Pages tagged "americandream"

Cravaack meets with critics at town hall, cuts it short

Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Duluth) left just as hastily as he came to today's Duluth airport town hall meeting, the first and only in the Duluth area this year. Cravaack called the meeting only yesterday after being confronted outside a private event by a crowd of protestors chanting "We want a town hall!" but over 200 people crammed into a room at the airport with more filling the hallways outside to give Cravaack a piece of their mind. Cravaack gave a presentation for about half an hour, and then took questions from the audience for the next thirty minutes. He refused to entertain the notion that taxes should be raised on the wealthy, despite repeated groans from the crowd, claiming that "you can't tax the rich enough to pay for the deficit." He also said that removing the cap on income considered for the payroll tax would keep employers from hiring, and he claimed that increasing the size of Pell grants only causes the price of tuition to go up.Needless to say, these are all laughable claims. Even Republican economist Bruce Bartlett points out that a hefty chunk of our debt could be wiped out by raising taxes to Reagan era levels. Removing the cap could theoretically have the some effect of discouraging new hires for workers above $108,000 in income, but that would only affect the top 10% of income earners, hardly something that affect hiring in a widespread manner. Certainly it would affect the economy less than cutting Social Security for hundreds of millions of Americans. And the claim that Pell grant increases college tuition costs is one that has been floated by the Koch Brothers-financed Needless to see, college tuition has increased in years when Pell grant funding did not go up. There's little correlation between the two, certainly not as strong as the correlation between the private student loan industry and tuition increases.Cravaack ended up the meeting just after 5pm despite pleas from the crowd to continue until more people had their questions addressed. One person noticed aloud (audible in the video) that Cravaack should schedule another meeting in Duluth after 5:00 so that people who have a job could manage to attend as well.

John McCain gets a copy of the Contract

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) faced a barrage of questions at yet another town hall this week, although to his credit he didn't need a protest to force him to schedule an open forum like his House colleague Chip Cravaack. McCain, who represents a state with a high population of retirees, fielded a number of questions on his vote in May to cut Medicare and his views on cutting Social Security, including a heartfelt response from one woman who took the senator to task for his proposal to raise the retirement age: "We cannot stand for the retirement age to be increased like that. Let's look out for the interests of ordinary people. Let's look out for the interests of working people." One questioner also wondered what McCain is going to do to bring back decent paying jobs so that their grandchildren won't have to work for "$3.00 an hour and live out of a cardboard box."

John McCain Met with Frustration at Town Hall:

It was a little sad to see McCain bluster that he doesn't know of any job that would pay only $3.00 an hour. After all, there's a federally mandated minimum wage that prevents that from happening, but McCain voted in 2007 to repeal federal minimum wage requirements, which would drop the minimum wage all the way down to $2.65 an hour in states like Kansas. It was also interesting to see McCain argue that in order to preserve Social Security for future generations, we're going to have to make "hard choices." Somehow for the superwealthy like McCain, "hard choices" do not mean lifting the cap on the payroll tax so that wealthy people would pay the same rate on their total income that the rest of us do. Such a "hard choice" would virtually wipe out all projected shortfalls in the Social Security trust fund. After the event, one Arizonan edged up to Senator McCain and asked him if he had heard of the Contract for the American Dream, to which he replied that he had. She then handed him a copy of the Contract just to be sure he had a chance to read it with his own eyes. The friend who took this picture managed to get a copy of our Contract to one of McCain's staffers at the event as well, just to make sure.

VIDEO: "Don't Kill the American Dream"

Something's in the air. Our friends at Democracy for America have also recognized the huge threat to the American Dream posed by the austerity agenda pushed by conservatives in Congress and echoed by the Beltway media. Now DFA will take to the air to hold conservatives in Congress accountable for their votes to gut essential, successful government actions that have helped to protect and grow the middle class. Programs like Social Security and Medicare, regulations that protect the air that we breathe and water that we all drink, and collective bargaining rights that have long provided a counterweight to wealthy corporations have all come under threat since the far right seized the initiative after last year's elections.DFA will air the ad nationally during select programs like "Meet the Press", and then focus on a couple of House districts in Florida. If fundraising permits, they'll begin expanding the buy to target additional districts.Watch the ad:

VIDEO: "Don't Kill the American Dream"

Something's in the air. Our friends at Democracy for America have also recognized the huge threat to the American Dream posed by the austerity agenda pushed by conservatives in Congress and echoed by the Beltway media.Now DFA will take to the air to hold conservatives in Congress accountable for their votes to gut essential, successful government actions that have helped to protect and grow the middle class. Programs like Social Security and Medicare, regulations that protect the air that we breathe and water that we all drink, and collective bargaining rights that have long provided a counterweight to wealthy corporations have all come under threat since the far right seized the initiative after last year's elections.DFA will air the ad nationally during select programs like "Meet the Press", and then focus on a couple of House districts in Florida. If fundraising permits, they'll begin expanding the buy to target additional districts.Watch the ad:

Chip Cravaack, facing angry protestors, finally agrees to town hall

Minnesota Rep. Chip Cravaack (R- Duluth) has dodged angry protestors for quite a while now. They've been demanding that he and others in Congress focus on a jobs agenda rather than tax cuts for the rich for weeks now, but Cravaack has thus far refused to meet with constituents to hear what they had to see. Locals have held protests at his district offices and at a Boehner-headlined fundraiser earlier this month in hopes that they could speak to him, but he's either been away from the office or slid in through a side entrance to the fundraiser. Either way, he's avoided direct contact. Until today.Cravaack was met with a loud and angry crowd outside a speaking engagement in Duluth demanding a town hall to address the jobs crisis. Faced with multiple news crews filming him while he fumbled for a response, Cravaack finally assented to a town hall tomorrow at the Duluth airport at 4pm.

Another week of Jobs Not Cuts Protests

In the second week of the August congressional recess, locals have continued to keep the heat on their representatives and senators to actually start focusing on creating jobs instead of worrying about how many tax cuts to give the wealthy. These stories have largely been absent from the national news media's consciousness, but as we show in the video, local news stations have been doing a great job around the country actually paying attention to what citizens are saying on the streets.In Wisconsin, protestors showed up at a luncheon that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was scheduled to attend. (Ryan didn't leave them a lot of choice to present their views directly to him, as he's come under fire recently for refusing to hold regular town hall meetings, speaking instead to sympathetic groups that charge money to attend.)

Congressman Ryan says he's been listening to small businesses. "Small businessmen and women, they're all telling us 'stop spending money we don't have, get government off our backs, deal with regulations, keep taxes low.' So we can have some certainty. What's happening is the job creators don't know what's going to hit them next from government."

Protester Mike Peltier says, "Money that could be used to develop individual skills of people who are unemployed being given away to corporations and what we see with that process is some of the companies are just taking their money and running."

In Virginia, protesters went after Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) for his refusal to back local job creation measures.

They said he voted against backing funding for the St. Elizabeth's redevelopment project, which would bring about 20,000 jobs to the D.C. area.

"It would've been a huge stimulus to the economy," said Valarie Bachelor of Our DC.Three of the protesters were unemployed men from Ward 8, in Southeast D.C. which has notoriously high unemployment, the press release noted.

The three men held chains looped around one of their wrists with a different word attached to each chain. Standing together, it read "Wolf Job Killer."

"I'm here to hold Congressman Wolf accountable," John Lucas said. "He can do something about it, but he's sitting on his rump."

In downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, protesters demanded to be heard at Rep. Steve Chabots' office.

Those taking part in the rally say Congress has done a poor job creating work for those in the middle class. "They campaign on message of creating jobs and bringing America back to glory, yet not seeing that happen. In fact, we see benefits go to top 2 percent of country."

In South Florida, concerned citizens wanted a change in attitude from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

Concerned citizens protested outside congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's office Thursday. The group demanded that Congress get its act together and start focusing on job creation. "If we don't have jobs, we can't play the stock market, and we can't do any investing. We can't put money into our economy: We can't buy clothing, we can't buy food, we can't buy the things that we need in order to survive, so without a job there is no economy," Anna Kleinholz said.

The protesters were eventually allowed into the office to discuss their issues with a district director.

It's still amazing to me that three years after the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, with unemployment stuck above 9% that our leaders in Washington don't have a little urgency behind trying to get people back to work in this country. Instead, many in Congress want to go right back to the same policies of deregulation, cuts in services for the middle class, and tax cuts for the wealthy that produced that lackluster economy of the Bush years. 

Foreign workers stage walkout at Hershey packing plant

A few years ago, I heard a shocking story on This American Life about Indian guest workers in Oklahoma. The John Pickle Company had recruited and hired 52 guest workers from India, many of whom were highly educated, to come to Oklahoma to work in an oil industry parts factory. They were essentially held captive, without passports, and made to work long hours for almost no money and housed in a decrepit "dormitory", isolated by culture from the locals and by distance from support from family. Eventually, the guest workers made contact with members of a local church, who helped organize their escape and eventual financial restitution.Shocking that this kind of thing would happen in our country, I thought, but I managed to put that sickening feeling out of mind with the comforting thought that this was a one-off thing, that one ignorant individual might have thought he was helping people from a developing country by essentially enslaving them, but it slid under the radar only because it was a small-time operator with relatively few employees. But then I came across the news today in the New York Times that hundreds of foreign students from countries like China, the Ukraine, and Nigeria had been recruited to come to the United States on a "cultural exchange" program but were steered into backbreaking work at a Hershey's chocolate packing plant that didn't even compensate them enough to cover their costs of coming to this country.Here's how the program worked. The US State Department offers a J-1 Visa that allows students wanting to experience American culture firsthand to work for two months in the United States and then to travel for a month. It's actually a fairly good program when it's not abused - friends of mine have participated and raved about their experiences.In theory, students can travel to the US and make enough money during their two months to cover the expenses it took for them to come to the States and to see the sights for a month. Then they go back to their home countries and report on how wonderful life is in the United States and how welcoming and friendly the American people are. But in reality, the student workers in Palmyra, PA paid up to $6,000 in application and processing fees and traveled to a small town in Pennsylvania to work in a Hershey packing plant operated by Exel, a local contractor, where they were forced to perform back-breaking physical labor for low wages. Many of the students are training for highly-skilled careers in fields like medicine in their home countries, but working in the factory left them with strained backs and numb hands. The workers were videotaped and told that if they slowed from a constant rapid pace, they would be fired. If they complained, they would be fired. And if they took their complaints to other authorities, they would be fired. (Sensing a pattern?) They couldn't leave the job to work somewhere else, because this was the position listed on their visa. And they couldn't just go home, because they didn't have any money to change their ticket.One student, a medical student from Nigeria, complained that his hands are so stiff from work that he can hardly hold a pen nowadays. It's going to be awfully difficult to progress very far in his studies or career if he can't hold a pen to write, much less wield a scalpel.On top of it all, they were forced to live in company housing and charged exorbitant rent by the terms of their contract, paying far more for housing than their neighbors. This last bit was the last straw. Along with utility costs, the high rent was deducted directly from their $8.35 an hour pay, leaving them with almost no money to save up for traveling, much less pay them back for application fees and plane fare. When they compared their rent with neighbors, it became apparent that Exel was doing everything they could to extract as much as possible from a group of people who as guests in our country had very little power to defend themselves.Obviously, my heart first goes out to the students who went through hell at the packing plant. Instead of participating in a cultural exchange, they've been exploited because of their cultural isolation. Their spirits were broken down with their bodies. They'll go back to their home countries to tell everyone who will listen what horrible and cruel people Americans are, and from their own experiences, they'll definitely have justification for doing so.But the other side of it is that we've had a jobs crisis in this country for several years now. Instead of giving local Pennsylvanians jobs, Exel went after a steady rotation of exploitable foreign students, who were much easier to cow into submission as virtual indentured servants. I'm sure that at least some of the 7.6% of Pennsylvanians who are currently unemployed would love a job, any job, but then Exel wouldn't be able to charge them outrageous rents or work them to the bone without pushback from union organizers. In the end, pushback is what Exel and Hershey got. 200 students who were scheduled to start an afternoon shift yesterday walked out of the plant at 3pm, and other students finishing their early morning shift joined in. Enough workers walked off the job to stop or slow production at the plant. The students marched off the plant grounds chanting "We are the students, the mighty, mighty students!" in English and their own languages, joining local representatives of labor unions at the entrance to the plant. Several were arrested at a sit-in blocking the entrance, including Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania State Federation of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Neal Bisno, president of a Pennsylvania branch of the Service Employees International Union. It's not clear what's going to happen with the students, Exel, or Hershey now. In the case of the John Pickle Company, which I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the guest workers were allowed to return home, and the company ended up having to pay them almost $1.5 million in back wages and damages. But in this case, Hershey claims that it's an Exel managed plant, and Exel claims that the students were hired by a staffing agency, although I'm not sure what that has to do with their exploitative management practices. And the foundation responsible for managing the J-1 Visa program, the Council for Educational Travel, claims that it's trying to investigate the allegations, but that while they "would go out of [their] way to help [the students], it seems like someone is stirring them up out there.” That's a strange way to blame the victim. As for the students themselves, it's unclear whether they will be fired, fined, or whether they will receive some sort of restitution for what they've been through.

Boehner, Bachmann dodge protests in Minnesota

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who is also a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, both fled a golf fundraiser ahead of reports that a major rally for jobs creation would take place outside the country club. Boehner and Bachmann had been scheduled to headline a major $1,000 a plate fundraiser outside of a country club in Orono along with fellow House member Chip Cravaack, but local news reports warned of a major protest that would await them as they arrived.Instead of appearing at the originally scheduled location, Boehner, Bachmann, Cravaack and other Minnesota Republicans hastily moved to a golf club in Wayzata. But the wily Republicans couldn't escape the protestors, who still managed to catch wind of the move and arrived ahead of them. Boehner and Bachmann slunk in through a service entrance, however, avoiding the direct wrath of the rallygoers. The protesters demanded that Congress stop paying so much attention to the wants of the wealthy and start helping the middle class. They said that we should stop sending our money abroad to continue fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and bring that money home to invest in infrastructure and jobs here. And above all else, we shouldn't be cutting Social Security to protect tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. Over 300 people attended the late morning rally.Here's video from local reporters at courtesty of Patch's Jay Corn.)

MSNBC takes note of "Summer of Discontent"

Two summers ago, the media tripped over itself to shine the spotlight on disaffected Republicans angry that Obama was elected president. This summer, thousands of Americans have begun protesting outside lawmakers' offices and district events, clamoring for a real Congressional focus on creating jobs for the first time since March 2009 but without the same national attention that the Tea Party received, although local media outlets have taken note. Now there are signs that some in national media are finally starting to notice. Chris Hayes had an excellent segment on The Last Word about the growing public anger at Congress' lack of attention to jobs in America. (Apologies for the ExxonMobil ad at the start of the video.) From Kenosha to Houston to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he noted the growing numbers of Americans showing up outside closed-door Republican fundraisers and "private" townhalls (many Republicans have limited "public" appearances in the district to fundraisers or events by supportive organizations who charge admission.)

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Deepak Bhargava, president of one of our close partners, the Campaign for Community Change, also made an appearance on the show. Hayes rightfully described him as one of the smartest people working in Washington, D.C. right now (yes, I know that's a low bar to hurdle) and asked him what he saw out there as someone in touch with local organizers in communities around the country:There's something happening in America, and it's not the Tea Party. We're seeing huge turnouts around the country, pushing on the question of jobs and against the radical proposals on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, a huge amount of enthusiasm out there. And I think people are starting to see that we can't depend on our elected leaders to solve our problems for us, and I'm excited because there's a movement in this country coming together around jobs.

Summer of Discontent: Crowd explodes at Rep. Fred Upton

Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), recently named to the "Super Committee" that will decide how to balance the budget, faced an angry crowd in Kalamazoo, Michigan yesterday. A woman interrupted Upton at one point, crying out, "How is that you're going to balance the budget on the backs of working people? If you're going to cut, cut from the top!" The crowd exploded in cries of "Bring back jobs!" "We want jobs!"Upton responded with a long story about how he set up a forum that got some extra local production for parts for police vehicles, but didn't really address the woman's question. Upton later stated that he wanted to preserve current benefits for current Medicare retirees, but said basically that it was unavoidable that Medicare would have to be "addressed" in budget talks. Although he refused to answer questions shouted from the crowd whether he would cut Medicare, he didn't really have to. He spoke a lot louder with his vote in April for the Ryan budget, which would have voucherized and cut Medicare had the Senate not blocked it.