A recent op-ed from a centrist Democratic think tank reignited an intraparty fight over the political pluses and perils of economic populism. But there are good reasons why we're unlikely to see a repeat of the battles of the mid-1980s.
When asked for an example of philanthropy at its most effective, Tom Tierney, author of “Give Smart: Philanthropy that Gets Results,” likes to talk about a (largely-forgotten) metallurgist named John Dorr, who changed the way we drive.
In the early 1950s, highways only had one set of lines, that ran down the middle of the road. At night, or in bad weather, drivers clung to the center line, dangerously close to each other. Dorr’s wife suggested to him that painting lines on the outside of the road, effectively creating driving lanes, might reduce accidents.
Dorr pitched the idea to highway commissioners in New York and Connecticut, and initial tests showed that the lanes did indeed reduce accidents. However, the process of the painting lines was expensive, and state authorities needed to be convinced. Dorr, who was wealthy, used money from his own philanthropic foundation to conduct more tests, and to advocate for adoption of the lines, and, in time he made his case, leading to the near-universal presence of driving lanes.
“There’s a kind of philanthropy we’re all familiar with, and most Americans participate in, and that’s charity,” said Tierney, who is co-founder of the non-profit Bridgespan Group, which helps philanthropists get better results for their money. “There’s another kind of philanthropy, however, that’s not addressing the consequences of problems, but working to solve those problems.”
The notion of philanthropy as a force for solving problems dates back at least a century, as titans of industry John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were struggling to define what modern philanthropy should be.
“We found many, many letters in our archives between the two of them,” said Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, “wrestling with this question: is what we are trying to accomplish something different than charity? And Rockefeller wrote ‘We don’t want to put bandages on weeping wounds. Philanthropy is about trying to solve problems at their root causes.’”
One of the biggest challenges currently facing society, that of mass urbanization, would likely have been unimaginable in John D. Rockefeller’s time. The negative knock-on effects of human beings migrating to urban areas are almost too numerous to count. If a city is struck by an earthquake, a violent storm, flooding or a fire, millions of people, rather than thousands, are affected. Overcrowding has strained public health systems to the brink and worsened age-old sectarian rivalries. In response, the Rockefeller Foundation has begun an initiative called 100 Resilient Cities, aimed at helping city officials respond more quickly to shocks and stresses.
As part of the initiative, 100 cities spanning the globe were chosen from a pool of around 400 applicants. The first 33 cities were announced earlier this month. Each of the chosen cities will receive what 100 Resilient Cities Managing Director Michael Berkowitz refers to as a “platform of resources and services.” The initiative will work with each city to create a brand new job: Chief Resilience Officer.
“Chief Resilience Officer is a senior person in city government,” said Berkowitz. “You can think of him as mayor minus one, with the breadth and scope to coordinate across sectors and connect the dots of different efforts. What we’re going to do is help the cities hire them. And we’re going to pay their salaries for two years.”
Berkowitz can envision a world where a Chief Resilience Officer becomes an integral part of city government, rather than an idea which is currently chiefly experimental.
“In twenty years, we would hope that a city wouldn’t run its operations without a Chief Resilience Officer any more than they would without a chief of police,” Berkowitz said.
For any large urban area, working with a timeline of twenty years is a challenge. Many cities change their mayoral administrations every few years. Here, too, philanthropy has an advantage. Foundations, unlike mayors, cannot be voted out of office, theoretically freeing Berkowitz and his colleagues to check up on their progress even two decades from now.
“[Foundations] are set up purposely to exist in perpetuity,” said Rob Reich, co-director of Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. “So they have an eternal time horizon. They have endowments which are meant to exist for a long time, so you can think over the ten year haul or the twenty year haul.”
Some of the first American philanthropic initiatives are still in existence, including the 1,700 public libraries built by Andrew Carnegie all across the country. Reich says a few years ago, when California was having trouble funding its public libraries, there was a suggestion that perhaps foundations or philanthropists should step in. He views that as a step backward.
"Successful operation of a foundation, in the model I have in mind, is where foundations stimulate the creation of some new social policy," said Reich. "So the idea that when California zeroed out the budget for public libraries, it should go back to private funding, is a step backward, not a step forward."
The deal hammered out by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray would restore $65 billion in sequestration cuts in exchange for cuts elsewhere and additional fees.
Without a farm bill, dairy policy will revert to 1949 law, and wholesale milk prices could double. But the Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman says she expects a bill to pass in January, in time to avert a spike in milk prices.
Ex-actress Shannon Guess Richardson, who had minor roles on The Walking Dead and The Blind Side, says that she tried to frame her estranged husband for the tainted letters.
All medications come with risks, and one of the risks with popular heartburn medicines seems to be that they interfere with the absorption of vitamin B-12. That can cause troubling symptoms, from anemia and depression to dementia.
Yoga apparel giant LuluLemon Athletica appears to making some big life changes and getting in shape. The company announced it has appointed a new CEO, Laurent Potdevin, former CEO of TOMS Shoes. He will replace CEO Christine Day. What's more, Dennis “Chip” Wilson, the chairman and founder, is stepping down.
LuluLemon has taken heat recently for a high profile recall of transparent pants (not to mention Wilson’s remarks that some women’s bodies aren’t made for said pants). That would be an issue for any brand, but for LuluLemon, its brand and its culture are indistinguishable.
"The company is about a culture, a mindset. And I think their brilliance was being able to tap into that mindset and nurture it for so long," says Candace Corlett, President of WSL Strategic Retail.
That mindset of health, wellness….and other things.
"Brian Tracey CDs were huge. 'Good to Great was on the book club list," recalls writer and journalist Elizabeth Licorish, who worked at LuluLemon in 2011, while attending grad school. She says she was surprised at some of the material the company encouraged her to read.
"It culminated in Atlas Shrugged, which nobody had read," she says. "Nobody had read Ayn Rand, but you would mention her and their eyes would kind of glaze over, like Ayn Rand and objectivism and we believe!"
Licorish says employees were also encouraged to join Landmark, a well-known series of self-help seminars and that there was a lot of pressure put on eating right and taking the company’s free fitness classes. "That know that sounds great," says Licorish, "but that kind of translates into pressure to go to cross-fit at 5:30 in the morning before you work all day."
Licorish says customers felt the pressure, too. She says the store didn’t treat plus sized customers very well. I called LuluLemon to ask about this… they didn’t respond in time for broadcast.
"At times these corporate cultures can run amok and I think a little of that happened at LuluLemon," says John Horan, founder of Sporting Goods Intelligence. Horan says LuluLemon’s a strong corporate culture inspires employees, but when a culture starts to get exclusionary, it’s bad for business. Still he says, while the company's brand image clearly needs some remodeling, there's a lot of good there.
"They have terrific people in the stores, people who really are committed to the brand and to the products. That’s the upside to their culture," he says.
Horan says the new CEO needs to be careful not to throw the baby out with the transparent yoga pants.
The federal government was officially closed Tuesday because of Washington’s snowstorm, but that didn’t keep five federal agencies from finalizing the Volcker Rule, part of the Dodd Frank financial reform law designed to keep banks away from risky investments. The rule itself is about 70 pages -- but there are almost 900 pages of preamble.
And that's what lawyers like Oliver Ireland, a partner at Morrison and Foerster, are parsing.
"I will spiral into the rule," he says.
He's searching for for what some call loopholes. He prefers to call them exclusions.
"I’m going to be looking for things that it’s not covering and where it was probably too broad to begin with," he says.
Things like what kinds of bank trades the rule applies to. It’s designed to keep banks out of the kind of trouble that helped cause the financial crisis. But at the same time, regulators didn’t want to crimp the financial markets or make it more expensive to borrow money. So they made the rules really flexible, says Joel Telpner, a partner at Jones Day.
"These issues are so complicated that it’s impossible for regulators to anticipate every concern that’s going to arise,” he says.
Critics say that flexibility was baked into the rule by bank lobbyists. Lobbyists and lawyers aren't the only ones pouring over thick stacks of paper. So is Marcus Stanley, who is with the consumer group Americans for Financial Reform.
"If you open this rule to any random page you’re going to see words like reasonable, as necessary," he says. "Words that require judgment by the regulators.”
Stanley says there need to be limits on how flexibly the rules are implemented. Otherwise, he says, banks will find loopholes and, in his words, blast them wide open.
Ahead of the Christmas holiday, House and Senate negotiators from both parties have introduced a deal designed to avert automatic spending cuts scheduled to take effect on Jan. 15.
The agreement is narrow -- not the "grand bargain" some members of both parties had hoped for. The bill does not tackle Medicare and Social Security, and it would raise military spending and domestic spending without raising taxes. It also doesn't address long-term unemployment benefits which are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. Nor does it address the government’s borrowing limit -- the so-called "debt ceiling" -- that is set to be reached in early February.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, introduced the compromise at a news conference.
Under the deal, federal workers would contribute more to their pensions, and travelers would pay higher fees on airline tickets.
Ryan called the plan "a step in the right direction."
"I think this is a clear improvement on the status quo," he said, adding that it "brings normalcy back to government."
Lawmakers wanted to introduce the bill before midnight so members of the House could have an opportunity to vote on it before Friday, when they are scheduled to head home to their districts.