Unholy Union, or Savior in Disguise?

Update: After a conversation here in our office, I feel like I should add another thought about this.  I can't really imagine Wal-Mart ever being a faithful actor in this policy debate.  But on the other hand they clearly do not want to pay for their employee's health care.  Can the greed of Wal-Mart be turned into a weapon in the hands of advocates for single-payer, universal health care?

If you haven't yet heard the news, SEIU and the Center for American Progress have joined with some unlikely allies to push for universal health care:

SEIU and CAP helped to launch what is potentially one of the most
transformative coalitions on the field today–a network of business,
labor and public policy thinkers dedicated to building a new American
health care system with quality, affordable coverage for all by the
year 2012.

For the first time, companies like Wal-Mart, AT&T, Intel and Kelly Services, unions like SEIU and the CWA, and public policy groups like CAP, the Howard Baker Public Policy Center, and the Committee for Economic Development have joined together to push for universal health care and a more rational and efficient health delivery system.

There's lots of movement in health care reform lately, from the Governator's plan to extend coverage in California, to ex-Governor Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusettes.  And judging the statements of the Democratic candidates,  a Democratic president in 2008 would certainly lend his/her weight to achieving the goals of this unlikely coalition. 

It will be a great thing if they could expand access to health
care to all Americans.  We'll see what they can accomplish. 

Here's SEIU president Andy Stern explaining his involvement and hopes for the coaliton:


Separate and Unequal Transport

Doors of Opportunity (no text)At the end of December, three advocacy groups in San Francisco released MTC, Where Are Our Buses?, a report about disparities in transportation funding which adversely affect people of color and low-income populations.  Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) have labeled the Bay Area's transit system "Separate and Unequal," and provide compelling evidence to support their claim.

Released on the 50-year anniversary of the civil rights campaign to integrate bus service in Montgomery, Alabama, the report details recent funding and route decisions made by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and how they have impacted the local population.  At issue are the differences in subsidies provided to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Caltrain (both of which service primarily white suburbs), and AC Transit buses to the East Bay area (a region in which 80% of the residents are people of color).  According to a press release by Urban Habitat, the report "details both the sizeable funding disparities per passenger, and the resulting disparities in transit service as BART and Caltrain services have more than doubled, while AC Transit service has contracted by 30%."  Further, the report provides data that "public dollars subsidize the trips of BART and Caltrain commuters, who are disproportionately white, at three to five times higher levels than the trips of AC Transit’s mostly minority ridership."

The report also discusses local efforts to hold the MTC accountable, from a class-action law suit filed in federal court, alleging racial discrimination, to the MTC Minority Citizens’ Advisory Committee’s (MCAC) which has issued a series of recommendations on improving environmental justice.  So far, the MTC has yet to institute any changes in its policy.

According to AJ Napolis of Urban Habitat, "At stake is not only the access of low-income bus riders and their families to economic and educational opportunities, but the vitality of our communities," citing a study that a cut in transport funding can cost a community ten times more in travel costs and lost income.


The State of Opportunity - An Update

Over at TomPaine.com, our Executive Director Alan Jenkins has a column about Bush's State of the Union and the State of Opportunity in America:

During his State of the Union speech last month,
President Bush used the word “opportunity” nine times, to talk about
our nation’s economy, public schools, immigration policy, energy needs
and health care system. The president is correct in suggesting that how
opportunity fares is a crucial measure of our nation’s condition. So
just what is the state of opportunity in America?

Read the full column.


Framing Immigration in the New York Times

The Gray Lady is running an article on immigrants today that contrasts starkly with most media reporting of the issue, and offers us a chance to see what well-framed media coverage of the immigration debate might actually look like.

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Shape a New Economy

The article focuses on the challenges that many immigrant entrepreneurs face - competition from other immigrants, byzantine city regulations, language barriers, and lack of access to connections and infrastructure that help small businesses grow - yet the message is very much one of the positive impact that immigrants have on our cities:

“Immigrants have been the entrepreneurial spark plugs of cities from
New York to Los Angeles,” said Jonathan Bowles, the director of the
Center for an Urban Future, a private, nonprofit research organization
that has studied the dynamics of immigrant businesses that turned
decaying neighborhoods into vibrant commercial hubs in recent decades.
“These are precious and important economic generators for New York
City, and there’s a risk that we might lose them over the next decade.”

In this story, immigrants are the drivers and revivers of urban economies.  They are net positives for society as a whole.

To be sure, there are faults with the framing in this article.  By focusing on these successful immigrants who have bootstrapped themselves to success - despite many barriers - it reinforces the idea of the immigrant "striver," and promotes a conservative frame of individual responsibility ("If these immigrants can succeed, it must mean that those who don't aren't really trying to help themselves").

Never the less, it is a piece that highlights the value that immigrants bring to our society, and frames them in a positive light.  A good piece to think about as we work towards moving public opinion on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.


Grading the Rebuilding Process - January Report

Reconstruction Map: January

Over at TomPaine.com, Kevin Whelan and Toni McElroy have a great op-ed about the President's disappointing lack of commitment to rebuilding New Orleans - vividly symbolized by his failure to mention New Orleans or Katrina even once in his State of the Union Address - and what the state of the Gulf says about our nation.  Some good excerpts:

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, it exposed
America’s dirty little secret—that poverty not only still exists, but
is an intergenerational way of life for many of the country’s
residents. It would have been inconceivable that tens of thousands
could be left behind to fend for themselves in the storm, except it
played out on live television. For a time, public discussion again
focused on the fact that the poverty of New Orleans, far from being an
isolated situation, exemplifies a national problem.

The reasons such poverty still exists in a rich country aren’t
really hard to find. Years of under-funded public services, low wages
(10 years and counting without an increase in the federal minimum
wage), unaffordable housing, troubled public schools and suppression of
union-organizing have contributed to the decline in earning power of
working families and the rise in poverty.

The article goes on to note the many challenges facing the residents of New Orleans in rebuilding their lives.  These barriers to opportunity that many New Orleans residents - those still displaced and those who have returned - are starkly illustrated in the new Rebuilding Report Card put out by the Center for Social Inclusion.  Readers may remember that last month we posted the first of what will be monthly reports cards grading the rebuilding process.  The new report is out (pdf), and unfortunately (though not unexpectedly) the situation has not improved:

  • 17 months after Katrina, the Lower 9th Ward is the only planning district without full electric and gas service .
  • The Recovery School District turned away 300 students due to a lack of facilities
  • After promising 500 grants a day in January, the Road Home Program has averaged fewer than three approvals per day.

Report Card: January


The Power of Redemption

In talking about his faith on this Sunday's Meet the Press, Arkansas Governor and Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said "none of us are perfect, we all need redemption."  (Watch the video)

It's an interesting choice of words.  Huckabee used it as a segue into talking about the role of faith in public policy, and the need to support better education policy and to be betters stewards of the earth. 

Here at The Opportunity Agenda, Redemption applies to a much broader range of topics including criminal justice and social justice.  In our criminal justice system, many Americans - either wrongly imprisoned or over-incarcerated for petty offenses - are denied redemption in the face of a punitive legal system concerned more with doling out punishment than in rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders into society.  Frequently these offenders would be better dealt with through treatment and rehabilitation programs.  Even when many are finally free of our justice system, we continue to withhold the right to vote and participate in our democracy.  A healthy dose of Redemption would be a good thing to see in our justice system.

And down in the gulf, thousands of Katrina victims are still struggling to rebuild their lives, frequently without adequate assistance from municipal, state, or federal government.  These people, too, deserve redemption - the chance to start over when things go wrong, but our government is failing them.

I don't know about Huckabee's personal policies as the Governor of Arkansas, or what a Huckabee administration would do based on his personal conception of redemption, but clearly Redemption is a powerful frame that might be able to build bridges across the isle and between conservative Americans of faith and those of us in the social justice world who strive to create positive change in America.


State of Opportunity; State of the Union

Last night President Bush delivered his 6th State of the Union Address.  Thanks to a terrific interactive tool put out by the New York Times, we're able to determine that Bush mentioned opportunity 8 times in his speech - more than in any other State of the Union address he has delivered thus far.  In almost each instance, he referenced the need to spread hope and opportunity and build a brighter future for our country. 

It's wonderful to hear the President promote the value of opportunity
when addressing the nation, but unfortunately, opportunity has been on the decline since President Bush last ascended the podium to address the nation; and the President's proposed policies - centered less around expanding opportunity so much as promoting individual responsibility - will do little to increase opportunity for those most in need in our country.

Last year, just after the President's 2006 Address (in which one of the only references to opportunity came coupled with a broken promise to rebuild New Orleans - curiously absent from last night's speech), The Opportunity Agenda released a report - The State of Opportunity in America.  In this report, we measured America's progress in expanding opportunity along a variety of indicators and issues.  Our findings were not encouraging.

Next month, we'll release an update to the State of Opportunity Report.  For now, here's a sample of our findings:

  • A lower proportion of young adults earned high school degrees;
  • The number and rate of incarcerated people has increased, to 2.2 million today, consistent with a three-decade trend;
  • The wealth and income gap increased again, following a trend of growing economic inequality;
  • The gender poverty gap increased between 2004 and 2005, as a larger percentage of women fell into poverty in this period;
  • The number of Americans lacking health insurance increased from 45.3 million in 2004 to 46.6 million in 2005.

We'll have more in a few weeks.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can fact-check the President's statements and policy proposals through this tool created by Think Progress.

We also recommend you check out the SOTU review offered by our friends at the Drum Major Institute.

What did you think of the President's address and his newfound commitment to spreading opportunity?


Update: (Google) Mapping Health Care Disparities

We've only been live for a few days, but Health Care That Works, our Google Maps Mashup of health care disparities and hospital closings in NYC, is already getting a lot of attention.  So far we've been featured on the following blogs:

If you haven't yet, please check out the site, email your friends about it, and take the time to send an email to your state representatives.


Mapping Disparity - Healthcarethatworks.org

HealthCareThatWorksToday we're happy to announce the launch of a new project that we've had in the works for  a  few months now - www.healthcarethatworks.org.

Health Care That Works is a  new website designed to visually illustrate the economic and racial disparities that exist in New York City's health care system, and drive all New Yorker's of conscience to take action by emailing their elected officials.

The site is a Google Map mash-up
that takes data on NYC hospital closures between 1985 and 2005, and
overlays it on an interactive city-wide map that can display either the racial or economic demographics of the Five Boroughs.  Using this tool, visitors can visually see how hospital closures disproportionately impact poor neighborhoods and communities of color.  Text on the sidebar guides the user through each decade and demographic overlay, explaining the changing conditions of the city and the impact that closures have on underserved communities.

But the site is more than just a visual resource, it is also  a data-rich resource for researchers that contains a variety of reports and fact sheets (as well as data on the patient demographics, payer source, and quality scores for each hospital), a community forum for health care advocates and New Yorkers, and an activism tool that encourages New Yorkers to write to their elected officials in support of creating a health care system that works equally for all.

We think that Health Care That Works can be a valuable resource that sheds light on the underreported issues of racial and economic disparities in health care.  Let us know what you think here in the comments, or over in the Health Care That Works forums.

If you have accounts, recommend us on Daily Kos, or give us a Digg.


Remembering Dr. King

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The blogosphere is abuzz with posts commemorating Dr. King, and applying his work to current problems.  Here are some of our favorites.

At DMI Blog, Ezekial Edwards uses Dr. King's words as a touchstone to talk about the death penalty in New Jersey, and James Carmichael analyzes Democratic Presidential candidate John Edward's speech at the MLK commemoration held at Riverside Church in Harlem.  You can watch a video of Senator Edwards' speech here or download an MP3.

Christopher Bracey at BlackProf uses the King holiday and his experience listening to Dr. King's speeches laid over beats as an opportunity to talk about race and culture.  I'm not sure that I agree with his conclusions. I think he puts too much weight on one medium to convey everything he thinks needs conveying, rather than recognizing a Dr. King "mashup" for what it is - a great tool to bump up awareness and interest in Dr. King's work.  Attitudes about race among the younger generation - which is the most diverse and most tolerant generation in the history of our country - also belie some of his conclusions about the effects of reality TV.  Never the less, it is a thought provoking blog post that we highly recommend reading.

ACS Blog quotes Dr. King to make a valuable point about the relationship between our values as a nation, the opportunities of our citizens, and the public policy we pursue.

Facing South has 6 "surprising facts" about the King Holiday.  I had a vague awareness of numbers 1 and 2.  The rest are quite surprising.

What are you reading about Dr. King today?


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