Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

What States and Cities Can Do To Fight Climate Change

Today, the Prospect is posting Ben Adler’s long-form piece, which also appears in the spring issue of our print magazine, on how states and cities are moving ahead on policies that limit climate change, and what they’re doing to counter the Trump administration’s policies that will make climate change even more severe.

As Ben points out, the regulations and standards for utility companies are set by states and in some cases, by municipalities. In the coastal states with Democratic governments—extending from Massachusetts to Maryland in the east, and California to Washington (with Hawaii thrown in for good measure) in the west—governments have set Renewable Portfolio Standards for their utilities that mandate transitions away from the use of coal and conversion to entirely renewable forms of energy over the next couple of decades. California and Washington have required new buildings to meet energy efficiency standards, through the use, for instance, of rooftop solar panels.

For their part, cities with progressive governments (which far outnumber states with such governments) have in recent years appropriated funds for light rail lines, bike paths, and other forms of transportation that provide alternatives to autos. And following the pattern set by new EPA chief Scott Pruitt when he was the much-beloved-by-oil-companies attorney general of Oklahoma, such enviro-conscious state attorneys general as New York’s Eric Schneiderman have announced they’ll be suing the federal government when it moves to undo long established environmental protections and climate-change legislation.

You can read the article in full here.

DC Paid Leave Coming (Slowly)

Earlier this month Washington, D.C.’s new paid leave law, considered one of the most generous in the United States, went into effect. As The Washington Post reports:

The D.C. law provides for up to eight weeks of paid time off to new parents, six weeks to workers caring for ailing family members and two weeks of personal sick time.

Just four states have paid family leave programs—California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York. They didn’t create these programs from scratch, however: All four had temporary disability programs already in place, which have been amended to include paid leave. (Only five states have temporary disability programs at all.) D.C.’s paid family leave program is unique because the city, which did not have a pre-existing temporary disability program, will have to build an entirely new policy infrastructure to administer the new entitlement. The district will pay for paid leave by levying a new payroll tax on employers.

According to Bloomberg BNA, D.C. lacks sufficient funds to get the program up and running any time soon, though the city has a few years to get its act together. Workers can start taking the paid leave benefit in 2020.

If D.C. leaders successfully build a new paid leave program from scratch, they will not just be helping residents in the nation’s capital, but will also be charting a progressive blueprint for other cities and states to follow.

 

 

 

A Close Look at Education Reform in Washington, D.C.

Today, The American Prospect published a feature story by Rachel Cohen on D.C. school reform. The District of Columbia has been cast as one of the nation’s most successful examples of education reform. Over the last decade, the city has significantly expanded charter schooling and implemented a new teacher evaluation system based in part on student test scores. The Obama administration repeatedly touted D.C.’s new school policies, and states across the country looked to the nation’s capital as a model to emulate.

Proponents of D.C.’s new school policies say there is clear evidence that the reforms are working, but critics say the success narratives have been blown way out of proportion. Here are other key takeaways from Cohen's story:

  • Racial achievement gaps have narrowed in D.C. since 2003, but they remain large, and socioeconomic achievement gaps have widened.
     
  • Researchers say that accessing data to study the effectiveness of D.C. school reform has been quite difficult. City leaders and DCPS officials have often been resistant to the idea of rigorous, independent evaluations, and the lack of transparency has created confusion over how effective or ineffective D.C.’s school reforms have actually been.
     
  • Some local researchers and education advocates want to see the government establish an agency—similar to the Congressional Budget Office—that could offer independent, objective analysis of D.C. education policy. But whether local politicians could be persuaded to fund a think tank that might possibly reveal less-than-flattering information about DCPS remains to be seen.

You can read the article in full here.

Why D.C.’s First Charter Union Election Was Called Off

In February, I reported on the first public union campaign at a charter school in Washington, D.C. Teachers at Paul Public Charter School wanted to form their own local—the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (DC ACTS)—which would be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Seventy-one percent of Paul’s staff signed a petition in support of joining DC ACTS, and asked their administrators on February 22 to voluntarily recognize their union.

When the administration refused to do so, Paul teachers filed for an NLRB election—scheduled for Thursday, March 30. (In a statement, the charter’s management said, “We do not believe that a union is necessary at Paul PCS.”) But the day before the scheduled vote, a surprising thing happened. The AFT, not the charter school teachers, called it off.

David Koenig, a government and history teacher at Paul told WAMU that their teacher organizing committee felt they had enough votes to win, and wanted to go ahead with their election, but “we did not have enough people who were willing to be public with their support to convince AFT that we were definitely going to win.”

While 58 of Paul’s 82 teachers, instructional aides, and counselors signed the initial union petition given to administrators in February, in the days leading up to the NLRB election just 33 people were willing to publicly commit to voting “yes” on March 30. Teachers on the organizing committee said that despite this, they were confident, based on private conversations with their colleagues, that they would still have a majority in support of the union when taken to a secret vote.

Experts who’ve studied NLRB elections have no such confidence, however. “If the teachers went forward, they would lose, absolutely,” says Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations. “If workers will not publicly say that they will vote for the union, that means they are voting no. That has been proven a hundred times over.”

If the staff’s support for the union has dwindled, that looks to be chiefly the result of management’s opposition. Since the time teachers went public with their union campaign, Paul’s administration engaged in what some teachers described as an aggressive, scorched-earth effort to dissuade teachers from voting to unionize.

The charter school maintains that it never pressured staff on how to vote, and that it “support[s] the right of all employees to participate in such [union] activity.”

But on March 15, Emily Farley, the high school dean of academics; Danielle Singh, the middle school principal; and Rosemarie Ragin, the director of student services, sent Paul staff the following letter:

Make no mistake, this election will have a lasting impact on you, your job, and the entire Paul community.

We are deeply concerned about what this election means to Paul’s staff and our Scholars. We do not believe that this union would be good for you or for our school, and believe the entire community—including teachers and staff—will be better served by continuing a collaborative, cooperative dialogue and problem solving process that does not include a third-party union. One of the advantages that draws both teachers and students to Paul is our ability to work directly and efficiently with our staff on a range of things that matter to all of us. This allows us to meet the needs of our students and families while engaging directly with teachers and staff to create the work environment you need to be successful. We readily agree that this is not always been a perfect process and that it can always be improved, but by voting for AFT in the election, you may be voting away your legal rights to deal directly with Paul and your supervisors on issues that will determine your pay, benefits and working conditions.

We also believe that our future success and security hinges on our ability to provide a high quality education to our Paul Scholars. This is why their families entrusted them to us. We do not believe that the involvement of AFT will help any of us educate our students.

This issue is about our commitment to each other. You will be asked to decide whether you want to continue to have a cooperative working relationship with the Paul administration, or whether you want an outside third party, AFT, to speak for you. Remember, AFT can only promise to do things; we have proven that the Paul community can deliver when we work together. Our proud history demonstrates that we do not need outsiders trying to get us to work against each other.

Over the next few weeks, we will try to provide you with the facts about AFT and the potential impact of unionization at our school. We believe that once you get all the facts you will see that unionization is not right for Paul staff or students, and you will vote “NO.”

And in an email sent to staff on March 20, Paul administrators told staff to “PROTECT YOUR PAYCHECK. VOTE NO ON MARCH 30TH.”

Moreover, on March 27, three days before the vote, Tammy Wythe, the school’s director of talent, sent a letter to Paul staff saying the school would hold off on issuing employment contract information for the 2017–2018 school year until after the NLRB vote. The school had previously told staff that they would receive this information by the end of March—acknowledging that “this information allows all of us—teachers, staff, and school leaders to plan for the next year.” The AFT filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint in response, saying administrators crossed a line by withholding information about whether teachers would continue to have their jobs until after the vote. (Following the election’s cancellation, the union withdrew its ULP.)

Despite all of this, the teachers still wanted to move forward with their vote. An AFT spokesperson told POLITICO that Paul’s administrators “created a toxic environment so full of fear, harassment and intimidation that we felt a fair election would be impossible at this time.”

From the union’s perspective, the fact that more teachers no longer wanted to publicly declare that they would vote for a union meant that management’s aggressive tactics were working, and that they had lost a significant amount of support.

By cancelling the NLRB election, teachers are able to schedule a new one in six months. If they had held the election and lost, then staff would have to wait one year before filing again. More importantly, from the union’s perspective, if the teachers lose their union election, then management might take that as a mandate to do whatever they want over the next school year. But by canceling it, management will have to remember that a failure—union advocates would say, a continued failure—to satisfy teachers’ conditions could mean that the staff could file again quickly for a vote. In other words, the union says it can help keep the boss on their best behavior.

Bronfenbrenner says that based on her 25 years of labor research, the AFT was right to conclude that the vote would fail given the drop in public commitments to vote in favor. “The initial petition is not a measure of ‘yes’ votes—it’s a benchmark as to whether you should go forward to the next step,” she says. “And if you vote and lose, it’s much harder to win than if you withdraw and try again. If you vote and lose, then the employer can go after the pro-union teachers and reward the anti-union ones. If they withdraw, then the campaign can continue.”

Despite not getting to vote for a union, it appears the staff’s organizing effort already helped increase teacher voice somewhat within Paul Public Charter. Since the teachers went public with their campaign, Paul’s administration added teachers to both the charter’s CEO hiring committee and the high school’s principal hiring committee.

The optics of canceling a vote that teachers wanted to hold doesn’t look great for the AFT, given that union officials regularly make a point to say that workers should have the freedom to decide for themselves if they want to be represented by a union. Bronfenbrenner stresses, however, that a unionization campaign isn’t about voting, per se. “It’s about winning. And if they vote, they will lose—they will get slaughtered,” she says. “It’s not democracy to let them vote. What would be democratic is to let them build their union.”

One Paul teacher, who didn’t want to be specifically mentioned in this article, said the campaign’s stalwarts are likely to continue organizing with their colleagues, but that it’s unclear what shape those efforts will take, or if they’d consider working with the AFT in the future. 

Congress Determined To Keep Private Sector In Vets’ Heath Care

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill mulling legislation to extend a program that lets veterans seek health care in the private sector have revived their longstanding complaints about long wait times for care at the Veterans Health Administration facilities. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Dr. Baligh Yehia, the agency’s assistant under secretary, appeared before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to testify on HR  369, a bill that would allow the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act to continue past its sunset date of August 2017. 

In 2014, after revelations of wait-time problems at some Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities, Congress created the three-year Choice program allowing eligible veterans to seek care in the private sector if they live 40 miles from a VHA facility or have to wait for more than 30 days for an appointment. The bill would let the VHA spend what remains of the initial $10 billion (about $1 billion) allocated to Choice on care in the private sector. 

At the hearing earlier this month, House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman David “Phil” Roe, a Republican from Tennessee, complained of VHA wait times as long as 81 days. His comments and those made by other committee members suggest that congressional Republicans are determined to ignore any evidence that outsourcing care to private sector providers won’t do much to improve access to or coordination of care for veterans. They seemed unaware, for example, that wait times for private-sector health care are also a significant problem.

A 2014 study of wait times in American hospitals by health-care consulting firm Merritt Hawkins found long wait times and large disparities depending on location. In their just released 2017 study of wait times, the firm found that wait times in 15 metropolitan areas had increased by 30 percent since 2014. The average wait time for a new physician appointment was 24 days. In Boston, the average wait time to see a family physician was 109 days while in Albany patients had to wait 122 days. Some practices were entirely closed to new patients. In Boston patients who had to wait to see a cardiologist for 133 days in 2014 were now waiting as much as 365. In Houston the longest wait for a heart doctor jumped from 26 to 43 days. In Denver the longest wait to see a dermatologist went from 180 to 365 days while the shortest delays increased from one to seven.

A 2013 Commonwealth Fund report found that, of those adults surveyed, 26 percent reported six or more days for a primary care appointment when they were actually “sick or needing care.” As the report stated “Among the 11 nations studied in this report; Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in 2010, 2007, 2006, and 2004.”

The American Prospect recently reported on an independent assessment of VHA performance and access which concluded that, “Enrollees living more than 40 miles from VA facilities are much less likely to have geographic access to specialized services in non-VA hospitals … they are much less likely to have access to academic and teaching hospitals, the sites in which more complex care is offered.”

VHA wait times mirror those in the private sector for the same reason, a nationwide shortage of primary care providers and mental health professionals. Another contributing factor is that a government agency like the VHA is unable to offer market-rate salaries to healthcare professionals. In high-cost urban areas, health care professionals who want to work at the VHA are being offered thousands,  sometimes tens of thousands, more in the private sector. Not surprisingly, they follow the money. During the committee’s three-hour hearing, the issue of how low pay affected the quality of care never came up.

Committee members also considered another Choice Program problem, the coordination of care between VHA and private sector providers. Committee members offered a number of short-sighted observations, including defining care coordination exclusively in terms of giving private sector providers access to the VHA’s electronic medical records. 

Coordinating care for VHA patients who are, on average, sicker, older, poorer, and have more chronic mental health conditions than their counterparts in the private sector, requires far more than access to data. The VHA has pioneered a model of care coordination: Clinicians who work in the VHA system and often in the same work on multidisciplinary teams that have been trained to engage in face-to-face communication (sometimes via Telehealth) about the complex needs of their patients. 

As many studies have consistently documented, this is one of the main reasons that the VHA often delivers care that is superior to that treatment delivered by private sector providers. It is also why, as Dr. Shulkin testified, of the 1.2 million veterans who have had appointments through the Choice program in the private sector, only  5,000 of them chose to receive care only from private sector providers. 

Shulkin has  promised to unveil a new version of the program, what he likes to call Choice 2.0, sometime this fall. The future of the VHA will depend on how this program is configured  and if members of Congress are willing to consider whether private sector providers can actually deliver high quality care. The Choice program has not worked well because it was designed hastily and implemented far too rapidly. If the recent House hearing is any indication, Congress may be poised to repeat history with Choice 2.0.

This story has been updated to include newly released data on wait times.

Wisconsin Progressive Giant Ed Garvey’s Vital Message

When Wisconsin progressive Ed Garvey succumbed to a long illness February 22 at age 76, Senator Bernie Sanders hailed him as “one of the smartest, funniest, and most decent people I have ever known.”

It was a fitting tribute to the humanity of Garvey, whose passion for economic democracy and social justice had made him deeply beloved in his home state.

That Sanders delivered it was also fitting. In both electoral and issue campaigns, Garvey had pioneered a sharp-edged message about mounting inequality and shrinking democratic space that had cultivated the ground for Sanders’s Wisconsin primary win. Garvey spoke directly to Wisconsin’s unusually harsh inequities, and job losses caused by globalization. Sanders sounded similar populist themes in his  57–43 percent primary victory over Hillary Clinton, in which he carried 71 of 72 counties. Clinton went on to lose the state on Election Day, by just 23,000 votes.

Garvey blended generosity of spirit with a remarkable strategic audacity and fearlessness, overcoming seemingly insuperable odds in countless battles. Above all, Garvey was a masterful communicator—an old-fashioned, spellbinding orator and a sophisticated modern-media strategist who saw the importance of teaching working people how to speak about their pain and aspirations to the broadest possible audiences.  

Having worked alongside Garvey for more than three decades, I regard the annual “Fighting Bob” festival as the capstone of Garvey’s lifelong efforts to build working people’s capacity to develop and deliver a powerful diagnosis of society’s ills, and to offer a compelling alternative vision. The festival, which originated in 2001 with Garvey a central founder, is named after the firebrand progressive Robert La Follette Sr., Wisconsin’s governor a century ago. “Fighting Bob” became a central point of mobilization, where Garvey spread his communications philosophy to thousands of grassroots activists drawn from across the Badger State. Over the years, the festival has attracted many of the nation’s most thoughtful progressives, including Sanders, Jim Hightower, Jesse Jackson, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, among numerous others.

Many “Fighting Bob” attendees became active because of Garvey, who indefatigably crisscrossed the state to share his energy, strategic acumen, and legal skills with workers battling against plant closings and wage cuts, and with environmentalists resisting “factory farms” and other threats to clean water.  

Garvey’s signature method first found full expression back in 1982, when he directed the NFL players union’s campaign for a fixed share of the football league’s massive, fast-growing revenues. Under Garvey, the union developed and drove home a compelling message that motivated the players and resonated with fans. As Garvey would later recall, “We built support among the public by emphasizing, ‘We are the game’—emphasizing that while the owners were dispensable, the players are not.”

The message kept the players consistently fired up. “Once the players really understood that they truly are the game, they were well on the way to victory,” Garvey explained at the time. This consistent message enabled the NFL stars to quickly out-maneuver the league and its hardliner anti-union majority. By the strike’s end, not a single player had crossed the picket lines, the public solidly supported the union, and the owners were forced to agree to provide the players with 55 percent of revenues.

Not that Garvey’s strategy was always appreciated within the ranks of labor or by Democrats. Garvey once recounted how then–AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, a dour and cautious figure, told him “to avoid too much publicity. He demanded, ‘What if you lose?’”

Garvey retorted, “Well, what if we win?” With the NFL players’ strike, as with numerous local fights involving unions and environmentalists, the Garvey method paid off by combining a powerful message with grassroots activism and public outreach.

Some Wisconsin Democrats never got comfortable with Garvey. To them, openly proclaiming a progressive, anti-corporate message risked alienating the Democrats’ donor class, and galvanizing and intensifying right-wing opposition to frightening levels. In his 1986 race for the U.S. Senate seat held by arch-conservative Robert Kasten, Garvey’s surging poll numbers alarmed Kasten consigliere Roger Ailes (later of Fox News infamy) into devising a major TV ad buy that falsely accused Garvey of stealing $750,000 from the NFL union he had represented. After his narrow re-election, Kasten was shamefacedly forced to admit that there had been no basis for the charge, but the outcome was of course unchanged.

Garvey’s fierce allegiance to rank-and-file union members also caused some rifts with labor leaders across the state.

But today, under Republican Governor Scott Walker and President Trump, Wisconsin Democrats face unprecedented existential threats to labor rights, the public commons, the environment, and civil liberties. They need Ed Garvey’s full-throated progressive message of economic inequality, and his genius for communication, more than ever. This may be Garvey’s most important legacy—and what makes his loss untimely in more sense than one.

Supreme Court: Defendant’s Race Cannot Inform Sentencing

In October, we covered Buck v. Davis, a death penalty case that was being argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. On Wednesday, February 22, the Court ruled in favor of convicted murderer and condemned prisoner Duane Buck and sent his case back to the appeals court. Procedurally, the case was a complicated mess, but it was ultimately about keeping racial bias from contributing to a man’s execution. As we noted at the time:

In the broadest sense, the moral and societal question facing the Court is whether in America a man may be sentenced to death based on evidence that is unconstitutionally tainted by racial stereotyping. But the actual technical and legal question before the Supreme Court is whether the Fifth Circuit erred in upholding a lower court’s refusal to grant Duane Buck the right to appeal a district court’s finding that his case is not sufficiently “extraordinary” for a federal court to intervene.

A 6-2 majority of the Court ruled that the Fifth Circuit was wrong to deny Buck the certificate required to make this appeal. The majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts ruled that Buck’s counsel was ineffective, noting that that the jury in his sentencing phase had been told by the expert called by Buck’s own lawyer that “that the color of Buck’s skin made him more deserving of execution.”

Buck’s attorneys praised the ruling. “Today, the Supreme Court made clear that there is no place for racial bias in the American criminal justice system,” said Christina Swarns, litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “By acknowledging that Mr. Buck’s trial counsel’s injection of racially biased evidence into the capital sentencing proceedings was unconstitutional, the Court has reaffirmed the longstanding principle that criminal punishments—particularly the death penalty—cannot be based on immutable characteristics such as race.”

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, joined by Justice Samuel Alito. Thomas wrote that the majority opinion “bulldozes procedural obstacles and misapplies settled law” to achieve a desired outcome. Thomas argued that the testimony presented in Buck’s sentencing that being black made him more violence prone was not prejudicial. 

GOP Pushes to Repeal Regulations on Prepaid-Card Companies

Republican legislators have moved to repeal a rule constraining prepaid–debit card companies before the rule can take effect, marking the latest effort in their recent campaign of widespread deregulation.

Seven GOP senators—led by David Perdue of Georgia—and four representatives—led by Tom Graves, also of Georgia—filed identical resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives last week, invoking an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act to smother a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule before it can be enacted.

The CFPB rule, scheduled to take effect in October, would provide safeguards for those who use prepaid cards, which are similar to debit cards but are preloaded with a designated amount of money by the cardholder. The rule would require providers to disclose hidden fees and protect against loss, theft, and unauthorized charges. The rule would also force prepaid-card companies to limit overdraft fees.

NetSpend, a division of the Georgia-based Total System Services (TSYS), is the only major provider of prepaid cards that has overdraft fees and, as such, is the biggest apparent beneficiary of the GOP move. The prepaid-card provider, which has lambasted the rule as “onerous,” announced in an October earnings call that it expected to lose $80 million to $85 million each year in overdraft fees, comprising 10 percent to 12 percent of its current revenue, as a result of the CFPB rule.

“It is outrageous that Congress may block basic fraud protections on prepaid cards so that NetSpend can keep gouging struggling families with overdraft fees that have no place on prepaid cards,” Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), said in a statement.

In 2016, parent company TSYS donated thousands of dollars to the Senate and House campaigns of the Georgia Republicans and also contributed to the campaign of Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, another co-sponsor of the repeal resolution.

The resolution would give NetSpend a reprieve from federal scrutiny of its business practices. The company is currently in the middle of a legal battle with the Federal Trade Commission over deceptive marketing allegations.

Under the Congressional Review Act, which allows federal lawmakers to eliminate recently finalized rules with a simple majority vote in both chambers, the resolution would still require presidential approval. President Trump, who promised to “do a number” on Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform law, has shown a penchant for deregulation and would seem a safe bet to sign off on such a resolution.

The Republican push to gut the CFPB rule comes as more and more Americans are giving up on traditional banks and relying more on alternative payment methods like prepaid cards. In 2015, 7 percent of U.S. households, or about 15.6 million adults and 7.6 million children, didn’t have a bank account at all, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Prepaid cards are most popular among low-income people who can’t qualify for a credit card. Even consumers with good credit histories sometimes turn to prepaid cards to avoid high overdraft fees, thereby sacrificing the legal safeguards that come with conventional banking. If the GOP repeal plan is successful, they’ll get the worst of both worlds. 

A Price Confirmation Would Continue Obstruction of Gun Violence Research

The prospects for reinvigorating gun violence research could become even more remote. Federal funding for studies into gun violence and gun-related deaths has effectively been frozen for the last two decades, a worrying trend that looks to continue under a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress, especially if the Senate confirms Representative Tom Price, President Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Critics have taken on Price, an outspoken gun-rights advocate and conservative spending hawk, on a wide array of issues throughout his confirmation hearings, but his ardent support of gun rights has flown under the radar.

“Guns are used more often to protect lives, not take lives,” the Georgia Republican told Georgia’s Marietta Daily Journal last year. “Steps to remove firearms from the hands of law-abiding citizens endanger those very citizens.”

The 1996 Dickey Amendment blocked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds from being “used to advocate or promote gun control.” Since Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, a similar rule has also applied to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Price, who received an “A” rating from the NRA’s Political Victory Fund and a 90 percent approval rating from Gun Owners of America, has previously pushed to cut funding from both the CDC and NIH.

Jay Corzine, a University of Central Florida sociology professor who studies violent crime, insists that gun violence research is essential to mitigating gun-related deaths and that federal gun policies should be based on the best research available, not party politics. “It’s a mistake for lawmakers to restrict other federal agencies’ abilities to invest money in types of research that they see as meeting a national need,” says Corzine.

As head of the HHS, Price could shift how the agencies spend funds and curtail research or steer studies in other directions. That doesn’t augur well for new inquiries in this cash-strapped field. 

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association study found that gun violence research funding lagged behind investigations into other causes of death by billions of dollars.

(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association)
 

David Stark, a co-author of the study, aimed to find out how congressional restrictions affected research into gun-related deaths. Stark noted that had federal research funding been linked to the actual gun violence death toll, gun researchers would have received about $1.4 billion between 2004 and 2014, but they only received $22.1 million. Gun violence killed nearly ten times more people than fires, but research efforts received nearly $1 billion less in funding.

“No one would say that the intent of traffic safety research was to eliminate automobiles from the road,” Stark told The Trace. “No one is necessarily saying that the intent of gun violence research is to eliminate guns.”

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to end the freeze on gun violence research. However, with Congress continuing to block dedicated funding, the executive order has largely failed in resuscitating any new research. The congressional funding restrictions have also spilled over into academia. “Graduates gravitate to a field where there’s funding,” says Corzine. “If there is less funding, [they] will go elsewhere.”

Having secured the backing of the NRA early on in the presidential campaign season, Trump is unlikely to request funding for new research. Despite calls from Democrats, academics, doctors, the American Medical Association, and even former congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas (the Dickey Amendment’s author) to eliminate these restrictions, Corzine does not hold out hope that the situation will change anytime soon.

“There might be movement to loosen up [gun] control [restrictions],” Corzine says. “But in terms of movement towards research, I just don’t see that happening.” 

An Alternative to Puzder

Fast-food CEO Andy Puzder, Donald Trump’s pick for labor secretary, is a big fan of robots—and not so much of humans. In an interview with Business Insider last March, Puzder had this to say about our robotic little friends: “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

Correspondingly, Puzder’s record makes clear that the wants and needs of human workers repel and disgust him. He’s opposed increases to the minimum wage, and the extension of overtime eligibility to workers making more than $23,000 a year. His fast-food outlets have been penalized for violating minimum-wage laws. And as his Business Insider disquisition makes clear, things like employee vacations and slipping on the job—things that come out of Puzer’s profits, that is—drive him batty.

When the Senate convenes in January to consider Trump’s cabinet nominations, it might be prudent for the solons to apply Puzder’s tests for human frailty to the nominees—at minimum, to Puzder himself. Is he always polite? Has he been known to take vacations? Or slip? Or fall? If so, wouldn’t a robot do a better job? Any robot programmed to become labor secretary, after all, would likely understand better than Puzder that its mission is to advance rather than retard the interests of American workers.

The senators should heed Puzder’s advice: Reject his nomination and petition Trump to send them a robot, which, by any criterion, including that of human empathy, would be more qualified than the current nominee. 

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