How earmarks can strengthen Congress

When I was a staffer working in Congress, a good part of our time was spent on the annual appropriations process – including on earmarks for specific projects in the district the Congressman I worked for represented. If memory serves, the earmark requests the office submitted were for items like research funding for veterans’ health care; money to fund a new freezer at a local food pantry; or funding to build a new health care clinic in a disadvantaged part of district. They weren’t for “pork” – like the famed “Bridges to Nowhere” that earmark critics like to mock.

Earmarks have gotten an undeserved bad rap. And, as I argue, earmarks could be key to bringing back a working – and civil – Congress. Read more here at Washington Monthly.

The phony conservative attacks on child tax credits

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress has groundbreaking provisions to provide an expanded child tax credit – on a monthly basis – to all American families with children.

Some conservatives don’t like the idea of unconditional cash transfers to parents because they claim it would reduce “work.” What they’re really saying is that the hard labor of raising a child isn’t worthy of recognition, a stance I find infuriating.

Read more here at Washington Monthly.

It’s time for a federal mask standard

I admit – I’m obsessed with masks. I have three-layer cotton ones from Old Navy; two-layer cotton ones with a filter sewn inside; blue disposable masks bought in bulk from Costco; a precious stash of KF94s sent via my mom from relatives in Korea; and stylish nylon masks that promise “breathability” but seem a little too flimsy for comfort.

I have no idea which of these masks works. Lately, I’ve been double masking, as the CDC recommends, but are my two masks really effective? Some consumer labeling would be nice, as I argue here in Washington Monthly.

How Robots Will Make Our Jobs More Human

Any number of books in recent years have tackled the “future of work.” Many have been unrelentingly pessimistic, predicting mass unemployment as robots take over an increasing number of jobs now held by humans.

I for one am an optimist. There will always be a role for “human work,” as Lumina Foundation President Jamie Merisotis puts it – provided that workers are prepared to take on the tasks that robots cannot. Here’s my review of Merisotis’s terrific book, Human Work. Merisotis’s view of the future of work is both inspiring and aspirational, but also eminently achievable.

Read more here at Washington Monthly.

There Still Aren’t Enough Black Journalists

In researching my recent piece in Washington Monthly on diversity in journalism, I had the privilege to speak with Dorothy Tucker, the current President of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).

I gained so many insights from her decades of experience, and her fight for a more equitable media, that I felt I needed to publish my conversation with her separately.

Read it here at Medium.

Journalists of Color Declare Their Independence

My first clips as a “real” journalist were for my hometown paper, The Kansas City Star. I’d somehow finagled a spot in a high school workshop for aspiring minority journalists, and one of the perks was a chance to write for one of the local inserts that came out on Wednesdays. My assignment was sports, so I covered high school golf tournaments and track meets for $25 an article. It was an amazing opportunity, and when I went to the University of Missouri as a freshman, I was hired as a stringer to cover Missouri football and basketball. I filed daily updates from practice and wrote the game sidebar on weekends.

Sadly, I only lasted a semester at that job (it wasn’t easy being the only female reporter covering Mizzou sports, and I was still a teenager), but I’ll always be grateful to the Star and that high school workshop for giving me a shot.

It didn’t occur to me until much, much later the importance of minority recruitment into journalism. And I didn’t realize until I wrote a recent story for Washington Monthly just how little progress there has actually been to diversify media.

Research suggests that less than 8 percent of U.S. newsroom staff today are Black. Overall, U.S. newsrooms are only about half as diverse as the national workforce. And with the industry’s financial woes even before the pandemic, investment in minority recruitment and retainment – including workshops like the one I benefited from – are now an afterthought, if not an unaffordable luxury.

Journalists of color, however, feel acutely the need for a more equitable media – now more than over. But what they’re not doing is waiting for traditional outlets to regain an interest in minority recruitment. Rather, fed up with slow-moving efforts to make U.S. newsrooms more diverse, some journalists of color are striking out on their own.

The result is a new ecosystem of innovative news outlets, led for and by people of color, that I think could ultimately revolutionize traditional media.

I hope you’ll take a look at Washington Monthly.

Will Regional Universities Pass or Fail?

“Regional” universities are the workhorses of higher education. They serve a preponderance of the Americans who go to college and often anchor their communities. Yet they don’t enjoy the glamour of their counterparts among state flagship schools or elite private nonprofits. Nor do they get the same share of resources to do their work.

This is a mistake. In this piece for Washington Monthly, I survey new research from the Brookings Institution describing the invaluable contributions of regional universities and arguing for much more robust investment in these schools.

Read more here.

Why Apprenticeships Should Go Soft

For the 2020 Washington Monthly College Guide, I profiled what I think should be the gold standard for apprenticeship programs – a program called FAME, which began out of a Toyota plant in Kentucky.

Apprentices lucky enough to land a spot in FAME are likely to get a great job after they graduate; they will have earned an associates’ degree; and they will have been paid enough for their work to pay for tuition and living expenses. The curriculum is also cutting-edge. FAME teaches much more than the technical skills someone needs to be a competent worker in advanced manufacturing. Two-thirds of the curriculum is focused on so-called “soft skills” – such as critical thinking, team work and communications skills – that are becoming increasingly important.

I interviewed the founder of the program, Dennis Dio Parker, who is one of the most charismatic and visionary workforce development leaders I have ever met. Parker was a graduate of the Navy’s nuclear engineering program, which he described as the academic version of the Navy’s SEALs – few students are recruited and few make it through. The high standards inculcated by the program clearly carry through Parker’s vision for FAME.

Read it here.