Tens of thousands took to the streets of New York City on Saturday, January 19, 2019 for the third annual Women’s March organized by the Women’s March Alliance, calling for action on a Woman’s Agenda that encompasses everything from pay parity, paid parental leave and reproductive freedom, to immigration reform, gun violence prevention, climate action, criminal justice reform – in other words, the gamut of social, political, environmental and economic justice. (See also With Cry of ‘Your Voice Your Power,’ Alliance Mounts 3rd Annual Women’s March on NYC Jan. 19)
The marchers got particularly animated outside of
Trump Tower Hotel on Central Park West, chanting “Shame, Shame, Shame,”
extending a finger, and waving placards calling for “Indict, Impeach, Imprison.”
The protesters use their bodies as message boards. Here are highlights:
New York State Governor
Andrew M. Cuomo used his 2019 State of the State Address to delineate a Justice
Agenda that works toward the ideal of full, true justice for all.
In stark contrast to the
federal government’s dysfunction and the self-destructive tactic of using the shutdown
to extort a political prop, the Governor is laying out a blueprint to move
forward, while shielding New Yorkers from Washington’s devastating federal
attacks. It is aimed at strengthening the middle class, safeguards the
environment, improves the health of communities and invests in building an infrastructure
for the 21st century. For the ninth consecutive year, the Budget is balanced
and holds spending growth below two percent.
“In December, in the face of the nation’s biggest social crisis, and with the federal government seeking to undo generations of progress, Governor Cuomo laid out his legislative agenda to enable the Legislature to commence action on these top priorities immediately upon convening.” In this State of the State Address, the Governor called on the Legislature to swiftly and immediately act on these priorities in the first 100 days of session.
“In the face of unprecedented challenges on a national level and a federal government at a complete standstill, New York will deliver on the most productive agenda in our history and build on our record of accomplishments,” Governor Cuomo said. “This is a true Justice Agenda that ensures our neediest schools receive an equitable share of funds, advances historic criminal justice reform, safeguards our health care, protects the rights of women in our state from the federal government, and leads the nation in fight against climate change and contaminants in our environment and our water. While extreme conservatives in Washington govern by division and fuel dysfunction, New York State will raise the beacon of progress and take action to make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Here is a summary of the initiatives (it is long, but New Yorkers should see the detail of the agenda):
The FY 2020 Executive Budget is $175.2 billion on an All Funds basis.
State Operating Funds is $102.0 billion, growth of 1.9%
Health and Education spending grows at 3.6%, Executive Agencies at 0.8%.
Continue the Phase-In of Middle Class Tax Cuts: The Budget supports
the phase-in of the middle class tax cuts. Under these reforms, rates will
continue to drop to 5.5 percent and 6 percent when the cuts are fully phased in
– an up to 20 percent cut in income tax rates for the middle class – and
produce a projected $4.2 billion in annual savings for six million filers by
2025. As the new rates phase in, they will be the State’s lowest middle-class
tax rates in more than 70 years.
Extend the Millionaire’s Tax: To protect the progress that has been
made in enhancing progressivity and ensuring tax fairness for New York’s
middle-class, Governor Cuomo is proposing a five-year extension of the current
tax rate on millionaires. This will preserve an estimated $4.4 billion annually
otherwise unavailable to make vital investments in education and infrastructure
to secure New York’s future economic prosperity.
Make Permanent the Property Tax Cap: Governor Cuomo made a
first-ever property tax cap a hallmark of his first campaign for Governor and a
priority of his administration’s first year. Since the implementation of the
tax cap in 2012, growth has averaged approximately 2 percent and the tax cap
has produced approximately $25 billion in taxpayers’ savings. The Governor
proposes that New York preserve and make permanent the property tax cap, as he
has advocated in the past.
Close the Carried Interest Loophole: Because of an egregious
loophole in federal law, some of the wealthiest people in the country,
including hedge fund managers and private equity investors, are paying lower
tax rates on their income than many middle class families. This “carried
interest” loophole results in a substantial cost to middle-class New
Yorkers, with the State losing about $100 million every year. To ensure that
the wealthiest Americans are paying their fair share, Governor Cuomo will take
a landmark step to close the carried interest loophole under New York State law
and effectively eliminate the benefits of this loophole under the federal tax
Fight for the Full Deductibility of State and Local Taxes: Governor
Cuomo fought the federal tax bill every step of the way while it was under
consideration in Congress. After its passage, New York joined together with
three other states to sue the federal government over this illegal and targeted
assault. The Governor will continue to fight against this law and the threat
that it poses to New York State, and he urges the new Democratic House of
Representations stand together and demand that the SALT deduction is fully
Continue Lawsuit Against Federal Government Challenging Unconstitutional Tax
Law That Targets New York: Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Barbara
D. Underwood filed a lawsuit to protect New York and its taxpayers from
Washington’s drastic curtailment of the SALT deduction. The lawsuit argues that
the new SALT cap was enacted to target New York and similarly situated states,
that it interferes with states’ rights to make their own fiscal decisions, and
that it will disproportionately harm taxpayers in these states. The Governor
and Attorney General Letitia James will continue in their fight to overturn the
law’s unprecedented and unconstitutional limitations on SALT deductibility.
Building 21st Century Infrastructure
Invest an Additional $150 Billion in the Nation’s Largest Infrastructure
Program: Governor Cuomo has made an unprecedented commitment to invest
$150 billion in infrastructure projects over the next five years. Beginning in
FY 2020, these capital projects will rebuild transportation and mass transit
systems, drive economic and community development, create new environmental and
park facilities, and support our sustainable energy future.
Reduce Traffic Congestion in NYC and Fund the MTA: This year, the
Governor will implement congestion pricing to establish a reliable funding
stream to transform the transit system and reduce congestion in Manhattan. By
charging fees for vehicles to move within the most congested area of New York
City and then reinvesting those funds into transit improvements, this plan will
combat gridlock and deliver to New York City’s residents and visitors the
world-class transit system they deserve.
Establish Accountability for the MTA: The MTA is a bureaucracy that
lacks any accountability. The board of 17 members gives no single person a
clear majority of nominees and there are 32 unions representing MTA employees
that exert significant political power over the elected officials who appoint
the board members. To overhaul this bureaucracy and fix the system, the
Governor will work with the Legislature to establish clear authority over the
MTA, while continuing to solve the need for dedicated funding and splitting
capital funding shortfalls between New York City and New York State. Only with
clearly designated authority and adequate funding can the MTA can be overhauled
into the efficient and effective transit system that New Yorkers deserve.
Expand Design-Build and Enact Other Efficiencies to Expedite Construction
Projects: Governor Cuomo’s $100 billion infrastructure program is arguably
the nation’s largest and boldest. Key to the program’s success is the
Governor’s decision to deploy the design-build method on complex projects, saving
taxpayers time and money by making a single contractor responsible for both a
project’s design and its actual construction. To ensure efficiency across State
projects, the Executive Budget includes legislation authorizing the use of
state-of-the-art methods such as construction manager at-risk and construction
manager-build, while expanding design-build to additional agencies.
Continuing New York’s Bottom-Up Economic Development Strategy
Invest $750 million for Round Nine of the Regional Economic Development
Councils: In 2011, Governor Cuomo established 10 Regional Economic
Development Councils (REDCs) to develop long-term regional strategic economic
development plans. Since then, the REDCs have awarded $6.1 billion to more than
7,300 projects. This strategy has resulted in 230,000 new or retained jobs in
New York. The Executive Budget includes core capital and tax-credit funding
that will be combined with a wide range of existing agency programs for a ninth
round of REDC awards totaling $750 million.
Invest in Communities Across the State Through the Fourth Downtown
Revitalization Initiative: The Downtown Revitalization Initiative is
transforming downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities where the next
generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise families.
Participating communities are nominated by the State’s ten REDCs based on the
downtown’s potential for transformation. Through three rounds of awards, each
winning community was awarded $10 million to develop a downtown strategic
investment plan and implement key catalytic projects that advance the
community’s vision for revitalization. The Executive Budget provides $100
million for the Downtown Revitalization Program Round IV.
Ensuring A Quality Education for All
Require Districts to Distribute State Aid in a More Equitable Manner to
Their Neediest Schools: Although the state distributes 70 percent of
its funding to the neediest districts, the districts do not always distribute
funding to their schools in an equitable manner. In fact, some school districts
have schools with significantly higher needs receiving less than the average
school in the district. Governor Cuomo proposes to require that these school
districts devote a portion of their 2019-20 school aid to increase the
per-pupil allocation in those high-need schools. This increase in allocation
will help ensure that funding intended to help improve educational outcomes for
the neediest students reaches those students.
$1 Billion Education Aid Increase: State support for school
districts will have increased by $8.1 billion (42 percent) since FY 2012. Over
70 percent of this year’s increase goes to high-need school districts.
Foundation Aid is increased by $338 million.
Expand Universal Pre-Kindergarten: The Budget includes an
additional $15 million investment in pre-kindergarten to expand high-quality
half-day and full-day prekindergarten instruction for three- and four-year-old
children in high-need school districts.
Recruit 250 New Teachers in Shortage Areas through the We Teach NY
Program: With the goals of diversifying and strengthening the teacher
workforce pipeline, Governor Cuomo proposes to invest $3 million in the We
Teach NY program, which will strategically recruit 250 new teachers to fill
identified needed positions in New York classrooms in 2024.
Expand Master Teacher to High Poverty Schools to Increase Access to Advanced
Courses: In 2013, Governor Cuomo launched the New York State Master
Teacher Program to strengthen our nation’s STEM education, giving selected
educators an annual $15,000 stipend for four years, professional development
opportunities and a platform to foster a supportive environment for the next
generation of STEM teachers. In order to recruit and retain outstanding
educators in the highest poverty schools, the Executive Budget will provide
$1.5 million to support 100 new Master Teachers who teach in high-poverty
schools with high rates of teacher turnover or high rates of relatively
Protect Student Loan Borrowers: There are approximately 2.8 million
student loan borrowers in New York that have tens of billions of dollars in
outstanding student loan debt, which is serviced by about 30 student loan
servicers. The Governor will advance sweeping protections for student loan
borrowers by requiring that companies servicing student loans held by New
Yorkers obtain a state license and meet standards consistent with the laws and
regulations governing other significant lending products such as mortgages;
banning upfront fees; requiring fair contracts and clear and conspicuous
disclosures to borrowers; and providing penalties for failing to comply with
Creating Economic Opportunity for Every New Yorker
Launch the $175 Million Workforce Initiative: Governor Cuomo will launch a new Consolidated Funding Application for workforce investments that will support strategic regional efforts that meet businesses’ short-term workforce needs, improve regional talent pipelines, expand apprenticeships, and address the long-term needs of growing industries — with a particular focus on emerging fields with growing demand for jobs like clean energy, health technology, and computer science. These funds will also support efforts to improve the economic security of women, youth, and other populations that face significant barriers to career advancement.
Expand Employer-Driven Training Opportunities by Enhancing the Employee Training Incentive Program: Governor Cuomo proposes to expand the Employee Training Incentive Program to provide more training options to more industries by enabling employers with dedicated training shops to draw on in-house expertise in delivering approved training, and by extending ETIP tax credits to internship opportunities in additional high-tech industries.
Protect Workers from Union-Busting Activity by Codifying EO 183 into Law and Expanding its Protections to Local Governments: New York State has a long and distinguished history of standing by union workers. This year, Governor Cuomo will continue to advance his support for unions by introducing legislation that not only codifies EO 183 into law, but expands its protections to local governments to ensure that more union workers are protected.
Increase Criminal Penalties for Wage Theft: Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to increase criminal penalties for employers who knowingly or intentionally commit wage theft violations to more closely align with other forms of theft.
Ensuring Access to Affordable Housing
Enact Historic Legislation to Strengthen Rent Regulation: This year, the Governor proposes aggressive rent regulation reforms, including ending vacancy decontrol, repealing preferential rent, and limiting building and apartment improvement charges. These changes will preserve the rent regulated housing stock, strengthen tenants’ rights to affordable housing, and ensure New Yorkers safe, quality affordable housing.
Limit Security Deposits to Reduce Housing Barriers: Governor Cuomo will propose legislation to limit security deposits to a maximum of one month’s rent across New York State, making New York’s security deposit limits among the strongest in the nation This law will serve to ensure that burdensome security deposits will no longer serve as a barrier to entry for anyone trying to find a new place to live.
Help Families Build Credit and Holistically Evaluate Credit Scores: In New York State, most landlords conduct background credit checks on potential tenants, which often leads to rejecting applicants with low credit scores or an insufficient credit history. To ensure all New Yorkers have a fair shot of accessing affordable, quality housing, Governor Cuomo will issue regulations prohibiting state-funded housing operators from automatically turning away applicants with poor credit or histories of bankruptcy. Instead, the State will require that all potential tenants and homeowners be holistically evaluated to determine the circumstances behind their credit history and their ability to pay rent on a forward-looking basis.
Enact Source of Income
Protections to Support Fair Housing for All: In certain parts of New York State, landlords
can reject applicants based on their lawful source of income,
disproportionately impacting households that rely on non-wage income or income
assistance and those who use vouchers to obtain housing for their families. The
Governor will work with the legislature to amend the New York State Human
Rights Law to prohibit discrimination based on lawful source of income statewide
to ensure that such lawful income is not a blanket barrier to housing, reducing
financial instability for New York’s most economically vulnerable individuals.
Support ESPRI Communities and Establish ESPRI Representation on REDC
Workforce Development Committees: In 2016, Governor Cuomo
created the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) to combat poverty
and reduce inequality. ESPRI is an important component of the Governor’s
anti-poverty agenda, and this year Governor Cuomo proposes to build on the
success of these State and local partnerships to address poverty, supporting
more community-based efforts through continued funding of ESPRI. Governor Cuomo
will also continue to support efforts by the REDCs and the economic development
community to broaden and deepen their commitments to local anti-poverty efforts
and he will ensure an ESPRI representative is included on each region’s
Workforce Development Committee and involved in the review process for the
Governor’s new Workforce Development Initiative.
Reduce Hunger and Food Insecurity: Building on historic investments
to combat food insecurity, Governor Cuomo will establish a goal to reduce
household food insecurity in New York State by 10 percent by 2024. In order to
achieve this goal, Governor Cuomo is directing the following actions: create a
food and anti-hunger policy coordinator; simplify access to SNAP for older and
disabled adults; enhanced resources and referrals in clinical settings;
participate in SNAP online purchasing pilot; and expand food access in Central
Supporting the Rural and Agricultural Economy
Continue the Revitalization of the Great New York State Fairgrounds: The
State Fair drives $100 million a year in economic activity in Central New York
and thousands of jobs. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State has
invested more than $120 million dollars in two phases over the last three years
to remake the New York State Fairgrounds. To continue the transformation of the
State Fairgrounds, the State will make additional renovations and upgrades to
enhance user experience. The Governor’s commitment continues to make the
fairgrounds a year-round destination.
Fund Key Programs to Support New York’s Farmers: The agricultural
industry is full of variability and uncertainty. As a reflection of the
Governor’s resolve to support New York’s farmers, this year’s Executive Budget
will continue funding the specialized technical assistance, industry promotion,
and research investments statewide to reduce farms’ exposure to economic and
Advancing Criminal Justice for All
Bail and Pretrial Detention Reform: Governor Cuomo is advancing
legislation that will end cash bail once and for all, significantly reduce the
number of people held in jail pretrial, and ensure due process for anyone
awaiting trial behind bars. This series of reforms will include a mandate that
police issue appearance tickets instead of making arrests in low-level cases,
eliminate money as a means of determining freedom, and institute a new
procedure whereby a district attorney can move for a hearing to determine
whether eligible defendants may be held in jail pretrial, for which the judge
must find reasonable cause to believe the individual is a danger to themselves
Improve Transparency in the Discovery Process: As only one of ten states
where prosecutors can withhold basic evidence until the day a trial begins,
Governor Cuomo’s plan will bring New York’s discovery process into the 21st
century by requiring both prosecutors and defendants to share all information
in their possession well in advance of trial. Defendants will also be
allowed the opportunity to review whatever evidence is in the prosecution’s
possession prior to pleading guilty to a crime.
Ensure the Right to a Speedy Trial: Governor Cuomo will introduce
legislation that ensures criminal cases no longer drag on without
accountability. With this proposal, Governor Cuomo will guarantee that all
necessary discovery procedures are completed quickly, and that no New Yorker is
unduly held in custody as they await their day in court.
Abolish the Death Penalty: Although the New York Court of Appeals ruled
the death penalty unconstitutional in 2004, capital punishment was never fully
repealed in statute. To address this disparity, Governor Cuomo will
introduce legislation to permanently strike capital punishment from the law to
guarantee that this draconian punishment is never again practiced in the State
of New York.
Transform the Use of Solitary Confinement in State Prisons: New
York has dramatically reformed and reduced the use of solitary confinement for
people who engage in misconduct within state prisons. The Governor is directing
DOCCS to accelerate the momentum of solitary confinement reform by limiting the
length of time spent in separation, building dedicated housing units for
rehabilitation and integration following a disciplinary sanction, and expanding
therapeutic programming to reinforce positive and social behavior.
Establish Compassionate Release: The Governor will establish a
process of compassionate release for incarcerated individuals over the age of
55 who have incapacitating medical conditions exacerbated by their age.
Enact a Comprehensive Re-entry Package to Improve Outcomes for Formerly
Incarcerated Individuals: Governor Cuomo will enact a four-point plan
to ease the burdens placed on individuals who have paid their debt to society
and provide them with the opportunities they need to succeed.
Legalizing Adult Use Cannabis
In January 2018, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Health to launch a
multi-agency study to review the potential impact of regulated cannabis in New
York. The study, issued last July, concluded that the positive impact of a
regulated cannabis program in New York State outweighs the potential negative
aspects. Building on extensive outreach and research, Governor Cuomo is
proposing the establishment of a regulated cannabis program for adults 21 and
over in the FY 2020 budget that protects public health, provides consumer
protection, ensures public safety, addresses social justice concerns, and
invests tax revenue. Specifically, the program will:
Reduce impacts of criminalization affecting communities
Automatically seal certain cannabis-related criminal
Implement quality control and consumer protections to
safeguard public health.
Counties and large cities can opt out.
Restrict access to anyone under 21.
Generate approximately $300 million in tax revenue and
Advancing Reproductive Justice and Women’s Equality
Pass the Reproductive Health Act and Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act and Enshrine Roe v. Wade into the New York State Constitution: Governor Cuomo will work with the legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act within the first 30 days of the 2019 Legislative Session, codifying the principles of Roe v. Wade into State law. This law will ensure the right of people to make personal health care decisions to protect their health, in addition to their life, and ensure that health care professionals can provide these crucial services without fear of criminal penalty. Upon passage of the RHA, the Governor will advance a concurrent resolution to enshrine the principles of Roe v Wade into the New York State Constitution. Additionally, Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to codify affordable access to contraception, including emergency contraception, into New York State law, by passing the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act.
Improve Access to In-Vitro Fertilization and Fertility Preservation Coverage: This year, Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to expand access to coverage for IVF, as well as medically-necessary fertility preservation services. This legislation will specifically mandate that large group insurance providers cover IVF and will also require large, small, and individual group insurance providers to cover egg-freezing services for women with certain health conditions, including those undergoing cancer treatment.
Reduce Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Racial Disparities: Based on recommendations from the Maternal Mortality Taskforce established by Governor Cuomo in 2018, the Governor will advance a series of policies to reduce maternal mortality and racial disparities in New York State, including creating an education and training program to reduce implicit racial bias in health care institutions statewide, expand Community Health Worker programs, enacting legislation to create a statewide Maternal Mortality Review Board, creating a data warehouse to provide near real-time information on maternal mortality and morbidity and to inform targeted quality initiatives, and convening an Expert Workgroup on Postpartum Care to develop recommendations targeting the critical time immediately after birth.
Pass the Equal Rights Amendment: Governor Cuomo will push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to add sex as a protected class to Section 11 of Article 1 of the New York State Constitution. With this change, Section 11 of Article 1 of the New York State Constitution will read: No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of this State or any subdivision thereof. No person shall, because of race, color, sex, creed or religion, be subjected to any discrimination in his or her civil rights by any other person or by any firm, corporation or institution, or by the State or any agency or subdivision of the state.
Pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act: Governor Cuomo will advance the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which will build on Jenna’s Law to include more meaningful sentence reductions and encompass crimes committed not only against, but also at the behest of, abusers. The Act will also permit a small population of currently incarcerated survivors to apply for re-sentencing and earlier release due to their prior victimization.
Eliminate the Statute of Limitations for Rape: While New York removed the statute of limitations for Rape in the First Degree, a five-year statute of limitations remains for Rape in the Second Degree and Rape in the Third Degree. Therefore, in 2019 Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to remove the statute of limitations for Rape in the Second Degree and Third Degree.
Increase Protections Against Harassment in the Workplace: Building on the nation’s most comprehensive sexual harassment package signed into law by Governor Cuomo in 2018, Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to lower the high bar set for employees to hold employers accountable under the New York Human Rights Law for sexual harassment, protect employees’ rights to pursue complaints, and ensure workers know their rights, by requiring all employers to conspicuously post a sexual harassment educational poster in their workplace.
Modernize New York’s Pay Equity Law: Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has fought aggressively to close the gender pay gap in New York. This year, Governor Cuomo will build upon that effort by championing the passage of a salary history ban. In addition, the Governor will advance legislation to expand the definition of “equal pay for equal work” to require equal pay on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, and other protected characteristics, and expand the requirement that equal pay be provided for all substantially similar work, adding flexibility in recognition of the complexity of the issue.
If You Can See It, You Can Be It 2019—Girls in Government: Governor Cuomo will create an opportunity for girls to learn about the impact they can have through politics through the new Girls in Government initiative, a non-partisan program to encourage girls in grades 8 through 12 to get involved in government and public policy. The program will introduce girls to the machinery of advocacy and public policy and teach young girls about public affairs and issues that matter to them personally and in their community. They will witness first-hand the inner workings of state government and meet with elected officials and senior staff.
Creating a Safer New York
Establish Extreme Risk Protection Orders to Save Lives: Governor Cuomo will continue to champion the Red Flag Bill, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Bill, which would prevent individuals determined by a court to have the potential to cause themselves or others serious harm from purchasing, possessing, or attempting to purchase or possess any type of firearm, including handguns, rifles, or shotguns. This legislation builds on New York’s strongest-in-the-nation gun laws, and, if passed, would make New York the first state to empower its teachers and school administrators to prevent school shootings by pursuing court intervention.
Extend the Background Check Waiting Period: Governor Cuomo continues to support legislation to establish a 10-day waiting period for individuals who are not immediately approved to purchase a firearm through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Ban Bump Stocks: Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to close existing statutory loopholes to prohibit ownership or sale of a bump stock. As evidenced by the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, bump stocks can be equipped to semi-automatic weapons to simulate machine gun fire with deadly consequences. Bump stocks serve no legitimate purposes for hunters or sportsmen and only cause unpredictable and accelerated gun fire, and there is no reason to allow for their continued sale in New York State.
Pass the Child Victims Act: Having advanced the Child Victims Act, Governor Cuomo is fighting to enact the bill and provide survivors with a long-overdue path to justice. This legislation will increase the length of time during which a child sex abuser may be held criminally accountable, allow abuse victims to commence a civil lawsuit at any time until they reach age 50, and ensure that each and every survivor has an opportunity to seek justice by creating a one-year window for victims whose claims have previously been time-barred to bring suit.
Safety Reforms for Large Passenger Vehicles: The horrific tragedies involving modified stretched
limousines in Schoharie County in 2018 and Suffolk County in 2015 filled every
New Yorker with a deep sense of empathy and sorrow for the victims and their
loved ones. Governor Cuomo proposes a number of statutory reforms to both
protect passengers and hold those accountable who seek to flout the law, including
an outright ban on the registration of remanufactured limousines, prohibiting
their operation in New York State.
Authorize Speed Cameras: In order to reinstate the bill signed into law
by Governor Cuomo in 2013 authorizing the City of New York to develop a system
to advance school zone highway safety utilizing camera technology to record and
enforce speeding violations, the Governor will put forward a proposal to
reinstate and expand the speed camera program in New York City.
Enacting the Democracy Agenda
Allow Universal Absentee Voting: Governor Cuomo will push to amend the
constitution to make absentee ballots available to any eligible voter, no
matter their reason for wanting one.
Enact Statewide Early Voting: This proposal would combine early voting
with electronic poll books, making make it easier for poll workers to keep
track of voting records and verify voter identity and registration
Permit Same-Day Registration: Governor Cuomo is proposing amending the
constitution to eliminate this outdated but formidable barrier to the ballot
Automatic Registration: Today New Yorkers are given the opportunity
to register to vote when interacting with State agencies and they must
affirmatively ask to be registered. The budget will include a proposal to
reverse that process and register eligible New Yorkers to vote unless they
affirmatively ask not to be registered. Automatic voter registration will not
only boost voter registration and turnout in this state, it will also strengthen
our democratic process.
Make It Easier to Register to Vote: In order to ensure voter
registration is as simple as possible, the Governor is proposing that all
automatic voter registration opportunities be available online, and that New
Yorkers are able to apply to register to vote on the State Board of Elections
website if they choose to do so.
Make Election Day a Holiday: An inability to take off of work
should never be a barrier to voting. For this reason, Governor Cuomo will
advance legislation to ensure that every worker in New York State receives, as
of right, paid time off to vote on Election Day.
Eliminate Restrictions on Voting Before Noon in Upstate Primaries:
Governor Cuomo will fix unequal ballot access across the state by ensuring that
voting hours are extended for primary elections upstate to match those voting
hours across the rest of the state.
Fight to Ensure that All New Yorkers Are Counted in the 2020 Census: In
2019, Governor Cuomo will launch a comprehensive campaign to protect the
integrity of the 2020 Census and to ensure that every New Yorker is counted.
Enacting Ethics Reform
Adopt Campaign Finance Reform: Governor Cuomo will advance a
comprehensive package of campaign finance reform legislation to combat the
unprecedented influence of big money in politics and empower the voices of all
Public Financing of Elections: There is no incentive in today’s campaign finance
system for candidates to focus on ordinary donors. Large donors provide
large donations which drown out the voices of ordinary people. Public
campaign financing is the remedy to this problem. By enacting a 6:1 public
financing matching ratio for small donations, candidates will be
incentivized to focus on small donors.
Lowering Campaign Contribution Limits: Governor Cuomo is proposing lowering contribution
limits for all candidates. By implementing these reforms, and creating a
strong public financing system, New York will dramatically reduce the
influence of money in politics and return to a government by the people
and for the people.
Ban Corporate Contributions and Fully Close the LLC
Loophole: Ever since the Citizens United
decision in 2010, corporate money has overtaken our elections system. It
is time for New York State to finally say enough is enough. Governor Cuomo
will fix this problem once and for all by banning all corporate and LLC
contributions. It is time to restore the power to the people, and take it
out of the hands of dark money and special interest donors.
Strengthen Disclosure Laws that Expose Dark Money inPolitics : In June 2016, Governor
Cuomo advanced ethics reform legislation to address the impact of Citizens
United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). The Governor
cautioned about the increase of dark money in politics and promised to
“strengthen disclosure requirements and mandate that groups report
the identity of anyone exerting control over them.” In August 2016,
the Governor signed into law New York Executive Law § 172, which requires
disclosures of political relationships and behaviors widely recognized to
be influential but which operate in the shadows. Now, with the lessons of
the 2018 election in hand, the Governor proposes strengthening this law in
a variety of ways to assure all New Yorkers have critical information
about who is actually speaking to them. Further, the Governor is seeking
to streamline the reporting process for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4)
organizations, including by providing a mechanism for organizations to
apply for a statutory exemption before the start of a reporting period.
Disclosures by Local Elected Officials: This proposal will require these local elected officials to
submit basic financial disclosure information to JCOPE, just like their state
counterparts, so that the people of New York State can have the information
they need about the people they choose to represent them at all levels of
Build a Dynamic, User-Friendly Database of Economic Development Projects: In
an effort to increase transparency and modernize the information available on
State economic development efforts, the Governor is directing Empire State
Development (ESD) to build and host a searchable online database that will give
the public more current and relevant information on projects that receive ESD
assistance. When deployed, the new database will provide the public with more
recent information on projects and combine the data from many static,
program-specific reports into one dynamic, user-friendly website.
Ensuring Immigrant Rights
Pass the Jose Peralta DREAM Act: Governor Cuomo will pass the Senator
Jose R. Peralta DREAM Act to finally open the doors of higher education to
thousands of New Yorkers. The Senator Jose R. Peralta DREAM Act will give
undocumented New York students, who are deserving of the same advantages given
to their citizen peers, access to the Tuition Assistance Program, as well as
state administered scholarships.
Codify Executive Order Prohibiting State Agencies from Inquiring About
Immigration Status: In 2017, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 170,
prohibiting State agencies and officers from inquiring about or disclosing an
individual’s immigration status unless required by law or necessary to
determine eligibility for a benefit or service. Building upon further
amendments to the Executive Order, Governor Cuomo proposes codifying the
protection of the amended EO 170 into law.
Protecting LGBTQ Rights
Pass the Gender Identity and Expression Non-Discrimination Act:Governor
Cuomo supports the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act
(GENDA), solidifying protections against discrimination, harassment, and hate
crimes against people on the basis of gender identity.
Banning Conversion Therapy: Governor Cuomo supports legislation to
expand the definition of professional misconduct for professions licensed under
the education law to include engaging in, advertising for, or allowing someone
under one’s direction or oversight to engage in conversion therapy with a
patient under the age of eighteen years.
Ban the “Gay Panic” Defense: Governor Cuomo will again
push to close the loophole in New York State by passing legislation to ban gay
and trans panic defenses.
Make Surrogacy Legal in New York State: New York State law
presently bans the practice of gestational surrogacy, and creates destabilizing
uncertainty about who the legal parents are when a child is conceived via other
reproductive technology like artificial insemination or egg donation. The
Governor is proposing legislation to lift the ban on surrogacy contracts to
permit gestational carrier agreements.
Serving Our Veterans
Support for Transgender Troops: New York will stand with all
veterans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This year, all
New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs staff will receive LGBTQ cultural
competency training to help understand how to best serve LGBTQ veterans. DVA
will also work with LGBTQ-focused organizations to make sure that each and
every LGBTQ veteran receives individualized assistance in a safe and supportive
environment, including by helping LGBTQ veterans upgrade their service
discharges so that these brave veterans will be able to access healthcare,
education, financial compensation, and other benefits they have earned.
JUSTICE FOR ALL NEW YORKERS
Protecting Quality, Affordable Health Care
Codify Health Care Protections and Coverage Guarantees for New
Yorkers: In light of the continued federal attacks on the ACA,
Governor Cuomo believes it is essential that New York codify key ACA
provisions, including the state’s health insurance marketplace, as well as
enhanced State regulatory protections into State law. This is critical to
stabilizing the health insurance market and inoculating New York from any
further federal attacks on the health care system.
Take Action to Achieve Universal Access to Health Care: Governor
Cuomo is establishing a Commission on universal health care to be supported by
Department of Health and Department of Financial Services, and comprised of
health policy and insurance experts to develop options for achieving universal
access to high-quality, affordable health care in New York. This review process
will consider all options for expanding access to care, including strengthening
New York’s commercial insurance market, expanding programs to include
populations that are currently ineligible or cannot afford coverage, as well as
innovative reimbursement models to improve efficiency and generate savings to
support expanded coverage.
Fighting to End the Opioid Epidemic
Protect New Yorkers from Predatory Practices: Governor Cuomo will
advance legislation to 1) require that out-of-state facilities be licensed in
their home state and accredited by a nationally recognized organization, and 2)
prevent predatory out-of-state providers from targeting justice involved
individuals by working with courts to immediately connect individuals to
in-state treatment programs and by advancing legislation to protect in-state
court ordered treatment. He will also direct OASAS to implement regulations
that require out-of-state marketers comply with OASAS requirements when
marketing in New York State. With these actions, New York will implement the
strongest practices in the nation to protect its residents, forcing predatory
treatment programs to look elsewhere to fill their facility quotas.
Expand Access to Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is an important
advance in Medication Assisted Treatment, which, like methadone and injectable
naltrexone, is used in combination with counseling as appropriate to help
people reach and sustain recovery from Opioid Use Disorder. To expand use of
buprenorphine, Governor Cuomo will direct the Department of Health to require
all hospitals statewide to develop protocols for their Emergency Departments to
address Opioid Use Disorder based on the standard of care for treatment or
referral for treatment.
Expand Access to Medication Assisted Treatment in Criminal Justice Settings: To
expand access to treatment in prisons and jails, Governor Cuomo has directed
OASAS to distribute over $4 million to support addiction treatment services in
over 50 facilities. Additionally, Governor Cuomo will expand access to
Medication Assisted Treatment by providing $1.2 million to support the
establishment of up to three new MAT programs in State prisons.
Increase Access to Naloxone: Governor Cuomo will direct DOH to
advance legislation that expands Good Samaritan laws to apply to workers in
restaurants, bars, and other retail establishments. In addition, Governor Cuomo
will increase access to naloxone at SUNY and CUNY by ensuring that naloxone is
provided as part of every dorm first aid kit, or available for the Resident
Assistant on duty every night in every SUNY and CUNY dorm.
Launch a Comprehensive Substance Use Prevention Blueprint for Schools: At
Governor Cuomo’s direction, New York State will launch a statewide
collaborative to streamline all prevention resources and develop best
practices, standards, and metrics for substance use prevention into a focused
“Prevention Blueprint” that will assist schools to follow a
comprehensive, evidence-based and data-driven approach to prevention. OASAS
shall work in collaboration with the State Education Department, Department of
Health and the Office of Mental Health to develop the Prevention Blueprint for
use in the 2020-21 school year.
Creating Healthy Communities
Protect New Yorkers from Unknown Exposure to Toxic Chemicals: Governor
Cuomo will introduce new legislation authorizing the Department of
Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health and the Department of
State to develop regulations establishing an on-package labeling requirement
for designated products, indicating the presence of potentially hazardous
chemicals, developing a list of the more than 1,000 carcinogens and other
chemicals that will trigger labeling, and identifying the types of consumer
products that will be subject to the new regime. DEC and DOH will be further
empowered to require manufacturers to disclose the chemical contents of
consumer products in sold or distributed in New York State and explore possible
additional measures to protect consumers.
Control Health Threats from Tobacco: Governor Cuomo is proposing
comprehensive legislation to combat the rising use of tobacco products. This
Raising the Minimum Sales Age for Tobacco and
Electronic Cigarette Products from 18 to 21: Most underage youth obtain tobacco and vapor
products from friends who are over 18 and can legally purchase products.
Raising the minimum age will remove sources of tobacco from high schools.
Ending the Sale of Tobacco and Electronic Cigarette
Products in Pharmacies: Health
care related entities should not be in the business of selling tobacco,
the leading cause of preventable death in New York State. Ending the sale
of tobacco and electronic cigarette products in pharmacies will reduce the
availability, visibility, and social acceptability of tobacco use,
especially to youth.
Clarify the Department of Health’s Authority to Ban the
Sale of Certain Flavored E-Cigarette Liquids: Flavored combustible cigarettes, except menthol, were
banned by the FDA in 2009 to reduce youth smoking as they were frequently
used as a starter product. Most e-cigarette users said their first
e-cigarette was flavored. Flavors, such as sweet tart, toffee, and bubble
gum, make e-cigarettes more attractive and make e-cigarettes more attractive
to youth. Legislation is being introduced to provide the Department of
Health the authority to ban the sale of flavored liquids that target youth
use of e-cigarettes.
Restricting Available Discounts Provided by Tobacco and
Electronic Cigarette Manufacturers and Retailers: New York has the highest cigarette tax in the
nation, but manufacturers and retailers have developed tactics to reduce
prices, such as “buy one, get one free” discounts. These tactics
directly target price-sensitive consumers, including youth. Restricting
discounts on tobacco and vapor products will strengthen the impact of New
York’s tax on tobacco and disincentivize tobacco use.
Introduce a Tax on E-Cigarettes: Tobacco use is reduced or prevented when the price of
tobacco products is high. Youth are particularly sensitive to price
increases on tobacco products. New York State has one of the highest taxes
on combustible cigarettes and one of the lowest youth smoking rates in the
country. The same rationale is expected to apply to taxation and youth use
of electronic cigarettes and e-liquids.
Require E-Cigarettes to Be Sold Only Through Licensed
Retailers: Currently the sale of
e-cigarettes is almost entirely unregulated. Restricting the sale to
licensed retailers will allow the current enforcement infrastructure to
ensure that minors do not purchase tobacco products.
Invest in Community-Based Supports for Aging New Yorkers: Governor Cuomo proposes investing $15 million in community-based supports for aging New Yorkers. This needed targeted investment in NYSOFA’s programs and services will help serve more older adults and will help them maintain their autonomy, support family and friends in their caregiving roles, and delay future Medicaid costs. Working with the Department of Health, NYSOFA will develop specific metrics to evaluate the success of this investment.
Create the Family First Transition Fund: The state will leverage the investment of private foundation funding to create a Family First Transition fund that will provide resources to local departments of social services and foster care agencies to have the resources needed to prepare for the implementation of the Family First federal legislation. This investment will allow New York State to adequately prepare for the implementation of Family First and will position New York to continue to prioritize the needs of its most vulnerable children and families and ensure the local departments of social services are fully equipped to meet those needs while maintaining compliance with important federal benchmarks.
Continuing New York’s Environmental Leadership
Launching the Green New Deal: Amidst the Trump Administration’s assault on the environment and in order to continue New York’s progress in the fight against climate change, Governor Cuomo is announcing New York’s Green New Deal, a nation-leading clean energy and jobs agenda that will put the state on a path to carbon neutrality across all sectors of New York’s economy. At the Governor’s direction, New York will move boldly to achieve this goal with specific near-term actions and long-term strategies to spur unparalleled innovation and transform the state’s electric, transportation, and building infrastructure while prioritizing the needs of low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. This landmark initiative will further drive the growth of New York’s clean energy economy, create tens of thousands of high-quality 21st century jobs, provide all New Yorkers with cleaner air and water by reducing harmful emissions, and set an example of climate leadership for the rest of the nation and world to follow.
Establish $10 Billion Green Future Fund: This year, Governor Cuomo will advance a $10 billion Green Future Fund to support clean water infrastructure, renewable energy and clean transportation, and open space and resiliency. This fund includes $5 billion in total for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure—building upon the $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act and effectively doubling the state’s investment in clean water over the next five years.
Continue Historic $300 Million Environmental Protection Fund: Governor Cuomo proposes maintaining the State’s historic $300 million EPF. This investment will prioritize programs to protect New York’s water bodies, promote stewardship projects in parks and on other state lands, revitalize municipal waterfronts, and build community resilience to climate change—all while creating jobs and stimulating local economies.
Expanding the Bottle Bill to Include Most Nonalcoholic Drinks: In order to reduce litter and provide relief to overburdened municipal recycling entities who are struggling amidst changes to the global recycling markets, Governor Cuomo will expand the Bottle Bill to make most non-alcoholic beverage containers eligible for 5 cent redemption, including those for sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages and ready-to-drink teas and coffee.
Prohibiting the Use of Plastic Bags: To address the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags, Governor Cuomo proposes a statewide plastic bag prohibition with certain exceptions.
What is most remarkable about the HBO short film, “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm,” is how effectively and clearly it presents the Holocaust to young people – 8 and 9 year olds, the fourth generation, and how urgent it is to have such a teaching tool with the last of the survivors, now in their 80s and 90s, passing away into eternal silence.
The short film, created with live action, photos and videos and most remarkably, watercolor paintings that animate the still photos, strikes just the right tone.
You are privy to the astute questions and storytelling by 10-year old Elliott and his 90-year old great-grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm, and fall into his memories – of a happy childhood in Poland, not quite carefree but with no existential fear, until everything changed.
The HBO film, which aired on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, was presented for its Long Island premiere at the Gold Coast Arts Center, in a free program (a second showing had to be organized to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend), in commemoration of Yom Hashoahin Partnership with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County and Great Neck Sh’ai, and featured a conversation with Irving Roth, a Holocaust survivor with a similar story to Jack’s, the great-grandfather in the film. Indeed, Roth came with his own granddaughter and great-grandchild, a touching display of the miracle of survival.
“The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm,” executive produced by Sheila Nevins and directed and produced by Amy Schatz, with the evocative animation art of Jeff Scher, was inspired by David A. Adler’s 1987 book; Adler is well known to children for his popular Cam Jansen series.
In this moving film, 10-year-old Elliott asks his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm, sparking an intimate conversation about Jack’s life that spans happy memories of childhood in Poland, the loss of his family, surviving Auschwitz, and finding a new life in America. Their tender exchange is woven with historical footage and hand-painted animation to tell a heartbreaking story of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before and during the Holocaust.
You are first introduced to Jack who mentions how much he loves hats, and can’t resist buying them. A little later, you learn that his father was a hat maker and had a shop in Poland. The last time he saw his parents was when he was 14, taken away by Nazis and sent to a labor camp where inmates were worked to death. “We were slaves, forced to dig holes just to make work.” He receives a cap his father has managed to send and finds some money hidden in it, which he uses to bribe the guard for extra food. “That extra food was how I survived.”
“I always hoped to see my parents again. Always think about them.” But Jack never saw his parents again.
Jack was sent to Auschwitz, and then, when the Germans realized they were losing the war, put on a death march to Buchenwald, forced to march without food or shoes. “Thousands and thousands died,” Elliott relates. “If they stopped, they were shot and thrown into a hole.”
His great-grandfather was finally liberated in August 1945 by the Russians, and then by the Americans. He went back to his hometown, but no one he knew was left. He married and ultimately took a boat to start a new life in America, where he opened a fish market.
His worker says, “This is the only place a man can get food for no money.”
Elliott says, ”We need to know the story to stop it from happening. In a year or two, no survivors will be left. We want to get the stories before they pass away.”
At the Great Neck screening, Irving Roth, a survivor of Auschwitz and the Death March to Buchenwald, related his experience which so eerily mirrored that of Jack.
Irving Roth was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929. He grew up going to school and playing soccer. But by 1938, as the Nazis took power, his life, step by step, became more constricted, bleaker. Jews were not allowed to attend school, play soccer, or go to the park. His family lost their lumber business and they forced into hiding in Hungary.
In 1944, at the age of 14, he was loaded into a cattle car and transported to Auschwitz, a three-day journey with many dying along the route Once there, he was immediately separated from his grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and 10-year-old cousin. He never seen them again – they were sent to the gas chambers.
Of the 4000 on the train, only 300 survived, he said.
Roth and his brother survived Auschwitz but in January 1945, with the Germans realizing they were losing the war, the concentration camp victims were forced on the infamous death march to Buchenwald. Roth was separated from his brother who was sent to Bergen Belsen where he later died. Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945. Roth returned home to find his parents, the only other surviving family members.
But when he arrived back in his town, the reaction was hardly welcoming. “The comment was ‘So many Jews survived, more came back than left.’ It made it easy to leave,” he said.
Roth is the director of Temple Judea of Manhasset Holocaust Resource Center’s Adopt A Survivor Program which brings together children in the greater New York Region with Holocaust Survivors, where he feels a duty to relate the horror of the Holocaust.
“We tell a story of horrific proportion. It’s an important job. 6 million Jews were exterminated because of the lie that Jews were responsible for all the problems of the world. The world needs to know what happened – Shoah did not happen all at once. It began with a simple statement: I hate you.
“I call that the first signpost along the road. A few steps beyond, ‘I don’t like you because of what you are.’ And then, ‘You are not human.’ The next step, ‘I don’t want you to live in my town, my country, I don’t want you to live at all.’ Those are the signposts along the road.
“People need to understand, as you look at the world today, every day, I see the signposts along the road.”
“When I see a missile being paraded in Tehran with words, ‘To be delivered to Tel Aviv’, those are identical ideas perpetrated and spoken of in the 1920s, 1930s – resulting in total devastation.
“I see in my mind that weapon lifting off the ground and murdering tens of thousands – that’s why it’s important to understand, to watch the signposts along the road. I ask you to understand the Shoah – study the Shoah – see the step by step process so you recognize the words, the signposts – to insure that anything of that nature never happens again.
“There are always evil people in the world – it is the choice that God gave you. I am glad have a video of this nature to show to young people so can begin to understand evil an good.”
830,000 were murdered in Treblinka, alone.”It’s hard to imagine that many murdered. I ask you to take one, let them be part of you – if we don’t remember them, it is as if they never existed.”
Just a week ago, Roth made a trip to Poland, where the leadership has made discussing the Holocaust a crime, where they have replaced the signs at Auschwitz to shield the Polish people from any culpability, and where they have shut down Schindler’s factory which had been kept as a museum.
One of the places we visited last week was the Warsaw Zoo in Warsaw, where Antonina and her husband, Jan Żabiński, the zoo director, saved the lives of 300 Jews who had been imprisoned in the Warsaw.
“There were 3.5 million Jews before the war; now if you look hard, you might find 35,000. Poland would like to say that 6 million Poles were murdered – 3 million Jews and 3 million Catholics. Poland wants to be recognized as a Western country, wants to bury its history of persecution of Jews as soon as possible so the world will not know. In Auschwitz last week, going through the exhibits, they are selling propaganda, that no Pole was responsible…. Now, if you say ‘Auschwitz was a Polish death camp,’ you go to jail.”
“Two extremes of humanity existed in Shoah –there were too few Chasidim (righteous), too many on the other side. Our job is to make sure our neighbors, our friends in our country, in every country understand the sacred nature of every human being – through understanding Shoah, we can understand how evil comes to be. We must not let evil triumph again.”
Roth raises concern about a rise of anti-Semitism.
“Anti-Semitism has been replaced in an acceptable form to many people – that’s why we need to understand. It is no longer ‘anti-Semitism’ it is called ‘anti-Israel’. This is a new form of anti-Semitism, repackaged so brilliantly, Goebbels would be proud. All of a sudden, Jews are aggressors.”
He noted that a United Nations conference held to review treatment of rights declared only one country an oppressor of women – not Saudi Arabia or Sudan, but Israel.
Roth has spoken at hundreds of schools. “On college campuses around the country, Israel is cast as an oppressor of Palestinians, even committing genocide.
“Our children and grandchildren must know because they have to stand up to the lies on college campuses. What is on campus today will be policy tomorrow. Make sure your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren understand, the lies, the history. Unless we really know it, we can’t argue. 99% of evil people have no idea what history is – one student at university said the reason problem exists in Mideast is because of Jews, that it is because when Israel was formed in May 1948., Israel attacked 5 Arab countries. Do you think a country just born, with no army navy, air force would attack five countries. Is that possible? ‘Oh,’ he said.
“We need to be prepared to fight this evil, every day of the week.”
On the other hand, unabashed Holocaust deniers have gained prominence. Arthur Jones, 70, of Lyons, Illinois, a former head of the American Nazi Party and self-described white racialist and Holocaust denier, is the Republican candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 3rd district which includes parts of Chicago.
Glickman noted the importance of bringing Holocaust study into communities, particularly communities where there are not a lot of Jews or Holocaust survivors and why a curriculum is being developed by the museum, supported by the City and State’s Department of Education for middle school and high school children for ELA and social studies- some 400,000 students, the vast majority of which are not Jewish.
It is for this reason of making the Holocaust relevant to non-Jews that it has become a common practice among Holocaust museums (such as in St. Petersburg, Dallas, Houston), to keep a running clock of the numbers killed in genocides since the Holocaust, such as Rwanda.
But Roth expressed concern “that the Holocaust is being de-Judeized. There is nothing wrong in discussing Rwanda genocide, but you have to understand the difference between Holocaust and mass murders that have taken place. The death of 5 million Ukrainians during Stalin – but the objective was not the destruction of Ukrainians, the objective was collectivization of Russia; the objective of Rwanda was control. The Holocaust objective was destruction of the Jews. That’s not the same. Death is death you might say, but the cause of it.” He argues against lumping individual genocides together. “We need to understand the differences and similarities. This is what I do every time I speak. In churches, I have spoken to 500,000 Christians all over the United States. I talk about Shoah and what is happening today, how the propaganda of today is a replica of the 1930s. They understand. That’s what we need to do.”
The film is part of a new curriculum in conjunction with Scholastic being rolled out to some 1,500 schools, and organizations can make arrangements for a screening, Michael Glickman, who is president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage as well as president of the Gold Coast Arts Center, said.
“The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” was aired on HBO in January and is streaming for free at hbo.com. It was screened at Gold Coast Arts Center as part of the Gold Coast Cinema series, goldcoastfilmfestival.org.
An accompanying installation on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage features the art of acclaimed artist Jeff Scher, whose rotoscope animation brings the film’s archival footage and photos to life. Visitors of all ages are invited to explore this incredible work, view the film, and experience the transformative power of survivors’ stories. (For more info on the exhibit visit www.mjhnyc.org).
Judging by the Women’s Marches – 280 of them around the country that drew 2 million activists on behalf of women’s reproductive freedom, health care, workers rights, DACA, climate, gun control – the Democrats were headed for a rout in 2018.
Now, pundits are questioning whether the government shutdown – and then the capitulation by Democrats – will jeopardize the Democrats’ chances of taking back the Senate and even the House.
And sure enough, the Republicans have proved yet again they are so much better at message manipulation – the signature talent of every autocracy.
It is a curious thing because the 2013 government shutdown, forced by Republicans who held Obamacare hostage and the many instances of Republicans coming to the brink of endangering the full faith and credit of the United States by threatening the debt ceiling, nonetheless won victories in the 2014 midterms, even taking over the Senate.
But it is different for Republicans who want to tear down government, and Democrats, who actually believe that government can be and should be a force for good.
But what did the Republicans actually win besides the message game? A few days reprieve? When instead the government shutdown over a failure to follow through on the deal to reauthorize DACA so clearly demonstrated the dysfunction, dishonesty, bad faith and sheer cruelty of Republican domination?
And is it wise for Trump to crow that Schumer “caved,” for Pence to go to the Middle East and lambast the Democrats as enemies of our soldiers, for the OMB Director Mike Mulvaney to mimic the phrase being hyped by Russian bots, #SchumerShutdown, and the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee to show glee that Schumer is “feeling the heat from the left, with #SchumerSellout trending on social media and Democrats who supported reopening the government are being branded as traitors”?
And how cynical is it for Trump to issue a reelection campaign ad blaming Democrats in advance if anyone is murdered by an illegal immigrant, yet taking no responsibility at all for 33,000 gun deaths a year (a woman is shot and killed by a current or former partner every 16 hours. 10 kids and teens are killed each month in unintentional shootings) and the ease with which terrorists can buy guns because of Republicans’ refusal to adopt reasonable gun control measures?
After all, this is yet another temporary spending measure, which Democrats and some Republicans have decried as no way to run a $4 trillion government since the military, municipalities and agencies can’t do long-range planning or contracts, and we will be right back here on Feb. 8. Fool me once….
Schumer and the Democrats really had no choice but to withhold the votes needed for cloture (the filibuster) which triggered the shutdown, and no choice in coming to this temporary arrangement to reopen government.
Let’s be reminded though: it’s not Democrats who caused the shutdown – five Republicans voted against the CR while five Democrats voted with the Republicans (by modern standards, that’s called “bipartisan”).
Indeed, Trump was rooting for a government shutdown. “The country needs a good shutdown” he said months ago, and referred to this shutdown as “a nice present” –because he believed Democrats would be blamed and weakened and (cherry on the cake) hoped it would get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to trigger the “nuclear option” and end the 60-vote threshold for cloture (the filibuster) so that Republicans could rule without any Democratic input whatsoever.
But for the entire first year of the Trump nightmare when Republicans were in full control of all the levers of government, they chose to rule as if a monarchy, shutting out Democrats entirely, and manipulating votes so that they only needed 50 instead of 60 – on several occasions, needing the Vice President’s vote to get to 51 to pass legislation opposed by large majorities of Americans. The only mechanism for Democrats to have any say whatsoever, and get CHIP and DACA reauthorized was to withhold their votes on the short-term spending bill.
For decades, now (when Democrats are in the White House), “populists” have been decrying the dysfunction in Washington, looking to demagogic characters from outside Washington (they are only “outside” until they are “inside”) to break the logjam and get things done. That’s what many Trump voters said they liked about Trump. They fell for his con: he isn’t disruptive, he’s destructively dysfunctional.
But look to the source of the dysfunction: it goes back to Newt Gingrich and the “Contract for America” ( “Contract on America” is more apt) – 1994 was the first time the Republicans used a shutdown as extortion. And it goes back to the Hastert Rule, named for the pedophile who was the longest-serving Speaker of the House, that bars the Republicans from passing any legislation that is not supported by the majority of Republicans, rather than the majority of the House or the American people, a tough thing to do with the Tea Party fringe and now the Trumpers.
It is because of the Hastert Rule that we do not have affordable health care, sensible gun violence prevention, immigration reform, campaign finance reform, environmental protection – all supported by huge majorities of Americans – and a tax code and federal budget that help uplift people rather than steer this country to unsustainable income inequality that is so dangerous for a democracy.
Add to that the end of earmarks – championed by none other than Senator John McCain who felt they were the source of corruption in Congress – and you have no bargaining chips whatsoever to forge a compromise. (Trump wants to bring back earmarks, so he can turn a $1 trillion infrastructure plan into a political slush fund.)
But Democrats – or rather the extreme left wing championed by Bernie Sanders – seem determined to shoot themselves in the foot, and instead of cheering Schumer for getting 12 Republican Senators to pledge to take up legislation to protect DACA recipients before Feb. 8, they blasted him for capitulating.
Really, what was Schumer supposed to do? Republicans were weaponizing the government shutdown, rather than being embarrassed that Trump, The Greatest Dealmaker in the History of the World, was shown to be an emperor with no clothes (he fidgeted while the capital burned) with no actual grasp of policy or long-term impacts so that he could be swayed and steered by the most virulent, anti-immigrant advisers (Steven Miller and John Kelly), and the Republicans being shown as being incapable of governing on behalf of the people instead of just their donors (the 1%).
Now it is likely that no matter how the Senate is reminded they are supposed to be an institution based on compromise and rational deliberation – and that Congress should realize it doesn’t have to wait for Trump at all, but pass reasonable legislation on its own – my prediction is that Speaker Paul Ryan in the House will kill any DACA legislation or any immigration legislation as he did in 2013, tabling Comprehensive Immigration Reform that passed the Senate by a significant majority.
Or that Steve King, Tom Cotton, Steve Miller and John Kelly will come up with something so draconian – legalizing the Gestapo-like roundup and deportations of 11 million undocumented immigrants, throwing out green card holders, shutting borders to refugees and severely curtailing legal immigration for anyone but white people with money to invest in Trump properties – that Democrats won’t be able to vote for it. Ha ha, the irony.
But my money is on the Women’s Movement – no longer a march, but ongoing activism that will result in a major voter registration drive, record number of women running for elected office (390 for House, 49 for Senate, as many as 16,000 for state and local offices), and to get out the vote in the 2018 midterms. #PowertothePolls.
On the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration and the first Women’s March that was the largest single day of protest in history, women came out in force again in New York City and more than 250 locations around the country.
They marched for womens rights, reproductive freedom, for health care; for #MeToo and #TimesUp to take a stand against sexual assault, harassment, rape and extortion. They marched for gun control and against domestic violence. They marched for families, for immigrants, for Dreamers, for the LGBTQ+ community. They marched for Mother Earth and the environment, for science and facts. They marched for voting rights, for a free press and for truth. They marched to assert basic American values- its better angels – of tolerance, diversity, and for economic, environmental, political and social justice.
200,000 was the official count in New York City – marchers were lined up from 63rd Street to 86th Street, but all along the side streets as well, where it took as much as 2 hours just to get onto the Central Park West march route.
And unlike last year’s march which brought out millions, reflecting the despair of the aftermath of the 2016 election and was supposed to send a message to Trump and the Republicans who controlled Congress and the Courts (they didn’t get it), this day of marches – some 250 around the country bringing out some 2 million – was about action: it kicked off a voter registration drive to add 1 million to the rolls, the candidacies of a record number of women running for office (16,000 women have reached out to Emily’s List for support in 2017), and a Get out the Vote drive for the 2018 midterms.
“My vote is my Super Power,” several announced in their signs. “My Button is Bigger than Yours,” echoed another.
The vulgarity, misogyny, bigotry and racism that Donald Trump brought to the Oval Office came down to the streets, with bursts of profanity in words (“shithole” was a popular one that Trump just introduced to the vernacular only a week ago) and gestures, with marchers giving the finger as they passed Trump International Hotel, the closest incarnation they would ever have. The tone was decidedly more angry, more outraged than a year ago.
“Over the past year, basic rights for women, immigrants, LGBTQ+, the religious and nonreligious, people of color and even Mother Earth have struggled to survive under the weight of the current administration. America’s First Amendment has been challenged and healthcare for millions has been threatened. We must stand together to demand and defend our rights. We will not be silent. We must remind everyone that red, white, and blue are the colors of tolerance,” stated Womens March Alliance.
And they marched with a purpose: to get people to register to vote, to run for office, and to cast their ballot.
“My vote is my Super Power,” several announced in their signs. “My Button is Bigger than Yours,” echoed others.
Hillary Clinton tweeted, “In 2017, the Women’s March was a beacon of hope and defiance. In 2018, it is a testament to the power and resilience of women everywhere. Let’s show that same power in the voting booth this year. #PowerToThePolls”
It’s already begun. The unraveling of eight years of progress under Obama. Contrast their first actions: Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act so women can have a legal remedy for pay equity. Trump signed an executive orders to dismantle Obamacare and to withhold funding from any NGO anywhere that funds abortions.
Donald Trump doesn’t care that more than twice as many people came out to protest his illegitimately gained presidency, his morals and his agenda than came out to support his inauguration (I was at both. I saw despite the lies that Trump is spewing.) His warped ego will probably take it as a matter of pride that more than 500,000 people descended on Washington from all over the country while millions more filled out gargantuan protests in NYC (400,000), Los Angeles (750,000), Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis – indeed, all across the US – plus cities in 50 countries including Paris, London, Sydney.
They came out to declare: Women’s Rights are Human Rights, women are not chattel, a mere vessel (vassal) to harbor an embryo. And so women and their men and children were standing up for reproductive rights, access to health care, gun safety, climate action, immigration reform, criminal justice, pay equity, public education, voting rights, campaign finance – all those things that together constitute “women’s issues”. Economic justice, climate justice, criminal justice, social justice, political justice, national security and peace in the world are all “women’s issues.”
“From the shores of Sydney, Australia to the tundra of Kodiak, Alaska we marched. Signs held high, our voices carried across Little Rock, Arkansas and Nashville, Tennessee, Phoenix, Arizona and Lansing, Michigan. Pink knit hats stretched as far as the eye could see in London, England, New York City, Los Angeles, California and Washington DC,” writes Heidi L. Sieck, Co-Founder/CEO, #VOTEPROCHOICE.
In fact, this was the single largest political demonstration day of protest in US history and most certainly the largest outpouring of opposition at the opening of a new administration. Trump, who lost the popular vote by 2.6 million and carried only 42% of The Women’s Vote, comes into the White House with the lowest favorability rating probably since Lincoln, and 20 points lower than the outgoing president, Barack Obama.
And if Trump would actually have listened to his own nonsensical, dystopian, bizarre inaugural speech, he would realize that the women, men and children who protested rightfully have the political power that Trump said no longer resided in Washington.
“January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again,” Trump intoned. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now…. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.”
And yet, Trump managed to turn a deaf ear to the roars from the Women’s March that literally shook buildings with its force (yet he had to see them because his motorcade drove through twice on his way to the CIA).
In his first 100 days, what Trump vows to do would undo the progress of 100 years, violating the will of the vast majority of Americans.
But here it is: Trump managed to resurrect a militant feminism that, frankly, was dormant during the election campaign when Hillary Clinton could have, should have (in fact did, were it not for the Electoral College), break that ultimate glass ceiling to run the White House. Women of all ages, all races and creeds, and men and children, marching together in solidarity. A man carried a sign saying “I can’t believe we’re still fighting for this”.
Now what will those who marched do? What will happen? Will that energy and activism be sustained against the forces of disillusionment, frustration, paralyzing despair and self-preserving apathy? Or will they return home feeling vindicated and affirmed that their fears and concerns are real and they are not to be silenced? I think they will return empowered, invigorated with a mission, with a voice, a language to articulate grievances and a clarity of purpose. Indeed, the Women’s March organizers are posting 10 action items for the first 100 Days at womensmarch.com.
Also, there are ways and avenues and organizations to channel that rage and turn it into strategic, well articulated constructive action, in order to fight against the despair that will come when we aren’t able to immediately stop the steamroll of anti-democratic, regressive initiatives that come from the Trump/Republican camarilla.
Donald Trump may not care about the protests, feeling somehow above and immune in his bubble of sycophants. In a creepy way, he probably drew orgasmic delight that 4 million people around the world focused their attention on him, no matter that he was the target of their contempt, disdain and hatred.
But Congressmen know. Senators know. State legislators know. And they should be quaking in the reverberation of the marchers. And that’s where the focus has to be. This is Day 1 of the 2017 campaign to take back state offices. This is Day One to take back the House and/or the Senate in 2018. Because taking just one house would cut Trump’s Presidency to 2 years instead of an excruciating 4.
That is, if he isn’t impeached first for his corrupt business practices and likely collusion with Russia (not likely with a Republican Congress that clearly doesn’t care about actual illegalities like blatant violations of emoluments clause of Constitution and conflicts of interest that go against the national interest). He is more likely to be removed by a military coup when he orders bombing civilians, repopulating Guantanamo with prisoners snatched up with bounties, reopening black sites in order to torture, or, as he told the CIA, getting a second chance at taking Iraq’s oil because, you know, he learned as a boy “to the victor belong the spoils.”
Individually, we feel powerless, but collectively we have power. And it starts with pressing our village and city mayors, town and county supervisors, state representatives, governors and Congressmen need to be bold – like the San Francisco and New York mayors vowing to repulse Trump’s attack on sanctuary cities, governors like Cuomo in New York State standing up for a climate action agenda and protecting women’s reproductive rights; generals vowing to reject an order to bomb civilians or torture terror suspects. It’s newspapers being willing to lose privileged “access” and risking lawsuits to publish investigations. It’s government workers with the courage to be whistleblowers.
By these measures, the simple act of voting would seem an easy way to counter Trumpism, yet a disgraceful number don’t even do this; people need to start early to get registered to vote and vote in every election, especially local and state elections and not just the presidential.
But all of this requires us to stay active. We have to resist being immobilized by despair (that’s their strategy) and take action. If it seems too overwhelming with everything being thrown at us, just pick one or two issues to stay on top.
How to counter Trump?
Conflicts of Interest: Support Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s legislation that would require Trump to disclose his business holdings and require him to disclose his tax forms. Investigate – after all, what is Government Oversight Committee for, beyond investigating Benghazi and Clinton’s emails? Sue for violations of the emoluments clause, for Trump Hotel in Washington violating the law that prevents an elected official from leasing property from the federal government. Impeach Trump and any of his lackeys for their self-serving, self-dealing conflicts of interest. Boycott Trump’s business holdings and the corporations that enable him, including Trump Hotels and golf courses, “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Fox News.
Cabinet appointments: Democrats will be unable to stop Trump’s appointments, thanks to the hypocritical Republican lapdogs. But Senate Democrats have a duty to expose their self-interest conflicts, their ineptitude, their extraordinary lack of qualifications so that they will be put on notice that their actions will be scrutinized.
“Through cutting-edge reports, social media, newspapers, radio and TV, and much more, we’re going to highlight this rogues’ gallery’s history of law-breaking, how their corporate ties will corrupt policymaking, and how their reactionary views will harm everyday Americans.” says Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen (citizen.org).
What should Senate, House Democrats do? Oppose with every tool and tactic they can the anti-Democratic principles, including using the Republican tactics against them like the filibuster, holds on nominations, lawsuits, articles of impeachment (though McConnell and Ryan will likely take away the very tools they used to unprecedented degree). That isn’t the same thing as opposing for opposing sake, to make the president fail, as Republicans did even as Obama was trying to keep the country from economic collapse. But Democrats are obligated to fight back where the agenda destroys progress. What Democrats should not do? Try to appeal to the pseudo-populism and the mythical “poor” “underserved” “voiceless” white working class, as if they are the only “real Americans” who matter. And yes, they should sue the Trump Administration just as the Republicans sued Obama over DACA and Obamacare. If Republicans don’t offer any means to compromise or impact policy, Democrats should go nuclear.
Support the Fourth Estate – the journalists who fulfill their function of investigating and being a watchdog on government and powerful interests. Be vigilant in calling out falsehoods, fake news and propaganda. That means that when the economy goes down, unemployment goes up, tens of thousands die without access to health care and Trump and the Republicans blame Obama and the Democrats, that The Media hold them to account. Write letters to the editor, comments online. Alert news media to issues. Defend journalists who are doing their job. Cultivate social media networks to counter the right-wing propaganda machine. The success of the Women’s March to rally support solely through social media shows these networks have taken root.
Fight the rabidly regressive agenda that Trump/Republicans will steamroll through in the first 100 days. The more that Republicans refuse to accept compromise or allow Democrats to participate in forming policy, the more militant the opposition has to become. Boycott, strike, protest, rally. Use your body, your voice, your pen.
Sue. Sue. Sue. “Presidents do not rule by fiat,” declared Mitch Bernard, Chief Operating Officer, for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Donald Trump may not simply undo international agreements, overrule enacted laws, or violate environmental regulations on his own say so. If — when — he ignores environmental laws, NRDC will meet him in court. And we’re gearing up to give him the fight of his life.”
The Trump/Republican strategy (copied from Karl Rove and the Bush/Cheney debacle) is to have so many outrages coming so fast, deflecting attention and paralyzing any action, and more significantly to normalize the destructive actions simply by being equivalent or (imagine) not as bad as the previous outrage.
“In the face of Trump’s parade of horribles,” says Robert Reich of MoveOn.org, “it would be easy (and understandable) for people to get numb, hunker down, and pray that they’ll make it through the next four years. But human history teaches us of the perils of complacency and fear in response to political extremism and violence.”
If it is too paralyzing because of all the issues that are infuriating to your core, pick one, two or a few to focus on – keep active and aware of what Trump and his collaborators in the Congress and the Cabinet are doing. Write, call, visit, rally at representatives’ offices. Speak up to family, friends and neighbors. Go to town halls and civic meetings. You cannot be a Silent Majority.
Support key organizations – give what you can – because they will need money to lobby, sue, organize protests and petition campaigns, can offer language for legislation and expose facts about the impacts of overturning regulations allowing corporations to pollute the air and water; repealing the Affordable Care Act, (losing 3 million jobs, adding billions to the budget deficit, depriving 18 million newly insured people of access to health care, instead of saving 87,000 lives, seeing 36,000 die needlessly for lack of health care); of the public health, environmental, economic, international repercussions of rolling back climate action. (Caveat: Organizations can’t just seize on the latest outrage to fundraise without actually doing something.)
“Together, we must resist the Trump Dynasty with everything we’ve got — starting with marches all over the country today,” declared Robert Weissman of Public Citizen. “It won’t be easy. We can be honest about that. The fights that matter most rarely are. But with all of our vigilance, all of our acumen, all of our strength, we can — we will — prevail over greed and hatred and corruption.”
“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.”— President Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union Address
Today the White House is highlighting two new actions to further support working Americans. First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is publishing its final and approved collection of summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws.
In a White House conference call with reporters, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania applauded the Administration’s actions, noting that he has been in public office for less than two years, but prior, “I was a business owner, employed up to 600-700 employees. We did all these things – paid sick leave, personal time off, holidays, long vacation time. These were not a cost to the business, they made business sense with lower turnover, better morale, healthier employees, better productivity.
“One of the things we must acknowledge: it’s not just a fair thing, a matter of public health, public good, but something that is good for business. “
More than one million workers will not have to depend on the kindness of employers because of these new rules. “Workers shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery or geographic lottery to win access to paid sick leave,” commented Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Jenny Yang.
Contrary to the “sky is falling” reaction of many private employers, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez noted, in places where earned sick leave has been implemented – including San Francisco, Tacoma Washington, New York City and Connecticut – employers are by a wide margin satisfied. “When the law into effect [in these places] they had trepidation, but what they saw was that were able to adjust and in fact thrive.” Indeed, customers may be miffed if a waiter sneezes on their plate; other employees can be taken ill because of a worker with a flu could not afford to stay home.
“The beauty of incubators of innovation like Philadelphia, Connecticut, San Francisco, and Tacoma is that we have track record to build on and tremendous confidence that building on this part of the social contract is both good for workers, public health, families and not an undue burden on business.
“Bringing fairness and balance to workplace is really not something that should be seen as expense.”
FACT SHEET: Helping Working Americans Get Ahead by Expanding Paid Sick Leave and Fighting for Equal Pay
Since taking office, President Obama has promoted policies to grow and strengthen the middle class by supporting working families. Despite tremendous changes that have transformed America and its families over the past 50 years, our workplaces have not kept pace. In most families today, both parents work and share in the responsibilities of caring for children or other family members. Recently released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that these efforts have resulted in strong progress for America’s working families. Today, a record share of private sector workers now have access to paid sick leave, increasing from 61 to 64 percent over the past year. Furthermore, this increase was driven almost entirely by increased access in low-wage jobs: in just one year, the share of workers in the lowest-paid quarter of occupations that had access to paid sick leave jumped from 31 to 39 percent. Since the President took office, the number of private sector workers with paid sick leave has grown by 10.6 million.
Despite this progress, millions of Americans still do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave, so when workers get sick they may have to choose between caring for themselves or paying their bills. Too many parents must make the painful choice between staying home to take care of a sick child—and losing out on a day’s pay—or sending their child to school sick. For that reason, President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act—which would guarantee most Americans the chance to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year—and urging states, cities, and businesses to act where Congress has not.
Similarly, despite a woman’s pay being just as critical for a family to make ends meet, women make less than their male peers. The President has fought to close that gap, and the first legislation he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an important step in ensuring that Americans can effectively challenge unequal pay in the courts. Since then, he has taken numerous other steps to advance equal pay, including issuing a 2014 Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss their pay, and announcing a White House Equal Pay Pledge that has now been signed by more than 50 of America’s leading businesses.
Similar to the expansion of paid sick leave, progress has been made on the gender pay gap. In 2008, a typical woman working full-time earned only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a typical man; today, that has risen to 80 cents. That means that for a woman working full-time, the pay gap has shrunk by more than 10 percent, or about $1200, since the President took office.
Yet much work remains. Too many women and workers of color are still not paid equally for equal work, with African-American women earning 63 cents and Latina women earning 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic man. And 41 million private sector workers do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave. Today’s actions mark critical progress to support the needs of working Americans and their families.
EXPANDING SICK LEAVE
Last September, President Obama signed an Executive Order requiring federal contractors (and subcontractors) to allow their employees working on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days each year. Today, the Department of Labor is finalizing its rule implementing the order. It takes into account extensive public comments from employers, business associations, small businesses, workers, unions, and worker advocates. The final rule, which goes into effect for new solicitations issued on or after January 1, 2017, will:
Give additional paid sick leave to 1.15 million people working on federal contracts, including nearly 600,000 employees who do not currently have even a single day of paid sick leave. Workers will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked on (or in connection with) a covered federal contract, up to 56 hours in a year or at any point in time.
Allow workers to use paid sick leave for their own illnesses, preventive care, or other health care needs; to care for a family member or loved one who is ill, seeking preventive care, or otherwise in need of care; and for absences resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employers may not retaliate against employees for using paid sick leave or require them to find replacements in order to take it.
Improve the health and performance of employees of federal contractors and bring benefits packages offered by federal contractors in line with leading firms, ensuring they remain competitive in the search for dedicated and talented employees.
Protect public health by reducing the transmission of illnesses in the workplace from sick employees to coworkers or their customers.
Respond to employers’ concerns by ensuring coordination with existing “paid time off” policies that give workers a flexible bank of leave; existing collective bargaining agreements; and multi-employer plans.
This action reflects leading practices by major employers, states, and localities throughout the country. Since the President’s call to action in 2014, four states and more than 25 cities and counties have taken action to expand paid sick leave in their community, and many businesses small and large have adopted similar policies. For example:
Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota passed ordinances in May and September, respectively, requiring businesses to offer their workers an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Both ordinances go into effect on July 1, 2017 with phased implementation periods. The Twin Cities have a joint population of nearly 700,000 residents, though the ordinances cover anyone who does work within the respective city limits.
Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), a nonprofit clean energy consulting company and federal contractor in Vermont, testified in support of Vermont’s new paid sick leave law, passed earlier this year. VEIC’s founder pointed to the monetary, physical, and cultural value of paid sick leave to employers.
Cava Grill, a fast-casual national restaurant brand headquartered in Washington, DC, announced in July that it began offering paid sick and parental leave to its hourly workers, for whom it also raised its starting wage to $13 an hour. Employees will now receive up to six days a year of paid sick leave, up to four days of paid parental leave, and one day for community service.
Microsoft, a federal contractor, took a similar step last year by announcing it would require suppliers with at least 50 employees doing business with the company to provide employees who handle its work with 15 days of paid leave annually (including 5 paid sick days). In announcing this change, Microsoft pointed to research showing that paid leave contributes to the health and well-being of workers and their families, strengthens family ties, increases productivity, improves retention, lowers health-care costs, and contributes to the health of colleagues.
ADVANCING EQUAL PAY
Today, the EEOC, in cooperation with the Department of Labor, is publishing its finalized revisions to its EEO-1 form, which for the first time will collect summary pay data, broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity, from all businesses with 100 or more employees. This data collection, which stems from a recommendation by the President’s Equal Pay Task Force and a Presidential Memorandum issued in 2014, is expected to cover roughly 63 million employees and 60,000 employers.
Today’s action will promote improved voluntary compliance by employers with existing equal pay laws. It will also help EEOC and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) better focus investigations on employers who are illegally shortchanging workers’ pay based on their gender, race, or ethnicity.
The data will be a tool not only for the federal government, but for employers as well. It will help employers evaluate their own pay practices to prevent pay discrimination in their workplaces. The EEOC will also compile and publish aggregate data that will help employers in assessing their pay practices relative to others in the same industry and geographic area.
Businesses have long used the EEO-1 form to report demographic information on their workforces. With the revised EEO-1, businesses also will report summary data on the range of compensation paid to employees of each demographic group. Businesses will not be required to disclose individual employees’ salaries.
Employers will first be required to submit pay data for 2017 by March 31, 2018, giving them 18 months to prepare for the change. This revision does not impact the 2016 EEO-1 report, which is due on September 30, 2016 and is unchanged. EEOC will be offering webinars and technical assistance to employers, payroll and human resource information system providers, and other stakeholders in preparation for the new submission requirements.
Today’s publication of the revised form comes after the EEOC approved this action by a vote of the Commission, and follows final approval by the Office of Management and Budget pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act. The EEOC is an independent government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information.
BUILDING ON A RECORD OF SUPPORTING WORKING FAMILIES
Since taking office, President Obama and his Administration have taken a number of actions to support working families and combat the pay gap, including:
Publishing a final regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. The program provides subsidies to working families and last year provided services for roughly 1.4 million children aged 0-13, most of whom are younger than 5. The rule, which has not been comprehensively revised since 1998, will provide a roadmap to states on how to implement the new law and clarify ambiguities around provisions that deal with eligibility for services; health and safety requirements; and how best to support the needs of parents and providers as they transition to the new law. It also clarifies that worker organizations can provide professional development to child care workers and contribute to discussions around the rates states set for subsidies.
Signing his first piece of legislation as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pair Act, in January 2009 making it easier for employees to challenge unfair pay practices.
Creating the National Equal Pay Task Force in January 2010 to implement his pledge to crack down on violations of equal pay laws, which included representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management. The Task Force has issued reports on its progress, including Fighting for Equal Pay in the Workforce, Keeping America’s Women Moving Forward, and Fifty Years After the Equal Pay Act. In addition, since the creation of the Equal Pay Task Force in 2010, the EEOC has received over 18,000 charges of sex-based pay discrimination, and through its independent enforcement efforts, the EEOC has obtained over $140 million in monetary relief for victims of pay discrimination on the basis of sex.
Calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by closing loopholes in the defenses for equal pay violations, providing stronger remedies, and expanding protections against discrimination for employees who share or inquire about information about their compensation at work.
Signing a Presidential Memorandum in May 2013 directing the Office of Personnel Management to develop a government-wide strategy to address the gender pay gap in the federal workforce, leading to a report in April 2014 and new guidance in July 2015—which cautioned against reliance on a candidate’s existing salary to set pay, as it can potentially adversely affect women who may have taken time off from their careers or propagate gaps due to discriminatory pay practices by previous employers.
Issuing an Executive Order in April 2014 and publishing a Department of Labor rule in September 2015 prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss or inquire about their compensation.
Announcing a White House Equal Pay Pledge, with more than 50 leading businesses signing on to take action to advance equal pay. By signing the pledge, these companies are committing to conduct an annual company-wide gender pay analysis, review hiring and promotion processes, embed equal pay efforts in broader equity initiatives, and identify and promote best practices that will close the wage gap.
Hosting a White House Summit on Working Families in June 2014, highlighting the issues that women and families face, setting the agenda for a 21st century workplace, and announcing of a number of steps to help working families thrive.
Hosting the United State of Women Summit in June 2016, highlighting the progress that has been made over the course of this Administration and discussing public and private sector solutions to the challenges that still lie ahead.
Signing a Presidential Memorandum in January 2015 directing federal agencies to advance six weeks of paid sick leave to federal employees with new children, calling on Congress to grant another six weeks of paid leave for federal employees, and calling on Congress to pass legislation that gives all American families access to paid family and medical leave.
Publishing a final Department of Labor rule in May updating outdated overtime regulations, expanding overtime pay protections to 4.2 million additional Americans, boosting wages for workers by $12 billion over the next 10 years, and allowing workers to better balance their work and family obligations.
Issuing an Executive Order in February 2014 requiring federal contractors to raise their minimum wage initially to $10.10 an hour, indexing it, and lifting the tipped minimum wage (which disproportionately impacts women)—and urging Congress, states, cities, and businesses to do the same.
Directing the Office of Personnel Management and federal agencies to enhance workplace flexibility for federal employees to the maximum extent practicable, including enshrining a right to request flexible work arrangements.
Signing into law the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, which requires agencies to support and establish policies for telework by eligible employees.
Calling on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to workers who have limitations from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer). The legislation would also prohibit employers from forcing pregnant employees to take paid or unpaid leave if a reasonable accommodation would allow them to work.
Finalizing a Department of Labor rule updating its sex discrimination guidelines for federal contractors for the first time since 1978, to align with current law and address barriers to equal opportunity and pay, such as pay discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environments, a lack of workplace accommodations for pregnant women, and gender identity and family caregiving discrimination.
Announcing the Department of Labor’s award of $54 million in “Strengthening Working Families” grants to help low- to middle-skilled parents access the affordable, quality child care they need to earn an education, participate in training programs, and compete for better-paying jobs in emergency industries.
Expanding access for women to higher-paying jobs through a proposed rule updating equal employment opportunity requirements in registered apprenticeships and through a Mega-Construction Projects (MCP) Initiative at the Department of Labor.
The 10th Annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards, held during a special ceremony during the 12th and last Clinton Global Initiative to honor outstanding individuals for their exemplary leadership and groundbreaking work which has effected positive social change.
This year’s ceremony honored Jon Bon Jovi in recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation which focuses on the issues of affordable housing and hunger in the U.S. through community development initiatives. Bon Jovi also entertained.
Additional honorees include President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia for his commitment to establish peace in Colombia following a 50 year civil war; Dr.Hawa Abdi for her work to provide refuge, quality healthcare, education and entrepreneurship opportunities to all Somalis; Adi Godrej for transforming his family’s multinational company into a leader of social and environmental value creation; and Nadia Mura, a Yazidi woman captured and enslaved by ISIS, for the courage to tell her story and be a voice for the thousands of women and children who have been trafficked in situations of conflict.
In addition to Bon Jovi’s performance, there was a special appearance of Andrea Bocelli who performed with the Voices of Haiti Choir.
Presenters were themselves noteworthy humanitarians and activists: Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME in Philadelphia, who presented the award to Jon Bon Jovi; Iman who presented the award to Dr. Doqo Mohamed who accepted on behalf of her mother, Dr. Hawa Abdi; Luis A. Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, who presented the award to President Santos; Advija Ibrahimovic, a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1992, presented the award to Nadia Murad, and Hikmet Ersek President & CEO of The Western Union Company, presented the award to Adi Godrej.
Jon Bon Jovi, Leadership in Philanthropy
Sister Mary Scullion, who heads Project HOME, focused on breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty, presented the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Philanthropy to Jon Bon Jovi, saying, “He refused to let his fame and fortune shield him from the pain and suffering in society.
Ten years ago, he established the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing about positive change and helping the lives of those in need, “one SOUL at a time.” The Soul Foundation funds partnerships that address the issues of hunger and shelter, benefiting temporary shelters, transitional housing for teens, permanent supportive housing—including housing for veterans and special needs populations—as well as providing home ownership opportunities. In October 2011, the foundation opened the first JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, New Jersey to address issues of food insecurity. Staying true to Bon Jovi’s roots, the foundation aided in local recovery efforts in the days following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The following year, Bon Jovi donated $1 million to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.
Over the past 10 years, it has served over 1000 families, veterans and youth; served 55,000 meals at the Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, where millionaires sit at tables with homeless, paying what they can or if they don’t have the cash, volunteering their time. A second restaurant has opened in Toms River.
“It is testament to the fundamental dignity of every person, what our world can and should be: a place where everyone is served with dignity, given an opportunity to work, and create more just and welcoming society.”
Bon Jovi, who said he was inspired by Clinton, reflected, “In 2005, I saw a homeless person sleeping on a grate in front of City Hall. I realized homelessness could affect any one. Most people are just one catastrophe away from financial ruin.
“In 2008, I saw food insecurity. In the most powerful country in the world, 1 in 7 don’t have enough food, one in five children are food insecure. It’s a matter of access and opportunity, so when we started the restaurant, we had a pay-it-forward concept.
“This is the 10th anniversary of our foundation. I humbly accept this recognition on behalf of our staff, volunteers, and 55,000 supporters who have dined with us.”
“President Clinton is fond of saying, ‘There is nothing wrong with America that can’t be cured by what is right with America’.”
Nadia Murad, Leadership in Civil Society
Advija Ibrahimovic, who presented the Global Citizen award to Nadia Murad, was herself a survivor of genocidal atrocity, orphaned when she was just 11 in the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1992.
“I was 11 when I lost both my parents in the Bosnian genocide. Like Nadia, I experienced violence and deep loss. Everything can be taken from a person except freedom to decide what you will do with your heart and mind. She dedicated herself to raising awareness of these women.”
She shared the story of Nadia Murad, who was born and raised in the quiet agricultural village of Kocho, Iraq. A member of the Yazidi community, Nadia and her family lived a peaceful, happy life. On August 3, 2014 her village was attacked by ISIS, marking the beginning of its savage genocidal campaign against the Yazidi people. Six of her nine brothers were executed on the spot. In all, she lost 18 family members that day; in all, 1000 Yazidi men were massacred.
Murad, along with her two sisters and thousands of other men, women, and children were taken captive and subjected to unspeakable crimes. Murad was initially held hostage in a building with thousands of families. She witnessed young children given to ISIS soldiers as sexual “gifts.” She was raped and tortured on a daily basis. But after facing unimaginable brutality, she was able to escape.
Murad immigrated to Germany where she received medical attention and was reunited with other survivors. In total, she lost 18 family members. With the assistance of Yazda, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Yazidi survivors and defending the rights of marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, Murad has been able to tell her story on the world stage, forcing world leaders to listen to the horrors of the ongoing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Just 23 years old now, Murad, a human rights activist, was named a UN Goodwill Ambassador on Friday and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dr. Hawa Abdi, Leadership in Civil Society
Iman presented the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Civil Society to Dr. Hawa Abdi, known as the Mother Theresa of Somalia, because of her life-saving work on behalf of Somalis displaced by war.
“She became a doctor, Somalia’s first female gynecologist, and opened a rural health clinic, organized on ancestral land. During the civil war, the government collapsed, famine was widespread, and she opened her land to refugees. By 2012, she was providing sanctuary for 90,000 displaced people.
She opened a 400 bed hospital, a school, organized a fishing and farming program and her land is the only source of fresh water in region.
“Today, Abdi continues to fight for the women, children, and elderly people of the Hawa Abdi Village. With the help of her daughters, Deqo and Amina, both of whom are doctors, Abdi continues to keep a candle of light lit for the people of the Afgooye Corridor.” Abdi has won numerous distinctions and awards, including the John Jay Justice Award, Vital Voices’ Women of the Year Award, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.”
President Juan Manuel Santosof Colombia, Leadership in Public Service
“After 50 years of war, most people had never lived with peace – 6 million fled homes,” said Luis A. Moreno, current President of the Inter-American Development Bank, introducing President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia. “Today, we are on the threshold of concluding a historic agreement to bring a permanent end to the conflict.”
He said the seeds were sown when Moreno was serving as Colombia’s Ambassador to US when President Bill Clinton was in the White House, and credited Clinton’s “visionary aid program that allowed my country to achieve stability, attract investment, and set the conditions for peace. President Clinton made peace in Colombia his priority and brought Republicans and Democrats together.”
Clinton’s successors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama “followed Clinton’s example and supported” his policy.
Meanwhile, the Colombian President Santos put his presidency on the line during difficult negotiations with the FARC that dragged on for four long years.
“There were many setbacks but on August 24, the hope of millions was fulfilled when FARC and the government announced a final settlement. It is now up to the people, who will vote in plebiscite on Oct. 22.
“President Santos wanted a fully democratic process – a plebecite marks the beginning of a new, more complex chapter in our history. Every day, every Colombian will need to make personal decision – for lasting peace won’t be easy. Remembering is easy for those who have memory. Forgetting is hard for those who have heart.”
Convinced Colombia can be reunited together, write new chapter in history of beloved nation.
Accepting the award for Leadership in Public Service, President Santos said, “Peace is a right. It is in the constitution. To be a normal country, we had to stop war. I approached negotiations in a different way: Victims should be placed at the center of a solution – a human rights perspective was the key to success.
“One week from today, we will sign an agreement with FARC – 297 pages long, no detail was left out – and we will start to build a new history.
“War lasted three generations. It robbed us of compassion, the ability to feel suffering of others.
“I thank you in the name of 8 million victims of war over 50 years. The victims were most generous, willing to forgive – they don’t want others to suffer what we have.”
Juan Manuel Santos has been the president of the Republic of Colombia since 2010. Previously, President Santos was minister of defense, minister of finance, minister of foreign trade, designate to the presidency, and chief of the Colombian delegation before the International Coffee Organization. He created the Good Government Foundation (Fundación Buen Gobierno) and founded Colombia’s largest political party, Partido de la U. President Santos was awarded the King of Spain Prize and was president of the Freedom of Expression Commission for the Inter American Press Association. He has published several books, including “The Third Way,” co-written with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and “Check on Terror” (Jaque al Terror). President Santos is a graduate of the London School of Economics, Harvard University, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Adi Godrej, Leadership in the Private Sector
Adi Godrej, Chairman of Godrej Group, Godrej Industries Limited, was presented with the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in the Private Sector by Hikmet Ersek President & CEO of The Western Union Company.
Godrej is the vanguard of green development, committed to alleviating poverty, preserving natural resources, and holding 24% of its revenues in a trust for philanthropic purpose, and a motto that “The business of business is goodness. Let’s make Goodness.”
“It’s important to remain a good company,” he said. “We have always actively supported social responsibility. 24% of the corporate funds is in trust that invests in environment and education.”
He said that the company has set three goals for 2020 – train 1 million youth in skills to enhance earnings, build a greener India, generate one-third of potential revenue in products that are environmentally sustainable.
Adi Godrej is chairman of the Godrej Group, a more than 100-year-old family conglomerate, with operations in India and several other countries. Godrej is chairman of the board of the Indian School of Business and former president of the Confederation of Indian Industry. He has been a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management and a member of the Wharton Asian Executive Board. Godrej is the recipient of several awards and recognitions, including the Rajiv Gandhi Award (2002), the American India Foundation Leadership in Philanthropy Award (2010), The Entrepreneur of the Year for the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards (2010), Chemexcil’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2010), AIMA-JRD Tata Corporate Leadership Award (2010), Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (2012), Padma Bhushan (2012), and All India Management Association-Business Leader of the Year (2015). Godrej holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from MIT.
I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. As we start the New Year. let me tell you about the “hate” part.
I hate that Christmas becomes the one day of the year that is supposed to make up for all the actions that have resulted in the greatest inequality and lowest upward mobility since the Gilded Age and the greatest of all advanced countries. The American Dream has been exported, outsourced, and rendered to myth rather than reality here at home.
This year, Republicans – even as they cling more ardently than ever to Guns and God – don’t even pretend to care about the less fortunate, and promise to perpetuate and make worse the very policies that have resulted in 22 out of every 100 school-age children living in poverty (16 million), while 45% of children live in low income families; and 14.3 percent of households (17.5 million, or one in seven households) were living with food insecurity. Rather than doing anything to correct the societal conditions that promulgate these travesties, they prey on people’s insecurities, foment their fears and anxieties (Ebola! ISIS!), but do everything possible to thwart progress to alleviate the real source of daily desperation.
I particularly hate the obsession with Toys for Tots – as if handing out a gift at Christmas will make up for all the misery and anxiety that children live through the rest of the year.
Many of the same people who make a show of handing out a turkey for Christmas also withdrew Food Stamps and attacked the school nutrition program, two of the mightiest tools in a limited tool chest to keep people out of poverty, while helping children succeed in school (hunger is a viscously powerful impediment to learning) – and not incidentally, stimulating local economies to break the vicious cycle.
“There are neighborhoods in Baltimore in which the life expectancy is 19 years less than other neighborhoods in the same city,” Susan Grisby reported in “The Most Racist Areas in the United States” (Daily Kos, May 3, 2015). “Residents of the Downtown/Seaton Hill neighborhood have a life expectancy lower than 229 other nations, exceeded only by Yemen. According to the Washington Post, 15 neighborhoods in Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than North Korea…And while those figures represent some of the most dramatic disparities in the life expectancy of black Americans as opposed to whites, a recent study of the health impacts of racism in America reveals that racist attitudes may cause up to 30,000 early deaths every year.”
We are living Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol” but while the classic story sets out the problems, I have always been troubled by the “moral”: that the rich guy who got so rich by exploiting the desperation of others can simply buy presents and give money away to redeem his soul. That’s not the solution.
But the “billionaire class” as Bernie Sanders likes to call them (George W. Bush called them “the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.”) has no real interest in correcting the institutional causes of systemic poverty – public education system, tax policy, criminal justice system, health care, environmental policy and rigged election system – all of which also bolster the “haves” and “have-mores”. That’s because the demise of the middle class as more and more sink into poverty suits their greater purpose, and what the hey, if you can just throw around some bucks here and there to redeem your soul and your reputation, while lording over everybody else, so much the better.
And because “cash” is increasingly linked with “political power” (the Right Wing Majority on the Supreme Court equated cash with speech and corporations with people for the purpose of buying politicians), the more cash the more power. The converse is the less cash, the more politically silent and invisible you are. People who are juggling multiple jobs and living pay check to pay check tend not to have the same political influence.
The Republicans are working feverishly to increase the invisibility of the underclass, mounting a Supreme Court challenge that will effectively erase unregistered voters from the census altogether, meaning less representation, less funding (which is also apportioned based on that head count).
“Wages are too high,” self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, bellowed in response to a call to raise the federal minimum wage, doing a perfect but unintended imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge.
The United States of America is not supposed to have an aristocracy or a class system of privileges, but these policies have done exactly that. And in the nation with the highest percentage of incarcerated prisoners in the world (5% of population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated), you even have a new criminal classification, “Affluenza” – the “affliction” that resulted in a 16 year old getting off scot free after murdering four people with a car he was driving unlicensed and drunk (he has since fled after violating the terms of his probation). It’s a justice system which sees the very bankers who bankrupted millions of Americans and clawed back pensions and health benefits of bankrupt cities (Detroit), collecting millions of dollars on their parachutes.
It’s “free money” (actually, not really free, it comes out of others’ pockets) that they turn around and “invest” in political campaigns and, yes, in philanthropy.
Some of the most notorious “banksters”, like Madoff and Great Neck’s own Steven Cohen, whose investment company SAC racked up $9.4 billion, are also some of the most generous. Cohen is a $1 billion patron of the Robin Hood Foundation among other philanthropic contributions (museums, hospitals, schools).
Another Great Necker, Leonard Litwin, who made a fortune with his Glenwood Real Estate company, has been a generous supporter of Temple Beth-el of Great Neck, funding the Litwin Challenge that enabled the synagogue to pay off its multi-million dollar mortgage. Glenwood Real Estate was at the heart of the corruption scandal that has (so far) taken down state leaders, Democrat Sheldon Silver and Republican Dean Skelos. In essence, his company made tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions that helped put these politicians in power, then gave favors in order to secure favorable legislation, like tax abatements.
“The money, according to Mr. Dorego, Glenwood’s senior vice president and general counsel, was used to ensure the developer would continue to benefit from tax breaks, government financing and favorable rent laws. One program alone saved them as much as $100 million, he said,” William K. Rashbaum reported in the New York Times (“Albany Trials Exposed the Power of a Real Estate Firm,” Dec. 18, 2015).
“Glenwood also benefited from another state-administered program, using it to obtain more than $1 billion in low-interest, tax-exempt bond financing since 2000, to buy land and construct eight buildings it has put up since 2001, according to testimony at Mr. Silver’s trial.”
This is far from benign, but has a big ripple effect on working stiffs. It is a big reason why New York City, with the richest property in the world, doesn’t raise enough in property taxes to pay for its public schools, but depends New York State aid for 50 percent of its $25 billion operating budget. That $12.5 billion comes from income taxes from the rest of us, and is a major reason why Long Islanders pay such high property taxes (we don’t get 50% of our public school budgets paid for out of state aid). Who pays for tax abatements? Why working stiffs, of course.
That’s where philanthropy comes in. Charity does not just buy redemption, it also buys respect and resurrects a reputation. Take the Koch Brothers, for example. They are the singularly greatest example of money buying political power (and vow to spend $889 million in the 2016 campaign) in order to direct policy to their own interest and against average people (promoting fossil fuels over renewables, overturning environmental regulations, tax policy that favors the rich especially a repeal of the estate tax, gun rights, anti-reproductive rights, and the latest, criminal justice “reform” so that their companies can pollute and claim ignorance of the law to evade accountability).
They slap their name on everything, from the Smithsonian Institution’s Hall of Human Origins to PBS programming, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so we are to feel grateful for their patronage, like the Medicis. What we should feel is like peons, increasingly dependent on their largesse while public coffers are bankrupted.
It is especially dangerous when the contributions come with strings – like the Kochs funding economics departments at colleges in order to pick and choose the academics and the particular brand of economic philosophy. Or the Waltons (the six Waltons have more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of all Americans, 100 million people) funding charter schools in order to insert their own particular educational agenda (creationism as science, worker bees instead of independent thinkers).
It is in this same vein that we have Ebenezer Scrooge, who by the end of his spiritual awakening, “solves” the problems of horrendous poverty and inequality by throwing toys and money at it. It is like putting a band-aid on a patient with tuberculosis.
“The world may need a reimagined charter of philanthropy — a ‘Gospel of Wealth’ for the 21st century — that serves not just American philanthropists, but the vast array of new donors emerging around the world,” wrote Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, in a New York Times op-ed, “Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough,” (Dec. 16, 2015).
“This new gospel might begin where the previous one fell short: addressing the underlying causes that perpetuate human suffering. In other words, philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.
“Feeding the hungry is among our society’s most fundamental obligations, but we should also question why our neighbors are without nutritious food to eat. Housing the homeless is an imperative, but we should also question why our housing markets are so distorted. As a nation, we need more investment in education, but not without questioning educational disparities based on race, class and geography….
“Whatever our intentions, the truth is that we can inadvertently widen inequality in the course of making money, even though we claim to support equality and justice when giving it away. And while our end-of-year giving might support worthy organizations, we must also ask if these financial donations contribute to larger social change.
“In other words, ‘giving back’ is necessary, but not sufficient. We should seek to bring about lasting, systemic change, even if that change might adversely affect us. We must bend each act of generosity toward justice.”
What would make a difference to break systemic poverty and inequality? Here are key ones:
Tax policy, which is supposedly “progressive” but in toto perpetuating extraordinary advantage to the wealthiest, taxing wages more than wealth. Raising the cap on income taxed to pay for Medicare and Social Security would alleviate the burden which is disproportionately placed on workers (if all income was subject to tax, you could reduce the percentage by a lot, which would mean a big boost in take-home income for everyone). Transaction tax on securities to de-incentivize short-term investing and make capital function more productively, as it is supposed to; making corporations pay their share, and taking away the incentive to offshore profits and jobs. (See, “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2015).
Promote a living wage: raise the minimum wage and cease the war on unions.
Reform immigrationand provide a path to legal status for the undocumented residents (deal with the question of citizenship separately). This will eliminate a gigantic underclass which presently depresses the wages of everyone while suppressing the economic stimulus that would come from legal status.
Reform criminal justice that unfairly penalizes and imprisons poor people, disadvantaged people, people of color, and destroys families as well as that individual’s ability to get a decent job.
Continue the progress of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) to make health care more affordable, accessible. Continue putting more resources into prevention and wellness, which will increase productivity and savings. Expand, don’t shut down, Planned Parenthood and access to contraception and reproductive rights. Treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is – not just in the dead, but in the lifetime of lost productivity due to injury, a cost estimated at $228 billion ($8.6 billion in direct costs, $221 billion in indirect costs, according to SmartGunLaws.org),
College affordability – eliminating a barrier to the best ticket to upward mobility, as well as the chains that result from student debt. Now amounting to $1.2 trillion, student debt is like indentured servitude, preventing graduates from buying a home, taking a loan to start a business or even pursuing careers of choice.
Improve access to home ownership – this not only gives a family an asset, a hedge against ever-rising rents, stability, roots, but a connection to community (and likely greater inclination to vote).
Make quality child care accessible and affordable.
Improve mass transportation and safe streets, so that people can get to work affordably, efficiently and without fear.
Give the underclass a voice and a force: Improve access to voting. Make voter registration more efficient and reliable and clear. Make Election Day a holiday, expand voting to include a weekend, overturn arbitrary limitations to absentee ballot. Have standards for polling places and voting machines so that some districts are not forced to wait hours to vote. Make sure the census counts everyone (not just registered voters). Eliminate gerrymandering. Because, just as money is becoming a greater factor in campaigns, politicians are increasingly beholden to maintaining the policies that only add to inequality and social injustice.
It’s scary how much “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” still resonate today.
Consider what George Bailey says to Mr. Potter, speaking about George’s father who founded the Building & Loan: “He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”
In essence, such systemic improvements to our society would directly benefit, rather than detract from the wealthiest. It is the “rising tides lift all boats” scenario – not just in requiring less of society’s resources to go to “save” the destitute, but in a healthier, more productive society altogether. There will still be rich, middle class and even poor, but the difference is that poverty would not be as severe, as prolonged, or a generational sentence. Society would restore upward mobility – the essence of the American Dream – and benefit from individuals being able to fulfill their full potential.
So let’s turn to New Year’s resolutions, when we make pledges to be better people. And let’s hope this resolution carries through the Presidential Campaign season which already seems to be a test of who can be the cruelest (which to many interpret as “powerful” and “leadership”).