This was the first year I really worked on systematically writing freelance for a variety of writing outlets- and also the year I returned somewhat to my blogging days by launching this substack.
This entry is possibly more for my own use to pull that work together a bit more systematically, but hopefully those reading will see a link to a piece of interest you might not have seen.
My writing this year honestly reflected interests I’ve had more most of my political and writing life. A large focus was on rethinking federalism and highlighting in particular how progressives needs to think more strategically about progressive local politics versus red state attacks on that local power. Other major parts of my year’s writing volume was about labor unions and labor law, strategies on strengthening the US welfare state and fiscal policy, and on broader national progressive political strategy. I also wrote a number of pieces about New York City politics, race and US politics, a few fun cultural pieces, and only one piece solidly about technology (a rather larger interest in my writing for most of the last decade).
My four favorite pieces from the year include
The Withering Away of the States Can't Happen Soon Enough for the Nation, which really synthesized a few decades of activism in state politics and laid out a strategy for remaking federalism to create a more coherent politics of economic development centered on sending almost all federal funding to local regional governments, largely abandoning current practice of using states as a middleman. In the substack, I added a coda to the piece (cut for space from the main piece) on why regionalism matters for stopping climate change here.
Reset Labor Markets With a Local Half-Time Job Guarantee (also in the Nation)- given the frustrations in political opposition to pandemic UI and the Child Tax Credit (discussed in other pieces described below), the argument in this piece for building government spending supports around a job guarantee becomes an even greater political necessity.
Education Polarization in Elections: People are Voting Their Class Interests - this may be my favorite piece written for the substack since it seeks to deconstruct the “working class votes conservative” media meme in favor of a far deeper analysis of how US workers relate to their hierarchy in the global economy and to their relationships with corporate power.
Organizing the Alienated: Take the Skinheads Bowling- to the Union League- another substack post that turned a deeper sociological eye on the cultural alienation in Red State communities and why longer-term progressive investments in community institution building, particularly building labor unions, is likely the only longterm strategy for defusing the toxic politics of Trumpland.
Federalism and Protecting Local Policy Innovation
On the federalism and local politics front, my piece, The Case for Blue-State Secession for The Nation was both a political provocation on why such secession may be the only way to defend progressive politics from Supreme Court attack - but also a more serious political and legal strategy to actually reform the US Senate to make it more representative.
I had three other pieces focused on the importance of local policy and governance - and the often neglected battle between red state governments and blue cities.
How red states silence urban voters (The Week) detailed the many ways red state governments are gutting local policy options, from overturning city minimum wage laws to anti-mask mandates.
Biden's lifeline for red-state cities (The Week) looked at ways states have systematically denied urban communities their fair share of funding - and how radical the American Rescue Plan was in delivering federal funding directly to local governments.
Move over: Replace the MTA and Port Authority with a regional transit agency responsible to NYC (NY Daily News), a piece on New York that emphasizes state hostility to local democracy is not just a red state problem and which laid out a political restructuring of NYC regional politics to undo the distorted transit impacts of the Robert Moses era.
One part of my focus on local and state politics is recognition that national progressives tend to ignore the power of using Democratic success at the state and local level to highlight their political message. These two pieces were my attempts at ways to model that kind of messaging
California is an Embarrassment for Dysfunctional GOP State Governments- I used Gavin Newson’s utter rout of opponents trying to recall him to highlight the economic success of California, particularly towards rival Texas.
Progressives Should Be Selling the Successes of DeBlasio's New York- this week’s addition on the wide range of NYC policies national progressives should be touting to energize the base on what progressives can do with expanded power locally and and with expanded power in Congress.
Labor and Labor Law
Had quite a few pieces on labor and unions this year
A number of the pieces focused on the Cedar Point Supreme Court case and, more broadly, the possibilities of finally getting labor law reform enacted via reconciliation.
This Supreme Court Case Could Wreck the New Deal Legal Order (The Nation)- this piece detailed the assault by the Supreme Court in the Cedar Point decision. Using “property rights” rhetoric, the Court not only undermined local regulation of corporations— in this case a California requirement to allow union organizers to talk to farmworkers on company land— but used legal doctrines that could potentially undermine wide swathes of the regulatory state.
A creative solution for saving labor rights (The Week)- here I argued for how to use federal spending power via reconciliation to largely reverse the impact of the Cedar Point decision.
How to Get Labor Law Reforms Past the Filibuster (Washington Monthly)- this piece outlined a broad range of labor reforms that have a spending or tax component that could potentially make it through reconciliation.
In my substack post, Covid May Save or Kill the Administrative State, I continued the theme of how court attacks on labor regulation, in this case the OSHA vaccination mandate, are stalking horses for much broader gutting of the regulatory state more generally.
A few other areas of labor policy I wrote about:
How Workers Really Get Canceled on the Job (The American Prospect)- this piece highlighted the ways employers use tech-based surveillance to undermine union organizing and lower worker pay, as well as the labor law provisions the Biden NLRB may be able to use to reverse those attacks.
Progressive Policing Requires a Well-Funded War on Corporate Crime (The American Prospect)- highlighted the need for funding expanded enforcement of labor and other corporate regulations and how to use a “tough on corporate crime” message to take on GOP crime policy rhetoric.
The Labor Movement was the New Deal- and Striketober May Be More Important than Reconciliation- this substack piece used the “striketober” focus on John Deere and other strikes to focus on the details of how critical union gains were for making what we think of as the New Deal economic and political regime.
What Josh Hawley's minimum wage proposal has in common with his election lies (The Week)- this was designed not just to expose a bogus proposal by Hawley but to highlight the ways such faux economic populism is used to pretend to support workers while really strengthening corporate power.
Thinking About US Welfare State
In the substack, I wrote a number of pieces as companions to my Nation article on making job guarantees the next big focus for progressive welfare state policy.
The Fascinating Indian Job Guarantee Program- while lessons from India only go so far, its job guarantee program, providing work to 90 million rural Indias, does provide evidence of the wildly strong political popularity of such programs.
Push a Job Guarantee Pilot Program in Reconciliation- noted why including pilot job guarantee programs in reconciliation would be a good place to build momentum for the policy.
And in two pieces, the Unpopularity of Child Tax Credit Emphasizes Why Job Guarantees are Better than UBI and the Imminent Death of Expanded CTC Shows Progressive Should Get Serious About Job Guarantees, I emphasized different polling and other evidence for why, whatever their policy merits, UBI-style politics ended up crashing-and-burning.
While many pundits think streamlining the US welfare state is desirable, I made the case in a number of pieces that its awkward clunkiness has sometimes been its savior given hostile political waters.
The U.S. welfare state is messy. That's not a bad thing. (The Week) made the case that particular mass movements and messy political alliances created each social program and trying to consolidate programs into more “coherent” policies often threatens to dismantle needed coalitions and can sometimes make them a concentrated target for conservative attack.
Kittens Can Become Lions: How We Can Build on New Programs, Despite the Frustrations- in the debate on whether to have a few large coherent programs or a lot of little ones in reconciliation, I argued based on that history that building incrementally building on such smaller programs has often been the route for progressive policy success.
California and the Case for Restoring the SALT Deduction- while hardly ideal policy, this piece makes the case that the deductibility of local taxes makes political sense to deter states from slashing local taxes on the wealthy - and strengthening the hand of rightwing local politicians.
National Political Strategy
On the theme of TALK ABOUT OUR F———— SUCCESSES, I had two substack pieces on how unprecedented the economic recovery programs pushed by Dem leadership was over the last two years
How Dems Saved the Economy- just a step-by-step messaging document on all the ways the current recovery is better than past ones and how Dems need to claim credit.
We are Winning - Even if We Lose the Midterms in 2022- is a more high-level policy analysis on the triumph of Keynesian spending theory and the political struggle within the Democratic Party over the years to get to this point.
A couple of pieces building off my analysis on how to deal with the toxic alienation permeating our politics
No Short Term Fix for Dealing with Dem Losses- this emphasizes that we need to stop focusing just on the next election but really think about the long-term investments in organizing to gain the super-majorities needed for fundamental political change.
David Brooks Details the Death of American Conservatism - If It Ever Existed - an almost bemused appreciated of Brooks’ own analysis of the inherent toxicity of modern US conservative politics - and a plea for progressives to welcome converts and learn what we can from them.
New York Politics
Given the mayor’s race in NYC, I had to write about it :)
The (Reluctant) Progressive Case for Eric Adams- as much an anti-Yang piece as a pro-Adams piece, I did make the case that below some of his conservative-sounding rhetoric, Adams was promoting some very progressive policies (even if I expected frustrations from his mayorship even then).
Why this Primary is So Frustrating- mostly an analysis of the fracturing of the labor-progressive alliance that opened the way for Adams to win the mayor’s race- with thoughts on how local progressives need to rethink strategies to rebuild those alliances.
Race and US Politics
Wrote a number of pieces specifically on race and politics (although quite a few other others above inevitably focused on racism driving assaults on the welfare state and local politics)
Critical Race Theory IS in Our Schools - And Needs to Be Defended - my take that arguing over whether CRT was in schools was a losing strategy and how to argue for the need for frank discussion of racism as part of our education system.
Juneteenth: The End of the Slave Constitution and the Birth of a Nation- why we should recenter our national origin story as a democracy on ending slavery and making Juneteenth, not July 4th, our core national celebration.
Thomas Piketty on the Radicalism of US Emancipation and the Inevitability of the Civil War- a piece emphasizing how unique the US was in ending slavery with no compensation for slaveowners.
Where Is Our Spotify for Books? (Slate) - My only pure tech piece this year, it explores the legal barriers to book “streaming” services and the policy changes need to make libraries the “spotify” for books.
Fun and Culture
And finally a few quick culture and fun pieces
Something Different My Top 50 Board Games- a listing of my favorite board games, since playing them is one of my main social outlets.
God help me, I almost prefer David Lynch's version of Dune- and a take on how neither movie version captured the full thematic thrust of the original book series, but why I oddly found the misshapen Lynch version more satisfying that the new one.
Well, that’s it for 2021.
Happy New Year.
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You have been prolific. Happy New Year!