Jake Blumgart

Jake Blumgart is a freelance reporter-researcher living in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

Recent Articles

From London, With Angst

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy chronicles the last days of Britain as a superpower.

AP Photo/Matt Sayles
Spying is popularly conceived of as a glamorous line of work. The James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Mission Impossible films are all cocktails, trysts, gunplay in the tropical sun, and evil brought to heel. The audience gleefully absorbs the antics of the hero-spy, a romantic figure who easily escapes the institutional harnesses of his superiors. Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy takes place in a different world. There is no super spy here, just a vision of the claustrophobic, embittered world of the intelligence community and its human cost. Based on the novel by John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor is concerned with the hunt for a Soviet mole who has infiltrated the highest levels of the British intelligence establishment, an agency known at “The Circus”. (Le Carré’s work popularized “mole” as a term for a double agent.) Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, Tinker Tailor ’s rumpled, aging hero. Smiley, enmeshed in a corrupt institution, represents an elite obsessed with perceived...

Death Watch for Health Clinics

Community wellness centers used to have bipartisan support -- that is, until they were included in the Affordable Care Act.

The Mary Howard Health Center sits on the first floor of a ten-story, low-rise office building a few blocks from the heart of downtown Philadelphia. The center serves the city's homeless residents, providing everything from wound care to mental-health services. Like all community health centers, Mary Howard provides health care without regard for income or insurance status. "They're doing a good job, giving me all the attention I need," says James Brown ("like the soul singer"), a 71-year-old Mary Howard patient with a painful abscess on his back the size of a fist. "It's just like a regular hospital." The center saw 1,760 patients last year, a capacity increased by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) $2 billion earmark for community health centers. Most of the $636,000 ARRA grant Mary Howard received went to expanding the center's capacity from four to ten patient rooms. Without Mary Howard, Brown says, "I would have just gone to emergency care ... but I...

Happy Birthday, Welfare Reform

Fifteen years after President Clinton cut a hole in the social safety net, poor Americans are paying the price.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America's welfare system.
Fifteen years ago today, Bill Clinton signed the law that created the program commonly known as welfare-to-work, fulfilling a campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." Today, there is little doubt that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act did just that, removing what had been a large cash-assistance program from the social safety net. The decline continues. With the law's federal authorization expiring September 30 and the numbers of impoverished Americans climbing ever higher, welfare is a dead letter in most states. The effectiveness of a government aid program can best be judged by its performance during periods of economic turmoil. By almost any measure, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 law, has failed to cushion the neediest through recessions. While in 2009 the food-stamp program responded to the increased need for government assistance, growing by 57 percent, the number of TANF caseloads merely...

Bonds of Steel

Can alliances with unions in Mexico and Europe return the United Steelworkers to its former strength at home?

From the 1930s through the 1980s, the United Steelworkers (USW) and its sister industrial union, the United Auto Workers, were the heart of organized labor in America. If the woman in the street or the legislator in D.C. had been asked to name the most powerful union in the country, the USW would have been at the top of the list. And deservedly so: With a membership topping 1 million, correspondingly vast coffers, immense political sway, and industry-wide bargaining power, it won the kinds of contracts and prominence that few other unions ever gained in America's notoriously conservative political economy. Everyone knows what happened next. With great power comes great complacency, and by the 1980s the American steel industry no longer maintained its once commanding grip on the international steel market. Coupled with an increasingly piratical global corporate culture, the industry suddenly and violently collapsed, scattering steel production to cheaper labor markets abroad. In the 25...

The Long Fight for Labor

Why is Barack Obama having such a difficult time undoing Bush-era damage to the Department of Labor?

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
On Feb. 4, a full year into Barack Obama's presidency, conservative influence over the Department of Labor finally loosened. After a grueling nine-and-a-half-month confirmation process, Patricia Smith overcame the Senate hold on her nomination as Labor Department solicitor, the third ranking position within the department. Her victory had been anything but certain: Fierce Republican opposition had already compelled another Obama Labor Department nominee, Lorelei Boylan, to withdraw her nomination as head of the vital Wage and Hour Division. The slow, grinding process of reforming the department, particularly the Wage and Hour Division, has proved exceptionally difficult, and it isn't over yet. George W. Bush staffed his Department of Labor with rigidly pro-business ideologues who allowed the department's investigative functions to wither. Obama promised to end conservative influence over the department, freeing the career staff to fulfill the agency's core missions. The president...