As we previously noted here on the blog, Rep. Paul Ryan is part of a rather large contingent of Congress who refused to hold public meetings in his district during the August recess, preferring instead to appear at events that charge money for attendance and having constituents arrested who persisted in meeting with him at a district office.What is Ryan so afraid of? Why is he limiting public appearances to pay-per-view events? Maybe he's just a really busy guy, but more likely he's avoiding town halls because he's afraid of getting booed by his constituents again, like he was last spring after he proposed privatizing Medicare and cutting taxes even more for the wealthy.Yesterday, Paul Ryan was true to form, reserving his time in the district for a private speech at a local Rotary Club banquet that charged $15 a head for entrance. This time, however, constituents who wanted to get some answers from Ryan weren't deterred by the fee, gladly forking over the money for a chance to finally face their congressman and ask questions about the jobs crisis.The constituents repeatedly pressed Ryan on his record and on his ideology. The first questioner guffawed when Ryan harped on the "debt crisis" in his prepared remarks, and asked Ryan why doesn't he focus on the "good jobs crisis". Ryan attempted to sidestep the question, saying that we have jobs crisis because we've run up a large debt. That response must have struck a nerve, because the second questioner, a women further back in the audience, quickly interrupted Ryan to state that the unemployment rate has markedly increased since the first round of Bush tax cuts went through, and so has our debt. Essentially, she pointed out, we've been borrowing trillions so that we can fund tax cuts for rich people, and we've lost jobs in the process. Ryan had no answer for that.Time after time, constituents asked Ryan a reasonable question and presented him with an opposing point of view, and time after time, police escorted them from the banquet. All in all, a dozen people were escorted out by police and three were arrested. I'd be willing to cut Ryan some slack for refusing to answer questions at a Rotary Club appearance if he'd actually face his constituents in public. But as it is (and as one questioner noted), how can they give Ryan their opinions when he won't talk to them in public?
Looks like Obama will need to go big this week if he wants to get the vote of the people who believed in him in 2008. As President Obama prepares to make a big speech on his as yet unreleased jobs proposal next week, MoveOn.org commissioned a poll from respected pollster SurveyUSA last week to see what sort of proposals Obama's base would respond strongly to. SurveyUSA looked at a statistically significant proportion of people who actually voted for President Obama in 2008, whether they agreed with his lofty rhetoric on supporting middle class programs and clean energy legislation, or whether they were just tired of eight years of Bush. By a wide margin, voters who supported Obama in 2008 overwhelmingly back raising taxes on the wealthy and closing corporate loopholes over the reverse. On the other hand, the surest way for Obama to lose support is to lay out a plan that includes cuts to Social Security or Medicare. * By 5:1, Obama voters want the President to lay out a broad plan for creating jobs and hold Republicans accountable if they block this legislation.* By 5:2, Obama voters say the president should close corporate tax loopholes rather than offer tax breaks to corporations.* Overwhelmingly, Obama voters say closing corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthy would make them more likely to support Obama's 2012 re-election.* Overwhelmingly, cuts to Medicare and social security would make Obama voters less likely to support Obama's 2012 re-election. These results bear out for all ideological and partisan groups who supported President Obama's election in 2008. If you want to dig into the numbers a little further, you can view the full results here.
Voters across America have capped an unbelievably active month of August with a grand total of over 400 protests at congressional events. From a protest outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in Louisville, Kentucky, to a funeral march in suburban Houston, Texas to mark the death of jobs under Senator John Cornyn's last decade in office, Americans have repeatedly stood up in town halls and outside congressional offices districts around the country. And as I've noted a number of times, even though it's something that the national news has barely mentioned, the local news has definitely paid attention. Take a look at this compilation of news clips from around the country:Regardless of the national media near-blackout, local news stations responded to what was happening in the own cities and towns, and we can at least take heart that on average, far more people watch their local news broadcasts over national network or cable news. It's strange that the national news whiffed on this story. After all, congressional approval ratings are at their worst in history - a meager 12% approve of the job Congress is doing, and it's no secret why congressional poll numbers are sagging. Congress has turned away from jumpstarting the economy and toward negotiating just how much to cut from essential programs like Medicare and Social Security. Meanwhile, the anemic recovery of the past year has completely stalled, adding a net zero new jobs in August, and the unemployment remains stuck above 9%. The national news media has picked up on all of these individual facts, but they seem to have missed the wider narrative of voters actually pushing back on the ground against their representatives in Congress.So now that the month of August is over, and Congress is heading back to Washington DC after their summer break, what do you think we should do to keep giving them the message to focus on jobs, not cuts?
As we discussed previously, our friends at Democracy for America started running ads nationally this week, demanding that Congress stop focusing on cuts to programs that protect and expand the middle class. This week, they are taking the fight directly to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Why did DFA choose Rep. Cantor (R-VA)? DFA's one million members narrowly voted to direct the ads toward Cantor, putting the ad in his Virginia district over fellow congressmen like John Boehner. The choice of Cantor likely had a lot to do with his threats to withhold earthquake and hurricane relief funds unless equivalent cuts were made elsewhere in the budget. DFA is also holding district events to make sure Congress gets the message to focus on jobs instead of tax breaks for the wealthy when they return to Washington after their break. They've scheduled over 100 so far. UPDATE: MoveOn.org is also running a TV ad on Cantor's intransigence on federal aid for hurricane victims:
The American Dream Movement is everywhere, even in deep red Oklahoma. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) showed up in Tulsa on Monday to make a speech on behalf of his fledgling presidential campaign, raise some cash, and accept the endorsement of arch-Republican Senator Jim Inhofe. His appearance garnered a few minutes in the evening news, where he bashed government spending, boasted that he wouldn't let "entitlements" bankrupt our children, and mumbled something about being as light as possible on "job creators". But luckily, Perry's nonsense didn't go unanswered by Tulsans. Even though the Sooner State is one of the most conservative in the country, plenty of Oklahomans disagree with Perry's policies. Tulsans showed up outside Perry's speech in force to argue that Perry's running on a false depiction of his own economic record. As the protester in the news report points out, the Texas economy has produced some jobs under Perry, but a high proportion of them are minimum wage jobs. In fact, Texas is now tied for the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs in its work force with the economic "powerhouse" of Mississippi at nearly 10%. And the fact that an oil-producing state managed to add jobs during a period of record oil prices isn't very impressive in and of itself. To put Texas' supposedly great employment record in context, Texas actually ranks in the bottom half of states' unemployment rates. "Big government" states like New York and Massachusetts actually have a lower unemployment rate, and neither of those states have a booming oil industry to hire new workers, spur new construction, and support state revenues. But you don't see Rick Perry turning to Andrew Cuomo or Deval Patrick for answers on how to run a government.I've said it before and I'll keep asking: if "job creators" need lower taxes to start hiring again, why was it that the Clinton era economy produced so many more jobs with higher taxes than the Bush era? And corporations are raking in record profits, but even with that extra cash, they aren't hiring. Maybe Perry is talking about some other "job creators."I'm really glad Tulsans showed up to speak out against Perry's economic record. If they hadn't, I have a hard time believing that the local news would have taken it upon themselves to balance Perry's perspective.
the worst economic performance of any decade since the Great Depression. Even the much-maligned 1970s tower over the 2000s in job creation and economic growth over the decade.As Siobhan Burke, the woman who spoke to the reporter after Rep. Biggert, points out, the road to employment in the short term is going to lead through Washington. It will be up to our representatives to work hard and focus like a laser beam on job creation over the next year. Kudos to Ms. Burke for having the stubbornness to stand right next to the reporter the entire time so that she could be heard, and for having the ability to respond succinctly to the reporter when she was finally called upon to answer.
Over the summer, we turned to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens to help us draft a new, people-powered agenda that would bring back jobs and opportunity to all Americans, not reserve chances to get richer to the already wealthy. Over 130,000 Americans came together to generate, rate, and discuss over 20,000 ideas. The result was a home run, the Contract for the American Dream, a ten point plan to grow and protect the middle class and ensure opportunity and stability for our country for generations to come.We were so pleased with the results from the crowdsourcing process that gave us the Contract, we decided to ask for help once more. And again, we're getting amazing results. We're asking you to figure out how to spread the word about the Contract. How do we tell more people about the Contract? How do we get it enacted into our nation's policy, plank by plank?So far, we've received nearly 3,000 ideas, each of which have been rated multiple times by visitors to our Action Ideas site. Here are a few user submitted ideas that have received extremely high ratings from folks:
- Ask clergy to endorse the Contract and to urge their colleagues to do the same, including preaching in favor of it.
- 50 Cities, 50 projectors. Nighttime projection on walls of all state capitols. Google "Maine Labor Temple mural projection."
- Create a power-point version for the contract, then train volunteers to give the presentation in their local communities.
I've praised the local news media for managing to cover town halls a lot better than their national counterparts, but they still miss plenty. For example, Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) took questions at a town hall in Millerton, New York on Wednesday, but no news accounts show any record that he was there, much less faced any challenge from the crowd on Gibson's ironclad support for Grover Norquist's pledge. Luckily, we managed to get some video from constituents who attended the town hall, and they captured some excellent points from the crowd.In particular, one exchange stood out. In the video, a small business owner talked about the sacrifices that he and other small business owners in the area made to save a struggling local business in the interest of the entire community. He asked over and over why Congress wouldn't raise tax rates on the rich in order to help pay for job creation projects, and over and over again Gibson dodged the question by claiming that he was for "increasing revenue" through "tax reform", which he defines as lowering rates, not raising them. Gibson is referring to the "Laffer curve", the theoretical construct that "proves" that if you lower taxes, the resulting increased business activity would actually create more than enough revenue to replace what was lost by lowering taxes. Sounds great, except it's been debunked time and time again. It's sort of like thinking that it's unhealthy to exercise too much, because you won't get enough rest, and you'll burn way too many calories. Which might be true if you were training for marathons year round, but when your exercise regime consists of a monthly trip to the gym, you should probably step it up a little.The questioner closed with an excellent point, one that befuddled Gibson. If cutting tax rates was supposed to stimulate jobs because it gave corporations and the wealthy extra money to hire, why have corporations operating with record profits over the last few years given their CEOs massive pay increases instead of hiring workers? Gibson didn't really have a response. Maybe because there really isn't one.
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="190" caption="Tanya Dennis won her home back after a bitter battle with Wells Fargo"][/caption]It feels good to get a win. One of the earliest stories we covered on this blog was Tanya Dennis' fight to keep her South Berkeley home. A former high school vice-principal, Dennis got behind on her mortgage payments when an injury required her to have back surgery. The medical bills combined with the time away from work made it impossible for her to catch up on her mortgage payments, but Wells Fargo refused to let her go through any sort of loan modification process and foreclosed on her home.Uncommonly, Dennis decided to fight back after being evicted. She called a locksmith and regained access to her home. She got help from community organizations like ACCE and swarmed Wells Fargo executives with hundreds of e-mails and phone calls. She led a delegation from her community to Wells Fargo headquarters in San Francisco and refused to leave until they agreed to review her loan.And now, after eight months of fighting back, Dennis finally has an agreement in principle with Wells Fargo to modify her loan, which will allow her to keep her house of 27 years.The outrageous thing about the whole affair is that Wells Fargo, along with a lot of other big banks in America, made a lot of terrible bets over the last decade, a lot worse bets than Tanya Dennis made on her back. But Wells Fargo got $25 billion in taxpayer money from the federal government to cover their butts. That money was supposed to prop up banks, allowing them to lend again and to help troubled homeowners who had lost jobs in a crippling recession. Instead, it took relentless pressure by Tanya Dennis and a multitude of supporters to keep her in her home.
This is something of a disturbing trend. An alarming amount of congressional representatives have refused to meet with constituents in public town hall meetings, opting instead to limit their appearances to "pay-per-view" events, where constituents have to fork over cash to a local supporter of the representative in order to see them in person. Constituents hoping to get answers on jobs and proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare have been left to protest outside district offices and private events just to get a meeting.Sometimes, as in the case of Chip Cravaack, it works. But increasingly, legislators are calling the police on their constituents instead of listening to them.Rep. Paul Ryan, one of those purveyors of toll-booth democracy, has kept a group of unemployed workers at bay for weeks now. Last week, they began a sit-in at his Kenosha district office in hopes that their voices would finally be heard. Earlier this week, Ryan staffers banned cameras from the premises, and then yesterday, they summoned the police to shoo the sit-in participants away."Due to an official complaint from the building's owner, only persons with business in the building will be allowed in" was the official word, so Ryan and his staff apparently consider citizens from the district as "not having business" at a district constituent services office.And yesterday in St. Charles, Missouri, staffers for Rep. Todd Akin (R-St. Charles) called the police to drive away a rally inviting Akin to a local town hall. Akin is notorious for holding tightly scripted town hall events with all questions preselected well in advance, and once had a man escorted out by police who dared to challenge him on the facts of his presentation. Yesterday was more of the same, as police were called in to push away pesky constituents who wanted to ask Akin why he voted to privatize Medicare.Staffers have also been extremely touchy about video recording. Yesterday, constituents tried to film a testy encounter with a staffer for Nevada Congressman Joe Heck. The constituents had been repeatedly asking when they could possibly meet with their congressmen, but when the staffer stonewalled them, they tried to videotape the exchange with a cell phone camera. The phone became yet another reason not to answer their questions.In Cincinnati on Tuesday, Rep. Steve Chabots (R-OH) ordered cameras to be confiscated at a town hall. Police took away cameras from two activists and held them until the end of the town hall, even though the meeting was a public event held in a public, taxpayer-funded space. Chabots also refused to take questions directly from the audience, instead only answering questions submitted in writing in advance.It's unclear why these people ran for public office, when they really seem to dislike the "public" part of the job.