Commentary

New York is on the cusp of adopting a campaign finance reform that would amplify small donations with matching funds, reducing the power of big special interest money over the state's politics. It would also allow New Yorkers to claim the mantle of the first state to take back their democracy in the era of Citizens United and unprecedented campaign spending.

But adopting Fair Elections would accomplish something else badly needed in our democracy: more diverse representation in our political leadership.

While attention focuses on Paul Ryan’s remarks about inner city culture, another dog-whistle theme continues its slow roil: food stamp abuse. More even than Ryan’s twisting narrative, the brouhaha around food stamps helps make clear that conservatives seek to conjure a much bigger bogeyman than “lazy” minorities.

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For decades, rapid economic growth has been the norm for developed countries. An educated workforce, a large population boom, major technological advances, and abundant fossil fuels were the key components of growth, generating substantial and broadly distributed increases in standards of living in many countries. We have grown so used to such growth that we inevitably view it as a panacea for a host of economic ills, whether it's a deep recession or income inequality.

We now understand, however, that the postwar growth paradigm is not environmentally sustainable.

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When Paul Ryan talked about a "real culture problem" in "our inner cities in particular"this week, he wasn't the first American politician to be slammed for using racially coded language to get a point across. Far from it.

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Paul Ryan triggered a firestorm of recrimination this week. Speaking recently on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio program, the Wisconsin Republican and self-styled budget wonk linked poverty to “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

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Economist Kenneth Boulding famously said, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” But it's not just economists who believe that anymore. Such ideas are still widely accepted by thought leaders, journalists, and politicians who, together, form a strong consensus that the U.S. recovery should be bolstered by natural gas exploration and production.

"Obamacare." The right loves to hammer the Affordable Care Act with this tagline, and even the rest of us tend to us it. But we should not, for the label works at least partly as a racial provocation.

In Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought informs Loonquawl that the meaning of life is 42. Loonquawl exclaims, “Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?" Deep Thought replies, “I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is." In much the same way, Americans talk about GDP growth without ever wondering what GDP actually measures. We all know the answer, but most of us don’t know the question.

When it comes to boosting economic opportunity, President Obama isn’t going to wait for Congress anymore.  

In his State of the Union Address last night, the President made a powerful statement about employers’ obligation to reward work -- starting with his own obligation as the executive in charge of millions of federal contracts. 

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Just three days before Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to run the fiscally strapped city, filed thelargest municipal bankruptcy case in history, he signed a forbearance agreement with UBS and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch establishing a process to settle possible claims on default of $800 million of interest rate swaps.

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