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Thu May 28, 2015 at 12:08 PM PDT

Slavery? Really?

by Michael Lux

So the fast track plan to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership has run into a new wrinkle after an amendment passed in the Senate debate: slavery. Yes, really, slavery: the Senate voted for an amendment that would make it more difficult for countries that engage in slavery to be in the TPP, and the Obama administration objected. This is bizarre stuff, folks, but welcome to the world of international trade deals. From Ryan Grim's article the day Fast Track was passed, about the amendment in question:

 That measure would bar governments considered to be complicit in human trafficking from receiving the economic benefits of a fast-tracked trade deal. Menendez, the author of the provision, has described it as a human rights protection that will prevent U.S. workers from competing with modern-day slave labor. The administration has pushed against the provision, saying it would prevent Malaysia from participating in the deal, and eliminate incentives for the country to upgrade its human trafficking enforcement. Human rights advocates strongly support the language that passed the Senate on Friday.

The president argues that if the U.S. doesn't cut deals with these partner countries, China will, to U.S. disadvantage.

The State Department's human trafficking analysis of Malaysia describes the country as "a destination and, to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking." The department cites forced labor problems in Malaysia's palm oil industry, and nonprofit groups have noted similar abuses in the Malaysian electronics industry. The State Department report says Malaysian "public officials ... may profit from trafficking.

The President does not want an anti-slavery provision in what he calls the "most progressive trade deal of all time" because it would keep a country noted for its egregious slave trade out of the treaty?  I have to admit this bothers me just a little. Okay, a massive amount. We're not going to object to slavery because a country that openly engages in it might trade more with China than with us? Doesn't this kind of blow up the whole "most progressive trade agreement in history" thing?

We have imposed trade embargoes on all kinds of countries, for--at times--several decades,  for all kinds of reasons. We currently have a trade embargo with Iran because they might someday build a nuclear bomb. It strikes me that openly allowing slavery qualifies as a reason not to trade with a country. In the case of Malaysia, we're not even talking about a trade embargo: we're talking about not including them in a free trade deal . But this truly stunning issue, that is causing the administration such concern because it might blow up the TPP, isn't even the only country that there are these kinds of issues in where we are doing nothing to protect basic human and labor rights in spite of having trade deals with them.

Two countries especially remarkable to me in terms of the USA doing nothing about enforcing trade agreements are Qatar and UAE. Both countries outlaw labor unions. Both countries have severe problems with human trafficking and slavery. Both have extremely discriminatory laws against both women and LGBT people- as a matter of fact, UAE makes the "crime" of homosexuality punishable by death. According to the US State Department, Qatar is one of the worst countries in the world in terms of human trafficking and slavery abuses, including well documented reports of enslaved migrant workers dying at the rate of one every other day in 2014 during the construction of the World Cup infrastructure. UAE withholds the passports of migrant workers so they can't escape the dreadful conditions they are forced to live in- including living 15 to a small room and being forced to work over 80 hours a week. Both countries discriminate in the extreme against women, in the workforce and in their personal lives. There have been women jailed for "illicit sex" after being gang raped, and other women arrested for drinking before being raped. Women are fired by these countries' state owned airlines for being pregnant or getting married, and are forced to live in company housing

The list of human rights and labor rights abuses that have been described by journalists and documented by the US State Department goes on and on. And yet these countries are members of the WTO and the GATT, big international trade organizations that are supposed to create a level playing field for trade. They are both big trading partners of the USA in general. They are involved in a special trade agreement with us and some other countries that are supposed to guarantee an equal playing field for airlines around the world called the Open Skies Agreements (agreements, by the way, that Qatar and UAE both blatantly violate with massive subsidies of their state owned airlines). They even get subsidies from our country's Export-Import Bank. These countries economic ties to the USA are deep and substantial. Yet they are among the worst countries in the world in terms of trafficking and slavery, and they discriminate horribly against women and LGBT people. The UAE has the death penalty for homosexuality and arrests women who get gang raped.

Our country's values, beyond just the value of a dollar, should be represented in our economic relations and trade agreements with other countries. The trade agreements we sign should be enforced. And new trade agreements like the TPP should not be entered into if we have to ignore issues like slavery and abuse of workers. It is time to start paying attention to something beyond the rights of multinational companies to make money.

Discuss

Regulatory agencies do a ton of hearings and other discussions and events that don't get a lot of attention at the time, but turn out, in retrospect, to be important turning points in economic regulatory history. The FTC has what they are calling a workshop coming up on June 9 to discuss the "sharing" economy (the quotation marks are in the official document) that could well turn into one of those critical moments. Companies like Uber and Airbnb are seeking not just to disrupt existing industries with their new technology -- they want to disrupt the whole nature of regulation in the modern economy. They are a libertarian's dream in terms of creating economic models without rules. No rules, though, mean a dangerous world, and we'd better slow down and take a look at what the realities are of how this will play out for regular folks.

Uber and Airbnb want to compete in markets where their competitors have to get licenses and adhere to certain basic rules of health, safety and reliability. They figure if they don't have to adhere to the same rules, they can gain a competitive edge -- just like Wall Street traders who know that if they trade in unregulated dark markets, they get an edge over the bankers that trade on the publicly regulated stock exchange. (Of course, that lack of rules frequently means bad consequences, but for the people making all the money, they don't mind.)

If you are putting people up overnight and there are no rules about room safety and security, no health laws on keeping your rooms clean, no accommodations for people with disabilities and no zoning laws about what kind of neighborhoods your rooms need to be in, it makes it easier to make profits on putting people up overnight -- and to hell with anyone suffering the results.

Here are some examples of real world problems (all of these are comments given to the FTC on their website):

I can also state that as a fact as I had renters in my home who were destroying my personal property. I had to evict them with assistance from the local police. I posted an honest and truthful review of the incident on the Airbnb website.

The review never appeared. As a landlord I find that behavior to be extremely dangerous to my well-being. There is virtually no way to discern if a potential lessee has had negative behavior issues with other lessors in the past.

Not only do I fear for the safety of my property, but also fear for potential damages to my person. I no longer rent my home on Airbnb for that reason.

And:
The furnishings were sub-standard based on the amount of rental paid, and there was so much noise that was not disclosed that we could neither sleep nor work while in the unit. I would suspect Airbnb suppressed any previous negative, or even simply honest, reviews.

Airbnb makes absolutely no effort to ascertain the truthfulness of the lessors' claims. No one from Airbnb ever contacted me as a lessor. I could have been renting a shack in my yard for all Airbnb knew.

And:
Airbnb's refusal to obey the law proved very destructive to our apartment building. As tenants moved out, entrepreneurs rented the apartments and listed them on Airbnb. This proved profitable, allowing one woman to move to France while subletting her place with a two-night minimum.

The guests proved intolerable, however, drunkenly wandering the halls, damaging the building and even stealing from the lobby. In the apartment directly above mine, guests flooded the bathroom twice, causing damage to my ceiling.

The renter denied responsibility, emailing me that the super should repair it. Airbnb told me to buy renters insurance. At one point we had five apartments in our building listed on Airbnb, from $150 a night to $350.

A full-time sublet meant the renter could earn several thousand dollars a month. While actual inhabitants struggled with the rent, these illegal entrepreneurs could pay more and still turn a profit, which clearly would drive rents up.

In just a few months, our apartment building turned into a short-term hostel for foreign tourists. Finally the super tired of the endless stream of strangers and banned Airbnb rentals. We are once again a community of friends.

Airbnb blithely tweets about "sharing better" while their employees admit they rake in so much cash they'll never self-regulate.

There was a problem with the Wild Wild West of the old frontier days: With no rules, the fastest guns and meanest cowboys did fine, but everybody else tended to get screwed over. When there are no rules, as these kinds of stories suggest, people get hurt on both sides of the equation. There's a reason cabs have signs in their cabs from the local government about the rights and responsibilities for both the drivers and customers; they both deserve to get treated fairly. With no rules, the potential for both to get hurt grows quickly.

Another example of no rules: The creep factor. I am hearing from more and more women that they just aren't comfortable taking Uber anymore because of experiences with the drivers asking them very personal questions or making suggestive comments to them, situations that would cost a cabbie their license very quickly. If a hotel is caught running a human trafficking prostitution ring out of the premises, they get shut down; Airbnb customers could potentially do the same and just shift locations and use fake names.

Then there's the jobs issue. Existing industries have existing workforces: There are millions of jobs, for example, in the hotel industry. At Airbnb, there is no one who checks people in, no one to clean people's rooms, no one who provides room service, no one who provides security and no one who does a wide variety of other services done in the hotel industry. If Airbnb succeeds at being disruptive to the hotel marketplace, a great many of those jobs will go away. Will a little bit of extra revenue for those who rent their room out from time to time compensate for the loss of all those jobs? Not even close. And keep in mind that a lot of that revenue is going to hedge funds that are buying up big blocks of condos in places like Manhattan and turning this into big business. And Uber drivers get no benefits and no permanent or stable job, just a small amount of extra money for rides that rarely adds up to a decent income.

As the FTC takes a look at the sharing economy, they need to think through what it would mean for our broader economy, and they need to think about the danger of creating the Wild, Wild West in certain marketplaces. Hotels and cab companies are regulated for very good reasons, and the stability of these industries have created a lot of good jobs. To create whole sectors of the economy without rules is a dangerous proposition on several different levels.

Discuss

Mon May 18, 2015 at 09:40 AM PDT

Trade and the Enforcement Issue

by Michael Lux

The trade debate is a thoroughly engrossing saga full of intriguing story lines, as both parties find themselves in civil wars as the strange bedfellows of Obama, McConnell, and Boehner, and the combined might of corporate America try to ram home a deal that with such an alliance should be easy to ram. But the fight goes on and the story lines keep getting more interesting:  will the tea party faction in the House finally trust Obama with the kind of unlimited power on trade he is asking for? Will Hillary take a stand? Will Obama keep taking pot shots at Elizabeth Warren? Will Pelosi rally the Democratic troops in the House to be against Obama the same way Warren and Harry Reid have in the Senate?

I have worked and written a lot on the TPP fight over the last couple of years, and it is going to be intense all the way through, but I wanted to throw another thing into the whole trade discussion today, and that is the issue of enforcement: why are we to have any faith in the language of these trade deals on labor, the environment, or anything else if the administration won't enforce the rules of trade that already exist? We have seen examples of the lack of enforcement time and time again over the years on deals relating to China and many other countries. One of the big issues that roiled the Senate vote earlier this week was on currency manipulation, and Chinese currency manipulation is the classic enforcement issue most on people's minds, but it is far from the only one. Elizabeth Warren just issued an incredibly important new report on the lack of enforcement on arguably the most important single issue, labor standards.

One of the most egregious examples of the lack of enforcement on trade rule: the lack of enforcement on the massive subsidies Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are giving to their countries' state owned airlines. Under the rules of the WTO, this kind of state subsidy is exactly the kind of thing that is not supposed to happen. Qatar Airlines, Etihad Airlines, and Emirates Airlines have (according to research done by the admittedly biased US airline industry, although having looked at their white paper the subsidies listed seemed quite well-documented) between them received over $42 billion in different kinds of subsidies over the past decade- subsidies which include various sorts of grants, no-interest loans with no repayment schedule, free land, free airport fees. But the most outrageous subsidy of all, and the most telling to future trade agreements, is that Qatar and UAE have a ban on all labor unions. Yes, that's right, a complete ban on unions, and yet the USA is not enforcing trade sanctions against them.

The TPP may or not have the most progressive language ever when it comes to labor standards, we won't know until the administration declassifies the document and lets us non-corporate execs take a look at it. But even if the language is the best ever, that wouldn't amount to a hill of beans given that the administration doesn't seem to want to enforce the trade standards that are currently in writing in the WTO.

That's not the half of it. Qatar and UAB are some of the worst human rights abusing countries in the world in general. Qatar has been condemned by John Kerry for human trafficking and slavery; UAB has had massive issues with denial of the freedom of expression; both countries have laws on their books allowing blatant discrimination against women and the LGBT community; most outrageous of all, UAB actually has homosexual activity punishable by death. And the 3 airlines these countries own all follow the kinds of discriminatory practices their countries practice.

UAB and Qatar want to be our country's modern trading partners, given the same rights and status as first world countries, but on trafficking, women's rights, LGBT rights, freedom of expression, and labor rights, they want to be in the 14th century. With airlines in this country losing jobs, a lot of the good paying union jobs, to these countries' wholly owned airlines, this is a huge problem. And if the USA is not going to enforce our trade laws with countries like this, why would they do so with the countries signing up for the TPP?

Discuss

There is a lot of great thinking about policy that is driving progressive movement organizing right now. While policy discussion in the traditional media confines of DC conventional wisdom is depressingly narrow, the progressive movement is bubbling with not only big and bold policy ideas, but with energy as to how to push them even in the face of Republican control of many of the levers of government power, including Presidential executive orders, ballot initiatives, issue campaigns in big cities and in states still controlled by Democrats, and in corporate campaigns that force big business to the bargaining table to make concessions on a variety of issues.

There are 3 big areas that progressives are coming up with ideas about, all of them related to each other:

1. Creating new jobs by investing in the things our country desperately needs like infrastructure and green energy.

2. Raising the wages of most American workers.

3. Systemic reform that focuses on the imbalances in our economy, such as concentrations of wealth and power in major business sectors and the dominance of financial services in our economic system

There have been a number of speeches and conferences in recent weeks talking about policy ideas in all 3 areas, and I am going to be writing a lot about all this in the weeks to come. One event I wanted to highlight today is one I was involved in helping to think through and organize last week that included the Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, Jobs with Justice, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Working Families Organization. They focused most especially on the jobs creation question, especially in low-income communities, and connected it closely to raising wages. Senators Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren opened and closed the event, both giving terrific speeches about creating jobs and making the investments needed to rebuild the country. The panels were also phenomenal, with a mix of national progressive leaders, messaging experts, and grassroots activists from around the country. And the attendees were an impressive mix of people as well, with key progressive leadership from all over the country.

I am going to write more about this in days to come, but here is Elizabeth Warren's stirring speech to close the conference: https://youtu.be/...

Discuss

This letter from Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown sets the perfect tone for the debate on the TPP. It is respectful while at the same time not backing down an inch in their criticisms of the process so far. It lays out the case on the whole secrecy issue, and while being respectful of the President themselves ask for the same respectfulness from him.

Having worked inside a White House, been involved in behind closed doors negotiations, and been aware of the difference between classified and non-classified government material, I want to add this point in support of Warren's and Brown's request for opening these documents up the public: the proper role of making documents classified is in the national security interests of the country. In other words, military intelligence, information on terrorist threats, information on security vulnerabilities for our country, information from diplomatic discussions on threats to the stability of other countries. Trade negotiations don't qualify for any of that: they are not security issues, they are about who wins and loses economically from the negotiations, and that is something the public should know about in a democratic society. I understand the need for some private conversations during the back and forth of negotiations, but this trade deal is mostly done. This is not black box, dark ops stuff. And if a bunch of big business execs have information and access to the negotiations, you and I should too.

Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown are 100% right on this. The President says this isn't secret yet isn't telling the public what is in the deal. That needs to change.

Sign this petition today, and send it along to your friends.This is a big deal.

Discuss

The stories about the President and his aides escalating the fight with progressives over Fast Track and TPP are getting me worked up:

Democrats Prepare for Battle as Fast Track Nears the Senate Floor

Obama Compares Progressive Opposition to Trade Deal to 'Death Panels' as the Left Ramps Up Opposition

Obama: Liberal trade critics 'don't know what they're talking about'

I have lived through this before and the repercussions weren't pretty.

I shouldn't be giving advice to the President since he is on the other side of this Fast Track/TPP fight, but I will anyway: Mr. President, you are badly hurting yourself by escalating this fight with the progressive community over trade. Short term on this issue, and for the long term as well, because after this fight is over you will need your base back on board. As a veteran of the Clinton White House during the NAFTA fight, and a veteran of the self-defeating pissing matches between the Obama White House and progressives in 2009-10, I can tell you, the approach you are taking makes no political sense.

Let me come back to that. First, let me start by taking the tone that I think friends should take with each other: Mr. President, I would like to pause for a moment to thank you for all the times you have stood up for the middle class over the course of your presidency. The economic stimulus bill, the ACA, the CFPB and other good things in Dodd-Frank, executive orders making pay and working conditions better for those who work for government contractors, fighting for a higher minimum wage and paid family leave, pushing for a more progressive tax policy, and many other measures you have worked for have done (or would have done if passed) much for America's working families. I appreciate all of those actions, and I don't think you are pushing for these trade deals because you want to undermine the middle class or give big multinational companies more power.

But I do believe those things- hurting the middle class and enhancing big business power- will be the end result, no matter how good your intentions are. I believe this for what I am convinced are good reasons: because the same economists and policy people who warned about the negative consequences of NAFTA and China and Korea and Columbia trade deals and were right, are opposing against TPP; because the promises made by every other president from both parties on every other trade deal of the last quarter century have not come true; because the language being negotiated has been shown to all those big corporate lobbyists but people like me, who are more skeptical, can't look at it; because the Investor State Dispute Settlement language applies only to corporations who want to sue governments, not to unions or environmental groups; because the people doing your negotiating are from Wall Street, not the progressive community; and because the people and groups I trust the most on economic issues, the people who have fought for my values on just about every major economic issue, folks like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, the CPC, the AFL-CIO, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Moveon, are skeptical about this trade agreement. And let me just add one note here: those are some pretty smart folks. I mean, it's fine to disagree with her, but suggesting that someone like Elizabeth Warren doesn't know what she is talking about on an issue like this seems like a pretty far stretch.

Those seem like pretty solid reasons to me, Mr. President, so just as I don't doubt your intentions or values, I prefer for you not to question mine. I didn't take this position so that I could raise money from emails; I don't think these reasons are crazy like Sarah Palin and the death panelists.

As a staffer in the Clinton White House during the NAFTA fight, and as a veteran of some of the fights the first 2 years of your presidency when Rahm was calling progressives retarded and Robert Gibbs was making fun of the "professional left", I think insulting your progressive allies when you disagree with them is such a huge mistake. It focuses the media's attention on the fight, rather than on the arguments you are trying to make; it makes all of us on the other side far more determined to fight back, so your opposition is more fired up and focused; it destroys the trust you are claiming you deserve from us; and it makes the reconciliation after the fight is over far harder.

I'm not going to defend every attack on you during this fight, Mr. President. Sometimes people get a little overwrought and assume the worst about you. But you ratcheting up the rhetoric makes no political sense.

The TPP is in my view bad politics and worse policy. I believe it hurts the Democratic party, enhances big business power, and will weaken workers' bargaining power, so I will fight as hard as I know how to fight against it. But once it is over, I hope that progressives will be able to work with the administration on the good things they want to work on with us. Let's just try not to blow up the bridge across the divide in the meantime.

Discuss

Mon Mar 30, 2015 at 12:45 PM PDT

The Angst of the Rich and Powerful

by Michael Lux

There have been a couple of recent articles that relate to money and politics that, while infuriating on many levels, have also struck me as very funny.

One of them came out yesterday, a broadside no doubt planted by a Wall Street lobbyist intending to frighten Democratic party leaders into trying to shut up Elizabeth Warren (good luck with that!), Sherrod Brown, and other populists who challenge banking malfeasance. It is a classic story about today's bizarro world of big money dominated politics:

"Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party's tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week."

The Wall Street lobby is the richest and most powerful constituency in DC, and they have been pretty successful over the last couple of decades at getting their way on policy and shutting up politicians who take them on. This kind of ham-handed threat might have worked in the past, but we are living in a new era where the progressive movement, in combination with leaders like Warren and Brown, isn't backing down. It is worth noting this article, though, and keeping it in your favorite clips file: this kind of moment is one to be savored. There will be more to come as the challenges to the Wall Street establishment keep growing.

There was another remarkable article  on the front page of the Washington Post the other day, this one about millionaire bundlers for presidential candidates who were feeling hurt that candidates, more focused on billionaires, weren't courting them in the manner to which they were accustomed.

I feel for these poor, but very rich, souls. Having been in presidential politics since 1984, I can tell you that these millionaire bundlers really used to be the top dogs in the game. While there are always reasons to court the profoundly wealthy, because presidential campaigns couldn't take unlimited money directly, it was actually more important for them to have the folks who had the ability to put together 100K, 250K, 500K in $1000 and $2500 checks. No more, not with billionaires happy to write $1,000,000 and $10,000,000 checks to super PACs that openly support these campaigns.

And the angst of these millionaires is bipartisan -- the ultimate pal for Wall Street and big money in the Democratic party may fall to a crashing defeat: Rahm Emanuel is in real trouble.

Through his massive amounts of campaign spending, association with Obama, and wide initial lead in name recognition, Rahm Emanuel had a plurality lead over Chuy Garcia in the first round of the Chicago mayoral race of 45-34, and has kept a modest lead in some of the public polls since. But the dynamics on the ground are rapidly changing and the momentum in the race is now with the Garcia campaign. In the private polling that we and our allies have done, and in the early voting numbers where Chuy's wards are coming in very strongly, it is clear that this race is moving in Chuy's direction. Here are the fundamentals in this race:

  1. There is now a private poll taken by an ally of the Garcia campaign that shows him with a 7-point lead, but even the polls that still show us a few points down have Rahm losing 5-7 points over the last week, and stuck at 45% or below. With Rahm's approval ratings still in the 30s, and with undecided voters decidedly unhappy with him, the undecideds are likely to move strongly Chuy's way. And when asked which statement most closely represents their views about the mayoral election, 54% say "Chicago needs a change," while 39% say "Chicago can't risk putting an inexperienced leader in charge."
  2. Almost entirely because of Obama's endorsement, Rahm won a big plurality among African-American voters in the first vote and in the early polling right afterwards, but the dynamics are changing dramatically in the African-American wards. A series of endorsements from major Chicago African-American leaders including Jesse Jackson, Obama mentor Emil Jones, and a series of influential ministers, along with an outstanding field operation and some great ads on black radio have caused a big upsurge in African-American support for Chuy, and a drop in support for Rahm from 58% to 41%. The campaign's voter ID program in the predominantly African-American wards is now showing Chuy at 52% of the vote.
  3. Youth support for Chuy is surging, and particularly among voters below the age of 50. Young and Latino voters are the two hardest to reach voting segments in public polling, one reason that Chuy was polling at only 22% in the polls leading up the first round of voting, yet ended with 34%.
  4. Rahm's voting base leans heavily on Republicans who don't like Rahm, but are holding their nose to vote for him, and on older white voters who aren't sure that Chuy can handle the job. There is no enthusiasm in either of those voting groups, so a turnout operation for Rahm is going to be tough going. On the other hand, the enthusiasm level for Chuy among his base voters -- Latinos, younger voters, white liberals, union members -- is sky high. Just as importantly, the Democratic base groups that do the best GOTV operations -- groups like AFT, NEA, SEIU, Moveon, DFA -- are working for Chuy. The field operations include more than 70 full-time field organizers, more than 6,000 volunteers, and more than 100 staging locations for doorknocking and GOTV.

Rahm still has more money than God (he outspent Chuy 12-1 in the first round, and will outspend him by many millions again in this round), and he is a street fighter who won't hesitate to use every trick in the book to win this race, so this race will be tough to the finish. But the fact that a grassroots community leader is in the hunt to win this race against an incumbent who raised an unprecedented $30 million from 100 donors and who has the support of Obama and other establishment Democrats, is a sign that things are changing in this country. Politicians aligned with the rich and powerful had better watch out. And if you want to stand up to Rahm and his rich and powerful friends go here to contribute to Chuy's campaign: https://secure.actblue.com/...  

In this era where Citizens United has unleashed a tsunami of money into the political system, the large majority of it on the Republican side, and the Koch brothers plan to spend a billion dollars on the 2016 elections without breaking a sweat, Democrats need to adapt a new political strategy. A strategy pioneered by Elizabeth Warren and now being used by Chuy Garcia:  run as unapologetic populist progressives, and don't worry about raising corporate cash. The Democratic party would miss getting Wall Street money, and would be hard-pressed being outspent in most elections, but like Warren and Garcia, they could make up for it with online donations and grassroots movement passion. The Koch brothers and Wall Street guys are going to make sure we get outspent in virtually every election anyway. Let's walk away from their money and run as real Democrats. It is our best hope.

Discuss

Every so often, a local election comes along that has enormous implications in terms of the national political narrative. Back in the 1980s, Harold Washington's stunning upset of the Daley machine in Chicago was one of those moments. Bill de Blasio's surprising come from behind win in NYC a couple of years ago was the most recent example- his win created months of discussion about the rising progressive populist movement in the Democratic party.

If Garcia wins, it will be an even bigger deal than either the Harold Washington or Bill de Blasio races, for the following reasons.

The first is that Rahm is an outsized national political figure, beloved by the national Democratic establishment for his tough talking swagger and his ability to raise money from Wall Street and big business- an example of the latter being the $750,000 hedge fund speculator and major Republican giver Ken Griffin has already invested in re-electing Rahm. If a major national figure known so well by the national media like Rahm went down in spite of all the money he has raised and spent, it would probably be the number one political story of the year. A thousand political obituaries would be written; a hundred stunned DC pundits would be asking themselves how this could have possibly happened. And in all this conversation, a major underlying narrative would be about the rising progressive tide was shaking up Democratic politics.

Secondly, electing a Hispanic mayor to a city like Chicago would be a huge political moment all by itself. Chicago is a city with an outsized place in America's imagination. It is a sort of capitol of the heartland, which is the most important swing region in American politics. And to have a Hispanic mayor in a city whose Hispanic population is not as big as either the white or African-American populations, and whose history has been dominated by black-white political conflict, would create a different level of conversation in America about the rising importance of Hispanics in America.  

Third, Garcia winning would profoundly impact the presidential race. Even with Hillary Clinton so far ahead and with no strong challenger yet to emerge, the loss of the ultimate Clintonite, Rahm Emanuel, would change the discussion about presidential election dynamics and force a serious rethink of Clinton's strategy.

So this is a very big deal. Is it really winnable for Garcia? With Rahm being backed by all this corporate big money like the Ken Griffin 750K, he outspent Chuy 12-1 in the first round of the primary, and has had the airwaves to himself for a while in the runoff campaign, so he has a small lead- although certainly not as big as the ridiculous Chicago Tribune poll several days ago that gave Chuy only 50% in the Hispanic vote when every other poll has him over 70%. But Chuy is going up with ads this week, and that will cut the margin. More importantly, the underlying dynamics in this race are in his favor: Rahm's unfavorable are still through the roof; Chuy has picked up some very big African-American endorsements since the first vote, including Jesse Jackson, former IL Senate leader Emil Jones, Con. Danny Davis, and a group of influential black ministers; all the grassroots energy and the GOTV operations of most of the Democratic base organizations (including AFT, NEA SEIU, CWA, Moveon, DFA, and PCCC) are on the side of Garcia.

There is a money bomb that today and tomorrow for Chuy. You should throw whatever you can into the hopper. It's the most important money bomb and most important election of the year. Rahm has his big money guys; Chuy has grassroots progressives. We can win this race, and if we do, it will be a very big deal. Give now

Discuss

I'm signing on to two exciting campaigns that would both build  the diversity of the  Democratic party's leadership and add to progressive strength in this country: Donna Edwards for US Senate in my home state of Maryland, and Chuy Garcia in the upcoming Chicago Mayoral election. They are very different races with completely different dynamics, but they both are incredibly important in terms of the future of the Democratic party.

The Chicago Mayoral election is coming right up, only four weeks away as of Tuesday. The current Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is the ultimate Democratic establishment guy: a part of Rich Daley's campaign team; a longtime aide to Bill Clinton, a US House member who was on track to become Democratic Leader of the House someday if he had stayed; Obama's Chief of Staff. But Rahm (who, full disclosure, I have known for over 30 years) has gone from being a moderate Democrat who could work with all wings of the Democratic party while he was in Congress to being the quintessential big business Democrat. While he was Obama's COS, he urged Obama to back off on pushing for health care reform and pushed against Elizabeth Warren's Wall Street accountability agenda. Instead of having a thoughtful, constructive negotiating plan with Chicago's teachers, Rahm turned the contract negotiations into a war. He has becoming the leading advocate in the country among mayors for privatization of public services. He has cut deals with big low wage employers like Walmart. He closed 50 public schools in low income neighborhoods.

Chuy Garcia, who surprised most political pundits by running surprisingly strong in the primary and forcing a runoff despite being outspent 12-1, and who is within the margin of error in multiple polls taken since the primary, is a highly regarded local political leader. He is a strong progressive on a range of issues, reminiscent of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. If elected, he would instantly become the most powerful Hispanic elected official in the country.

This is easily the most important race for progressives in the country in 2015. Electing Garcia would send shock waves through the world of corporate Democrats, and would create a media narrative that would help empower progressives in the national arena like Elizabeth Warren. You can give to Garcia's campaign here: https://secure.actblue.com/...

Donna Edwards would become only the 2nd African-American woman to ever be a US Senator. That alone would be one enormous reason to support her, as more diversity would be a damn good thing in a legislative body overwhelmingly made up of wealthy white guys,  but Donna is also one of the most remarkable people and leaders I have ever known. She served for many years as the executive director of the Arca Foundation, where I was on the board, and she took an already great foundation with a long history of philanthropic innovation to a whole new level. When she took on corporate Democrat Al Wynn (he resigned from Congress right after losing to become a corporate lobbyist) in a primary, no one gave her a chance, but she beat him by running one of the best grassroots campaigns I've ever seen. Since being a member of Congress, she has risen through the ranks in just a few years to already be a leader for progressive causes in the House. She just announced today, and already a whole array of progressive groups and blogs are supporting her. And while the election isn't until next year, Donna needs to get off to a great fundraising start to be able to compete in this race. You can give to her here: http://www.donnaedwardsforcongress.com

The dynamics in the MD Senate race are very different than in the Chicago Mayoral, though. MD will likely have a bunch of different candidates, and the establishment-embraced frontrunner in MD, Chris Van Hollen, is actually a very good guy- certainly more progressive than Rahm. But there are 3 reasons to support Edwards over Van Hollen in this race.

First is the factor I already mentioned: when you have two good candidates and one of them is a white guy and the other is an African-American woman, I believe that diversity matters a lot, and this should be a factor.

Second, Van Hollen was an enthusiastic supporter of the truly awful Simpson-Bowles "grand bargain" budget proposal, which cut Social Security benefits and made some other dreadful policy choices. Donna was not only opposed, but is in favor of Elizabeth Warren's proposal to expand Social Security benefits. While Van Hollen is generally progressive, the fact that he was willing to support something as fundamentally bad as Simpson-Bowles is a not a good sign of him being a strong progressive leader on some really important issues.

Finally, Donna comes out of the progressive movement. Not unlike Warren, she is not a career politician, but instead spent her career before running for office as a passionate and brilliant advocate for progressive policies. Chris has been a good politician throughout his career, but I'd rather have a Senator who cut their teeth as a progressive movement organizer than a career politician.

These are two of the most important political races in this cycle. In Donna Edwards and Chuy Garcia, we have two incredibly strong and progressive leaders who are also people of color who would help change the face of politics as usual. I am very proud to sign on to both of these campaigns that will make a huge difference in both adding to the Warren wing of the party and adding to the diversity of our party's leadership.

Discuss

Wed Mar 04, 2015 at 08:50 AM PST

The DC Centrists' Straw Men

by Michael Lux

One of the most tired set of clichés in all of American politics is that of DC "centrists" talking about populism as all about beating up on the rich and redistribution of income instead of growth.

A note here before I get into the main point of this piece: I put centrists in that sentence above in quotation marks because in Washington, DC, centrism seems to be about being in line with certain kinds of big money special interests rather than supporting what the center of the country in terms of voter believe. DC centrists believe in cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits; not taxing Wall Street tycoons at the same levels as their secretaries; weakening regulations on the kind of financial speculation that caused the 2008 financial panic; bailing out bankers when they get in trouble, and not prosecuting them when they break the law; doing trade deals that have historically benefited mostly big business and created bigger trade deficits. Most voters are in opposition to all of those policies by very big numbers, so those positions certainly aren't centrist to voters outside of Capitol Hill, but that doesn't seem to matter much to the insider DC centrists.  

The latest exhibit is this article from the Hill: Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing

Centrist Democrats are gathering their forces to fight back against the "Elizabeth Warren wing" of their party, fearing a sharp turn to the left could prove disastrous in the 2016 elections.
For months, moderate Democrats have kept silent, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the "rigged economy" thrilled the base and stirred desire for a more populist approach.  
But with the race for the White House set to begin, centrists are moving to seize back the agenda.
The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.
"I have great respect for Sen. Warren -- she's a tremendous leader," said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. "My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side
Peters then added this trenchant line: "To the extent that Republicans beat up on workers and Democrats beat up on employers -- I'm not sure that offers voters much of a vision."
Piling on, this gem was added by a veteran corporate-oriented Democrat: "Democrats ought to avoid the danger of talking about only redistribution and not enough about economic growth," said PPI President and founder Will Marshall, who addressed House Democrats during their Philadelphia retreat in January. "Economic growth is a precondition to reducing inequality. You can't redistribute wealth that you're not generating."

Perhaps most irritating of all, a man who has been bashed for years by a lot of these same "centrists" decided to join them in their critique. Here's Howard Dean quoted in the same article:

"Our program cannot be soak the rich -- that's a mistake and alienates middle class people. But on substance, the Warren wing is correct," said Dean.
"The rhetoric about wealth creation needs to be scaled back because Americans like wealth creation," he added. "The level playing field argument wins it for us. The reason you do not want to talk about 'tax the rich' is because when middle class people hear it, they hear 'they're going to raise our taxes.' Democrats can't do that."
I appreciate Howard Dean saying that on substance the Warren wing is correct. And I know that having endorsed Hillary, he is now in the uncomfortable place of trying to walk a tightrope between Hillary's politics and the views of his old progressive friends. But let me reassure him and his fellow worriers: Elizabeth Warren and her fellow progressives are not, either in rhetoric or policy, anti-growth or anti-business or out to "soak" the rich (unless by soak you mean taxing them at the same rate as their secretaries). And to say that they are is a cliché completely unsupported by anything they are saying.

Let's take a look at the speech where Elizabeth Warren laid out her agenda, at the AFL-CIO's conference on Raising Wages. In that speech, and in others she has given, Warren proposes a variety of policy proposals that create jobs, especially making investments in roads, bridges, highways, education, and research and development on new products and technologies that might create jobs; and in promoting manufacturing jobs and small business opportunities through smart tax policy, anti-trust enforcement, and trade policy. She proposes raising wages in several different ways including a higher minimum wage, equal pay for equal work for women, reforming overtime rules, and strengthening union bargaining power. She supports finding ways for more retirement income for seniors, including stronger pensions and increased Social Security benefits. She wants to reduce the debt of middle and low income folks by reducing both student and housing debt. And she wants to protect the economy from future financial meltdowns and protect middle and low income consumers from being cheated by unscrupulous lenders.

Creating new jobs, raising the income of middle class workers and retirees, investing in the infrastructure businesses need for transportation and a good workforce, investing in the creation of of new technologies and products. These policies are not against economic growth, they would do more to promote it than any policy proposal I have seen from the corporate-oriented Democrats. All these things Warren talks about- new jobs, more money for most people to spend, modern infrastructure, promoting manufacturing and small business, R&D- do in fact create economic growth. Her entire economic program is about creating sustainable economic growth.

And I looked and looked for all the times where Warren bashes the rich or uses negative "rhetoric about wealth creation" that Dean refers to. I went through every recent speech, every committee transcript and floor debate I could find where she spoke. I couldn't find any quotes where she said there was anything wrong with being rich or wealth creation. I couldn't find them because they don't exist. These are the ultimate insider DC "centrist" straw men that insiders set up in order to knock down: that progressive populists don't care about economic growth and that they bash the wealthy.

Now I will admit one thing: there are certain big corporations that Elizabeth Warren has spoken ill of. She didn't like it, for example, that HSBC laundered drug cartel money and that no executive went to jail for those crimes. She's not big into Wall Street banks blatantly cheating their customers and clients and never being held to account. She prefers that too big to fail banks no longer be too big to fail, making their bad investments and market failures a risk for the entire economy. She wants to discourage rampant speculation in un- and under-regulated markets. She prefers that hugely profitable mega-corporations like Walmart and McDonald's pay a living wage to their workers. And she does think that corporations and wealthy folks could afford to pay a little more in taxes.

She wants a level playing field for low and middle income folks with the wealthy and powerful. Is that what is so radical that is scaring all these DC establishment folks? Seriously? Come on, guys, this is just silly. You don't want accountability for banks that launder drug money and cheat their customers? Look, if you want to make arguments as to why we shouldn't regulate or prosecute Wall Street, make them. If you think progressive taxation or a higher minimum wage is a bad idea, tell us why. But don't set up these ridiculous straw men that don't exist and tell us that the Warren message is all about stuff she has never said.

Let me close by saying this specifically to my friend Howard Dean. You are a good man who has spent the last decade plus courageously standing up to DC insiders even when they attacked you in these same ways. Don't let yourself be used by these same insiders when they are trashing Elizabeth Warren and other progressives.

It's time for a new debate in Democratic politics, a debate based on what progressives and their opponents in the Democratic party are actually saying and proposing. I'll be happy to take our rhetoric and our policies to the American voters and see which they like better.

Discuss

It is easy to get discouraged about the American political scene. Billionaires and big business keep spending absurd amounts in buying up politicians and making sure they win elections. Republicans keep moving to the more and more extreme edges of the right. A lot of Democrats are either bought off by Wall Street, ineffectual, or both. The Supreme Court is as conservative and pro-big business as it has ever been. The media is cynical and all too often in bed with corporate interests. Gridlock reigns over all.

And yet...somehow, some way progressives are breaking through and winning some really important victories. It is like running a marathon while having to go the entire way steeply uphill, yet still winning.

Let's start with the astonishing concession by Walmart to raise the minimum wage it pays its workers to $9.00 in April and $10.00 next year. Walmart is one of the richest and most powerful corporations in the history of the world. They have ruthlessly squashed every union organizing drive ever mounted against them, and they are happy tobuy off government officials around the world whenever they need to. The Walton family, the wealthiest in the world, are for the most part very right wing, supporting politicians and organizations opposed to the minimum wage and to any discussion of economic inequality. And with the Republican party having swept the last election and in control of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, they certainly aren't feeling heat from the government to do more for their workers.

Beyond all that, Walmart's entire business model has always been about keeping the wages of their workers and the workers of their product suppliers as low as possible, both to keep their costs as low as possible and to drive down wages overall so that more people would need to shop for the low cost goods they offer. Remember how Henry Ford doubled the wages of his workers so that they could afford to buy his cars? Walmart's philosophy has always been a sort of reverse-Fordism- drive down wages so that the only place people can afford to shop is Walmart's.

The bottom line here is that this wage concession is a huge change in the way they do business. Their ideology and entire business model scream against doing it; their history is to resist any such concession in the ugliest kind of way; their immense power and the electoral trends certainly don't suggest they would have had to do it. And needless to say, they aren't doing it out of the goodness of their collective corporate hearts. So what gives here? Well, simply put, the 99% are starting to rise up, and it is creating a very big problem for even so powerful a company as Walmart. The incredible organizing work of UFCW, Change to Win, the AFL-CIO, My Walmart, the Corporate Action Network, and the Netroots movement has lit a fire that continues to build. No matter how many times they were slammed down, no matter how many politicians sided with Walmart, no matter how many years Walmart tried to ignore them and brush them aside, the organizers of this movement didn't give up. And now with the media finally beginning to cover the issues of low wage workers, with so much anger rising that even Republicans are starting to talk about the problems of low wage work, the executives at Walmart saw the writing on the wall. Their brand was taking a beating; their workers were getting more and more feisty. They had to do something to take the pressure off.

Let's be clear: this isn't nearly enough. Walmart wages and benefits are still way too low. And if the pressure doesn't stay on, Walmart will start looking to quietly roll back even these small increases. But this was still an important victory, and it shows what persistent, gutsy, creative organizing can do.

Let me add one final note before moving on to the next big victory: this was done without government's help. Reporters, pundits, and progressive movement strategists themselves need to be very clear on the fact that the progressive movement's goal is not a bigger government or the electing of more progressive politicians. Instead, our goal is to improve the lives of everyday folks through collective action. We didn't get this victory because government passed a new law or regulation, or because politicians pressured them to do something. Government had nothing to do with this victory. We won because progressives and workers built a movement and sustained it through hard times over a long period. Would it be a good thing if government was actively on the side of Walmart's workers? Hell, yes. But even when they are not, progressive organizing can win improvements in people's lives. Collective bargaining, civil disobedience, community organizing, consumer boycotts, and online pressure have won major concessions from the powers that be without the help of government many times over the last century, and until government starts being on the side of working people more aggressively again that is how many of our victories will have to be won.

The 2nd major victory for progressives of the last couple of weeks does have something to do with government, though. It is a simultaneous reminder of 2 things about political battles that progressives can never forget: one is that elections matter, and the other is that elections are never enough. This last week, after 9 years of running uphill, through many twists and turns, and many dark days, the FCC passed a new measure on net neutrality that was pretty much everything progressives had been wanted. We won in part because we elected a president who appointed decent FCC commissioners, but mostly we won because we kept fighting. How we got to this place is one of the most remarkable stories of policy making in recent history. And of course, it is not over, a policy battle like this fighting opponents with the size and power of the telecom industry, is never over- there are court battles and legislative fights and new FCC appointments to worry about. But the victory is still one to savor, and to tell the story of, because the lessons here are important.

The battle was joined in 2006. Prior to that, the internet, which had been created by the government, had always been neutral in terms of the speed by which you could get to any site you wanted. That meant whether you were Google or a tiny start-up in someone's garage or a blogger with no budget, anyone looking for you could find you just as fast as anyone else. The telecoms, though, knew that they could make a whole lot more money if they could charge big fees to companies to be in a "fast lane", especially with all the new wireless devices that were about to come on line. But having a fast lane for the big money guys would mean there was a slow lane for everyone else, and it would permanently change the way the internet worked for everyone.

I was involved in this fight from the very beginning, so had a bird's eye view from the very start. In the early days of the battle, it actually looked like our side would win this battle in a rout, even though Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress were close to the telecom industry. People loved the internet the way it was, and it was easy to get a mass outpouring of support for keeping it that way. And in that initial fight, a lot of the non-corporate right wing groups like the Christian Coalition and Concerned Women for America were actually on our side, worried that the "liberal media" would take away their ability to organize over the net. 2006 was also the peak of the blogosphere's power to make a difference politically, and it drove both conversation and action about the issue. If the Republican leaders could have been forced to bring the issue to the floor, we would easily won floor votes to write net neutrality into law.

But with the power and money of the telecoms, that early momentum didn't last long. The first thing the telecoms focused on was giving big contributions to conservative groups, which moved them permanently over to the other side- now net neutrality is called by Republicans "Obamacare for the internet" and no one on the right contradicts them. They also spent a lot of money giving to the blue dog and third way Democrats, making this far more divisive inside the Democratic party than it had been, so even though Obama said he was for it, net neutrality never came up for a vote once the Democrats took over Congress. Net neutrality advocates had hopes, though, that given Obama's strong support for it in the campaign, and his appointment of Julius Genachowski, a net neutrality supporter, as FCC chair, that the FCC would create good rules on the issue. Genachowski blinked in the face {of industry pressure, though, and put a rule into effect that was structured so badly that the courts were almost certain to overturn it- and they quickly did so. When Genachowski resigned and Obama appointed Tom Wheeler, a telecom industry lobbyist, as Chair, we feared the worst.

But the progressive advocates working on this never gave up. After Wheeler was appointed, we kept working it. The outside organizing from the netroots world was extraordinary, and we kept working the inside as well. At one point, I was talking to a White House aide working to put together some kind of really lame compromise on the issue, and they groused to me that net neutrality advocates were the most demanding people he had ever met, they just wouldn't accept any compromise. And I thought that was a great compliment given the nature of the issue and the stakes involved.

In the end, Obama came through with the strongest possible support of net neutrality, and eventually the FCC did as well- Wheeler was convinced to side with the millions agitating for net neutrality rather than for his old employers. This fight isn't over, but we won a huge battle last week, and we have the high ground for a while to come. Progressive bloggers, Moveon, Credo, DFA, PCCC, Color of Change, Free Press, the progressive blogosphere, and so many other great groups deserve so much credit for hanging in there through all of the dark moments when it seemed like we were on the ropes.

These 2 victories came on top of stopping the Antonio Weiss Treasury nomination, winning the immigration executive order after many years of organizing, and winning on Cuba policy after 6 and a half decades of people fighting that absurd, brain dead, cold war relic of a policy. And these victories came at the same time that corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel was forced into a runoff election for mayor of Chicago after out-spending his nearest opponent by 12-1. If progressives get the win there, it will send shock waves through the entire Democratic establishment and media punditry.

Being out-spent the way we are by big business fat cats, with the establishments of both parties frequently against us, and the media punditry dismissive, many of these fights are long, long uphill runs. And there's nothing new about that. The abolitionist movement started in 1820s and took 4 decades to happen. The suffragist movement started in the 1830s and took almost 90 years to win their victory. The NAACP was formed early in the 1900s, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts did not happen until the 1960s. Important fights frequently take many years, sometimes many decades to win- and even then, the fights are frequently not over- look at the voting rights struggles we are currently seeing 60 years after passing the Voting Rights Act. But even when we have bad elections, even being outspent overwhelmingly, progressive organizers who never give up and keep fighting and innovating in their organizing strategies can still win battles.

Republican Congress or not, big money opposition or not, progressives can win victories over the next couple of years if they stay creative, stay aggressive, and never give up. The last couple of weeks have given proof enough of that reality.

Discuss

It seems like just about everyone these days is talking about Elizabeth Warren. I saw Jay Leno- not a very political guy or especially progressive- the other day on Bill Maher's show, talking about how shocked he was that Elizabeth Warren was only 18 months younger than Hilary because of how vital and energetic she seemed. A focus group of swing voters, who traditionally don't follow politics very closely, in Colorado a couple of weeks back were disdainful of the politicians they had heard of like Jeb Bush and Hillary who were likely running for president, but loved what they were hearing about Elizabeth Warren.The Sunday Doonesbury this weekend was a plea to "run, Lizzie, run" because "she hears the voices no one else hears". The Washington Post print addition on Sunday had a front page articlewhose headline asked "What does Elizabeth Warren want?"

Why is a first term Senator in the minority party, a wonky college professor who had never held elective office before 2013, a woman who insists to everyone who asks that she is not running for president, striking such a chord in American politics right now? Why are hundreds of thousands of people and some of the biggest organizations in American politics begging her to run for president despite her apparent lack of interest? Where did she get the political power to stop the President's political nominations and almost bring down budget bills that seemed destined for easy bi-partisan passage? Why is the media obsessed with her?

As great as Elizabeth Warren is (and she is), I think the chord she strikes has at least as much to do with the moment we are in as to who she is. I think most Americans in both parties have come to believe that government is too bought off by big money special interests to care about them anymore. They are worn down by an economic system that doesn't seem to reward working hard and playing by the rules, in Bill Clinton's famous words, anymore; and they are cynical that the establishment politicians in both parties seem disconnected to the real world of no wage increases and rising costs of necessities. Elizabeth Warren excites people so much because she actually seems like she knows what is going in everyday people's lives, and because she seems like she will take on the powers that be in both party to fight on their behalf. That is so refreshing to voters and activists alike, and it is turning Elizabeth into an icon that people respond to. She calls "Charge!" on a nomination fight for a position that no one has ever heard of, or a legislative fight that they weren't even aware of, and people answer the call because they trust her- they know in their hearts that she is fighting for them.

How did all this happen? There were 2 moments that turned Elizabeth Warren into that kind of trusted icon. The first was when Warren had been appointed head of the TARP oversight board. The establishment of both parties was busy telling people how important it was to bail out the big Wall Street banks, whereas all most Americans saw was bankers being bailed out and no one caring what happened to them. When Warren fearlessly took on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at hearings in 2009 and asked him tough, pointed questions even though he was a powerful Democrat strongly backed by Obama, people thought: wow, she's on our side. She's willing to take on powerful people in her own political party regardless of who she makes mad. And that image of her stuck with people.

The 2nd moment was when she went on Jon Stewart and explained what had happened to the American economy and why in the financial crisis- she talked about a complicated subject in a way that people could understand and relate to. Stewart and everyone else was so used to government officials, banking industry spokespeople, and other "experts" making everything sound so complicated to make themselves look like they were the only ones who could understand things that when Elizabeth explained things in a way that was understandable and common sense, he blurted out, "I know your husband is back stage, but I just want to kiss you". It was a sentiment that people could understand: she cut through the BS and let the sunshine in.

Everything she did added to the reputation she had developed. When she ran for Senator, she didn't trim her sails and suddenly get more cautious and start sounding like everything she said had been focus group tested- she continuously said what she passionately believed and didn't back down. When she first got to the Senate, in her first Banking Committee hearing, her questioning of witnesses was so straightforward and tough-minded that the video was viewed by over a million people- a mind-blowing number of views on a committee hearing.

The large numbers of activists and voters who follow Elizabeth know she is not only smart and tough, but trustworthy to the core. And in this cynical age of politics, where big money and rank partisanship seems to drive everything in DC, having someone you can trust to fight for you, to be on your side rather than on big money's side, creates a loyalty and a passion that is powerful.

I first started following politics in 1968, and in that year a man named Bobby Kennedy invoked that kind of widespread passion, trust, and loyalty. I don't think anyone has done it since, unless it was Reagan on the other side. Because folks know she will fight for them, she is going to keep shaking things up, whatever she does next.

As to the question of what she wants, here's how I described her agenda the other day, based on her speeches and the legislation she has introduced:

  1. Raising wages and incomes for working people:
    • Raising the minimum wage so that no one who works fulltime will live in poverty
    • Strengthening and enforcing labor law to make it easier for workers to organize and have bargaining power
    • Better overtime pay rules
    • Equal pay for equal work for women
  2. Creating more jobs:
    • Making investments in roads, bridges, power grids, education, and research
    • Trade policies that will raise wages and create new manufacturing jobs rather than the opposite results we have seen because of trade deals like NAFTA
  3. Protecting the economic health and dignity of retirement:
    • Protecting Social Security and Medicare, adding to Social Security benefits, and changing federal policy to better protect and encourage pensions
  4. Making sure that Wall Street has less power to manipulate the economy and our political system, and that regular people have less debt:
    • More cops on the beat watching over the big banks so that consumers and the economy as a whole are better protected from financial speculation and fraud
    • Breaking up the biggest banks to lessen their market and political power
    • Reducing the level of student debt
  5. Bringing in additional tax revenue in a fair way:
    • Closing corporate tax loopholes, especially those that subsidize dirty energy companies like Big Oil
    • Raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans
    • Creating a financial transactions tax so that speculative trading is dis-incentivized

Beyond those policy proposals, which would go a long way in making our economy work far better for working people in this country, there's a simple answer: she wants a country where we invest in all of our people, and where everyday folks get the rewards for working hard and playing by the rules. She wants a country where the government is on the side of working people rather than just the wealthiest individuals and biggest businesses.

It reminds me of another progressive response to the question what do we want. More than a century ago, in the midst of that era's gilded age where the robber barons owned the government (sound familiar?), the founder of the American Federation of Labor, Sam Gompers, was asked what does labor want. Gompers replied:

"We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures..."

Sounds like the same thing Elizabeth Warren wants. And the power of that clear message, and the willingness to take on the powers that be in both parties to fight for it, will make Elizabeth Warren someone to reckon with for a long time to come. The woman has met her moment.

Discuss
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