When the City of Detroit announced plans to file for bankruptcy, we started hearing a lot of right-wing propaganda about how worker pensions must be cut.
The right-wing obsession with denying people their earned retirement benefits has been a decades-long attack on hard-working Americans. As one special interest group puts it, "Government unions have achieved lavish pay and retirement benefits for their members."
This is the story of Christopher:
"My wife, Josephine, and I are retired now but we both worked very hard for many years in Detroit. I helped with the development and improvements of the city, and my wife worked in the Detroit Public School District for 32 years.
"Our pensions are very important to us. They provide a source of income, as well as a sense of wellbeing. I don't really know what we'll do if that money is taken from us. Everything will change.
"There's all this talk and right-wing propaganda about the 'lavishness' of our pensions. My pension, my wife's pension, and all of our friend's pensions are anything but lavish. Even with our monthly pensions, we still sometimes struggle to make ends meet.
For 35 years I worked hard for this city. I'd come home after a long day with a sense of pride and accomplishment because I knew I worked hard. The pension serves as a reminder of that. It reminds me of my service to Detroit, and lets me know I'm appreciated by my city.
"Josephine and I have lived in Detroit all our lives. We love this city. But now, the people who ran Detroit into the ground are threatening to take away the pensions we earned, and worked so hard to get. They're threatening our livelihoods because of mistakes they made. None of it is fair.
"If my pension is cut, those feelings of accomplishment, pride, and respect will be too. You see, this about more than just the money. Slashing my pension would be like a giant slap to the face, just extremely disrespectful."
This is about all of us. What happens in Detroit could happen next where you live. Sign Progressives United's petition today to show you stand with Detroit workers like Christopher and Josephine.
By Josh Orton, Political Director · August 06, 2013
It's been happening for years in private industry:
A steel company goes bankrupt, its workers lose their pensions, but yet someone still happens to purchase the company's assets and keeps making steel. Or a coal mining company splits into two entities, and one half takes responsibility for all pensions, and then that half deviously declares bankruptcy while the other increases its profits. The attack on the workers' earned benefits continues.
But the declaration by the pro-corporate "emergency manager" appointed to run Detroit is the most brazen attempt yet to cheat hardworking American workers out of their pensions.
If Michigan's pro-corporate governor and unelected manager succeed, pro-corporate officials in towns and cities throughout the country are much more likely to try something similar. All eyes are on Detroit.
Detroit used to be an important symbol of the prosperity hardworking Americans could achieve, but everyone knows the story of its decline. As good-paying manufacturing jobs went overseas, more of the nation's wealth made its way into the hands of financial services titans, and the rest of us lost.
But one of the other great symbols of prosperity from that time was the defined benefit pension plan. Unlike 401(k) plans, which put a worker's retirement at the mercy of the market and fuel fat management fees for Wall Street, defined benefit plans guarantee a steady income in retirement.
At least, until some board members or a group of wealthy taxpayers decides they would rather have that money for themselves.
But Detroit's firefighters, police, teachers, nurses, and others agreed to long hours, weekend work, and even lower wages in exchange for the promise of a guaranteed retirement. And they held up their end of the deal.
We can't let global financial interests destroy hardworking Americans' pensions, and the dominoes could start falling after Detroit's bankruptcy. Progressives must stand with workers there.
After more than 33,000 members of Progressives United joined together to shine a bright light on the failures of the Federal Elections Commission, we joined our fellow activists in Washington, D.C. to hand-deliver our feedback.
Here at Progressives United, we take activism seriously. In all of our actions, our power comes from our members, and there are plenty of ways we can work together to keep our country and our democracy in the hands of the people.
A big thanks to all of those who took action to highlight the FEC's failures -- and thanks in advance for all the activism to come.
Watch our video here, and leave a comment below telling us how you think Progressives United should continue our work to take on corporate special interests:
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · April 05, 2013
Not every law needs to be changed. Some just need to be enforced.
And there's one dysfunctional agency at the center of all the clean elections laws that could be helping but isn't: the Federal Election Commission.
For all the damage caused by the Supreme Court's lawless Citizens United decision and Congress's refusal to stop corrupting corporate money, the FEC has compounded the problem by failing to enforce the key election laws that still remain.
The FEC has been a fatally flawed and feckless body from its inception in the wake of the Watergate scandal. FEC commissioners have routinely ignored obvious statutes and reversed commonsense anti-corruption measures. The FEC has flown almost entirely under the radar as it issued decision after decision that creates new ways of selling our government to the highest bidder.
The commission is now asking for public comments on its effectiveness. And we have a simple one: "You're doing a terrible job."
The FEC is an entirely dysfunctional body, but that's not entirely its fault: It was set up to be that way, with three Democratic commissioners and three Republican commissioners predictably producing tie votes that shield their political patrons from inconvenient enforcement actions, and leave election laws overly vague. The only thing they seem to agree on is creating loopholes to the laws Congress passed:
They decimated rules that forbade candidates from coordinating with big-money super PACs, essentially paving the way for politicians to solicit massive checks from mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson.
They helped give CEOs protection in intimidating their employees to vote a certain way. And in the 1990s, they created a huge loophole that allowed unlimited corporate contributions to political parties, known as "soft money," that let enormous corporate influence dominate major policy decisions for years in Washington.
While the McCain-Feingold law closed the "soft money" loophole in 2002, the FEC has failed to act on the clear intent of that law, as it certainly could, to address abuses that have arisen in the wake of Citizens United. Instead, the FEC remains as useless -- and dangerous -- as ever. Now they're asking what we think of them; it's time we told them.
Make no mistake. The FEC cannot be reformed from the inside. It will take Congress acting to replace it with an agency that works. But exposing the FEC's failures for the world to see is the key first step.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · February 27, 2013
By now, you've probably heard about Organizing for Action, the newest incarnation of the Obama campaign operation. Now we hear news that the entity, organized as a 501(c)(4) non-profit, will fund itself from top down. According to The New York Times:
In private meetings and phone calls, Mr. Obama’s aides have made clear that the new organization will rely heavily on a small number of deep-pocketed donors, not unlike the "super PACs" whose influence on political campaigns Mr. Obama once deplored.
At least half of the group's budget will come from a select group of donors who will each contribute or raise $500,000 or more, according to donors and strategists involved in the effort.
Some say there's no such thing as a free lunch; according to reporting done by the Times, apparently there's no such thing as a free $500,000 contribution either:
Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama's group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama's top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships.
When asked about the access up for sale, Press Secretary Jay Carney basically ignored the question:
And while Carney tries to frame OFA as an “independent organization,” he neglects to mention that its staff reportedly manages the President’s voice online through sites like Facebook and Twitter.
It's embarrassing that the largest grassroots organization in history would abandon its own beliefs. As a matter of principle, this is just wrong -- Democrats and progressives looking to make change must abandon the corrupting money of Citizens United and fund their activities through grassroots support.
It's also a significant mistake to ignore the lessons gleaned from the remarkable small-dollar fundraising that President Obama and his campaign team championed in 2008 and 2012. By utilizing the best technology and organizing know-how, the campaign was able to channel grassroots activism into a massive wave of small donations that fueled the President's rise to the White House in 2008 and sprung into action again in 2012.
Organizing for Action should embrace its base of grassroots donors as a model of participatory democracy, not shun them in the dash to rake in huge contributions from a wealthy and powerful few. We cannot return to the days of soft money -- when unlimited corporate contributions blurred the differences between the two political parties, and resulted in policies that slammed average working families while rewarding Wall Street.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · February 21, 2013
A concerted, corporate-backed campaign to slash crucial benefits is plowing ahead, but nearly 20 representatives have signed on to a letter that could make the difference.
Co-written by Representatives Alan Grayson (FL) and Mark Takano (CA), the letter's signers pledge to reject any deal that cuts benefits people receive from Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security.
When it comes to securing the benefits hardworking Americans have earned, we've always drawn a clear line.
We know it's fundamentally unfair to balance our nation's deficit on the backs of average working families and the most vulnerable citizens while lobbyists make sure corporate defense contractors escape paying their fair share.
We need to ensure that members of Congress are on the right side of that same clear line.
Several representatives have already taken the courageous -- and necessary -- step of pledging to reject senseless cuts to hard-earned and critically needed benefits. Our representatives needs to hear from us -- as constituents -- about signing onto this strong statement to defend average American families.
The corporate forces have regrouped. But I know that we can succeed: We've done it before, and we must do it again. Please call today.
The full text of the Grayson-Takano letter is below.
Dear President Obama:
We join millions of Americans in applauding your Inaugural Address declaration that "we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."
Democrats have built the most popular government programs in American history — including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — by working with Republicans whenever possible and by defeating Republican opposition whenever necessary. The torch has been passed to today's elected officials, and we must carry it forward boldly.
Voters across the political spectrum oppose cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits, and we must do whatever it takes to protect these vital benefits from cuts.
That's why we write to let you know that we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.
We firmly believe that the best way to reduce our deficit and make our economy grow is to create jobs, and we look forward to a returned focus on this core issue.
We also know that there are common-sense reforms that would reduce health-care costs and save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars without cutting benefits. If Republicans oppose these reforms, and insist on benefits cuts, that proves they are not concerned about the deficit — but instead are trying to tear the social safety net and cause pain for our constituents who can least absorb it.
Finally, Americans agree that there is more that must be done to require the rich and giant corporations to pay their fair share. Indeed, it is their patriotic duty to do so.
As you negotiate with Republicans, you deserve to know that millions of Americans and the below signed Members of Congress stand ready to fight for the principles listed above.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · February 20, 2013
Today, David Axelrod tweeted about ending contribution limits to candidates. Apparently he has bought full into the Republican line of thinking that the system is so broken, we might as well just scrap it entirely. This would turn our system for electing candidates and influencing public policy into a full-blown auction, in which only the highest bidders hold sway.
The answer to fighting too much influence from wealthy interests in politics is not to eliminate all limits on those interests. Getting rid of limits to candidates and parties does nothing but make the sale of our government easier and more direct. Of course, it also helps line the pockets of political consultants.
For too long, we have stood by and watched the President's allies go down the dangerous road of unlimited money, most recently with the new group Organizing for Action. During all of 2012, the Democrats' excuse for engaging super PACs was "we have to win so we can change the rules."
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · January 24, 2013
The self-styled truth-teller PolitiFact rated as "Mostly False" this claim: Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.
And as they have done before, PolitiFact has made a mockery of itself. Social Security is not causing the current budget deficit. In fact, it is formally completely separate from the budget.
Social Security is self-funded, relying on a payroll tax, levied on both employers and workers, that is deposited into the Social Security Trust Fund. Benefits are subsequently paid out of that same fund. For the past three decades, Social Security has actually taken in more than it has spent, deliberately generating surpluses in anticipation of the retirement of the baby boom generation. Those surpluses are invested in U.S. Treasury bonds by the Social Security Trust Fund.
The Social Security actuaries estimate the surpluses built up over the decades, along with the payroll tax revenue coming into Social Security, will be enough to pay 100% of Social Security benefits for decades to come without changing the program at all!
So the deficits in the Social Security program that PolitiFact mentions were expected and are paid from past surpluses. Not one penny comes from outside the trust fund's investments. Implying that Social Security is contributing to the deficit because the Social Security Trust Fund holds U.S. Treasury bonds makes as much sense as suggesting that a family that owns Treasury bonds is contributing to the deficit.
The allegation that Social Security is contributing to our budget deficit has been a familiar claim from those who have sought to end the program as we know it. Regrettably, to a certain extent it has become a widely held belief. In part, that is because media organizations, such as PolitiFact, have been more concerned about their image than they have been with checking the facts. Instead, PolitiFact has twisted facts to fit an alternate reality – a reality that serves the interests of those targeting Social Security and other critical safety net programs. Despite their efforts, PolitiFact’s political gymnastics have only contributed to its own worthlessness.
Predictably, those looking to cut Social Security benefits continue to play PolitiFact to their advantage effectively. For if the American people are told repeatedly that Social Security is a cause of our budget problems, they’ll be less likely to object when the program is gutted or even privatized, all justified in the name of cutting the deficit.
We certainly should take steps to strengthen Social Security, and extend its projected solvency to the traditional 75-year benchmark, and the sooner that is done, the smaller those steps can be. But since it is its own self-funded program, it should be handled, as it has been, separately from the rest of the budget, and out in the open as opposed to being part of any "grand bargain." And in keeping with its current treatment as being fully off-budget, the net savings realized from any changes to Social Security should be put back directly into the program, strengthening it for future generations. Under no circumstances should we slash this critical program because some continue to perpetuate the false claim it’s contributing to our budget deficit. It simply isn’t.
By Cole Leystra, Executive Director · January 18, 2013
Progressives United is glad to hear that President Obama is going to use the unprecedented organization he built to push for policies in the second term, and we hope reforming our broken campaign finance system will be a priority for the new organization. We are also pleased hear that the President plans to disclose all contributions to this new entity; that is the right and necessary thing to do.
There are a few things for which we will be looking with the new organization. First, Organizing for Action should put in place strict rules to make sure they do not engage in any election related activity. This means no candidate support and no TV ads; 501(c)(4)'s are issue advocacy organization and have no business playing in elections. In fact, tightening regulations and closing loopholes that allow 501(c)(4) organizations to operate as dark money political committees should be an area of reform on which Organizing for Action focuses.
We also encourage the new organization not to accept any corporate contributions. Unlimited corporate money should not be allowed to influence our government from either side of the aisle or from the oval office.
Monday, January 21 will be the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s lawless decision in Citizens United, just weeks after the most recent election held in the corporate-dominated environment established by that calamitous decision. It remains to be seen just how corrupting Citizens United was in this recent election, because the ultimate purpose of the oceans of corporate interest money unleashed by that decision and spent on the last election wasn’t merely to elect individual candidates; it was to determine those policies which are approved or rejected by what should be our representative democracy. I have little doubt that the priorities of those wealthy individual and corporate donors will be overwhelmingly represented at all levels of elected government, and will swamp the public’s interest, thanks to the Supreme Court’s monumental mistake.