Sen. Elizabeth Warren Tells Netroots: “Push Back And Fight Hard”

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Senator Elizabeth Warren took her fight against a rigged system to the Netroots Nation gathering in Detroit Friday morning, saying that she is fighting back, and if We the People “push back and fight hard, we can win.”

Outside the hall, people were passing out “Ready for Warren” hats and signs. Inside the hall, the hats and signs were everywhere.

Fighting back against a rigged system was the theme of Warren’s rousing speech to Netroots. She began by briefly telling the story of how the about Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) came to be. She had the idea for the agency, started talking about it, people told her it was a great idea and badly needed, but said to her, “Don’t do it because the biggest banks in the country will hate it and you will lose.”

She said they had that half right. “They spent more than a million dollars a day for more than a year lobbying against financial reforms. But we fought back and we won. We won because you and a zillion other people across the country got in the fight. We said we the people will have this agency and we won.”

And now we have the CFPB and it has already returned $5 billion to people that the big financial firms tried to steal, she said.

Warren’s message was that we should “never miss the central point of this story. The CFPB is proof of how democracy can work in the 21st century. It is proof that if we push back against the biggest, strongest, most ruthless lobbying effort in the country, if we push back and fight hard we can win. We can’t win every time and we are still trying to figure out how to make it all work. We don’t win every time but we’re learning to win. We will keep at it; we will fight and we will win that’s my message today.”

A Rigged System

Warren moved from there to what is happening in the country today. She said companies naturally look for profits. “But many of them have another plan – they use their money and their connections to try to capture Washington and rig the rules in their favor … That’s what we’re up against that’s what democracy is up against.”

She compared what happens to regular people with what happens to wealthy elites at the top, saying, “A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail but a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested.”

Not Just Big Banks

Warren said, “But it’s not just the big banks.” She called on the audience to look at the choices the federal government makes, such as piling debt on students. Then she went straight after Republicans as the enablers of the rigging and corruption. “Instead of building a future, this country is bleeding tax loopholes. Billion-dollar corporations squeeze out deals with foreign countries, renounce their citizenship and pay no taxes. How does this happen? They all have lobbyists and Republican friends in Congress to protect every loophole and every privilege. The game is rigged and it isn’t right.”

Rigged Trade Deals

“Take a look at what happens with trade deals. Trade negotiations are like Christmas morning for the biggest corporations,” she said.

Warren described how corporations can bypass pollution and wage laws. “The corporations can get special gifts through trade negotiations they would never get from Congress,” she said, because trade negotiations are secret, held behind closed doors. The corporations are “all smacking their lips at the possibility of rigging the upcoming trade deals.”

“Stop and ask yourself, why are trade negotiations secret? I have had people involved in the process actually tell me, If people knew what was going on they would be opposed. My view is if people would be opposed then we shouldn’t have those trade deals.”

It’s Everywhere

Warren said the tilt in the playing field is everywhere. “When conservatives talk about opportunity, they mean opportunity for the rich to get richer and the powerful to get more powerful. They don’t mean do something about student loan debt or help someone unemployed to get back on their feet.”

The Fight

“Deep down, this is a fight over values. Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their internal motto ‘I got mine and the rest are on your own.’ ”

“My motto we all do better when we work together and invest in future. The country gets stronger when we invest in helping people succeed. … These are progressive values and these are the values we are willing to fight for.”

She then went into a refrain:

We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement.
And we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe in science and that means that we have a responsibility to protect the planet.
And we will fight for it.

We believe the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations.
And we will fight for it.

We believe no one should work full time and still live in poverty. That means raising the minimum wage.
And we will fight for it.

We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage.
That means we will fight alongside them.

We believe students are entitled to get a good education without being crushed by debt.
And we will fight for it.

We believe after a lifetime of work people are entitled to retire with dignity. That means protect Social Security and Medicare.
And we will fight for it.

We believe – I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014 – in equal pay for equal work.
And we will fight for it.

We believe equal means equal and that true in the workplace and at home and everywhere.
And we will fight for it.

We believe immigration has made country strong and vibrant.
And we will fight for it.

And we believe that corporations are not people. (The crowd was on its feet making a lot of noise so I don’t know what she said next.)
And we will fight for it.

Right here in this room this is where it happens. This is 21st-century democracy. This is the future of America. This is where we decide that We the People will fight together and do that, we will fight together and we are going to win.

And the crowd went nuts.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

A Moral And Economic Imperative To Extend Unemployment Benefits

Federal unemployment assistance for 1.3 million people who have been unemployed longer than 26 weeks expired last Saturday, after Republicans blocked efforts to extend them. 3.6 million more people will lose these benefits over this year. Restoring these benefits is a moral, economic and political imperative.

On Monday the Senate will hold the first procedural vote on bringing back unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. The hope is to break a Republican filibuster so the extension can be passed and sent to the House (where Republicans will likely refuse to even allow it to come up for a vote).

Click here to Tell Congress to Extend Unemployment Benefits.

A Moral Imperative

When the financial crisis hit the country provided assistance to (“bailed out”) the largest banks. We have a moral imperative to also help our fellow citizens. A democracy provides assistance for people who need help. A fair and just society provides assistance for people who need help. A moral society provides assistance for people who need help.

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Want to Cut Food Stamp Spending? Raise the Minimum Wage

Wednesday President Obama will give a speech on his plan to grow the economy and the middle class. Thursday fast-food workers will strike in 100 cities and stage protests in 100 others to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without interference from employers. Here’s something to consider: raising the minimum wage cuts government spending on Food Stamps and other programs.

The Minimum Wage

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 1.57 million people in the United States make the minimum wage, and another 1.98 million make even less. These 3.6 million workers make up 4.7 percent of all hourly-wage workers. People who are supposedly paid tips and people under 20 can be paid less than this minimum. Some states allow businesses that are not engaged in interstate commerce (and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the federal government) to pay less. Some territories – notably American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands – also are allowed to pay less.

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Martin Luther King’s Dream Of Jobs And Freedom

Martin Luther King Jr. outlined his dream 50 years ago this weekend. We made much of it happen. Let’s dream some more. Let’s dream about what we could do in the next 50 years.

Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and famously told the country “I have a dream.” Fifty years later there is progress and there are setbacks. We no longer have segregation — separate schools and bathrooms and the rest. Many states finally allow everyone to marry the person they love, but at the same time many states are returning to apartheid-era restrictions of voting rights.

One huge part of the “Jobs and Freedom” Dream that still evades us is the goal of full employment or an income until a job becomes available.

On August 16, 1967 King delivered a speech titled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” addressing the need for everyone to have a job or an income,

…our emphasis must be twofold: We must create full employment, or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either by the, that of a taskmaster or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished.

A Country Based On A Dream

Our country was founded on the dream that We the People can do things for each other instead of depending on the rich and powerful to throw us scraps.

If you look at our Constitution you see that our country is supposed to be for We the People. And I mean just look at it, not read it. The only words you see from any distance are the words “We the People.” The Founders were making a point.

The Constitution told the world about a dream that “We the People” would build a country that protects and empowers us, where together we do things for the common good, to make our lives better. And for a while we did that.

We have lost sight of that dream. We no longer seem to recognize who our country is for. We no longer talk about the common good.

Who is our country for? Who is our economy for? Certainly a We the People economy would at the very least guarantee that We the People have jobs and an income until a job is available.

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“One Threat” — Progressive Power Unifying In Democracy Initiative

Union and environmental leaders arrested together over immigration? What’s up? Here is what’s up: Corporate-funded conservatives … “view us as one threat, and fundamentally we are acting like that now, as one threat.”

Corporate-Conservative War On Democracy

For decades corporate-funded conservatives have gone after all branches of progressive thinking and even potential progressive thinking. Environmentalists, unions, civil rights advocates, public school supporters, Social Security supporters, consumer-rights advocates, professors, scientists, women’s-rights advocates, students, immigrants, minorities, health and nutrition advocates, good-government advocates, you name it, they have been and are being attacked by the conservative movement. You don’t even have to identify yourself as progressive-aligned to be attacked as part of the socialist/communist/terrorist/anti-American/anti-God/whatever conspiracy. You do not even have to think of yourself as progressive-aligned to suffer an attack.

These groups and individuals typically responded on their own, often staying in “silos” of their own issue-group, and always under-resourced… practically defenseless and wide open to further attacks and eventual defeat. Really, why would a consumer-rights organization — already strapped for funds and trying desperately to get our a message about credit-card fraud or whatever — spend time and scarce resources going to bat for a group that is trying to save an old-growth redwood grove? That’s not what they do.

Now all of these groups are realizing they are progressive-aligned because they are seen as the same threat by the corporate-funded conservative movement. It has become clear that the corporate-funded conservative movement is fighting a war against democracy, and every group or person that might be in a position to defend democracy is their target.

So they are doing something about it.

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If We Lower The Social Security Age To 55

millions of jobs would open up. The newly-employed would be paying taxes and would not be receiving Food Stamps, etc. More people employed would mean wages in general would rise, which would mean the economy would boom, tax revenue would rise, etc.

And if we lower the Medicare age to 55 all the new people in the program would cost MUCH less because people between 55 and 64 use far less health care services than people 65 and over. AND the people 55 and over are the most expensive people on private insurance, so the cost of private policies would go way down.

How to pay for this? This is about priorities. How do we pay over a trillion a year for military? How did we pay for Iraq? How did we pay for the bank bailouts? How do we pay for tax cuts for the rich? How do we pay for letting corporations stash money in tax havens to evade (defer) taxes? How do we pay for giving subsidies to oil companies?

Who is our economy and country FOR?

Pledge To Vote, Not Withhold Vote

I have a post over at CAF, Republicans Sabotaging, Not Governing. This Is Who They Are Now., that is gaining traction at other places.

I want to emphasize the last paragraph:

“The answer is not to threaten to withhold your vote when you don’t get everything you want. The answer is for all of us – every single alienated, ignored, disillusioned citizen – to promise to always vote. Then the people you would actually want to vote for will have some assurance they can win, and take the risk of running, even if they can’t raise a poop-load of corporate cash.”

Don’t withhold your vote. Instead pledge to always vote. It’s collective power, and we can beat the corporations if we all pledge to always vote.

North Carolina State Senator Calls ‘Moral Monday’ Protesters ‘Moral Morons’

“The appeal for each Moral Monday has been the same: urging legislators to govern for the good of the whole, rather than for the wealthy.”
— Rev. William Barber.

Since April, North Carolina citizens have been gathering at the state capital in Raleigh for “Moral Monday” rallies and acts of civil disobedience to protest the the cruel things Republican legislators are doing to the people of the state. This week, despite tornado warnings, more than 1,400 protesters gathered for the sixth week’s protests, and more than 80 were arrested, including one reporter clearly wearing news credentials. A week ago Monday, 151 were arrested. Arrests for this and recent Moral Mondays now total 388.

This video is from the June 3 Moral Monday rally:

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Will Social Security Cuts Be The Democratic Party’s “New Coke?”

All the smartest people in the executive suites just knew that the taste of Coca-Cola needed “reform.” Rival Pepsi was advertising to the “New Generation” and Coke’s executives came to believe their product wasn’t what the “cool” people wanted to drink. Everyone they talked to at the executive-level strategery seminars, and all the other executive-level geniuses they spoke with daily agreed. They were the elites, and they all knew better than their old-fashioned, uncool customers what the company needed. So they all drank the Kool-Aid and came up with “New Coke.” We all know what happened next. (Hint: it was bad.)

It couldn’t have gone better for Pepsi if Pepsi had placed those executives there themselves.

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DC Should Talk About Fixing The TRADE Deficit

The economy is not working for We, the People. But even with $4 trillion already cut from deficit projections, a deficit drop of about 50 percent as a share of gross domestic product, and Congressional Budget Office projections that the deficit is stable for the next 10 years Washington remains focused on even more economy-killing austerity. It’s talking only about what and how to cut instead of how to meet the needs of the people of the country and grow the economy.

This fight over spending cuts led to the “sequester,” which might take us back into recession. The fight will now roll into another manufactured crisis over the continuing resolution, with a government shutdown as the hostage, and of course this will be a further drag on the recovery.

Economics 101, Europe’s austerity experiment and the experience of history all tell us that cutting government is contractionary policy. Cutting government cuts economic growth and costs jobs, which leads to to lower tax revenue and higher government expenditures. Economics 101 and the experience of history also tell us that government investment in jobs, infrastructure, education, research and the rest grows the economy, which fixes deficits. Cutting deficits and debt is important but clearly should not be done when the economy is weak. This is the time to invest, and the investment returns will pay for the investment and more.

Again: There is no real discussion or debate about what we ought to be doing to make this economy work for working people. There is only discussion of what and how to cut. This is the wrong approach to our economic problems.

CAF is presenting job-creating and economy-growing ideas that ought to be debated so we can begin to turn this economy around and make it work for all of us instead of just a few of us. Jobs and growth fix deficits.

The Vast Trade Deficit Drains Our Economy And Jobs

Recently the 2012 U.S. international trade deficit in goods and services was announced. It fell slightly in 2012 (due in part to a decline in petroleum imports), to $540.4 billion from $560 billion in 2011. But 2012 saw a record trade deficit of $315 billion with China – approaching $1 billion a day. That is $540 billion a year drained from our economy, $315 billion of that just to China.

This vast trade deficit represents the loss of millions of jobs, tens of thousands of factories and entire industries. It hits at our ability to fix our economic problems. In particular, this problem affects our manufacturing companies, which provide solid, middle-class jobs and exports that strengthen the country.

Instead of the current focus on budget deficits, Washington should be talking about how to fix this vast trade deficit. Here are some of the things they should be talking about — and doing.

Fix Currency

Countries manipulate their currency rates because a “weak” currency means products made there are much more price-competitive. China’s currency is still estimated to be at least 20 percent below “market” rate, meaning goods made in China cost at least 20 percent less than goods made here, even before you factor in other things China does to give itself a trade advantage.

Confronting currency manipulation offers the biggest “bang for the buck,” requiring no tax dollars and reaping huge returns, shrinking the federal budget deficit by between $78.8 billion and $165.8 billion over three years.

Fixing this one problem could create between 2.2 million and 4.7 million jobs and increase GDP between 1.4 percent and 3.1 percent, helping manufacturers in particular, gaining between 620,000 and 1.3 million of those jobs. It would reduce the U.S. trade goods deficit by at least $190 billion and as much as $400 billion over three years.

Reform Trade Agreements

A $540 billion trade deficit doesn’t come from balanced trade; it is the result of one-sided trade agreements we have entered into. These trade agreements exposed America’s companies, workers, factories and tax base to direct competition with non-democracies, impoverished and exploited workers and countries that do not protect the environment. That could only go one way.

We have a democracy, in which people have a say. So they say they want good wages, safe workplaces and a clean environment. When we open that system up to direct, unregulated competition from places where people have no say and are told they can’t have those things, we put our democratic system at a competitive disadvantage in world markets. We make it a disadvantage to protect the environment, pay well, provide benefits, protect worker safety and the other things that we do and others do not do. Those become just “costs” to be eliminated.

Those trade agreements could have had different terms that lead to different results that lifted working people on both sides of the trade border instead of pushing terrible and increasing worldwide inequality. They could have lifted environmental protections on both sides of trade borders. They could have increased worker and consumer protections. They still can.

Our country’s trade agreements can still be reformed to do these things, rebalancing trade and lifting people and the environment. Future trade agreements should learn the lessons.

Bring Back The Bring Jobs Home Act

Last year Senate Republicans filibustered the Bring Jobs Home Act, but the bill had tremendous public support. It should be revived.

The Bring Jobs Home Act would have cut taxes for U.S. companies that move jobs and business operations to the United States, and ended tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping jobs overseas. The bill would have allowed companies to qualify for a tax credit equal to 20 percent of the cost associated with bringing jobs and business activity back to the United States. It would have closed a loophole allowing a company moving jobs overseas to deduct various relocation costs.

Additionally, any new bill should tax the overseas income of U.S. corporations the same way domestic income income is taxed, so there would be no tax advantage to them from shifting income and jobs overseas.

Strengthen Buy America In Federal And State Procurement

There is no reason our own government should be undermining American manufacturers. “Buy America” provisions should be a mandate on federal, state and local government purchases, consistent with our trade laws. To accomplish this, our bottom line should be:

  • All federal spending should have “buy America” provisions giving American workers and businesses the first shot at procurement contracts.
  • New federal loan guarantees for energy projects should require the utilization of domestic supply chains for construction.
  • Our military equipment, technology and supply purchases should have increased domestic content requirements.
  • Renewable and traditional energy projects should use American materials in construction. State-level spending should have similar requirements, as well as strategies for getting them in place.

Many state-level procurement laws are very weak. As a result, a lot of tax dollars go to purchase goods made overseas instead of goods made in the USA. States should also strengthen their procurement policies to promote buying American-made materials.

The Invest in American Jobs Act of 2013, announced Tuesday, is a good start and deserves support and discussion. The Act strengthens Buy America preferences, closes loopholes and improves transparency in the federal waiver process.

These are a few examples of the things that Washington should be talking about. These proposals solve real problems in practical ways that help the American people.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary