Tag Archives: politics

How Better U.S. Food Policies Could Foster Improved Health, Safer Jobs, and a More Sustainable Environment

Image from Niall Kennedy via Flickr Creative Commons
Nicholas Freudenberg
Nicholas Freudenberg is in the department of public health at the University of New York School of Public Heath and Hunter College. He is the co-author of Training new community health, food service, and environmental protection workers could boost health, jobs, and growth. 

U.S. efforts to ensure safe and healthy food are falling short. Even as more than 49 million Americans lack access to adequate nutrition, corporations are aggressively marketing unhealthy foods that contribute to epidemics of diet-related diseases. Many of the 30 million workers in the food industry face unsafe conditions and do not earn enough to support themselves and their families. The production and transport of food often spurs pollution and global warming.

In classic economic theory, when markets fail to meet human needs, government steps in to protect the public. Today’s U.S. public food programs and regulations amount to an incoherent and ineffective jumble – but fixing them could contribute to a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable American food economy. (more…)

Why America’s Food is Still Not Safe

Image from Jasmine via Flickr Creative Commons
Adam Sheingate
Adam Sheingate is in the department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Still a Jungle.

Each year, 48 million Americans suffer from illnesses caused by dangerous microbial pathogens lurking in the food they eat. For most people, food poisoning just leads to temporary stomach aches or diarrhea. But the effects can be much more serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 125,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from pathogens in our food. Estimates of the cost of food borne illness exceed $75 billion a year – taking into account the cost of health care and lost time on the job for people who get sick. The actual suffering and economic cost could be much greater, because many incidents of mild illness caused by tainted food go unreported.

That eating dinner can result in disability or death comes as a shock to most Americans. Most of us believe that the United States fixed these problems more than a century ago, after Upton Sinclair’s famous book, The Jungle, revealed the ghastly facts about unsafe methods of commercial food processing for a mass market economy. But in fact, the rules and regulations we assume will protect us are inadequate. Duplication and gaps in government responsibilities leave Americans highly vulnerable to a variety of risks from industrial food production. (more…)

Forward or Back on Voting Rights? A Research Compendium

I Voted Photo courtesy Letta Page

Photo courtesy Letta Page.

A Scholars Strategy Network Scholar Spotlight.

In a democracy, the equal right to vote should be sacrosanct, but across the country many states are throwing up new obstacles to voting.

SSN experts probe why this is happening – and explain how constructive reforms could enlarge voter participation and insure the integrity of U.S. elections

In 2013, in Shelby v. Holder, a divided Supreme Court invalidated a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to seek federal approval before making changes to their voting rules. Given a free hand, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and other states jumped to pass new rules that have the effect of making it harder for many minority and low-income citizens to vote. The impact will be felt immediately in those states, but the issue matters to Americans everywhere. As Yale University’s Marcus Anthony Hunter explained in the Washington Post on Martin Luther King Day, “Voter Suppression is a Threat to All.”


Fraud by individual voters in the modern United States is vanishingly rare, so the claim that new voter restrictions are necessary to combat such fraud does not hold water. Yet just because an idea is demonstrably false does not mean that it cannot powerfully shape public policy. New SSN briefs unravel what is really going on.

The Misleading Myth of Voter Fraud in American Elections
Lorraine C. Minnite, Rutgers University-Camden

A review of thousands of prosecutors’ records and media reports shows that the average American is more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit individual fraud at the polls.

Convincing Evidence that States Aim to Suppress Minority Voting 
Keith Gunnar Bentele and Erin O’Brien, University of Massachusetts Boston 

New voter restrictions are most likely in Republican-controlled states where growing groups of African American and Latino voters are turning out to vote in increasing numbers. (more…)

How To Increase Voter Turnout in Communities Where People Have Not Usually Participated in Elections

Mobilizing Inclusion Cover
Melissa Michelson
Melissa R. Michelson is in Menlo College's department of political science. With Lisa Garcia Bedolla, she is the author of Mobilizing Inclusion: Redefining Citizenship through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns.

Voter turnout among members of different groups of Americans varies widely, with Latinos and Asians generally lagging behind other groups. Blacks usually fall in between, with turnout usually ahead of other minorities but behind whites—although black participation surged in 2008 and 2012 in response to the historic candidacy of Barack Obama. Additional segments of the American public also vote less than they might, including lower-income citizens and youth.

Low levels of voting matter, because election results are supposed to reflect the preferences of all Americans. In addition, recent trends indicate that Latinos, if they vote at their full potential, have considerable capacity to influence election outcomes, increasingly at the national as well as state and local level. Getting out the Latino vote was a crucial part of the Obama 2012 reelection strategy, and activists striving to boost Democratic Party prospects in Texas are spending tens of millions of dollars registering eligible Latinos. Understanding how to motivate voting by Latinos and other under-engaged citizens is thus of concern to candidates and parties as well as scholars.

How Can Reluctant Voters Be Mobilized?


To Understand Elective Officeholding by Minorities, Look at Who Runs for Election, Not Just Who Wins

In 2011, @kissmei'mpolish created a graphic to compare the overall US demographics (in the outer arc) with the demographics of the House (middle ring) and Senate (inner ring). Click to see more on Graphic Sociology.
Paru Shah
Paru R. Shah is in the department of political science at the University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee. She is studying racial and ethnic candidate emergence and political ambition and currently serves on her local school board.

In some ways, the United States has made great progress toward including men and women from minority backgrounds in elective offices. A black president sits in the White House; the 113th Congress includes two Asian American and two Latino Senators along with 44 black and 30 Latino members of the House. More than one thousand minorities sit in state legislatures, 13 percent of the total; and the ranks of black and Latino mayors have also swelled. Yet despite this progress, gains for minorities in U.S. elective offices have failed to keep up with the presence of racial and ethnic minorities in the national population—and the shortfall is growing.

What explains this gap in representation? Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, social scientists have investigated minority underrepresentation from a demand perspective—that is, they have asked how the attitudes and behaviors of voters influence the chances of minority candidates to win elections and take office. However, minorities cannot win elections if they do not run, so my research also focuses on the prior, critical issue of the supply of minority candidates. To what degree is representational imbalance due to too few minority contenders? (more…)

Why Taming Corporation Promotion of Dangerous Consumer Products Is Vital to improving Public Health

Image from Robert VerBruggen via Flickr Creative Commons
Nicholas Freudenberg
Nicholas Freudenberg is in the department of public health at the University of New York School of Public Heath and Hunter College. He is the co-author of Training new community health, food service, and environmental protection workers could boost health, jobs, and growth. 

Chronic diseases and injuries are the leading causes of premature death and preventable illnesses in the United States and around the world. Injuries cause many unnecessary deaths among young adults and children. Traffic crashes hurt 50 million worldwide each year, and firearms and alcohol are also leading threats. Meanwhile, half of all Americans suffer from chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer that account for seven out of every ten deaths and eat up three-quarters of health care dollars. By 2030, chronic diseases will cause more than three quarters of deaths worldwide, costing some $47 trillion over the next two decades.

Conventional wisdom attributes the growth of injuries and chronic illnesses to seemingly inevitable causes such as population aging and changing lifestyles. Such forces are at work, of course, but it is the task of public health scientists like me to probe more deeply.

A closer look reveals that many unnecessary injuries and chronic health problems are spurred by what might be dubbed the “corporate consumption complex” – a network of consumer products companies, financial institutions, trade associations, and public relations firms that deliberately urges people to buy unhealthy foods and unsafe products. In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned that the military industrial complex posed a danger to our democracy and well-being. Today, the consumption complex constitutes a similarly grave threat. (more…)

Why Politically Active Billionaires Threaten the Health of Democracy

Billionaires - Reflections on the Upper Crust

This article is a Scholars Strategy Network Brief.

Download a PDF from SSN.

Darrell M. West focuses on governance, technology innovation, and policymaking in the United States. He is especially interested in the role of money in politics and how technology affects public policymaking.

The richest one percent own about one-third of all assets in America and about four-fifths of assets around the world – and wealth concentration is growing. Sharply skewed financial resources lead not only to lives of luxury amid want; they also afford the ultra-rich extraordinary influence over elections, public policy, and governance. In my new book Billionaires, I take a close look at the growing political clout of billionaires and the ways in which they have pioneered activist forms of politics and philanthropy. What does billionaire political activism mean for the health of democracy – here in the United States and across the globe?


In Dealing with Iran, the Best Option for Israel is to Strike First—Diplomatically

[Israel] courtesy of Edoardo Costa via flickr.com CC

This article is a Scholars Strategy Network Brief.

Download a PDF from SSN.

Steven Weber works at the intersection of technology markets, intellectual property regimes, and international politics. 

Searching for a solution to curb Iran’s nuclear military ambitions, the United States is leading international negotiations likely to come to a head before long. As these discussions have proceeded, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken almost every opportunity to express consternation over the possibility of any agreement enshrining a nuclear détente between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has good reason for concern, because, as seen from Jerusalem, a truly comprehensive deal that would fully and irreversibly dismantle Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons does not seem plausible. From Netanyahu’s perspective, the partial deals appear as fool’s bargains, likely merely to postpone and complicate inevitable military action against Iran’s nuclear complex.

For anyone worried that an Israeli military strike against Iran would unleash an incalculable risk of conflicts in Middle East and world politics, this sounds like bad news. Even if a newly negotiated agreement between the United States and Iran comes packaged with some mild sweeteners for Israel, it probably would not be enough to compensate for what Israel views as an existential threat from a hostile Iranian regime. From this perspective, Israel’s best current move is to play the spoiler, to search for ways to undermine evolving diplomacy, and if that move fails, send the Israeli Air Force to bomb Iran.

New Measures Reveal the True Impact of America’s Anti-Poverty Programs


This article is a Scholars Strategy Network Brief.

Download a PDF from SSN.

Jane Waldfogel carries out research on a range of topics including the measurement of poverty, food insecurity, work-family policies, the effects of the Great Recession on parents and children, and inequality in school readiness and school achievement, both within the United States and across countries.

Half a century ago, President Lyndon Johnson launched America’s War on Poverty; yet by the 1980s President Ronald Reagan famously declared that “we waged a war on poverty and poverty won.” To back up this claim, conservatives point to official U.S. statistics showing that the percentage of Americans living in poverty, around 15%, has changed very little over the decades.

But the official poverty measure is outdated – so I teamed up with several colleagues to produce estimates using a more accurate one. When we use the improved measure, it turns out that U.S. social programs and taxes have had a powerful effect on reducing poverty since the mid-1960s. Back then, government programs did little to alleviate poverty, but today public programs and taxes cut the percentage of people living in poverty by almost half, from the 28.7% it would be without government efforts to 16% after public programs are included. Far too many Americans continue to have inadequate incomes, but U.S. policies have helped millions avoid poverty. (more…)

How Passers-by and Policymakers View Beggars in American Communities

Photo courtesy of Eric Parker via flickr.com CC

This article is a Scholars Strategy Network Brief.

Download a PDF from SSN.

Shai Dromi focuses on the ways beliefs about morality shape social life. His current research focuses on the emergence and institutionalization of long-distance humanitarianism.

Many municipalities across the United States have taken measures to keep homeless people and panhandlers out of sight in public spaces. Legislators and government officials justify such steps as necessary to protect the public against unsafe or provocative conduct by “street people.” But some previous studies suggest that many Americans who have frequent interactions with street beggars see them in more benign and nuanced ways. To learn more, I did interviews and collected questionnaire responses from passers-by who recounted their reactions to recent interactions with beggars. My methods allowed me to tap the meanings these interactions hold for people who pass beggars on the street – meanings not usually captured in quantitative studies. (more…)