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Tag: "Obama administration"

Public-Private Partnerships and Free Market Mythologies

[ 54 ] June 1, 2017 |

Given the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is the Trump administration, any of us would gladly take the Obama administration, even with its weaknesses on some issues. However, if there’s one area where the two administrations overlap, it’s in the privatization of education. Rachel Cohen has a typically excellent report on so-called “Pay for Success” programs that encourage private investment in social programs that, if successful, the government pays back with interest. Pushed by the Obama administration, much of this was in education and there are plenty of connections already with Trump officials.

Chicago’s Pay for Success project launched in 2014, and aims to improve students’ kindergarten readiness, boost third grade literacy and reduce special education services. Goldman Sachs, Northern Trust and the Pritzker Family Foundation invested $16.9 million into the program, with the potential to roughly double their investment over the next 18 years. The bulk of those returns would come from reducing special education services for the 2,600 program participants—about $9,100 per child.

Undergirded by narratives of wasteful government spending and market-driven accountability, a small group of philanthropists, financiers, and policy leaders have helped elevate the Pay for Success model quickly over the past few years. State and local governments have launched 16 such projects across the U.S since 2012, tackling a range of issues from foster care and education, to criminal justice and public health. Dozens more wait in the pipeline.

At its best, advocates say that Pay for Success could foster greater government accountability, fund needed programs in cash-strapped political climates and potentially save the public money down the line. “Innovative models like Pay for Success … shift the risk of achieving targeted outcomes away from the taxpayer and enabl[e] governments to pay only for what works,” said Andrea Phillips, the Vice President of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group.

But at its worst, Pay for Success can leave taxpayers paying substantially more than if their governments had just funded programs directly, cement narratives of fiscal austerity and incentivize misguided social outcomes.

Free market mythology plopped on our kids! Great! What about Trumpers?

Federal support for Pay for Success continued to mount steadily under the Obama administration. In 2015, Congress passed the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the successor to No Child Left Behind—and changed the law to allow states and school districts to use federal dollars to fund Pay for Success projects. The move was applauded by groups excited about leveraging public money with private partners, and criticized by others for the same reason. Senator Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), largely responsible for the inclusion of Pay for Success in ESSA, said “rather than being limited by what federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education think best, funding should be more connected to local innovation and successful outcomes.”

Lexi Barrett, a former policy advisor in Obama’s DOE who also served on his Domestic Policy Council, left the executive branch in 2014 to work as the policy director for America Forward, where she pushed for Pay for Success’s inclusion in ESSA. Now she works as the director of National Education Policy at Jobs for the Future, which was recently awarded $2 million in Department of Education grants to spearhead Pay for Success projects in career and technical education.

“The fact is you have very senior level officials leave the federal government and then turn around to lobby and influence their former agencies,” says Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, which advocates for tougher restrictions on former federal employees.

The Obama administration laid the groundwork for Pay for Success, paving the way for its potential expansion under Trump—who has declared his intent to expand public-private partnerships across all sectors of government.

A bipartisan commission established last March by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will be issuing formal recommendations later this fall on how to grow the evidence-based policy movement. America Forward lobbied for this federal commission, and Jeffrey Liebman serves on it. And a bipartisan bill—the Social Impact Partnership to Pay for Results Act—was reintroduced this past January, which would direct at least $100 million to states and local communities to expand Pay for Success projects.

Meanwhile, in March, Trump announced the creation of the White House Office of American Innovation, charged with improving government and society in collaboration with the “private sector and other thought leaders.” With its stated plans to tackle areas like workforce development and the opioid crisis, PFS supporters have been eyeing the Office of American Innovation as a potential new base of federal support. Senior White House advisers, including Goldman Sachs alumni Gary Cohn and Dina Powell, were even tapped to help guide the new agency. Before joining the Trump administration Powell herself had led Goldman’s “impact investing” initiatives, a portfolio that includes Pay for Success.

Truth of the matter is that Obama has an awful lot to answer for with his terrible education policies, not to mention his fundamental faith in free market mythologies.


Obama’s Climate Legacy

[ 30 ] January 14, 2017 |


Given the constraints of an extremist opposition, there’s probably not much more Obama could have done on climate change. He sums up his achievements and the need to move forward in an article in Science, written by him, although almost certainly not actually written by him. This is the first time a sitting president has ever published in the prestigious journal.

Of course one can argue that Obama’s biggest weakness is thinking that anyone cares what is published in a journal like Science instead of playing the dirty politics that actually leads to power in this country. It would be nice if this country could have nice things, but what a pipe dream.

Obama on Inequality

[ 66 ] February 9, 2015 |

Barack Obama gets why income inequality is so stark and why the fortunes of American workers have declined so far in the past forty years.

President Barack Obama did an interview with

At one point he was asked what he thought was leading to growing income inequality in the US.

Here’s what he said:

“Some of it has to do with technology and entire job sectors being eliminated — travel agents, bank tellers, a lot of middle management — because of efficiencies with the internet and a paperless office.”

“A lot of it has to do with globalization and the rest of the world catching up. Post-World War II, we just had some enormous structural advantages because our competitors had been devastated by war, and we had also made investments that put us ahead of the curve, whether in education or infrastructure or research and development. And around the ’70s and ’80s and then accelerating beyond that, those advantages went away at the same time as, because of technology, companies are getting a lot more efficient.”

“One last component of this is that workers increasingly had less leverage because of changes in labor laws and the ability for capital to move and labor not to move.”

Add all that up, and Obama says workers are in a tougher position. He was then asked about taxes, and he gave this additional reason for pressure on wages:

I think that part of what’s changed is that a lot of that burden for making sure that the pie was broadly shared took place before government even got involved. If you had stronger unions, you had higher wages. If you had a corporate culture that felt a sense of place and commitment so that the CEO was in Pittsburgh or was in Detroit and felt obliged, partly because of social pressure but partly because they felt a real affinity toward the community, to reinvest in that community and to be seen as a good corporate citizen. Today what you have is quarterly earning reports, compensation levels for CEOs that are tied directly to those quarterly earnings. You’ve got international capital that is demanding maximizing short-term profits. And so what happens is that a lot of the distributional questions that used to be handled in the marketplace through decent wages or healthcare or defined benefit pension plans — those things all are eliminated. And the average employee, the average worker, doesn’t feel any benefit.

I know Obama is constrained by the realities of the limitations of power to pass legislation. But it is quite striking to me that while he well understands the problems of income inequality and stagnating wages, his trade policies are so counter to the interests of American workers. The promoters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama is trying to convince Congress to give him fast-track authority for, say that the problems of NAFTA won’t be repeated here and that the TPP will create American jobs. There is simply no reason to believe this. The TPP will just continue the process of the worldwide race to the bottom while protecting corporations from lawsuits and giving workers even less power than they do now to live a dignified life. It’s very difficult for me to believe that someone who supports the TPP and hires advisors like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner really has the interests of American workers in mind. Or maybe Obama does have their interests in mind, but is so under the control of the dominant ideologies of neoliberalism and global capitalism that he can’t see beyond his limited horizons to understand that a significant departure from current economic orthodoxies is necessary to reverse these trends. It’s certainly true that some of these problems are bigger than anything any president could do; the U.S. isn’t going to be in a position where so many of the world’s nations are either recovering from war or opting out of the global economy again. But Obama’s plans for the TPP are certainly not going to help.

I’m glad my president understand the roots of these problems. I just wish he could articulate better solutions.

More On Yellen and Summers

[ 134 ] August 2, 2013 |

First of all, what Krugman and and Ygelsias said about “gravitas,” which in this context appears to be a synonym for “male.” (By the way, anybody think that a woman with the Ph.D. – devoid Tim Geithner’s credentials would even be considered for the job? And, no, the fact that he was even considered does not make me optimistic that Obama will do the right thing.) The whisper campaign against Yellen reminds me of the smear campaign against Sonia Sotomayor.

Brad DeLong, meanwhile asks why Summers is viewed by the left as a “right-wing hyena.” And, sure, Summers isn’t an across the board conservative, and I assume that (as the op-eds Brad cites suggest) he’s been nudged to the left by the financial crisis and the increasing radicalism of the Republican Party. More relevant than the op-eds, if one was making a case for Summers, is that according to Michael Grunwald’s definitive history of the ARRA Summers sided with Romer rather than Geithner on the size of the stimulus. Still, those op-eds and his support for a large stimulus aren’t the only relevant information; liberals haven’t forgotten, for example, his embrace of banking deregulation in the 90s, which he was still defending as recently as 2005. So, sure, Summers isn’t a right-wing hyena; I’d rather have him as Fed Chair than Alan Greenspan or Tim Geithner or (based on the less I know about him) Donald Kohn. But those aren’t the only options. The question is Yellen versus Summers, and I just don’t see any way to make a good case for Summers in that context.

Ideologically, Yellen isn’t radically different than Summers, but if the Fed Chair was a unilateral decision maker I think you’d rather gamble on Yellen than Summers; the former has a clearer record of being a relative monetary policy dove, while we basically don’t know anything about Summers’s views on monetary policy. Summers might turn out to be essentially similar to Yellen, but as Remo Gaggi would counsel us, “why take a chance? At least, that’s the way I feel about it.”

But the Chairman of the Fed isn’t a unilateral decision maker, and that’s where the case for Yellen becomes nearly unassailable. Yellen has the relevant experience suggesting that she can work with the people she’ll need to go along if she’s going to be able to implement her preferred policies. Conversely, the management demands of the Fed Chairman entail the kind of management that virtually all accounts of Summers’s tenure at Harvard suggest he’s worst at — i.e. managing near-peers who are below him in terms or organizational rank but aren’t inclined to accept subordinate status. Now, maybe Summers learned something from his experience at Harvard and would be better at the Fed, but again I’ll cite Remo. You know Yellen can do the job well, so why take a risk that’s pretty much all downside?

And, finally, I’ll reiterate that to pick Summers over a woman with more impressive formal qualifications for the job would, given Summers’s gender baggage, have a particularly rank odor both substantively and politically. Yellen is the obvious choice here, and if Obama doesn’t make it he deserves all the criticism he gets, and if he gets a caucus revolt in the Senate he can’t say nobody told him.

“There, there, Judge Smith. Would you like a blankey and some turnip mush?”

[ 23 ] April 5, 2012 |


One hopes that, in light of these remarks, a great weight has now been lifted from Judge Smith’s shoulders. Perhaps now, having received assurances from the President of the United States that he actually possesses the powers of judicial review, Judge Smith can at last breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief. Armed with a new-found confidence, and the support of the Administration, perhaps he will now be able to put aside the distractions that have caused him such emotional turmoil in recent days. Perhaps, indeed, he may now, with equanimity, and a cheerful countenance, be able to return to the task of deciding the cases and controversies that are actually brought before him, as opposed to the remarks of politicians and media operatives that have almost nothing to do with his job.

Our prayers are with Judge Smith in his never-ending fight against anxiety and emotional upheaval. Surely there is no greater hell than that suffered by a person who cannot control his feelings of dread, and who finds himself buffeted about by a secret, gnawing fear that others do not accord him the respect and status that he craves. All of us can sympathize with the plight of Jerry Smith; all of us, in our own ways, have experienced our own dark nights of the soul. Your Honor– and we use that term advisedly–we feel your pain.

One additional note: one of the three members of this 3-judge clown show is Leslie Southwick, who Diane “Why Wasn’t I Primaried Two Cycles Ago” Fienstein inexplicably voted out of committee in 2007. I recall some commenters suggest that this was OK because Southwick was a reasonable, moderate, thinking person’s wingnut or something. I guess that’s the end of that…

Thankfully This Time, the Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power is Wrong

[ 38 ] March 20, 2012 |

Since this failure to bring Congress aboard involves Obama trying to achieve abysmally and unnecessarily conservative ends, I’m pretty sure that this time I’m not going to get much of a “but if Obama really wanted a terrible fiscal policy “grand bargain” he would have used the magical powers of the Bully Pulpit to ram it through, so obviously he didn’t really want it” pushback from those who would ordinarily provide it.

On the Holder Speech

[ 156 ] March 6, 2012 |

I recommend both Kevin and Adam.

The standards laid out for when a targeted killing can be justified are not, in themselves, unreasonable:

First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

But the problem, as Adam says, is that a great deal of the work is done by the term “imminent threat,” and Holder’s follow-up already indicates slippage:

But don’t assume that when Holder says “imminent threat of violent attack,” he means that you’re actually part of a specific plot threatening American lives. “The Constitution does not require the president to delay action until some theoretical end stage of planning when the precise time, place, and manner of an attack become clear,” Holder said. That would introduce an “unacceptably high risk of failure.” When he refers to “failure,” Holder presumably means failing to kill the target before the attack or plan for an attack materializes, not the possibility that the government might accidentally kill an innocent person.

And it’s precisely this potential for defining “imminent threat” down that makes the lack of oversight unacceptable. If the executive branch can’t demonstrate evidence that there is an “imminent threat” to some sort of independent body, there’s no reason to believe that those being targeted for killing in fact pose imminent threats, and the potential for abusing the gravest power the executive branch possesses remains. Without meaningful oversight, these standards are only as good as the administration applying them. And that’s just not nearly good enough.

Actually, He Stepped Aside and Let the Bishops Jump Into the Empty Pool

[ 136 ] February 10, 2012 |

I rarely disagree with Brother Pierce on non-Billy Beane related issues, but I’m afraid that I must demur this time. In addition to what I’ve already said, a couple points. First, I don’t agree with the slippery slope arguments. As of now, employees will be entitled to exactly the same substantive benefits they were last week, and there’s no reason for insurance companies to object because covering contraception actually saves them money. Nor is true that refusing to make these symbolic non-concessions would somehow make it less likely that the policy will be changed for the worse in the future. Precedents created by Obama will mean less than nothing to President Mittens or President Zombie-Eyed Granny Starver. The only way to preserve political gains going forward is to create powerful allies, and to the extent that they matter today’s changes are a net positive: they created new allies among Catholic health care providers without giving up anything, they didn’t create any new opponents, and they politically undermined the remaining opponents, forcing them to fight on political terrain that is extremely inhospitable.

I also don’t understand the argument that “that women’s-health issues have been treated as little more than a bargaining chip by a Democratic president. Again.” Women’s health issues were not just “treated as a bargaining chip”: the policy announced today, in fact, maintains very real gains for women’s health and equity. The Obama administration has made bad decisions on these issues before, but this isn’t one of those times. If the argument is that core progressive values were part of a political negotiation, well, yes. That’s what politics is. The only thing that declaring principles as somehow outside of the dirty, dirty realm of politics accomplishes is to make it less likely that public policy will reflect these values.


[ 62 ] February 10, 2012 |

I wasn’t thrilled when I heard that Obama was going to announce a “compromise” on contraceptive coverage either, but as it turns out the “accommodation” does not affect the substantive rights of employees and is also probably good politics, so it’s fine with me. And yes, of course, the Bishops won’t go for it, but 1)good, since any policy they would agree to would be unacceptable, and 2)to the extent that this isolates them from actual Catholic health care providers and forces them to just argue against contraception, also good. If Republicans want to fight on this terrain, they can go right ahead; this will make their Schiavo crusade look popular by comparison.

See also Jon Cohn, whose tweeting as this was being announced was invaluable. Official Planned Parenthood statement here. Obama’s speech announcing it was also very good.

perfect summary: “But still, the bottom line is this: Obama gave the bishops everything they claimed they wanted, but not what they really wanted. He gave them everything they asked for, but not the thing they adamantly denied they were seeking. The bishops’ bluff has been called.”

Obama’s Climate Betrayal

[ 47 ] December 30, 2011 |

Thus is the title of Elizabeth Kolbert’s excoriation of the Obama Administration for fighting European attempts to regulate airline emissions. Rather than support European leadership on the issue, the Obama Administration is threatening a trade war against European nations.

Nowhere has Obama been more disappointing than on environmental issues. This is precisely the kind of issue where the executive can provide leadership. Yet Obama has been reticent to issue many strong environmental regulations or to protect land. Beginning with his appointment of Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior, continuing to his opening the east coast to offshore drilling without getting a single thing in return on climate change legislation from the Republicans, and now opposing regulating airline emissions, Obama has been an environmental disaster for a Democratic president.

Like on many issues, we should not look back to Bill Clinton as a better Democrat on the environment. He probably was, but only in his last year. As with labor and other consistuencies, Obama has continued a string of Democratic disappointments. Certainly the legislative climate is not conducive to leading on the airline emission issue, but Obama could also issue executive orders, craft regulations, or even do nothing. Instead, he is following the bidding of the airline industry, continuing America’s role as the climate bad guy of the planet.


It’s pretty much impossible to imagine how the world can reduce the risks of climate change without imposing some sort of emissions limits, and airline emissions seems like as good a place to start as any. If the Administration disagrees with the European plan, then it would seem to be under a heavy obligation to propose its own. All it’s doing now is shilling for the airlines. Is this any way to run a planet?


The Plan B Disgrace

[ 108 ] December 7, 2011 |

Shame on Obama and Sebelius. This isn’t like the compromises on reproductive freedom in the ACA, which were necessary to appease fanatical anti-choicers who were in a position to blow up the legislation. This is an indefensible decision that wasn’t in any sense politically necessary, and indeed might be politically counterproductive. Appalling.

…more from Jamil Smith, Charlie, Vanessa Valenti, Kaili Joy Gray, Sarah Posner, Amanda Marcotte, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Tedra Osell (who alas returned to blogging at the “right” time.)

..and Carmon:

But there is no honest public-health reason to force teenage girls to see a doctor before accessing emergency contraception. There are only political ones. (The morning-after pill will still be available at pharmacies without a prescription for women over 17.)

So what happened? Although it’s hard to believe that conservative voters would be particularly swayed by the president’s capitulation on this front, teen sex has always had a special place in paternalistic and politicized approaches to public health. It doesn’t matter that teenagers can, and do, get pregnant (or contract sexually transmitted diseases) just like women over 17. They still have to be “protected” by parental-notification laws about abortion or from comprehensive, scientifically grounded information about sex. Politically speaking, teenagers aren’t exactly a powerful voting bloc — but their terrified parents are presumed to be.

The Magic Trillion

[ 132 ] October 9, 2011 |

Ezra Klein’s article on the stimulus and the devastated economy of 2009 is very much worth reading in its entirety. This is a key takeaway:

But it is hard to credit the argument that the stimulus could have been much larger at the outset. This was already the biggest stimulus in U.S. history, and congressional leaders had been quite clear with the White House: Don’t send over anything that passes the trillion-­dollar mark. To try and double the bill’s size based on a suspicion that the recession was much worse than the early data indicated would have been a hard sell, to say the least.

It is very possible that the Obama administration could have gotten a marginally better stimulus package with a marginally higher opening bid. But as I’ve said before, the idea that Obama could have gotten a marginal reduction of a much higher opening bid is implausible in the extreme. Regardless of what some people seem to think, offering $80,000 for a Park Avenue penthouse is not a clever, sophisticated negotiating tactic. As the fact that many opponents of the stimulus tried to portray the stimulus as a trillion dollar package anyway, it seems pretty clear that the trillion dollar mark is where the median votes in the Senate would have gotten off the bus. Even without knowing that the congressional leadership had actually taken that position, if a lot of money had been left on the table the bill wouldn’t have passed that narrowly.

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