Justin Miller

 Justin Miller is a writing fellow for The American Prospect.

Recent Articles

Bernie is Putting Black Youth Unemployment Front and Center

A point of criticism regarding Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign is that as an old white man from the whitest state in the union, he’s not good at talking about racial issues in the United States. He’s more comfortable, the argument goes, focusing broadly on issues of economic inequality and unwieldy corporate influence.

The critique, however, doesn’t mesh well with reality. While Sanders may not be perfect on race—his closest advisers are on the older, male-er, and paler side and he has next to no name recognition among the black community—he’s proven a willingness to go beyond the obligatory liberal lip service.

In addition to calling for a complete reform of policing practices and saying that America as a country must apologize for slavery (how controversial, right?), Sanders is going a step further: He’s increasingly calling out the lack of discourse on and solutions for black unemployment.

“How do you discuss Ferguson and not know that, in that particular community, unemployment is off the charts?" the democratic socialist said in an extensive interview with The Nation. "How do you discuss Baltimore and not know that, in that particular community, unemployment is off the charts?"

Nationally the black unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, compared with 4.6 percent for whites. The unemployment disparity, however, is far more striking for youth. The unemployment rate for young African Americans is 21.4 percent—seven percentage points more than the national youth unemployment rate.

Early last month, Sanders introduced the Employ Young Americans Now Act (he previously introduced the same bill last year) in a neighborhood in Southeast Washington, D.C., that’s long struggled with high unemployment rates. The legislation calls for the creation of one million jobs for disadvantaged young people by sending $5.5 billion in funds to state and local job-training programs—much of which would be aimed at areas with persistent black unemployment. 

Still, Sanders has a long way to go to get any significant portion of the black vote in the Democratic primaries. A recent poll shows that 91 percent of non-white voters prefer frontrunner Hillary Clinton, while only 3 percent intend to vote for Sanders. “We’re reaching out, but it’s no secret that Bernie represents a state that is heavily Caucasian, and his decades of work on issues of importance to African Americans aren’t known amid the national conversation on race that is underway,” a Sanders adviser told The New York Times.

His polling numbers among minorities may increase as his name recognition and platform awareness increases. By placing black youth unemployment, along with a cadre of other policies, on the marquee of his campaign platform, Sanders is showing that he’s aware, he’s not oblivious, and he’s willing to make outreach to the black community a priority.

As Collier Meyerson notes for Fusion, though, Clinton is echoing Sanders. At a speech at a community college in South Carolina last month, she announced a plan to combat rampant youth unemployment by offering tax credits to businesses that bring on young apprentices. And advisers said she’ll unveil more concrete plans aimed at black youth unemployment this summer.

Clinton has embedded recognition among the country’s black voters, and as Clinton mirrors some of Sanders’s ideas, the Vermont senator will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to ensure his broader platform for addressing economic inequality remains distinct, and as he works for greater recognition and support among a broader swath of American voters. Homing in on black youth unemployment could be a good jumping-off point. 

How Obama Could Crack Down on Dark Money Without Congress

The White House is considering an executive order aimed at the undisclosed political contributions of federal contractors. 

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
AP Photo/Evan Vucci A combination of pressure from progressive organizations, support from congressional Democrats, and legal assurance from the courts could compel President Obama to levy his first blow to the secretive scourge of dark money in American politics. All it would take is an executive order that requires all federal contractors to disclose their dark-money spending—contributions to shadowy 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6) nonprofits. The only question that remains: Will he put his pen to paper? Advocates of the action argue that for Obama, this is a chance to further define his legacy on an issue that he’s notably spoken out against yet has so far refrained from any real action. At a 2010 DNC rally, Obama declared that special interest groups that pour money into attack ad campaigns without ever having to disclose their spending are “a threat to our democracy.” In his 2015 State of the Union address, the president called for political reform: “A better politics is one where we...

Why It Will Take Another Watergate to Pass Campaign Finance Reform

Back in January, Congressman John Sarbanes introduced the Government By the People Act. It’s an ambitious bill that would bring a sea change to our much-maligned campaign finance system.

The bill has three main tenets aimed at amplifying the power of small donors. It would create a $25 tax credit for political donations up to $50; establish a six-to-one matching system for donations up to $150 to House and Senate candidates; give enhanced matching funds to candidates who are combating significant outside spending. Small donors would also be able to bundle contributions into something of a People’s PAC.

Essentially, by increasing the monetary footprint of small donors, this would give incentive to politicians to talk more with everyday constituents about things that impact them rather than jet-setting across the country going to fundraisers and only hearing about the importance of keeping the carried-interest loophole in place. And yes, it is sad that it takes a piece of legislation to make politicians campaign to the people they actually represent.

The legislation is based on past campaign finance reform legislation, just modernized to deal with the post-Citizens United world we live in. It also borrows from some of the most effective policies that states and cities have successfully implemented. Critically, the legislation follows the one pathway the courts have left to even the playing field: adding more, not less, money to politics.

“If this bill became law, it would greatly change the priorities of Congress, making them more responsive to the priorities of everyday Americans,” says Aaron Scherb, the legislative affairs director for Common Cause.

Along with Sarbanes, 149 Democrats and (surprisingly) one Republican have co-sponsored the legislation. There’s also a similar companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin. The law stems from the Fair Elections Now Act of 2008, which nearly passed when Democrats had control of Congress. But with a Republican-controlled Congress that has shown less than no interest in considering campaign finance reform, things look bleak. It failed to gain traction when introduced in the 112th and 113th Congress. This time around, GovTrack gives it a full 0 percent chance of being enacted.

Scherb puts it a little more clearly: “We’ll probably have to wait for a scandal or a crisis to occur for it to pass.”

Still, Sarbanes remains adamant that it can pass—and he appears to be going on something of media campaign to get the word out. Last month he did an interview with The Washington Post and Washington Monthly. And this week, Jon Schwarz of The Intercept published an interesting two-part interview with the Congressman.  

“It’s like with that Verizon ad: ‘Can you hear me now?’ Right now candidates can only hear the $1000 donor, the PAC donor. But if you have those people sitting in that living room with that match, all of a sudden you can hear them,” Sarbanes tells The Intercept.

The second installation of the interview gets into how Sarbanes goes about marketing an issue with a lot of populist support but next to no political feasibility: “Somebody’s going to own your government. It’s not going to just sit there unattended. It’s either going to be owned by special interests and big money, in which case when it comes to making policy that’s who we’ll work for. Or it’s going to be owned by you. And in America, if you want to own something, you’ve got to pay for it.”

The point being: democracy will come with a price tag. But first, somebody is probably going to have to get caught with their hand in the industry cookie jar in a very big way.

SCOTUS Comes Calling on Public Sector Unions

A case that could decimate public sector unions is now headed to the Supreme Court. 

AP Photo/Nick Ut
AP Photo/Nick Ut Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members protest for higher wages in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. T he Supreme Court was dishing out win after win for liberals: Affordable Care Act subsidies upheld; same-sex marriage made the law of the land; a legal blow administered to the undemocratic process of gerrymandering. But through it all labor activists were holding their breaths as a case that could decimate public sector unions inched perilously toward the Supreme Court. Then late last month labor’s worst fears were realized when the Court announced that in its 2015-2016 session it will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association , a case that centers on the constitutionality of so-called “agency fees,” which require non-members to pay fees related to union bargaining and member representation efforts. “This is a very significant case. It may well be life or death for the unions,” Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs told...

Columbia University Was Invested in Incarceration—Until Students Stopped It

Inside the nationwide campaign to keep university endowments out of the prison business. 

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren In this photo taken on Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 detainees are shown inside a holding cell at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washashington, a facility operated by The GEO Group Inc. under contract from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. T he private prison industry is a growth industry—exploding by 350 percent in just 15 years. As the federal and state governments are facing slimming budgets, contracting out prison operations to private companies is seen as a convenient way to deal with ever-increasing rates of incarceration and detention. At the same time, such rapid growth has made the private prison industry an especially attractive investment for university endowments, prompting a nationwide, student-led divestment campaign that’s lately seen some notable success. Studies have shown that while private prison operations may help ease some budgetary strain, they perform worse than public prisons on a number of metrics: reducing prison violence;...

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