened up a conversation about why this issue needs more attention and what we can do about it.
Our guest Seth Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He has testified before Congress, and his work has been cited in the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. He has been featured in CNBC, NPR, C-SPAN and other outlets to discuss tax issues.
A Terrifying New China
Today: the promise, the peril, and the challenge of China. China is a re-emerging superpower that is increasingly contesting the United States for economic, political, military, and even cultural dominance in the world. In recent years the question of how to successfully manage our relationship with China has become even more pressing, and even more vexing. We are clearly deeply interconnected with the Chinese economy and even dependent on it, as recent supply chain disruptions have shown. The emergence of the Covid pandemic and discussions of managing global warming at COP26 have shown in the starkest terms just how much we need Chinese cooperation to tackle the biggest challenges that our country and the entire world face.
At the same time, we find ourselves embroiled in conflict -- over the Trump trade war, repression of the Uighur ethnic minority that many including the United States government have called a genocide, over disruption of the democratic government in Hong Kong, lingering flashpoints with Taiwan, and the increasingly aggressive economic investment agenda that China has been pursuing around the world. And we face a growing uncertainty over the future course that China will take as president Xi Jinping solidifies his hold on power and takes bold steps to shape Chinese Society.
To help us understand where China is, where it may be going, and how the United States and the world should work with China, we are very fortunate to have Michael Schuman. Michael Schuman is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub and author of "Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World." He just wrote a fascinating article in the Atlantic called Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China.
So what's in the Build Back Better bill Anyway? And is it...good?
The "Build Back Better" plan...it seems like that's all we've been talking about for months. And yet strangely, there's very little public understanding of what it actually is. To opponents, it's a wildly over-aggressive piece of wasteful social spending. Tosupporters, it's a critical and long-overdue investment in long-neglected aspects of what makes our society run. But now, the actual contents of the bill are finally taking their almost-complete shape. A month ago, an op-ed in the Washington Post was eerily prescient about the shape of the final bill. The author of that op-ed, Ben Ritz, is the Director of the Center for Funding America's Future at the Progressive Policy Institute joins the show to walk us through the mystery, the pitfalls, and the promise of the Build Back Better bill.
The Not-So-Secret California Crisis that’s Coming for the Rest of America
Affordable housing is the kind of issue that people love not to think about. It rarely generates a lot of political heat, and in rural areas it’s barely an afterthought. But guess what the top issue in the California legislature is this year. 31 bills were signed by the governor last month that were all housing bills. In California, and increasingly in much of America, a lack of affordable housing is the key issue, and also a burning problem that drives a lot of the other things we think about in policy. The definition of affordable housing is people spending no more than 30% of their gross income on housing. In California, the majority of households are now spending more than 50%. But it’s not just California. It’s a growing problem in a lot of places. In Maine, one out of every 5 households is spending half of their gross income on housing.
Our guest Sibley Simon – an innovative affordable housing developer – described how California is sending the rest of America a scary postcard from the future of what an affordable housing crunch looks like, and he explained the kinds of fresh ideas they are trying and that we will need to solve the problem.
"No Way to Treat Our Kids." Is the Foster Care System Fixable?
Our guest today says that American kids who are in danger and in need of foster care are being left in dangerous situations far too long. But even more provocatively, she makes the case that children are sometimes being used as pawns as part of a broader social agenda that, however well-intentioned, can be disastrous for kids left in foster care limbo. Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute where she focuses on child welfare and foster care issues. She has written for the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post and has appeared on NBC, Fox News and CNBC. Her new book is No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives. She explains where the system is coming apart and how better data, more coordination with civic groups, and reconsidered priorities could help stitch it together.
[Re-release]: Actual Health Care Compromises that Could Solve A Lot of Our Problems Right Now Without Breaking the Bank
Today we're revisiting our very first episode because it's so timely right now. Congress is currently stuck on the President's "Build Back Better" plan. A big part of the holdup is how much to spend on health care, and what to prioritize: more benefits for seniors, or more subsidies for everyone to afford private insurance? Build up a government-run health care system, or build up the Affordable Care Act? Force drug companies to negotiate for lower prices, or keep things the way they are because we need a pipeline of new medicines? All of which put us in mind of what we heard from health care expert Jim Capretta earlier this year, who described how to make three relatively simple changes that could cut costs and improve coverage for millions, and do it without breaking the bank. Maybe there's a different way, and one that's less contentious, for Congress to get people more coverage, to lower costs, and to improve care.
Are we headed for an epic climate-related financial meltdown? Not if we do these things...
Recent months have brought a slew of weather-related catastrophes to the United States: wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, and floods. While scientists continue to caution that it is hard to draw a direct line between any one weather event and global warming, they also say that these kinds of extreme weather episodes are preview of what is going to become all too common in the years ahead. The increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events and long-term environmental shifts threatens to shake our financial system to its core, costing trillions in our real economy and in our financial institutions. To make sure we don't have an even worse financial crisis than 2008, Gregg Gelzinis, Associate Director for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress, explains how regulators and financial institutions can act right now to get ahead of the problem.
Should Medicare Be Covering Unproven Drugs? The Controversy that Exposes Big Flaws in Our Healthcare System.
On June 7, the F.D.A approved the use of the controversial Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. This led to a backlash from many Alzheimer’s experts, who say that evidence for the drug’s effectiveness is limited. Now Medicare must choose whether to cover the drug, which has a sky-high cost. The decision raises a host of big picture questions about what we pay for – and what care we give – particularly to older Americans.
Joshua B. Gordon is the Director of Health Policy for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. He explains why Medicare is now in an unwinnable position, and how the government should work around this set of controversial questions to try to fix the larger problems in the healthcare system.
Will We Actually Solve Immigration This Time? (Actually...We Might)
Over the last 20 years, there has been perhaps no issue in our public discussion more emotional, more fraught, and more elusive in terms of finding long term solutions than immigration. There have been many brief periods where it looked like the stars were aligning and political forces were coming together to support a longer-term consensus approach. Each time, those efforts have disintegrated into bickering and political backlash.
But some analysts believe that right now, we may be on the cusp of a longer-term solution. One of those experts is Nathan Kasai. He’s a Senior Policy Council at the Washington DC think tank Third Way, and he’s just published an article laying out the argument for why now could, and should, be the time to finally get something done on immigration.
The Future of Work After the Great American Jobs Reshuffle
The past year and a half has been unusual to say the least when it comes to the way Americans live and interact. During the Covid pandemic, we’ve all had to adapt in all kinds of ways, and many of us have also found our preferences and priorities changing. Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the workplace. For Americans who have kept their jobs, there has been a new reality in day to day work life. From putting on protective gear to working behind a plastic shield… from meeting remotely over zoom to working out hours when you can get away from family caretaking commitments. And then of course there are the tens of millions whose jobs were disrupted or lost altogether. As we begin to emerge from this pandemic conditions, American workers and businesses are re thinking how we work, How much we work, what we do at work, and what we need out of our jobs.
Dr. Daniel Cox is a Senior Fellow in public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute, AEI, and the Director of the Service Center on American life. He has been closely tracking the real time evolution in Americans' attitudes about work and what they might mean for the future of employment in America. He is the co-author of a new report called the Great American Jobs Reshuffle based on the American Perspectives Survey of almost 2500 American adults. And he’s here to tell us all about it.
The Future of Covid: What We Know, and How to Get There
The Covid-19 pandemic has now been a central part of our lives for a year and a half. Along the way, our understanding of what this coronavirus is, what it does, and what we should do about it have evolved. In this episode, with all with the power of 20 months' worth of worldwide scientific research behind us, we look at both the present and future of Covid -- its risks, how to stop it’s spread, and how to protect ourselves; but also what is it going to take to end the pandemic conditions we’ve been living through and get ourselves to a new and better normal. To explain all of this we have an outstanding scientist: Dr. Jodie Guest who is a Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health and School of Medicine at Emory University.
Have we got everything backwards on how to fix education?
Recently, we did an episode here on Great Ideas where we talked about some of the lessons learned during the pandemic about remote learning, hybrid schools, and school reopening. We talked about what worked what didn’t and some of the problems that we encountered in trying to get "back" to school. But what if in our all out effort to get school going again, especially for our elementary age kids, we got focused on the wrong question?
Even before the pandemic, progress on basic reading, science, and math scores had flattened. And those figures are far worse for kids in rural areas, Black kids, kids on Indian reservations, and most of all, for poor kids. The simple fact is that according to our best assessments, we are not getting the vast majority of our students to be even be proficient in basic skills. So amid the headlong rush to get back to what we were doing before, it seems reasonable to ask, are we rushing back to the right thing? Or is the right question really, how on earth can we do better by our kids? How can we move forward?
That question has obsessed my guest today for his entire career. Dr. Benjamin Heuston is Executive Director of the Waterford Institute, a Utah-based not-for-profit that conducts early learning research and develops interactive education software aimed at kids in the pre-K-6 range. He believes that our fundamental way of educating young kids needs an upgrade, but also, encouragingly that it’s do-able, and he has the evidence to prove it.
***Editor's Corection: the audio refers to Dr. Heuston as the CEO of the Waterford Institute, his former title. We regret the error.
What Works and What Doesn't With Remote Learning and School Re-opening
Every parent with a kid in school at any grade level over the last year and a half has some strong opinions about today’s topic. We all remember exactly what it was like in March of 2020. The sudden closure of schools. The scramble to figure out exactly what was next for kids. And then the patchwork of things that schools tried to do to hold the rest of the school year together. And of course, an even greater patchwork of approaches that schools tried across the country in this past academic year. Remote learning. In person learning. Hybrid schools. There are 13,000 different school districts in this country and there were 13,000 different ways to try to tackle learning during the pandemic.
So with that year behind us and the upcoming school year still full of lingering uncertainty, what lessons can we draw from that experience? What are some of the best practices that we can apply for learning in the future.
Our guest today has led an effort to answer these questions. Dr. Khalilah Harris is the Managing Director for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. They’ve authored an insightful new report Remote Learning and School Reopenings What Worked and What Didn’t, and she’s here to tell us all about it.
Criminal justice reform, through the eyes of someone who fell into the system
Doug Dunbar spent almost 30 years in senior positions in government. He was the deputy Secretary of State in Maine. The press secretary to the Governor of Maine and his Communications Director in Congress. He’s worked for US senators and state agencies. He’s also now a felon. So how on earth did Doug end up spending 136 days in jail? And more importantly, what happened afterwards, and what does it mean for our system of criminal justice in America? Today, a look at the system through a story that’s unique, but in many ways is going to be far too familiar to millions of Americans.
Is American Democracy Coming Apart? Actually...Maybe Not
A February poll by the Associated Press found that about half of Americans think Democracy isn’t functioning…only 16% think it’s working well. The Pew Research Center finds that only 1/3 of Americans have confidence in the public’s wisdom in making political decisions, a figure that has been cut nearly in half in the last 25 years. 40 percent of Democrats and Republicans see the other party not just as people they disagree with, but as a threat to the well-being of the nation. 3/4 of American adults today say that Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree on basic facts.
It seems like our basic belief in Democracy and our form of government is being strained to the breaking point. But, there are signs of hope. Pew finds that 84 percent think that trust in government can be improved. And 86 percent believe it is possible to improve trust in each other.
So, how much trouble are we really in? Our guest today Karlyn Bowman is an expert on tracking and analyzing American public opinion. She is a distinguished senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and has written extensively for a number of publications about how Americans think. She says maybe the numbers aren't telling us the story it looks like...and maybe there's more reason for optimism after all.
America’s defense: where does all that money go?
For decades, one of the biggest debates in American public policy has been over our military spending. Defense accounts for 1 in every 7 dollars we spend. Many respected defense leaders have questioned whether we’re spending on the right things for the future, or if we’re mired in old thinking -- since as the saying goes, the Pentagon is always fighting the last war. And of course, there are countless stories of overspending, duplicative functions among the five separate military branches, and weapons systems that maybe we just don’t need.
So how much of a problem do we actually have? David Walker is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in fiscal responsibility and government accountability. He served as Comptroller General of the United States and CEO of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). He’s a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, the author of four books, the subject of a 60 minutes segment, and today our guest on Great Ideas.
Biden Hit a Home Run in His First Foreign Trip
President Biden's first overseas trip to Europe last week brought our focus back to the relationships that defined American foreign policy – and much of world history – in the 20th century. But do they even matter anymore in the 21st? Max Bergman, a former State Department official who is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress says the answer is yes. And by focusing there first, and accomplishing as much as he did, President Biden hit a foreign policy home run for America.
The fact is that Europe has undergone a massive transformation since World War II.Europe is integrating and has formed a union. The economy of the European Union is the same size as the United States. It's the same size as China. There's 450 million people in Europe – larger than the United States. It spends as much on defense as Russia and China. Its regulations set a standard worldwide.
On top of that, it is quite stable. It is democratic, capitalist and free-market oriented. It could be our greatest strategic partner. And on the flip side, if it disintegrates, that's what Russia and China are after. That could be a strategic nightmare.
The Way Forward on the Endless Health Care Wars? Cost Caps.
Since the creation of the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, we’ve gotten stuck on health care. It's become incredibly hard to make progress on the sector which makes up 1/6th of our economy, and for most Americans is the most personal and meaningful interaction of government policy with their lives. Both political parties are mired in seemingly unending health care wars, while about 4 in 10 Americans have difficulty paying their medical bills. Today, we present a new idea on how to make some meaningful progress. Ladan Ahmadi is the Deputy Director of Economic Communications and Health Policy at Third Way. She says that the way to move forward is to focus on the right thing: capping costs.
Don't tax the rich. Cut their benefits
President Biden wants to reverse Trump’s 2017 tax cut for the wealthy and use the money to pay for infrastructure. Republican leaders have drawn a line in the sand, saying they will not support any tax increase. And now the two parties are stuck. But conservative budget expert Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute says that there’s a better way: an approach that raises more revenue and that both parties could agree on. Instead of fighting over taxes, why not cut back on some of the money that the federal government spends on rich people?