Tag Archives: Senator Warren

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Elizabeth Warren Details Plan to Confront Crisis of Environmental Injustice

Senator Elizabeth Warren details her plan to confront the crisis of environmental injustice. “Justice cannot be a secondary concern – it must be at the center of our response to climate change.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details her plan to confront the crisis of environmental injustice. “Justice cannot be a secondary concern – it must be at the center of our response to climate change.” This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren has released her plan to fight for justice as we take on the climate crisis. Warren will implement an equity screen for her proposed climate investments, directing at least $1 trillion into the most vulnerable communities over the next decade and investing not only in cleaning up pollution but in building wealth and lifting up the communities in most need. 

The climate crisis demands all of us to act, but it is also an opportunity to create millions of new good, middle class, union jobs and to directly confront the racial and economic inequality embedded in our fossil fuel economy. Elizabeth will honor our commitment to fossil fuel workers by fighting for guaranteed wage and benefit parity for workers transitioning into new industries, and to protect the pensions and benefits that fossil fuel workers have earned. She’ll partner with unions every step of the way. 

She will hold corporate polluters accountable, working with Congress to create a private right of action for environmental harm, and imposing steep fines on violators that will be reinvested in impacted communities.

Elizabeth knows we need to elevate environmental justice at the highest levels. She’ll transform the Council on Environmental Quality into a Council on Climate Action with a broader mandate, including empowering frontline community leaders to speak directly to the White House. 

In 1987, the United Church of Christ’s Commission on Racial Justice commissioned one of the first studies on hazardous waste in communities of color. A few years later —  28 years ago this month —  delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit adopted 17 principles of environmental justice. But in the years since, the federal government has largely failed to live up to the vision these trailblazing leaders outlined, and to its responsibilities to the communities they represent. 

From predominantly black neighborhoods in Detroit to Navajo communities in the southwest to Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, industrial pollution has been concentrated in low-income communities for decades — communities that the federal government has tacitly written off as so-called “sacrifice zones.” But it’s not just about poverty, it’s also about race. A seminal study found that black families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of air pollution than white families — even when they have the same or more income. A more recent study found that while whites largely cause air pollution, Blacks and Latinxs are more likely to breathe it in. Unsurprisingly, these groups also experience higher rates of childhood asthma. And many more low-income and minority communities are exposed to toxins in their water — including lead and chemicals from industrial and agricultural run-off.

And these studies don’t tell the whole story. As I’ve traveled this country, I’ve heard the human stories as well. In Detroit, I met with community members diagnosed with cancer linked to exposure to toxins after years of living in the shadow of a massive oil refinery. In New Hampshire, I talked with mothers fighting for clean drinking water free of harmful PFAS chemicals for their children. In South Carolina, I’ve heard the stories of the most vulnerable coastal communities who face the greatest threats, from not just sea-level rise, but a century of encroaching industrial polluters. In West Virginia, I saw the consequences of the coal industry’s abandonment of the communities that made their shareholders and their executives wealthy — stolen pensions, poisoned miners, and ruined land and water.

We didn’t get here by accident. Our crisis of environmental injustice is the result of decades of discrimination and environmental racism compounding in communities that have been overlooked for too long. It is the result of multiple choices that put corporate profits before people, while our government looked the other way. It is unacceptable, and it must change. 

Justice cannot be a secondary concern — it must be at the center of our response to climate change. The Green New Deal commits us to a “just transition” for all communities and all workers. But we won’t create true justice by cleaning up polluted neighborhoods and tweaking a few regulations at the EPA. We also need to prioritize communities that have experienced historic disinvestment, across their range of needs: affordable housing, better infrastructure, good schools, access to health care, and good jobs. We need strong, resilient communities who are prepared and properly resourced to withstand the impacts of climate change. We need big, bottom-up change — focused on, and led by, members of these communities. 

No Community Left Behind

The same communities that have borne the brunt of industrial pollution are now on the front lines of climate change, often getting hit first and worst. In response, local community leaders are leading the fight to hold polluters responsible and combat the effects of the climate crisis.  In Detroit’s 48217 zip code, for example, community members living in the midst of industrial pollution told me how they have banded together to identify refinery leakages and inform their neighbors. In Alabama and Mississippi, I met with residents of formerly redlined neighborhoods who spoke to me about their fight against drinking water pollution caused by inadequate municipal sewage systems. Tribal Nations, which have been disproportionately impacted by environmental racism and the effects of climate change, are leading the way in climate resilience and adaptation strategies, and in supporting healthy ecosystems. The federal government must do more to support and uplift the efforts of these and other communities. Here’s how we can do that:

Improve environmental equity mapping. The EPA currently maps communities based on basic environmental and demographic indicators, but more can be done across the federal government to identify at-risk communities. We need a rigorous interagency effort to identify cumulative environmental health disparities and climate vulnerabilities and cross-reference that data with other indicators of socioeconomic health. We’ll use these data to adjust permitting rules under Clean Air and Clean Water Act authorities to better consider the impact of cumulative and overlapping pollution, and we’ll make them publicly available online to help communities measure their own health.

Implement an equity screen for climate investments. Identifying at-risk communities is only the first step. The Green New Deal will involve deploying trillions of dollars to transform the way we source and use energy. In doing so, the government must prioritize resources to support vulnerable communities and remediate historic injustices. My friend Governor Jay Inslee rightly challenged us to fund the most vulnerable communities first, and both New York and California have passed laws to direct funding specifically to frontline and fenceline communities. The federal government should do the same. I’ll direct one-third of my proposed climate investment into the most vulnerable communities — a commitment that would funnel at least $1 trillion into these areas over the next decade. 

Strengthen tools to mitigate environmental harms. Signed into law in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act provides the original authority for many of our existing environmental protections. But even as climate change has made it clear that we must eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, the Trump Administration has tried to weaken NEPA with the goal of expediting even more fossil fuel infrastructure projects. At the same time, the Trump Administration has moved to devalue the consideration of climate impacts in all federal decisions. This is entirely unacceptable in the face of the climate emergency our world is facing. As president, I would mandate that all federal agencies consider climate impacts in their permitting and rulemaking processes. Climate action needs to be mainstreamed in everything the federal government does. But we also need a standard that requires the government to do more than merely “assess” the environmental impact of proposed projects — we need to mitigate negative environmental impacts entirely. 

Beyond that, a Warren Administration will do more to give the people who live in a community a greater say in what is sited there — too often today, local desires are discounted or disregarded. And when Tribal Nations are involved, projects should not proceed unless developers have obtained the free, prior and informed consent of the tribal governments concerned. I’ll use the full extent of my executive authority under NEPA to protect these communities and give them a voice in the process. And I’ll fight to improve the law to reflect the realities of today’s climate crisis. 

Build wealth in frontline communities. People of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods that are vulnerable to climate change risks or where they’re subject to environmental hazards like pollution. That’s not a coincidence — decades of racist housing policy and officially sanctioned segregation that denied people of color the opportunity to build wealth also denied them the opportunity to choose the best neighborhood for their families. Then, these same communities were targeted with the worst of the worst mortgages before the financial crisis, while the government looked the other way. My housing plan includes a first-of-its-kind down-payment assistance program that provides grants to long-term residents of formerly redlined communities so that they can buy homes in the neighborhood of their choice and start to build wealth, beginning to reverse that damage. It provides assistance to homeowners in these communities who still owe more than their homes were worth, which can be used to preserve their homes and revitalize their communities. These communities should have the opportunity to lead us in the climate fight, and have access to the economic opportunities created by the clean energy sector. With the right investments and with community-led planning, we can lift up communities that have experienced historic repression and racism, putting them on a path to a more resilient future.

Expand health care. People in frontline communities disproportionately suffer from certain cancers and other illnesses associated with environmental pollution. To make matters worse, they are less likely to have access to quality health care. Under Medicare for All, everyone will have high quality health care at a lower cost, allowing disadvantaged communities to get lifesaving services. And beyond providing high quality coverage for all, the simplified Medicare for All system will make it easier for the federal government to quickly tailor health care responses to specific environmental disasters in affected communities when they occur.

Research equity. For years we’ve invested in broad-based strategies that are intended to lift all boats, but too often leave communities of color behind. True justice calls for more than ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions — instead we need targeted strategies that take into account the unique challenges individual frontline communities face. I’ve proposed a historic $400 billion investment in clean energy research and development. We’ll use that funding to research place-based interventions specifically targeting the communities that need more assistance.

No Worker Left Behind

The climate crisis will leave no one untouched. But it also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity: to create millions of good-paying American jobs in clean and renewable energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing; to unleash the best of American innovation and creativity; to rebuild our unions and create real progress and justice for workers; and to directly confront the racial and economic inequality embedded in our fossil fuel economy. 

The task before us is huge and demands all of us to act. It will require massive retrofits to our nation’s infrastructure and our manufacturing base. It will also require readjusting our economic approach to ensure that communities of color and others who have been systematically harmed from our fossil fuel economy are not left further behind during the transition to clean energy.

But it is also an opportunity. We’ll need millions of workers: people who know how to build things and manufacture them; skilled and experienced contractors to plan and execute large construction and engineering projects; and training and joint labor management apprenticeships to ensure a continuous supply of skilled, available workers. This can be a great moment of national unity, of common purpose, of lives transformed for the better. But we cannot succeed in fighting climate change unless the people who have the skills to get the job done are in the room as full partners. 

We also cannot fight climate change with a low-wage economy. Workers should not be forced to make an impossible choice between fossil fuel industry jobs with superior wages and benefits and green economy jobs that pay far less. For too long, there has been a tension between transitioning to a green economy and creating good, middle class, union jobs. In a Warren Administration we will do both: creating good new jobs through investments in a clean economy coupled with the strongest possible protections for workers. For instance, my Green Manufacturing plan makes a $1.5 trillion procurement commitment to domestic manufacturing contingent on companies providing fair wages, paid family and medical leave, fair scheduling practices, and collective bargaining rights. Similarly, my 100% Clean Energy Plan will require retrofitting our nation’s buildings, reengineering our electrical grid, and adapting our manufacturing base — creating good, union jobs, with prevailing wages determined through collective bargaining, for millions of skilled and experienced workers. 

Our commitment to a Green New Deal is a commitment to a better future for the working people of our country.  And it starts with a real commitment to workers from the person sitting in the White House: I will fight for your job, your family, and your community like I would my own. But there’s so much more we can do to take care of America’s workers before, during, and after this transition. Here are a few ways we can start: 

Honor our commitment to fossil fuel workers. Coal miners, oil rig workers, pipeline builders and millions of other workers have given their life’s blood to build the infrastructure that powered the American economy throughout the 20th century. In return, they deserve more than platitudes — and if we expect them to use their skills to help reengineer America, we owe them a fair day’s pay for the work we need them to do. I’m committed to providing job training and guaranteed wage and benefit parity for workers transitioning into new industries. And for those Americans who choose not to find new employment and wish to retire with dignity, we’ll ensure full financial security, including promised pensions and early retirement benefits. 

Defend worker pensions, benefits, and secure retirement. Together, we will ensure that employers and our government honor the promises they made to workers in fossil fuel industries. I’ve fought for years to protect pensions and health benefits for retired coal workers, and I’ll continue fighting to maintain the solvency of multi-employer pension plans. As president, I’ll protect those benefits that fossil fuel workers have earned. My plan to empower American workers commits to defending pensions, recognizing the value of defined-benefit pensions, and pushing to pass the Butch-Lewis Act to create a loan program for the most financially distressed pension plans in the country. And my Social Security plan would increase benefits by $200 a month for every beneficiary, lifting nearly 5 million seniors out of poverty and expanding benefits for workers with disabilities and their families. 

Create joint safety-health committees. In 2016, more than 50,000 workers died from occupational-related diseases. And since the beginning of his administration, Trump has rolled back rules and regulations that limit exposure to certain chemicals and requirements around facility safety inspections, further jeopardizing workers and the community around them. When workers have the power to keep themselves safe, they make their communities safer too. A Warren Administration will reinstate the work safety rules and regulations Trump eliminated, and will work to require large companies to create joint safety-health committees with representation from workers and impacted communities. 

Force fossil fuel companies to honor their obligations. As a matter of justice, we should tighten bankruptcy laws to prevent coal and other fossil fuel companies from evading their responsibility to their workers and to the communities that they have helped to pollute. In the Senate, I have fought to improve the standing of coal worker pensions and benefits in bankruptcy — as president, I will work with Congress to pass legislation to make these changes a reality.  

And as part of our commitment, we must take care of all workers, including those who were left behind decades ago by the fossil fuel economy. Although Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal is the inspiration for this full scale mobilization of the federal government to defeat the climate crisis, it was not perfect. The truth is that too often, many New Deal agencies and policies were tainted by structural racism. And as deindustrialization led to prolonged disinvestment, communities of color were too often both the first to lose their job base, and the first place policymakers thought of to dump the refuse of the vanished industries. Now there is a real risk that poor communities dependent on carbon fuels will be asked to bear the costs of fighting climate change on their own. We must take care not to replicate the failings and limitations of the original New Deal as we implement a Green New Deal and transition our economy to 100% clean energy. Instead we need to build an economy that works for every American — and leaves no one behind.

Prioritizing Environmental Justice at the Highest Levels

As we work to enact a Green New Deal, our commitment to environmental justice cannot be an afterthought — it must be central to our efforts to fight back against climate change. That means structuring our government agencies to ensure that we’re centering frontline and fenceline communities in implementing a just transition. It means ensuring that the most vulnerable have a voice in decision-making that impacts their communities, and direct access to the White House itself. Here’s how we’ll do that:

Elevate environmental justice at the White House. I’ll transform the Council on Environmental Quality into a Council on Climate Action with a broader mandate, including making environmental justice a priority. I’ll update the 1994 executive order that directed federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their missions, and revitalize the cabinet-level interagency council on environmental justice. We will raise the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to report directly to the White House, bringing in the voices of frontline community leaders at the highest levels. And I will bring these leaders to the White House for an environmental justice summit within my first 100 days in office, to honor the contributions of frontline activists over decades in this fight and to listen to ideas for how we can make progress.  

Empower the EPA to support frontline communities. The Trump Administration has proposed dramatic cuts to the EPA, including to its Civil Rights office, and threatened to eliminate EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice entirely. I’ll restore and grow both offices, including by expanding the Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) and Environmental Justice Small Grant programs. We’ll condition these competitive grant funds on the development of state- and local-level environmental justice plans, and ensure that regional EPA offices stay open to provide support and capacity. But it’s not just a matter of size. Historically, EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has rejected nine out of ten cases brought to it for review. In a Warren Administration, we will aggressively pursue cases of environmental discrimination wherever they occur. 

Bolster the CDC to play a larger role in environmental justice. The links between industrial pollution and negative public health outcomes are clear. A Warren Administration will fully fund the Center for Disease Control’s environmental health programs, such as childhood lead poisoning prevention, and community health investigations. We will also provide additional grant funding for independent research into environmental health effects.

Diminish the influence of Big Oil. Powerful corporations rig the system to work for themselves, exploiting and influencing the regulatory process and placing industry representatives in positions of decision-making authority within agencies. My plan to end Washington corruption would slam shut the revolving door between industry and government, reducing industry’s ability to influence the regulatory process and ensuring that the rules promulgated by our environmental agencies reflect the needs of communities, not the fossil fuel industry. 

Right to Affordable Energy and Clean Water

Nearly one-third of American households struggle to pay their energy bills, and Native American, Black, and Latinx households are more likely to be energy insecure. Renters are also often disadvantaged by landlords unwilling to invest in safer buildings, weatherization, or cheaper energy. And clean energy adoption is unequal along racial lines, even after accounting for differences in wealth. I have a plan to move the United States to 100% clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy in electricity generation by 2035 — but energy justice must be an integral part of our transition to clean energy. Here’s what that means:

Address high energy cost burdens. Low-income families, particularly in rural areas, are spending too much of their income on energy, often the result of older or mobile homes that are not weatherized or that lack energy efficient upgrades. I’ve committed to meet Governor Inslee’s goal of retrofitting 4% of U.S. buildings annually to increase energy efficiency — and we’ll start that national initiative by prioritizing frontline and fenceline communities. In addition, my housing plan includes over $10 billion in competitive grant programs for communities that invest in well-located affordable housing — funding that can be used for modernization and weatherization of homes, infrastructure, and schools. It also targets additional funding to tribal governments, rural communities, and jurisdictions — often majority minority — where homeowners are still struggling with the aftermath of the 2008 housing crash. Energy retrofits can be a large source of green jobs, and I’m committed to ensuring that these are good jobs, with full federal labor protections and the right to organize. 

Support community power. Consumer-owned energy cooperatives, many of which were established to electrify rural areas during the New Deal, serve an estimated  42 million people across our country. While some co-ops are beginning to transition their assets to renewable energy resources, too many are locked into long-term contracts that make them dependent on coal and other dirty fuels for their power. To speed the transition to clean energy, my administration will offer assistance to write down debt and restructure loans to help cooperatives get out of long-term coal contracts, and provide additional low- or no-cost financing for zero-carbon electricity generation and transmission projects for cooperatives via the Rural Utilities Service. I’ll work with Congress to extend and expand clean energy bonds to allow community groups and nonprofits without tax revenue to access  clean energy incentives. I’ll also provide dedicated support for the four Power Marketing Administrations, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Appalachian Regional Commission to help them build publicly-owned clean energy assets and deploy clean power to help communities transition off fossil fuels. Accelerating the transition to clean energy will both reduce carbon emissions, clean up our air,  and help bring down rural consumers’ utility bills.

Protect local equities. Communities that host large energy projects are entitled to receive a share of the benefits. But too often, large energy companies are offered millions in tax subsidies to locate in a particular area — without any commitment that they will make a corresponding commitment in that community. Community Benefit Agreements can help address power imbalances between project developers and low-income communities by setting labor, environmental, and transparency standards before work begins. I’ll make additional federal subsidies or tax benefits for large utility projects contingent on strong Community Benefits Agreements, which should include requirements for prevailing wages and collective bargaining rights. And I’ll insist on a clawback provision if a company doesn’t hold up its end of the deal. If developers work with communities to ensure that everyone benefits from clean energy development, we will be able to reduce our emissions faster. 

It’s simple: access to clean water is a basic human right. Water quality is an issue in both urban and rural communities. In rural areas, for example, runoff into rivers and streams by Big Agriculture has poisoned local drinking water. In urban areas, lack of infrastructure investment has resulted in lead and other poisons seeping into aging community water systems. We need to take action to protect our drinking water. Here’s how we can do that: 

Invest in our nation’s public water systems. America’s water is a public asset and should be owned by and for the public. A Warren Administration will end decades of disinvestment and privatization of our nation’s water system — our government at every level should invest in safe, affordable drinking water for all of us.

Increase and enforce water quality standards. Our government should enforce strict regulations to ensure clean water is available to all Americans. I’ll restore the Obama-era water rule that protected our lakes, rivers, and streams, and the drinking water they provide. We also need a strong and nationwide safe drinking water standard that covers PFAS and other chemicals. A Warren Administration will fully enforce Safe Drinking Water Act standards for all public water systems. I’ll aggressively regulate chemicals that make their way into our water supply, including by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance.

Fund access to clean water. Our clean drinking water challenge goes beyond lead, and beyond Flint and Newark. To respond, a Warren Administration will commit to fully capitalize the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to refurbish old water infrastructure and support ongoing water treatment operations and maintenance, prioritizing the communities most heavily impacted by inadequate water infrastructure. In rural areas, I’ll increase funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program to $15 billion annually, empowering family farmers to help limit the agricultural runoff that harms local wells and water systems. To address lead specifically, we will establish a lead abatement grant program with a focus on schools and daycare centers, and commit to remediating lead in all federal buildings. We’ll provide a Lead Safety Tax Credit for homeowners to invest in remediation. And a Warren Administration will also fully fund IDEA and other support programs that help children with developmental challenges as a result of lead exposure.

Protecting the Most Vulnerable During Climate-Related Disasters

In 2018, the U.S. was home to the world’s three costliest environmental catastrophes. And while any community can be hit by a hurricane, flood, extreme weather, or fire, the impact of these kinds of disasters are particularly devastating for low-income communitiespeople with disabilities, and people of color. Take Puerto Rico for example. When Hurricane Maria hit the island, decades of racism and neglect were multiplied by the government’s failure to prepare and Trump’s racist post-disaster response — resulting in the deaths of at least 3,000 Puerto Ricans and long-term harm to many more. Even as we fight climate change, we must also prepare for its impacts — building resiliency not just in some communities, but everywhere. Here’s how we can start to do that:

Invest in pre-disaster mitigation. For every dollar invested in mitigation, the government and communities save $6 overall. But true to form, the Trump Administration has proposed to steep cuts to  FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, abandoning communities just as the risk of climate-related disasters is on the rise. As president, I’ll invest in programs that help vulnerable communities build resiliency by quintupling this program’s funding. 

Better prepare for flood events. When I visited Pacific Junction, Iowa, I saw scenes of devastation: crops ruined for the season, cars permanently stalled, a water line 7 or 8 feet high in residents’ living rooms. And many residents in Pacific Junction fear that this could happen all over again next year. Local governments rely on FEMA’s flood maps, but some of these maps haven’t been updated in decades. In my first term as president, I will direct FEMA to fully update flood maps with forward-looking data, prioritizing and including frontline communities in this process. We’ll raise standards for new construction, including by reinstating the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. And we’ll make it easier for vulnerable residents to move out of flood-prone properties — including by buying back those properties for low-income homeowners at a value that will allow them to relocate, and then tearing down the flood-prone properties, so we can protect everyone.

Mitigate wildfire risk. We must also invest in improved fire mapping and prevention programs. In a Warren Administration, we will dramatically improve fire mapping and prevention by investing in advanced modeling with a focus on helping the most vulnerable — incorporating not only fire vulnerability but community demographics. We will prioritize these data to invest in land management, particularly near the most vulnerable communities, supporting forest restoration, lowering fire risk, and creating jobs all at once. We will also invest in microgrid technology, so that we can de-energize high-risk areas when required without impacting the larger community’s energy supply. And as president, I will collaborate with Tribal governments on land management practices to reduce wildfires, including by incorporating traditional ecological practices and exploring co-management and the return of public resources to indigenous protection wherever possible. 

Prioritize at-risk populations in disaster planning and response. When the most deadly fire in California’s history struck the town of Paradise last November, a majority of the victims were disabled or elderly. People with disabilities face increased difficulties in evacuation assistance and accessing critical medical care. For people who are homeless, disasters exacerbate existing challenges around housing and health. And fear of deportation can deter undocumented people from contacting emergency services for help evacuating or from going to an emergency shelter. As president, I will strengthen rules to require disaster response plans to uphold the rights of vulnerable populations. In my immigration plan, I committed to putting in place strict guidelines to protect sensitive locations, including emergency shelters. We’ll also develop best practices at the federal level to help state and local governments develop plans for at-risk communities — including for extreme heat or cold — and require that evacuation services and shelters are fully accessible to people with disabilities. During emergencies, we will work to ensure that critical information is shared in ways that reflect the diverse needs of people with disabilities and other at-risk communities, including through ASL and Braille and languages spoken in the community. We will establish a National Commission on Disability Rights and Disasters, ensure that federal disaster spending is ADA compliant, and support people with disabilities in disaster planning. We will make certain that individuals have ongoing access to health care services if they have to leave their community or if there is a disruption in care.  And we will ensure that a sufficient number of disability specialists are present in state emergency management teams and FEMA’s disaster response corps. 

Ensure a just and equitable recovery. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, disaster scammers and profiteers swarmed, capitalizing on others’ suffering to make a quick buck. And after George W. Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, the doors were opened for contractors to under-pay and subject workers to dangerous working conditions, particularly low-income and immigrant workers. As president, I’ll put strong protections in place to ensure that federal tax dollars go toward community recovery, not to line the pockets of contractors. And we must maintain high standards for workers even when disaster strikes. 

Studies show that the white and wealthy receive more federal disaster aid, even though they are most able to financially withstand a disaster. This is particularly true when it comes to housing — FEMA’s programs are designed to protect homeowners, even as homeownership has slipped out of reach for an increasing number of Americans. As president, I will reform post-disaster housing assistance to better protect renters, including a commitment to a minimum of one-to-one replacement for any damaged federally-subsidized affordable housing, to better protect low-income families. I will work with Congress to amend the Stafford Act to make grant funding more flexible to allow families and communities to rebuild in more resilient ways. And we will establish a competitive grant program, based on the post-Sandy Rebuild by Design pilot, to offer states and local governments the opportunity to compete for additional funding for creative resilience projects.

Under a Warren Administration, we will monitor post-disaster recovery to help states and local governments better understand the long-term consequences and effectiveness of differing recovery strategies, including how to address climate gentrification, to ensure equitable recovery for all communities. We’ll center a right to return for individuals who have been displaced during a disaster and prioritize the voices of frontline communities in the planning of their return or relocation. And while relocation should be a last resort, when it occurs, we must improve living standards and keep communities together whenever possible.

Holding Polluters Accountable

In Manchester, Texas, Hurricane Harvey’s damage wasn’t apparent until after the storm had passed — when a thick, chemical smell started wafting through the majority Latinx community, which is surrounded by nearly 30 refineries and chemical plants. A tanker failure had released 1,188 pounds of benzene into the air, one of at least one hundred area leaks that happened in Harvey’s aftermath. But because regulators had turned off air quality and toxic monitoring in anticipation of the storm, the leaks went unnoticed and the community uninformed. 

This should have never been allowed to happen. But Manchester is also subject to 484,000 pounds of toxic chemical leaks on an average year. That’s not just a tragedy — it’s an outrage. We must hold polluters accountable for their role in ongoing, systemic damage in frontline communities. As president, I will use all my authorities to hold companies accountable for their role in the climate crisis. Here’s how we can do that: 

Exercise all the oversight tools of the federal government. A Warren Administration will encourage the EPA and Department of Justice to aggressively go after corporate polluters, particularly in cases of environmental discrimination. We need real consequences for corporate polluters that break our environmental law. That means steep fines, which we will reinvest in impacted communities. And under my Corporate Executive Accountability Act, we’ll press for criminal penalties for executives when their companies hurt people through criminal negligence.

Use the power of the courts. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision, companies are often let completely off the hook, even when their operations inflict harm on thousands of victims each year. I’ll work with Congress to create a private right of action for environmental harm at the federal level, allowing individuals and communities impacted by environmental discrimination to sue for damages and hold corporate polluters accountable.

Reinstitute the Superfund Waste Tax. There are over 1300 remaining Superfund sites across the country, many located in or adjacent to frontline communities. So-called “orphan” toxic waste clean-ups were originally funded by a series of excise taxes on the petroleum and chemical industries. But thanks to Big Oil and other industry lobbyists, when that tax authority expired in 1995 it was not renewed. Polluters must pay for the consequences of their actions — not leave them for the communities to clean up. I’ll work with Congress to reinstate and then triple the Superfund tax, generating needed revenue to clean up the mess.

Hold the finance industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis. Financial institutions and the insurance industry underwrite and fund fossil fuel investments around the world, and can play a key role in stopping the climate crisis. Earlier this year, Chubb became the first U.S. insurer to commit to stop insuring coal projects, a welcome development. Unfortunately, many banks and insurers seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In fact, since the Paris Agreement was signed, U.S. banks including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Bank of America have actually increased their fossil fuel investments. And there is evidence that big banks are replicating a tactic they first employed prior to the 2008 crash — shielding themselves from climate losses by selling the mortgages most at risk from climate impacts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to shift the burden off their books and onto taxpayers at a discount. 

To accelerate the transition to clean energy, my Climate Risk Disclosure Act would require banks and other companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and price their exposure to climate risk into their valuations, raising public awareness of just how dependent our economy is on fossil fuels. And let me be clear: in a Warren Administration, they will no longer be allowed to shift that burden to the rest of us.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Warren Would Tax Excessive Lobbying As Part of Her Anti-Corruption Proposal

Senator Elizabeth Warren, seeking the Democratic nomination for President, takes on the issue of corruption at a rally in Washington Square Park, New York City, that drew 20,000 people © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details her plan to tax excessive lobbying as part of her anti-corruption proposal. This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren recently unveiled her plan for a new tax on excessive lobbying. It applies to every corporation and trade organization that spends over $500,000 per year lobbying our government. The revenue from this tax will be used to help our government fight back against the influence of lobbyists. 

Based on our analysis of lobbying data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, if this tax had been in effect over the last 10 years, over 1,600 corporations and trade groups would have had to pay up – leading to an estimated $10 billion in total revenue. 

Senator Warren has already laid out how she will end lobbying as we know it and strengthen Congressional independence from lobbyists. (Read more about her plan here.)

Here is more about her plan to tax excessive lobbying:

When Americans think about corporate lobbyists, they usually think about the people in fancy suits who line the halls of Congress armed with donations, talking points, and whatever else they need to win favorable treatment for their big corporate clients. 

They’re right. In fact, corporate interests spend more on lobbying than we spend to fund both houses of Congress — spending more than $2.8 billion on lobbying last year alone. That’s why I have a plan to strengthen congressional independence from lobbyists and give Congress the resources it needs to defend against these influence campaigns. 

But corporate lobbyists don’t just swarm Congress. They also target our federal departments like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These agencies exist to oversee giant corporations and implement the laws coming out of Congress – but lobbyists often do their best to grind public interest work at these agencies to a halt. 

When the Department of Labor tried to protect workers from predatory financial advisors who got rich by siphoning off large and unnecessary fees from workers’ life savings, Wall Street lobbyists descended on Washington to try to kill the effort – twice. When they failed the second time, they sued to stop it in the courts. 

When the Environmental Protection Agency decided to act on greenhouse gas emissions by passing regulations on methane, fossil fuel companies called in their lobbyists. The rule was dramatically weakened – and then Trump’s EPA went even further than some in the industry wanted by proposing to scrap the rule altogether

When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau tried to crack down on payday lenders exploiting vulnerable communities, lobbyists convinced the Trump administration to cripple the rule – while the payday lenders who hired them spent about $1 million at a Trump resort. 

Regulatory agencies are only empowered to implement public interest rules under authority granted by legislation already passed by Congress. So how is it that lobbyists are able to kill, weaken, or delay so many important efforts to implement the law? 

Often they accomplish this goal by launching an all out assault on the process of writing new rules – informally meeting with federal agencies to push for favorable treatment, burying those agencies in detailed industry comments during the notice-and-comment rulemaking process, and pressuring members of Congress to join their efforts to lobby against the rule. If the rule moves forward anyway, they’ll argue to an obscure federal agency tasked with weighing the costs and benefits of agency rules that the rules are too costly, and if the regulation somehow survives this onslaught, they’ll hire fancy lawyers to challenge it in court. 

I have released the most sweeping set of anti-corruption reforms since Watergate. Under my plan, we will end lobbying as we know it. We will make sure everyone who is paid to influence government is required to register as a lobbyist, and we’ll impose strict disclosure requirements so that lobbyists have to publicly report which agency rules they are seeking to influence and what information they provide to those agencies. We’ll also shut the revolving door between government and K Street to prevent another Trump administration where ex-lobbyists lead the Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, the Department of Interior, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. 

My plan also calls for something unique – a new tax on excessive lobbying that applies to every corporation and trade organization that spends over $500,000 per year lobbying our government. This tax will reduce the incentive for excessive lobbying, and raise money that we can use to fight back against this kind of onslaught when it occurs. 

Under my lobbying tax proposal, companies that spend between $500,000 and $1 million per year on lobbying, calculated on a quarterly basis, will pay a 35% tax on those expenditures. For every dollar above $1 million spent on lobbying, the rate will increase to 60% – and for every dollar above $5 million, it will increase to 75%. 

Based on our analysis of lobbying data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, if this tax had been in effect over the last 10 years, over 1,600 corporations and trade groups would have had to pay up – leading to an estimated $10 billion in total revenue. And 51 of them – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries, Pfizer, Boeing, Microsoft, Walmart, and Exxon – would have been subject to the 75% rate for lobbying spending above $5 million in every one of those years. 

Nobody will be surprised that the top five industries that would have paid the highest lobbying taxes are the same industries that have spent the last decade fighting tooth and nail against popular policies: Big Pharma, health insurance companies, oil and gas companies, Wall Street firms, and electric utilities. 

Among individual companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would have owed the most of any company or trade group in lobbying taxes: an estimated $770 million on $1 billion in lobbying spending – over $400 million more than the next-highest-paying organization, the National Association of Realtors, which would have paid $307 million on $425 million in lobbying spending. Blue Cross Blue Shield, PhRMA, and the American Hospital Association would have all paid between $149 and $163 million in taxes on between $213 and $233 million in lobbying spending. And General Electric, Boeing, AT&T, Business Roundtable, and Comcast round out the top ten, paying between $105 million and $129 million in taxes. 

Every dollar raised by the lobbying tax will be placed into a new Lobbying Defense Trust Fund dedicated to directing a surge of resources to Congress and federal agencies to fight back against the effort to bury public interest actions by the government. 

Corporate lobbyists are experts at killing widely popular policies behind closed doors. 

Take just one example from the Obama administration. In October 2010, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed a “fiduciary rule” to protect employee retirement accounts from brokers who charge exorbitant fees and put their own commissions above earning returns for their clients. The idea was simple: if you’re looking after someone’s money, you should look out for their best interests. 

It’s an obvious rule – but it would cut into financial industry profits. So the industry dispatched an army of lobbyists to fight against the rule, including by burying the agency in public comments. In the first four months, the DOL received hundreds of comments on the proposed rule, including comments from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, BlackRock, and other powerful financial interests. After a public hearing with testimony from groups like Fidelity and J.P Morgan, the agency received over 100 more comments — including dozens from members of Congress, many of which were heavily slanted toward industry talking points. Because the law requires agencies to respond to each concern laid out in the public comments, when corporate interests flood agencies with comments, the process often becomes so time-consuming and resource-intensive that it can kill or delay final rules altogether – and that’s exactly what happened. On September 19, 2011, the DOL withdrew the proposed rule, but said that it planned to try again in the future. 

Undeterred, Wall Street pushed forward their lobbying campaign to ensure that the Department of Labor wouldn’t try again to re-issue the fiduciary rule. In June 2013, Robert Lewis, a lobbyist for an investment industry trade group, personally drafted a letter opposing this common-sense reform – and got 32 members of Congress to sign it. The letter ominously urged the Department to “learn from its earlier experience” when the financial industry had killed the first proposal. Soon, members of Congress from both parties were joining in, telling the Obama administration to delay re-issuing the rule. 

To its great credit, the Obama Department of Labor didn’t give up. On February 23, 2015, the agency finally re-proposed the rule. Wall Street ramped up their lobbying once more to try to kill it a second time. This time, with firm resolve and committed allies, DOL and those of us fighting alongside them beat back thousands of comments, and retirees won – but it took so long that Donald Trump became President before the rule fully went into effect. 

Trump came through for Wall Street: the new Administration delayed implementing the rule, and after financial firms spent another $3 million on lobbying at least in part on the rule, the Department of Justice refused to defend it in court. Today, the Department of Labor is led by Eugene Scalia, the very corporate lawyer and ex-lobbyist who brought the lawsuit to kill off the proposal. 

Lobbyists have followed this same playbook to block, narrow, or delay countless other common- sense industry regulations. Swarm regulators and Congress, bury everyone in an avalanche of money, and strangle government action in the public interest before it even gets off the ground. 

That’s why I’m using the revenue from my tax on excessive lobbying to establish a new Lobbying Defense Trust Fund, which will help our government fight back against the influence of lobbyists. 

First, we’ll use the Lobbying Defense Trust Fund to strengthen congressional support agencies. In my plan to strengthen congressional independence from lobbyists, I explained how lobbying tax revenue would help to reinstate the Office of Technology Assessment and increase the budget for other congressional support agencies, like the Congressional Budget Office. 

Second, we’ll give more money to federal agencies that are facing significant lobbying activity. Every time a company above the $500,000 threshold spends money lobbying against a rule from a federal agency, the taxes on that spending will go directly to the agency to help it fight back. In 2010, DOL could have used that money to hire more staffers to complete the rule more quickly and intake the flood of industry comments opposing it. 

Third, revenue from the lobbying tax will help to establish a new Office of the Public Advocate. This office will help the American people engage with federal agencies and fight for the public interest in the rule-making process. If this office had existed in 2010, the Public Advocate would have made sure that DOL heard from workers and retirees – even while both parties in Congress were spouting industry talking points.


My new lobbying tax will make hiring armies of lobbyists significantly more expensive for the largest corporate influencers like Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boeing, and Comcast. Sure, this may mean that some corporations and industry groups will choose to reduce their lobbying expenditures, raising less tax revenue down the road – but in that case, all the better.

And if instead corporations continue to engage in excessive lobbying, my lobbying tax will raise even more revenue for Congress, agencies, and federal watchdogs to fight back.

It’s just one more example of the kind of big, structural change we need to put power back in the hands of the people – and break the grip that lobbyists have on our government for good.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Releases Plan to End Corruption in Washington

“The Best President Money Can’t Buy” Senator Elizabeth Warren lays out her plan to end corruption in government, in a speech to 20,000 in Washington Square Park, NYC, near where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took 146 lives in 1911 and triggered a grassroots movement that secured labor reform. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Ahead of her speech in Washington Square Park near the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, in which she delineated how corruption in Washington has allowed the rich and powerful to tilt the rules and grow richer and more powerful, Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to end Washington corruption. 

Warren has already advanced comprehensive anti-corruption legislation in Congress, but she is going further with a set of far-reaching and aggressive proposals. “Her plan will end lobbying as we know it, end self-dealing in the White House, end corporate capture of the federal government’s rule-making process, hold our federal judiciary and the Supreme Court to the highest ethical standards, and more.”

Warren declared, “No matter what brings you into this fight — whether it’s child care, student loans, health care, immigration, or criminal justice, one thing is crystal clear: corruption is making it worse — and it’s at the root of the major problems we face as a democracy.

“Reforming the money game in Washington isn’t enough. We also need to comprehensively clean up our campaign finance system. That’s why I’ve also called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. It’s why we need to get rid of the Super PACs and secret spending by billionaires and giant corporations that try to buy our democracy. It’s why we need to break the grip that big donors have by creating a system of exclusive public funding of our elections. But even if we solve our campaign finance problems, comprehensive anti-corruption reforms targeted at Washington itself are necessary to finally end the stranglehold that the wealthy and the well-connected have over our government’s decision-making processes.

“I believe that we can root out corruption in Washington. I believe we must make big, structural changes that will once again restore our trust in government by showing that it can work for all of us. And when I’m President, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

This is from the Elizabeth Warren campaign:



In 1958, the National Election Survey first asked Americans a simple question: Do you trust the government to do the right thing most of the time? That year, 73% of Americans said yes.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In 2019, that number is just 17%. Five out of every six Americans do not trust their government to do the right thing.

Why have so many people lost faith in government?

It’s true that right-wing politicians have spent a generation attacking the very idea of government. But it’s also true that these days, our government doesn’t work for most people. Sure, it works great for the wealthy and the well-connected — but for everybody else, it doesn’t.

It doesn’t work because big insurance companies and hospital conglomerates put profits ahead of the health and well-being of the American people, and dump piles of money into political campaigns and lobbying efforts to block any move toward Medicare for All.

It doesn’t work because big oil companies that have concealed climate studies — and funded bought-and-paid-for climate denial research — bury regulators in an avalanche of shady, bad-faith pseudoscience and then spend freely on influence peddling in Congress to make sure nothing like a Green New Deal ever sees the light of day.

It doesn’t work because giant pharmaceutical companies want to squeeze every last penny out of the people who depend on their prescriptions, while their army of lobbyists suffocates reform any time there’s a discussion in Congress on drug pricing.

Universal child care. Criminal justice reform. Affordable housing. Gun reform. Look closely, and you’ll see — on issue after issue, widely popular policies are stymied because giant corporations and billionaires who don’t want to pay taxes or follow any rules use their money and influence to stand in the way of big, structural change.

We’ve got to call that out for what it is: corruption, plain and simple.

Make no mistake about it: The Trump Administration is the most corrupt administration of our lifetimes.

Foreign nations, like Saudi Arabia, funnel money into Trump’s pockets by spending freely at his hotels.

Trump’s tax bill is a $1.5 trillion giveaway that primarily helps large corporations and wealthy Americans. Half of the total registered lobbyists in Washington worked on issues involving the word “tax” the year the bill was written — that’s eleven lobbyists for every member of Congress. And when the members of Congress who championed it lost their elections, they got juicy gigs in the lobbying industry themselves.

Trump’s Supreme Court Justices were hand-picked by right-wing extremist groups that spent millions on television ads — first to hold open a Supreme Court seat in the Obama Administration, and then to pressure the Senate to rubber stamp their candidates of choice, even when it meant ignoring serious sexual assault charges to ram through the confirmation.

Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency was a climate denier with ties to Big Oil — and when he was forced to resign after a slew of ethics violations, Trump replaced him with a former coal lobbyist.

Our nation’s ambassadors are a who’s who of Trump’s biggest donors and Mar-a-Lago members.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, introduces Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has secured the labor-aligned progressive group’s endorsement for President © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But these problems did not start with Donald Trump. They are much bigger than him — and solving them will require big, structural change to fundamentally transform our government.

That’s why I’ve released plans to fight Washington corruption. A plan to make sure that no president is above the law. A plan to tackle defense contractor coziness at the Pentagon. A plan to ban private prisons and expand oversight, transparency, and enforcement for all contractors hired by the federal government. In Congress, I’ve previously advanced wide-ranging anti-corruption legislation.

But we must go further.

Today, I’m announcing a comprehensive set of far-reaching and aggressive proposals to root out corruption in Washington. It’s the most sweeping set of anti-corruption reforms since Watergate. The goal of these measures is straightforward: to take power away from the wealthy and the well-connected in Washington and put it back where it belongs — in the hands of the people.

My plan lays out nearly a hundred ways that we can change our government to fix this problem — from improving public integrity rules for federal officials in every branch of government to ending lobbying as we know it, fixing the criminal laws to hold corrupt politicians to account, and ensuring our federal agencies and courts are free from corrupting influences.

And I’m just getting started.

Restoring Public Integrity

If you choose to be a public servant, you should serve the public — not your own financial interests or the financial interests of the rich and powerful. But we face a crisis of confidence in the ethics and public integrity of federal officials in America. The revolving door in and out of the Trump Administration is spinning out of control, and wave after wave of people in Trump’s orbit are trying to profit personally from his presidency — including him.

But even before Trump entered the White House, our nation’s public integrity rules were far too lax. Too many public officials can easily leverage public service for personal gain. And the ability to walk around government with obvious and direct personal financial conflicts reduces public faith in honest officials. To fix this, we need a total rewrite of our ethics laws.

We must begin by rooting out financial conflicts of interest in Washington.

Donald Trump is a walking conflict of interest. Actually, more like 2,310 conflicts of interest — and counting. His refusal to divest from his businesses has opened the door for giant corporations, foreign lobbyists, and our own government officials to curry favor with his administration and pad his own bottom line.

According to a study by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Donald Trump has visited one of his own properties for nearly a third of the total days that he has been president. Trump’s Washington hotel even sent the federal government a bill for $200,000 because Secret Service agents were forced to stay there as well.

Foreign countries have also taken the hint. Representatives from 65 foreign governments have visited Trump properties since he took office, and embassies have begun booking Trump’s hotels for their events. Trump has egged them on, shamelessly floating another one of his properties as the venue for a future international summit.

Big corporations and billionaires have also tried to curry favor with Donald Trump by patronizing his properties. T-Mobile sent its top executives to the Trump Hotel in DC right after the company announced a merger requiring the Trump administration’s approval. Payday lenders held their annual meetings at Trump’s golf club in Miami, while the Trump administration has consistently gutted restrictions and regulations on exploitative payday lenders. And several wealthy donors who pay the $200,000 Mar-a-Lago membership fee — which doubled when Trump became President — have exerted “sweeping influence” at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Even Trump’s own appointees and political allies have tried to suck up to Trump by exploiting his conflicts of interest. More than 100 Republican Members of Congress have become patrons of Trump’s businesses since he became President. Most recently, Trump’s Attorney General William Barr spent $30,000 at Trump’s Washington Hotel, implausibly claiming that it was the only place he could find for his holiday party in Washington — and on an official trip to Ireland, Vice President Mike Pence stayed at a Trump property reportedly at Trump’s instruction, even though it was three hours away from his scheduled meetings in Dublin.

Trump is by far the most egregious example — and we need new rules to hold leaders accountable for this kind of conduct. But we cannot condemn this conduct without also acknowledging that opportunities for the appearance of self-dealing are far too easy across the federal government. Restoring public confidence isn’t just about replacing Trump and his cronies. We need new bright lines and clear rules to eliminate the possibility of public officials serving private interests.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Here’s where I would start:

End self-dealing in the White House by applying conflict of interest laws to the President and Vice President. Under my plan,Presidents and Vice Presidents would be required to place their businesses into a blind trust to be sold off. No more payoffs. No more bribes from foreign governments. No more self-dealing.

Disclose tax returns of federal candidates and officeholders to the public automatically. Tax return disclosure for federally elected officials shouldn’t be optional — it should be the law. And it shouldn’t just apply to Presidents — it should apply to everyone running for or serving in federal elected office. Presidential candidates, in particular, should follow the standard set by Barack Obama for releasing at least eight years of returns. (I’ve released eleven.) And the IRS should simply put out the required tax returns for qualified candidates themselves — so nothing like Donald Trump’s refusal to disclose his taxes can ever happen again.

Force senior government officials to divest from privately-owned assets that could present conflicts of interest. White House advisers like Jared Kushner have been allowed to use their government positions to further enrich themselves and their families, while Cabinet Officials like Betsy DeVos have hundreds of millions held in privately-owned accounts that make it nearly impossible to determine who could exercise influence over DeVos and her family. The fact that such conduct could pass any kind of ethics screen makes it clear that we need new rules. My plan puts an end to this practice by requiring senior officials, including those who are unpaid like Kushner, to divest from their businesses and other conflicted assets.

Completely ban the practice of government officials trading individual stocks while in office. Under current law, members of Congress can trade stocks and then use their powerful positions to increase the value of those stocks and pad their own pockets. Tom Price, Trump’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services, purchased pharmaceutical stocks while in the House of Representatives — then fought hard to get a return on his investment by pushing policies that would benefit giant pharmaceutical companies. And another member of Congress, Chris Collins, was charged for trading the same stocks based on insider information. But prosecutions like this are rare. And even where investments don’t influence decisions, the existence of these direct conflicts undermine public confidence in government.

The solution is simple — ban members of Congress and senior government officials from owning or trading individual stocks. Instead, they can invest in conflict-free mutual funds or funds managed by the federal Thrift Savings Program. Law firms follow these kinds of rules to prevent the appearance of financial conflicts with the interests of their clients — there’s no reason important public servants and elected officials shouldn’t, too.

Shut down a raft of additional shady practices that provide opportunities for government officials to serve their own financial interests. My plan bans members of Congress and senior congressional staff from serving on corporate boards — whether or not they’re paid to do so. It also strengthens ethics requirements for presidential transition teams to ensure that those who are shaping our government disclose any conflicts of interest and comply with the highest ethical standards. And to ensure that there are no questions about whether members of Congress are acting based on financial conflicts, like lobbyist-turned-Senator-turned-lobbyist Jon Kyl, my plan requires every member of Congress, including appointed ones, to disclose their financial conflicts before they take office.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking from a podium built of wood from the Frances Perkins homestead in Newcastle, Maine, obtained from her grandson, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, evokes FDR’s Labor Secretary in laying out a plan to end the link between corporate greed and political corruption to get a fair deal for workers and families © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Finally, we must immediately end the possibility of trading on access to insider political information. Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars flow into so-called “political intelligence” firms that hire operatives to prowl the halls of Congress for insider information and sell that information to Wall Street traders trying to make a buck. My plan combats this practice by implementing strict disclosure requirements and regulations on so-called “political intelligence consulting,” including criminal penalties for former public officials who use insider political information to make investments or advise others who are doing so.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Next, it’s time to close and padlock the revolving door between government and industry.

Donald Trump has not just enriched himself and his advisers; he has turned his White House into a case study in the dangers of the revolving door between industry and government.

Trump railed against Goldman Sachs on the campaign trail in 2016. But as soon as he was elected, he tapped more than half a dozen of the firm’s employees to fill senior positions in his administration — enough to open a new Goldman Sachs branch office.

One of these people was Gary Cohn, the former President of Goldman Sachs, who became Trump’s top economic adviser. On his way out of Goldman, the firm gave him a whopping $285 million — $123 million in the form of cash and stocks that he could only collect if he left the firm to work in government.

I call that a “pre-bribe.” And it paid off, too. While cashing that $285 million check, Gary Cohn helped rewrite our nation’s tax laws, rammed the changes through Congress, and gave Goldman Sachs their money back — and a few billion dollars in change.

There are countless examples like this in the Trump Administration, but it’s a widespread problem in official Washington — and it goes far beyond obvious and egregious quid-pro-quo bribery. When someone serves in government with plans to immediately turn around and work in the industry they’ve been overseeing, that individual faces obvious incentives to advance the interests of their future employer. And when someone moves immediately from a regulated company to a job regulating that company, the public is right to worry about the risk that such individuals will prioritize the interests of their old bosses.

Government must be able to benefit from tapping private sector expertise, and public servants who leave government should be able to find post-government employment. Similarly, volunteer and part-time government positions, which make sense in certain situations, necessarily assume some level of outside work. But there is a difference between expertise and graft.

It isn’t simply a matter of replacing Trump with an honest President. We’ve seen the issue of industry lobbyists and top execs spinning freely through the revolving door to and from important government positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations. Fixing the underlying problem requires us to tighten up the rules to ensure that when government officials are making decisions, they are considering only the public interest — and not their own personal interests or the interests of their friends and future employers.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Here are some obvious steps to help address this problem:

Ban “golden parachutes” that provide corporate bonuses to executives for serving in the federal government. We can’t let big companies get away with installing their top executives in senior government positions and paying them pre-bribes on their way out the door. Under my plan, this would be illegal.

Restrict the ability of lobbyists to enter government jobs. Under my proposal, current lobbyists won’t be able to take government jobs for 2 years after lobbying, with limited exceptions for when the hiring is in the national interest. Corporate lobbyists will have to wait at least 6 years — no exceptions, and no waivers. These extensive cooling off periods will help ensure that if anyone with this background is hired into a government role, they are being selected because of their expertise, and not their connections.

Make it illegal for elected officials and top government appointees to become lobbyists — ever. My plan bans Presidents, Vice Presidents, Members of Congress, federal judges, and Cabinet Secretaries from ever becoming lobbyists — not for one or two years, but for life. All other federal employees will also be barred from lobbying their former office, agency, or House of Congress after they leave government service for at least 2 years — or 6 years for corporate lobbyists.

Restrict the ability of companies to buy up former federal officials to rig the game for themselves. Under my plan, companies would be banned from immediately hiring former senior government officials whose agency or office the company has lobbied in the past two years. And because the biggest and most market-dominant corporations in America also exercise outsized political power, my plan blocks them from using personnel hires to rig the game by banning giant companies, banks, and monopolies from hiring former senior government officials for at least four years.

Next, we’ll hold our federal judiciary to the highest ethical standards.

Giant corporations and powerful interests haven’t limited their influence-peddling to Congress and the White House. They’ve also turned their attention to the courts.

There is “no formal mechanism for review of conflicts” for Supreme Court justices. But covering your eyes doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see. The Federalist Society — an extremist, corporate-funded right-wing group that hand-picked Trump’s list of Supreme Court nominees — picked up Justice Clarence Thomas’s bills to attend a fancy retreat hosted by the Koch brothers. And for years, Justice Thomas failed to file public disclosures indicating that his wife worked as the White House liaison for the Heritage Foundation, a group whose co-founder personally began the conservative push to overturn Roe v. Wade.

It’s not just Supreme Court Justices, either. Federal judges can do just about anything without disclosing it, and in the rare instance where their ethical violations are discovered and they face investigation, they can escape further scrutiny altogether by resigning without penalty.

Our federal court system only works if the American people have faith that it is neutrally dispensing fair-minded justice without bias or personal interests interfering in judicial decisions. If we want the American people to believe this, we need some serious judicial ethics reforms.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Here’s where I’d start:

Ensure Supreme Court Justices are held to the same standard as the rest of the federal judiciary. Today, every federal judge is bound by a Code of Conduct — except Supreme Court justices. It’s a recipe for corruption. We can fix it by applying the Code of Conduct for United States Judges to Supreme Court justices.

Strengthen ethics requirements for federal judges. Corporations and advocacy organizations routinely provide federal judges with all-expenses-paid trips to extravagant seminars. My plan tightens existing rules that prohibit judges from accepting gifts and establishes a new fund to cover reasonable expenses for participating in judicial seminars. No more big speaking fees and no more fancy trips to hunting lodges and golf courses. My plan also bans federal judges from owning individual stocks.

Require judges to disclose key information so the American people can verify that their conduct is above ethical reproach. My plan requires the Judicial Conference of the United States — the institution in charge of administering our federal courts — to publicly post judges’ financial reports, recusal decisions, and speeches to bring these activities out of the shadows. This will build public confidence that cases are being heard by fair and independent judges.

Close the loophole that allows federal judges to escape investigations for misconduct by stepping down from their post. When Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski was confronted with a judicial ethics investigation for sexual misconduct towards young female law clerks, he resigned — and the investigation immediately ended. Similarly, sexual assault and perjury complaints against Brett Kavanaugh were dismissed when he was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump-Barry resigned from the bench, ending an investigation into the Trump family’s decades-long tax schemes, including potential fraud. Under my plan, investigations will remain open until their findings are made public and any penalties for misconduct are issued.

Ending Lobbying As We Know It

The fundamental promise of our democracy is that every voice matters. But when lobbyists and big corporations can buy influence from politicians, that promise is broken. The first thing to do to fix it is to end lobbying as we know it.

The Constitution guarantees the American people the right to petition their government with grievances. Lobbying isn’t new — it’s been around for centuries. What’s new is the weaponization of lobbying to coerce our government into doing whatever corporate interests want. While companies have an important role to play in our democratic conversation, the voices of corporations and powerful interests shouldn’t be the only voices in the room. But that’s exactly what’s happened.

Prior to the 1970s, there was little corporate spending on lobbying. Last year, over eleven thousand registered lobbyists roamed the halls of government, mostly representing their powerful clients — to the tune of over $3 billion. It’s no wonder everyone else has such a hard time breaking through the noise.

This boom in the influence-peddling game has happened around the same time that right-wing ideologues have slashed independent government resources and in-house expertise, which are essential for officials to maintain their independence from the “expertise” of self-interested corporate lobbyists. Meanwhile, most corporate lobbying work remains hopelessly opaque — nominally governed by a patchwork of weak definitions, few meaningful restrictions, and inadequate reporting and disclosure requirements. And the free rein granted to corporate lobbyists to also fundraise for political campaigns crosses the line from influence peddling to legalized bribery.

We can break the grip that lobbyists for giant corporations have on our government. Together, we can end lobbying as we know it. Here’s where to start:

Expand the definition of lobbyists to include everyone who is paid to influence lawmakers. Because of our weak laws, only individuals who meet directly with politicians or spend more than 20% of their time lobbying are required to register as lobbyists. That means law firms, consultancies, and even self-described lobbying firms that hire individuals for the express purpose of influencing government may be able to avoid these registration requirements — allowing powerful interests to influence policy without any public accountability. This practice, endemic on both sides of the aisle, must end.

My plan brings this activity out of the shadows by strengthening the definition of a lobbyist to include all individualspaid to influence government. It also creates a new designation for corporate lobbyists to identify individuals paid to influence government on behalf of for-profit entities and their front-groups — and subjects these corporate hired guns to additional restrictions.

Ban lobbying for foreign entities — period. President Trump’s campaign chair currently sits in prison, convicted in part of failing to properly register his shady foreign lobbying activity on behalf of Ukraine. But what is the justification for allowing foreign governments to use Americans as hired guns who sit in the shadows, quietly attempting to influence our domestic political system? That’s not how diplomacy should work. Other nations have ambassadors and diplomatic staff in the United States. If those governments want to interact with our political process they can do so through normal, above-board diplomatic channels. My plan categorically bans the practice of private lobbying for foreign governments, foreign individuals, and foreign companies. No more K Street influence-peddlers looking out for the interests of China, Russia, or Saudi Arabia.

Impose strict rules on all lobbyists, including preventing them from donating to or fundraising for political candidates. Paid lobbyists are hired for one objective: to advance the interests of their clients. Allowing individuals who are paid to influence government officials on policy to also give gifts or funnel money to the political campaigns of those same officials sounds like legalized bribery. My plan not only bans lobbyists from making political contributions, it also bans them from bundling donations or hosting fundraisers for political candidates. And it outlaws lobbying contingency fees, where lobbyists are only paid if they successfully influence politicians to achieve a policy outcome that serves their client’s narrow interests.

Dramatically expand the kinds of information lobbyists are required to disclose. Our current laws require only minimal disclosure from lobbyists of their activities. This prevents the American people from fully understanding who is trying to influence government — and why. My plan requires all lobbyists to report publicly all meetings with Congressional offices or public officials, the documents they provide to those individuals, and all government actions they attempt to influence. It also demands that all charitable non-profit organizations, social welfare organizations, and trade associations disclose any donors whose money was used to develop products to influence Congressional testimony, agency rulemaking, or for lobbying purposes.

Impose a tax on excessive lobbying — and use this revenue to give Congress and agencies the tools to fight back against the corporate influence machine. In 2018, lobbyists spent a whopping $3.4 billion trying to influence public policy on behalf of their clients, including $95 million from the pro-corporate Chamber of Commerce, $73 million from the National Association of Realtors, and $28 million from the Big Pharma lobbying group. The right to petition our government does not allow industries to exercise unlimited financial influence over policymakers. That’s why I will impose a tax on any entity that spends over $500,000 per year on lobbying. The tax will reduce the financial incentive for excessive lobbying, and its revenue will be used to counter the effects of excessive lobbying by providing additional financial resources for agencies to research and review regulatory actions that are the targets of excessive lobbying activity, as well as additional funding for the National Public Advocate, an office established to help the public engage with the rulemaking process, and for Congressional support agencies.

Strengthen Congressional independence from lobbyists. Congressional offices and agencies are severely underfunded, creating unnecessary pressure to rely on lobbyists for expertise. My plan transitions Congressional staff to competitive salaries and reinstates the nonpartisan Congressional Office of Technology Assessment to help members of Congress understand new areas of science and technology — because members of Congress should be able to access expertise and information without being dependent on lobbyists.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

End Corporate Capture of our Federal Agencies

Major federal agencies — agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Energy — were created by Congress to enforce and implement laws that protect the broad interests of the public against the unrestrained exercise of corporate power. But because of the revolving door, the avalanche of lobbyists, and the weakness of our agency tools to fight back, agencies often find their agendas hijacked by the very industries they are supposed to regulate. We can and should make additional changes to strengthen agencies’ independence and their ability to act decisively in the public interest.

Here are some of the steps my plan takes to address this:

Stop powerful actors from peddling fake research — often funded by undisclosed donors — and hold corporations accountable for lying to regulators. I’ll crack down on corporations who manipulate agencies by submitting sham research — like the climate denial studies bought and paid for by oil and gas magnates like the Koch Brothers — by requiring individuals who submit a public comment on a proposed rule to disclose editorial conflicts-of-interest related to any non-peer-reviewed research they cite. Studies that are determined to have conflicts of interest will be withheld from the rulemaking process unless the individual offering that research certifies that they have undergone rigorous, independent peer review. Otherwise, we’ll treat them like the bad faith junk science that they are, excluding them from the rulemaking process and preventing any court from considering them too. And if a company misleads an agency with “analysis” it knows to be false, they’ll be prosecuted just like anyone else who lies under oath to Congress or in a court of law.

End the practice of inviting corporate bigwigs to negotiate rules their companies would have to follow and put a stop to the stall tactics they use to kill public interest rules. My plan restricts the parties eligible to participate in the negotiated rulemaking process so that industry no longer has an open door to dominate the process. It also closes the loopholes that have allowed industry and agencies to delay the implementation of rules it disfavors, including by ending so-called informal review, reducing the review period to 45 days, and clarifying that only Appeals Courts — not individual Federal District judges — can temporarily block the implementation of rules. And my plan requires agencies to publicly justify the withdrawal of any public interest rules.

Give the public the tools to fight back against corporations who seek to co-opt this process for their benefit. My plan establishes an Office of the Public Advocate to help the public engage with important legal changes made by federal agencies during the rulemaking process. I’ll also allow private individuals to bring lawsuits against federal agencies for unnecessarily delaying or failing to enforce agency rules — and against corporations who have violated them.

Ensuring Access to Justice for All

Equal justice is supposed to be the promise of the American legal system. But it’s not delivering on that promise. Instead, we have one system for the wealthy and the well-connected, and a different one for everyone else. It’s hard enough to hold a powerful company accountable through our legal system, but recent developments in the law have made it even harder for individuals to even bring those cases in the first place. We need to reform our legal rules to make sure every person who has been harmed can have their day in court.

Here’s how I’ll start:

Ban forced arbitration clauses. Many companies force their employees and consumers to sign “forced arbitration” clauses as part of their contracts for employment or for services. These clauses mean that if something goes wrong, individuals agree to never file a lawsuit in federal court against the company — and instead are diverted into a private dispute system. These provisions are often tucked in the fine print of contracts that workers or consumers sign, and many people don’t even know that they have signed one until they have been harmed and need our courts to help them get justice. These provisions shouldn’t be enforceable, but the conservative majority in the Supreme Court decided that because there was no law explicitly against them, they could be freely enforced. So let’s pass that law. My plan categorically bans forced arbitration clauses from blocking lawsuits related to employment, consumer protection, antitrust, and civil rights.

Ban mandatory class action waivers. When workers or consumers are wronged by a company, they should be able to band together and seek justice. Taking on a big corporation’s army of lawyers takes enormous sums of money and legal expertise. But class action waivers tucked into consumer and employment contracts prevent individuals from suing together. That makes it virtually impossible to pursue a lawsuit, and gives companies unlimited license to rip you off without any consequences. These anti-worker and anti-consumer provisions shouldn’t be enforceable, but because of a Supreme Court decision written by Justice Gorsuch, they’re alive and well. That’s why my plan would restore the fundamental right of workers and consumers to join together when they are wronged by banning these provisions in employment, consumer protection, antitrust, and civil rights cases.

Restore fair pleading standards. When you file a lawsuit, one of the first steps of the legal process is called “discovery.” That’s when you’re supposed to ask questions and gather facts about your case, but a pair of recent Supreme Court decisions upended decades of pleading standards, making it difficult to file a case without already having many of these facts. These widely criticized cases deprive plaintiffs of their day in court, and allow powerful defendants to successfully dismiss cases before they even begin. My plan would undo this damage by restoring fair pleading standards so that every person who has been harmed gets their day in court.

Holding Bad Actors Accountable

The reforms I’ve outlined will go a long way toward cleaning up Washington. But we also need strong enforcement mechanisms and broad transparency requirements to make sure we can hold bad actors accountable.

Let’s start with real penalties for violating the rules.

When Secretary Ben Carson was warned about his son participating in fancy government events, he brushed it off. And when an independent federal ethics watchdog determined that Kellyanne Conway should be fired for repeatedly violating federal law, the administration barely cared.

In Washington, corrupt actors should face penalties when they break the law — not return to business as usual.

Here’s how my plan would fix this:

Establish a new U.S. Office of Public Integrity and strengthen ethics enforcement. The new office will investigate ethics complaints from the public, impose civil and administrative penalties on violators, and refer egregious violations to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

Expand and strengthen the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. My plan ensures this office has the proper authorities and resources to conduct investigations, refer civil and criminal violations to the appropriate authorities, and recommend disciplinary action to the House and Senate Ethics Committees.

Expand the definition of “official act” in bribery statutes to criminalize the sale of government access. When a politician accepts gifts in exchange for government favors, that’s bribery — but thanks to a wrong-headed Supreme Court decision in United States v. McDonnell, our laws don’t fully recognize it. My plan plugs that tractor-sized loophole and ensures that corrupt politicians who accept bribes can be prosecuted. It also clarifies that a stream of benefits — rather than a single act — qualifies as an unlawful benefit paid in exchange for a bribe.

Clarify the definition of “in-kind contributions” to ensure that no future candidate can receive political assistance from foreign countries or solicit large hush money payments without facing legal consequences. Politicians and advisors like Donald Trump Jr. have reportedly tried to receive help from foreign countries, even though it is illegal for foreign individuals to provide in-kind contributions to campaigns. And Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to spend $130,000 to cover up an affair so it would not come to light before the 2016 election, despite laws preventing him from soliciting large in-kind contributions. Although a federal judge accepted Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump’s lawyers and defenders continued to insist that what Cohen did — and what Trump solicited — was not a crime. My plan settles this debate and clarifies that the rules governing in-kind contributions also apply to intangible benefits, such as dirt on political opponents, and in-kind financial contributions, like the payment of hush money, when those contributions are made at least in part — even if not exclusively — for campaign purposes.

Senator Elizabeth Warren holds campaign rally in Washington Square Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Deter Corruption Through Broad New Government Transparency Standards

If government is supposed to work for the people, then the people should be given enough information to judge how well their government is working for them. Too many government records are kept behind lock and key, making it impossible for the public to hold their government accountable. Significant legal actions that have implications for public health and safety can be kept secret. And the actions of federal contractors — the companies often tasked with the implementation of government policies and programs, like Trump’s family separation policy — are almost completely concealed from public view, thanks to an assortment of exemptions and loopholes.

Here’s how my plan would shine a light on government activity:

Prohibit courts from sealing records involving major public health and safety issues. When people were killed by ignition defects in Chevrolet vehicles, General Motors settled the cases on the condition that all documents related to the defects would be sealed from public view. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Big corporations routinely use secret settlements to keep defective products on the market so they can continue to rake in profits. That must stop. My plan bans courts from sealing records in cases involving public health and safety, with rare exceptions, so that corporations cannot conceal these dangerous conditions from the American people.

Impose strict transparency standards for federal courts and remove barriers to accessing electronic judicial records. My plan requires federal appellate courts to livestream audio of their proceedings, share case assignment data in bulk, and make all electronic case records — which currently must be purchased from the government — more easily accessible and free of charge.

Strengthen federal open records laws to close loopholes and exemptions that hide corporate influence, and increase transparency in Congress, federal agencies, and nonprofits that aim to influence policy. The American people have a right to know whether their elected leaders are acting in the public’s best interest — and who is trying to influence them. Under my plan, Congressional committees, government agencies, and federal contractors would be required to publicly release key information so that the American people — and the American press — can hold the federal government accountable.

Read more about her plan here

Warren Tells Crowd of 20,000 in Washington Square Park ‘We can root out corruption in Washington’

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running for president in 2020, outlines her plan to address corruption before a crowd of 20,000 gathered in Washington Square Park, New York City © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running to be the Democratic candidate for president, began and ended her speech before some 20,000 gathered at Washington Square Park in New York City relating the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 which took place mere blocks from the Arch that took the lives of 146 Jewish and Italian immigrant women and girls – still one of the largest industrial accidents in US history. She spoke of Francis Perkins, who ran from a townhouse just behind where Warren stood. Perkins was already an activist for workers’ rights and won fire safety regulations, “but didn’t stop there,” and other worker protections.

Even before women got the right to vote, Perkins became a political adviser on workers rights and became the first woman Cabinet secretary, Secretary of Labor, under FDR.

Perkins, Warren said, worked from within, while thousands of women in the trade union movement, worked from outside – 500,000 marched in a funeral procession up Fifth Avenue for the 146.

Speaking from a podium built of wood from the Frances Perkins homestead in Newcastle, Maine, obtained from her grandson, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, Warren used the story to prove her point of what can happen through grassroots action, that big bold things – such as what she is proposing to make fundamental, systemic change. “Don’t be afraid…” she declared – a not-so-subtle shout out to the Democrats who, desperate to see Trump voted out of office, are looking for a candidate they believe has the best chance of winning the general election, which for many means someone who won’t rock the boat too much, rather than someone whose ideas and proposals excite, engage and promote real structural change.

There were cheers throughout her speech delivered by a crowd that the campaign estimated at 20,000 (Warren’s biggest to date) but especially as she said, “Medicare for All,” and then, at the phrase, “wealth tax,” chants of 2c, 2c, 2c rose up.

Warren, who had just been endorsed by the National Working Families Party,  said that the 2c on every dollar after the first $50 million in wealth, would correct historic, systemic, and “government sanctioned” racism and sexism that produced gaps in income and also political power – redlining in housing, the pay gap between women and men, particularly women of color, criminal justice reform, eliminating private prisons that incentive locking people up, eliminating student debt, providing universal pre-K. Without using the word “reparations” – she offered a more constructive, implementable series of programs that would accomplish the same goal of equalizing the opportunity to succeed.

“The time to hold back is over. We need structural change.”

Warren added, “I know what you are thinking – it is too much, too big, too hard.” Then, scanning the crowd, she joked, “OK, nobody here. I know this change is possible because others have made big structural change before.”

And she went back to Perkins and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory – how factory owners, made filthy rich because of the horrendous working conditions and wages were able to amass the wealth to buy politicians, how greed by owners and corruption by politicians effectively negated democracy.

“30 years old, Francis Perkins already was a human rights activist…how, seeing the fire at the factory, she ran and watched as young women leaped to their death rather than be consumed by the flames.  500,000 at that march. It wasn’t the first march, but it was different.”

“While they picketed from the outside, Francis pushed from the inside. Those women died because of the greed of business owners and the corruption of politicians. Perkins was the lead investigator, years before women could vote, let alone have a role in government. But Frances had a” plan – she fought for fire safety, but she didn’t stop there.




Senator Elizabeth Warren, running for president in 2020, outlines her plan to address corruption before a crowd of 20,000 gathered in Washington Square Park, New York City © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“With Francis working from the inside and the women workers applying pressure from the outside, they rewrote state labor laws top to bottom to protect workers. She became the leading expert on working conditions.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt named her his Labor Secretary through the New Deal.

“That what one woman can do.” She added, “It’s what’s possible when we fight together.”

Warren declared, “No matter what brings you into this fight — whether it’s child care, student loans, health care, immigration, or criminal justice, one thing is crystal clear: corruption is making it worse — and it’s at the root of the major problems we face as a democracy.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running for president in 2020, outlines her plan to address corruption before a crowd of 20,000 gathered in Washington Square Park, New York City © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Reforming the money game in Washington isn’t enough. We also need to comprehensively clean up our campaign finance system. That’s why I’ve also called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. It’s why we need to get rid of the Super PACs and secret spending by billionaires and giant corporations that try to buy our democracy. It’s why we need to br”eak the grip that big donors have by creating a system of exclusive public funding of our elections. But even if we solve our campaign finance problems, comprehensive anti-corruption reforms targeted at Washington itself are necessary to finally end the stranglehold that the wealthy and the well-connected have over our government’s decision-making processes.

“I believe that we can root out corruption in Washington. I believe we must make big, structural changes that will once again restore our trust in government by showing that it can work for all of us. And when I’m President, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

Warren, famous now for posing for selfies with people who come out to see her, wound up staying until midnight before the line, thousands long, was through. “I stayed four hours, but so did the last guy on line,” she later said. It is an indication of the enthusiasm for her and her endurance as a candidate at a time when a big issue among Democrats is who can get out the vote.

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© 2019 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Senator Warren Releases Bold, Progressive Plan to Expand Social Security

Senator Elizabeth Warren, vying to be the Democratic candidate for president in 2020, has released a bold, progressive plan to expand Social Security © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Whenever Republicans talk about the need to reform “entitlements,” they always refer to the “sacrifice” demanded of the people most dependent upon Social Security benefits and most vulnerable (with the least political power) in society. They never ask the most obscenely rich, most comfortable, most powerful to make any sacrifice – after all, they are the “job creators” and we don’t want to interfere with the number of yachts and vacation homes they can purchase.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, has just released her plan to expand Social Security – not cut it.

“Millions of Americans are depending on Social Security to provide a decent retirement. My plan raises Social Security benefits across-the-board by $2,400 a year and extends the full solvency of the program for nearly another two decades, all by asking the top 2% to contribute their fair share to the program,” Warren states. “It’s time Washington stopped trying to slash Social Security benefits for people who’ve earned them. It’s time to expand Social Security.”

This is from the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Today, Elizabeth Warren released her plan to provide the biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly 50 years. Her plan will mean an immediate Social Security benefit increase of $200 a month — $2,400 a year — for every current and future Social Security beneficiary in America. That will immediately help nearly 64 million current Social Security beneficiaries, including 10 million Americans with disabilities and their families. 

The plan also updates outdated rules to further increase benefits for lower-income families, women, people with disabilities, public-sector workers, and people of color. The plan finances these benefit increases and extends the solvency of Social Security by nearly two decades by asking the top 2% of earners to contribute their fair share to the program. 

According to an independent analysis, Elizabeth’s plan will immediately lift an estimated 4.9 million seniors out of poverty — cutting the senior poverty rate by 68%. It will also produce a “much more progressive Social Security system” by delivering much larger benefit increases to lower and middle-income seniors on a percentage basis, increase economic growth in the long term, and reduce the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years. 

Read more about her plan here and below: 

I’ve dedicated most of my career to studying what’s happening to working families in America. One thing is clear: it’s getting harder to save enough for a decent retirement.

A generation of stagnant wages and rising costs for basics like housing, health care, education, and child care have squeezed family budgets. Millions of families have had to sacrifice saving for retirement just to make ends meet. At the same time, fewer people have access to the kind of pensions that used to help fund a comfortable retirement.

As a result, Social Security has become the main source of retirement income for most seniors. About half of married seniors and 70% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. More than 20% of married seniors and 45% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income. And the numbers are even more stark for seniors of color: as of 2014, 26% of Asian and Pacific Islander beneficiaries, 33% of Black beneficiaries, and 40% of Latinx beneficiaries relied on Social Security benefits as their only source of retirement income.

Yet typical Social Security benefits today are quite small. Social Security is an earned benefit — you contribute a portion of your wages to the program over your working career and then you and your family get benefits out of the program when you retire or leave the workforce because of a disability — so decades of stagnant wages have led to smaller benefits in retirement too. In 2019, the average Social Security beneficiary received $1,354 a month, or $16,248 a year. For someone who worked their entire adult life at an average wage and retired this year at the age of 66, Social Security will replace just 41% of what they used to make. That’s well short of the 70% many financial advisers recommend for a decent retirement — one that allows you to keep living in your home, go to a doctor when you’re sick, and get the prescription drugs you need.

And here’s the even scarier part: unless we act now, future retirees are going to be in even worse shape than the current ones.

Despite the data staring us in the face, Congress hasn’t increased Social Security benefits in nearly fifty years. When Washington politicians discuss the program, it’s mostly to debate about whether to cut benefits by a lot or a little bit. After signing a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway that primarily helped the rich and big corporations, Donald Trump twice proposed cutting billions from Social Security.

We need to get our priorities straight. We should be increasing Social Security benefits and asking the richest Americans to contribute their fair share to the program. For years, I’ve helped lead the fight in Congress to expand Social Security. And today I’m announcing a plan to provide the biggest and most progressive increase in Social Security benefits in nearly half a century. My plan:

Increases Social Security benefits immediately by $200 a month — $2,400 a year — for every current and future Social Security beneficiary in America.

Updates outdated rules to further increase benefits for lower-income families, women, people with disabilities, public-sector workers, and people of color.

Finances these changes and extends the solvency of Social Security by nearly two decades by asking the top 2% of families to contribute their fair share to the program.

An independent analysis of my plan from Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, finds that my plan will accomplish all of this and:

Immediately lift an estimated 4.9 million seniors out of poverty, cutting the senior poverty rate by 68%.

Produce a “much more progressive Social Security system” by raising contribution requirements only on very high earners and increasing average benefits by nearly 25% for those in the bottom half of the income distribution, as compared to less than 5% for people in the top 10% of the distribution.

Increase economic growth in the long term and reduces the deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next ten years.

Every single current Social Security beneficiary — about 64 million Americans — will immediately receive at least $200 more per month under my plan. That’s at least $2,400 more per year to put toward home repairs, or visits to see the grandkids, or paying down the debt you still might owe. And every future beneficiary of Social Security will see at least a $200-a-month increase too, whether you’re 60 years old and nearing retirement or 20 years old and just entering the workforce. If you want to see how my plan will affect you, check out my new calculator here.

Our Current Retirement Crunch — And How It Will Get Worse If We Don’t Act

Seniors today are already facing a difficult retirement. Without action, future generations are likely to be even worse off.

While we’ve reduced the percentage of seniors living in poverty over the past few decades, the numbers remain unacceptably high. Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, 14% of seniors — more than 7 million people — live in poverty. Another 28% of seniors have incomes under double the poverty line. A record-high 20% of seniors are still in the workforce in their retirement years. Even with that additional source of income, in 2016, the median annual income for men over 65 was just $31,618 — and just $18,380 for women over 65.

It’s hard to get by on that, especially as costs continue to rise. Most seniors participate in Medicare Part B, and standard premiums for that program now eat up close to 10% of the average monthly Social Security benefit. The average senior has just 66% of Social Security benefits remaining after paying all out-of-pocket healthcare expenses — and if we don’t adopt Medicare For All, out-of-pocket medical spending by seniors is projected to rise sharply over time. The number of elderly households still paying off debt has grown by almost 20% since 1992, and hundreds of thousands of seniors have had their monthly benefits garnished to pay down student loan debt.

Meanwhile, the prospect of paying for long-term care looms over most retirees. 26% of seniors wouldn’t be able to fund two years of paid home care even if they liquidated all of their assets. And for people that have faced lifelong discrimination, like LGBTQ seniors who until recently were denied access to spousal pension privileges and spousal benefits, the risk of living in or near poverty in retirement is even higher.

This squeeze forces a lot of seniors to skimp in dangerous and unhealthy ways. A recent survey found that millions of seniors cut pills, delay necessary home and car repairs, and skip meals to save money.

While the picture for current retirees is grim, it’s projected to get even worse for Americans on the cusp of retirement. Among Americans aged 50 to 64, the average amount saved in 401(k) accounts is less than $15,000. On average, Latinx and Black workers are less likely to have 401(k) accounts, and those who do have them have smaller balances and are more likely to have to make withdrawals before retirement. The gradual disappearance of pensions has been particularly harmful to workers of color who are near retirement. And 13% of all people over 60 have no pension or savings at all.

Meanwhile, this near-retirement group are also suffering under the weight of mounting debt levels and other costs. 68% of households headed by someone over 55 are in debt. Nearly one-quarter of people ages 55 to 64 are also providing elder care. According to one study, 62% of older Latinx workers, 53% of older Black workers, and 50% of older Asian workers work physically demanding jobs, leading to higher likelihood of disability, early exit from the job market, and reduced retirement benefits.

Gen-Xers and Millennials are in even greater trouble. For both generations, wages have been virtually stagnant for their entire working lives. 90% of Gen-Xers are in debt, and they’re projected to be able to replace only 50% of their income in retirement on average. Many Gen-Xers are trapped between their own student loans and mortgages, the costs of raising and educating their children, and the costs of caring for their elderly relativesTwo-thirds of working millennials have no retirement savings, and the numbers are even worse for Black and Latinx working millennials. Debt, wage stagnation, and decreasing pension availability mean that, compared to previous generations at the same age, millennials are significantly behind in retirement planning.

There’s also the looming prospect of serious Social Security cuts in 2035. Social Security has an accumulated reserve of almost $3 trillion now, but because of inadequate contributions to the program by the rich, we are projected to draw down that reserve by 2035, prompting automatic 20% across-the-board benefit cuts if nothing is done.

My plan addresses both the solvency of Social Security and the need for greater benefits head on — with bold solutions that match the scale of the problems we face.

Creating Financial Security By Raising Social Security Benefits

The core of my plan is simple. If you get Social Security benefits now, your monthly benefit will be at least $200 more — or at least $2,400 more per year. If you aren’t getting Social Security benefits now but will someday, your monthly benefit check with be at least $200 bigger than it otherwise would have been.

My $200-a-month increase covers every Social Security beneficiary — including the 10 million Americans with disabilities and their families who have paid into the program and now receive benefits from it. Adults with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those without a disability. While 9% of people without disabilities nearing retirement live in poverty, 26% of people that age with disabilities live in poverty. Monthly Social Security benefits make up at least 90% of income for nearly half of Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries.

This benefit increase will also provide a big boost to other groups. It will help the 621,000 disabled veterans who are Social Security beneficiaries. It will benefit the 1 million seniors who exclusively receive Social Security Insurance — which helps Americans with little or no income and assets — and the 2.7 million Americans who receive both SSI and Social Security benefits.

On top of this across-the-board benefit increase, I’ll ensure that current and future Social Security beneficiaries get annual cost-of-living adjustments that keep pace with the actual costs they face. The government currently increases Social Security benefits annually to keep pace with the price of goods typical working families buy. But older Americans and people with disabilities tend to purchase more of certain goods — like health care — than working-age Americans, and the costs of those goods are increasing more rapidly. That’s why my plan will switch to calculating annual cost-of-living increases based on an index called CPI-E that better reflects the costs Social Security beneficiaries bear. Based on current projections, that will increase benefits even more over time.

Combined, my immediate $200-a-month benefit increase for every Social Security beneficiary and the switch to CPI-E will produce significantly higher benefits now and decades into the future. My Social Security calculator will let you see how much your benefits could change under my plan.

Targeted Social Security Improvements to Deliver Fairer Benefits

Broadly speaking, Social Security benefits track with your income during your working years. That means pay disparities and wrongheaded notions that value salaried work over time spent raising children or caring for elderly relatives carry forward once you retire. That needs to change. My plan increases Social Security benefits even further by making targeted changes to the program to deliver fairer benefits and better service to women and caregivers, low-income workers, public sector workers, students and job-seekers, and people with disabilities.

Women and Caregivers

In part because of work and pay discrimination and time out of the workforce to provide care for children and elderly relatives, women receive an average monthly Social Security benefit that’s only 78% of the average monthly benefit for men. That’s one reason women over the age of 65 are 80% more likely to live in poverty than men. My plan includes several changes that primarily affect women and help reduce these disparities.

Valuing the work of caregivers. My plan creates a new credit for caregiving for people who qualify for Social Security benefits. This credit raises Social Security benefits for people who take time out of the workforce to care for a family member — and recognizes caregiving for the valuable work it is.

The government calculates Social Security benefits based on average lifetime earnings, with years spent out of the workforce counted as a zero for the purpose of the average. When people spend time out of the workforce to provide care for a relative, their average lifetime earnings are smaller and so are their Social Security benefits.

That particularly harms lower-income women, people of color, and recent immigrants. There are more than 43 million informal family caregivers in the country, and 60% of them are women. A 2011 study found that women over fifty forgo an average of $274,000 in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits when they leave the workforce to take care of an aging parent. Caregivers who also work are more likely to be low-income and incur out-of-pocket costs for providing care. Because access to paid or partially paid family leave is particularly limited for workers of color — and first-generation immigrant workers are less likely to have jobs with flexible schedules or paid sick days — these workers are more likely to have to take unpaid leave to provide care and thus suffer reductions in their Social Security benefits.

My plan will give credit toward the Social Security average lifetime earnings calculation to people who provide 80 hours a month of unpaid care to a child under the age of 6, a dependent with a disability (including a veteran family member), or an elderly relative. For every month of caregiving that meets these requirements, the caregiver will be credited for Social Security purposes with a month of income equal to the monthly average of that year’s median annual wage. People can receive an unlimited amount of caregiving credits and can claim these credits retroactively if they have done this kind of caregiving work in the last five years. By giving caregivers credits equal to the median wage that year, this credit will provide a particular boost in benefits to lower-income workers.

Improving benefits for widowed individuals from dual-earner households and widowed individuals with disabilities. Because women on average outlive men by 2.5 years, they typically spend more of their retirement in widowhood, a particularly vulnerable period financially. My plan provides two targeted increases in benefits for widows.

In households with similar overall incomes, Social Security provides more favorable survivor benefits to the surviving spouses in single-earner households than in dual-earner households. After the death of a spouse, a surviving spouse from a dual-earner household can lose as much as 50% of her household’s retirement income. My plan will reduce this disparity by ensuring that widow(er)s automatically receive the highest of: (1) 75% of combined household benefits, capped at the benefit level a household with two workers with average career earnings would receive; (2) 100% of their deceased spouse’s benefits; or (3) 100% of their own worker benefit.

My plan will also improve benefits for widowed individuals with disabilities. Currently, a widow with disabilities must wait until she is 50 to start claiming Social Security survivor benefits if her spouse dies — and even at 50, she can only claim benefits at a highly reduced rate. Since most widows with disabilities can’t wait until the official retirement age of 66 to claim their full survivor benefits, their average monthly benefit is only $748 a month, or less than $9,000 a year. My plan will repeal the age requirement so widow(er)s with disabilities can receive their full survivor benefits at any age without a reduction.

Lower-Income Workers

My plan ensures that workers who work for a lifetime at low wages do not retire into poverty.

In 1972, Congress enacted a Special Minimum Benefit for Social Security. The benefit was supposed to help people who had earned consistently low wages over many years of work. But it’s become harder to qualify for the benefit, and the benefit amount has shrunk in value so it now helps hardly anyone. Today, only 0.6% of all Social Security beneficiaries receive the Special Minimum Benefit, and projections show that no new beneficiaries will receive it this year.

No one who spends 30 years working and contributing to Social Security should retire in poverty. That’s why my plan restructures the Special Minimum Benefit so that more people are eligible for it and the benefits are a lot higher. Under my plan, any person who has done 30 years of Social Security-covered work will receive an annual benefit of at least 125% of the federal poverty line when they reach retirement age. That means a baseline of $1,301 a month in 2019 — plus the $200-a-month across-the-board increase in my plan, for a total of $1,501 a month. That’s more than $600-a-month more than what that worker would receive under current law.

Public Sector Workers

My plan also ensures that public sector workers like teachers and police officers get the full Social Security benefits they’ve earned.

If you work in the private sector and earn a pension, you’re entitled to your full pension and your full Social Security benefits in retirement. But if you work in state or local government and earn a pension, two provisions called the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset can reduce your Social Security benefits. WEP slashes Social Security benefits for nearly 1.9 million former public-sector workers and their families, while GPO reduces — and in most cases, eliminates — spousal and survivor Social Security benefits for 700,000 people, 83% of whom are women.

My plan repeals these two provisions, immediately increasing benefits for more than two million former public-sector workers and their families, and ensuring that every current state and local government employee will get the full Social Security benefits they’ve earned.

Students and Job Seekers

My plan also updates the Social Security program so that it encourages people to complete college and participate in job training programs or registered apprenticeships.

Restoring and extending benefits for full-time students whose parent has a disability or has died. In the Reagan administration, Congress cut back a provision that allowed children receiving Social Security dependent benefits to continue to receive them until age 22 if they were full-time students. Before the provision was repealed, these beneficiaries came from families with average incomes 29% lower than their college peers, were more likely to have a parent with low educational attainment, and were more likely to be Black. Access to these benefits boosted college attendance and performance by letting low-income students reduce the number of hours they had to work while attending school. When Congress repealed this benefit, college attendance by previously eligible beneficiaries dropped by more than one-third. My plan restores this provision — and it extends eligibility through the age of 24 because only 41% of all students complete college in four years, and Black, Native American, and Latinx students have even lower four-year completion rates. A longer eligibility period will improve the chances the people who receive this benefit complete college before the benefit ends.

Encouraging registered apprenticeships and job training. Currently, workers who participate in registered apprenticeships or job training may receive lower Social Security benefits because they are taking time out of the workforce or agreeing to accept lower-paying positions to gain skills. We’re about to enter a period of immense transformation in the economy, and we should encourage workers to take time to participate in a registered apprenticeship or job training program so they are prepared for in-demand jobs. That’s why I proposed a $20 billion investment in high-quality apprenticeships in my Economic Patriotism and Rural America plans. My plan today complements that investment by letting workers in job training and apprenticeship programs elect to exclude up to three years in those programs from their lifetime earnings calculation for Social Security benefits, thereby producing a higher average lifetime earnings total — and higher benefits.

Improving the Administration of Social Security Benefits

My plan improves Social Security in another important way: it makes it easier for people to actually get the benefits they’ve earned.

Congress is starving the Social Security Administration of money, creating hardship for people who rely on the program for benefits. Congress has slashed SSA’s operating budget by 9% since 2010, even as the number of beneficiaries is growing. Meanwhile, more Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age — a critical period when workers are most likely to claim Social Security Disability benefits. SSA has a staff shortagerising telephone and office wait times, and outdated technology. Sixty-four Social Security field offices have closed since 2011 and 500 mobile offices have closed since 2010. Field office closures are correlated with a 16% drop in disability insurance beneficiaries in the surrounding area because those people — who have paid into the system and earned their benefits — no longer have assistance to file their applications.

Disability insurance applicants can wait as long as 22 months for an eligibility hearing. Thousands of people have died while waiting for administrative law judges to determine if they’re eligible to receive their benefits. To make matters worse, Donald Trump issued an Executive Order that will politicize the process of selecting the judges who adjudicate these cases. And his administration keeps proposing more cuts to the SSA budget.

My plan restores adequate funding to the Social Security Administration so that it can carry out its core mission. That will allow us to hire more staff, keep offices open, reduce call times, update the technology system, and give applicants and beneficiaries the services they need. And I will revoke Trump’s Executive Order on administrative law judges.

Strengthening Social Security By Extending Solvency For Nearly Two More Decades

Currently, the rich contribute a far smaller portion of their income to Social Security than everyone else. That’s wrong, and it’s threatening the solvency of the program. My plan fully funds its new benefit increases and extends the full solvency of Social Security for nearly 20 more years by asking the richest top 2% of families to start contributing more.

Social Security is funded by mandatory insurance contributions authorized by the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or “FICA”. The FICA contribution is 12.4% of wages, with employers and employees splitting those contributions equally at 6.2% each. (Self-employed workers contribute the full 12.4%.) If you’re a wage employee, you contribute 6.2% of your very first dollar of wages to Social Security, and 6.2% of every dollar after that — up to an annual cap. This year’s cap is $132,900, and each year, that cap increases based on the growth in national average wages.

Congress designed the cap to go up each year based on average wages to ensure that a fairly steady percentage of total wages in America were subject to the FICA contribution requirement. But growing wage disparities over the past few decades has thrown the system out of whack.

While wages for lower-income and middle-income workers have been fairly stagnant — limiting the growth of the national average wage figure we use to set the annual cap — income at the very top has been skyrocketing. That means more income for the biggest earners has been above the cap and therefore exempt from the FICA contribution requirement. In 1983, 90% of total wage earnings were below the cap. Now it’s just 83%. The top 1% of earners have an estimated effective FICA contribution rate of about 2%, compared to more than 10% for the middle 50% of earners. That amounts to billions of dollars every year that should have gone to Social Security but instead remained in the pockets of the very richest Americans, while the Social Security system slowly starved.

And the very rich have escaped contributing to the system in yet another way: more and more of their income is in the form of unearned investment income, not wages, and they don’t have to contribute any of their investment income to Social Security. Although most Americans earn most of their income from wages, capital income makes up more than half of total income for the top 1% and more than two-thirds for the top 0.1%. All that income escapes the Social Security program.

My plan brings our Social Security system back into balance by asking the top 2% of earners to start contributing a fair share of their wages to the system and by asking the top 2% of families to contribute a portion of their net investment income into the system as well:

First, my plan imposes a 14.8% Social Security contribution requirement on individual wages above $250,000 — affecting less than the top 2% of earners — split equally between employees and employers at 7.4% each. While most American workers contribute to Social Security with every dollar they earn, CEOs and other very high earners contribute to Social Security on only a fraction of their pay. My plan changes that and requires very high earners to contribute a fair share of their income. My plan also closes the so-called “Gingrich-Edwards” loophole to ensure that self-employed workers can’t easily reclassify income to avoid making Social Security contributions.

Second, my plan establishes a new 14.8% Social Security contribution requirement on net investment income that applies only to the top 2% — individuals making more than $250,000 in annual income or families making more than $400,000 in annual income. My plan creates a new contribution requirement — modeled on the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) from the Affordable Care Act — that asks people and families above these high income thresholds to contribute 14.8% of the lesser of net investment income or total income above these thresholds. My plan also closes loopholes in the NIIT that allow wealthy owners of partnerships and other businesses to avoid it. This contribution requirement will ensure that the very wealthy are paying into Social Security even when they report the bulk of their income as capital returns rather than wages.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Releases Plan to Protect Our Communities from Gun Violence

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running to be the Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to protect communities from gun violence © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren released her plan to protect communities from gun violence. This is from the Warren2020 campaign (Read it here).

“The conversation about gun violence in America is shifting — but not just because we’ve seen a spike in violence fueled by the NRA and the Trump administration’s dangerous policies and extremist rhetoric. It’s also because of the tireless work of activists, organizers, and community leaders who have been fighting for reform at the state and local level.

“If you need proof that the majority of Americans support common sense gun reform, look at what’s happening in state legislatures and city councils across the country. Moms, students, and faith leaders have been packing hearing rooms and taking back spaces formerly reserved for NRA lobbyists. Survivors of mass shootings are doing the critical work of turning our attention to the daily gun violence in cities that doesn’t make headlines.

“And it’s working. States that pass expanded background checks see lower rates of gun-related deaths and gun trafficking. States that disarm domestic abusers see lower rates of intimate partner gun violence. States with extreme risk laws have been successful in reducing gun suicides and have used them to prevent potential mass shootings. Community-based violence intervention programs are popping up in cities across the country.

“Together, we can build on this momentum. We can build a grassroots movement to take back the Senate, eliminate the filibuster, and pass federal gun safety legislation that will save lives. And from the White House, I’ll make sure that the NRA and their cronies are held accountable with executive action. If we turn our heartbreak and our anger into action, I know we can take the power from the NRA and the lawmakers in their pockets and return it to the people.”

Charlestown, MA – Prior to her appearance at the Everytown presidential forum, Elizabeth Warren released her plan to confront gun violence in America. Yesterday, she called on Walmart to stop selling guns — one of the largest gun retailers in the world. 

Elizabeth will set a goal of reducing gun deaths in this country by 80%, starting with an ambitious set of executive actions she will take as president. In order to break the hold of the NRA and the gun lobby, she will pass her sweeping anti-corruption legislation and eliminate the filibuster to pass gun legislation in her first 100 days. She supports federal licensing, universal background checks, a military-style assault weapon ban, higher taxes on guns and ammunition, and closing the loopholes to make it harder for someone violent to get a gun. 

We know that Black and Latinx Americans have borne the brunt of the gun violence tragedy in our country. Instead of focusing solely on law enforcement and incarceration, Elizabeth will invest in interventions designed to stop gun violence before it occurs by piloting evidence-based community violence intervention programs at scale.

She will call on Congress to repeal the liability shield that protects the industry – and then go further, by establishing a federal private right of action to allow survivors of gun violence to get their day in court. Her plan also includes $100 million annually for gun safety research, and commits to study the reforms we enact to see what’s working, and send Congress updated reform proposals on an annual basis.

Read more about her plan here and below: 

Columbine.

Sandy Hook.

Charleston.

Pulse.

Las Vegas.

Parkland.

Pittsburgh.

Now El Paso. Dayton.

These are just a few of the names etched into the American consciousness, synonymous with senseless loss and enduring grief.

It’s been a week since these latest attacks, and on average every day 100 people are killed in the U.S. by a gun — in shootings that occur in our homes, on our streets, at our playgrounds.

The victims are our neighbors and our friends. Someone’s mother, someone’s child, someone’s sibling.

There is no shortage of horrifying statistics about our gun violence epidemic.

Our firearm homicide rate is 25 times higher than other comparable countries.

Our firearm suicide rate is nearly 10 times higher.

Women in the U.S. are 21 times more likely to be shot to death than women in other high-income countries, most killed by an intimate partner.

21 children and teenagers are shot every day.

The list goes on.

And while the majority of Americans — including a majority of gun owners — support sensible gun legislation, even the most basic proposals, like universal background checks, are consistently blocked by far-right ideologues in Congress who are bought and paid for by the gun industry, their NRA partners, and a supporting army of lobbyists and lawyers.

Faced with a complex and entrenched public health crisis, made worse by the ongoing inability of a corrupt government to do anything about it, it’s easy to despair. But we are not incapable of solving big problems. We’ve done it before.

In 1965, more than five people died in automobile accidents for every 100 million miles traveled. It was a massive crisis. As a nation, we decided to do better. Some things were obvious: seatbelts, safer windshields, and padded dashboards. Other things only became clear over time: things like airbags and better brake systems. But we made changes, we did what worked, and we kept at it. Over fifty years, we reduced per-mile driving deaths by almost 80% and prevented 3.5 million automobile deaths. And we’re still at it.

In 2017, almost 40,000 people died from guns in the United States. My goal as President, and our goal as a society, will be to reduce that number by 80%. We might not know how to get all the way there yet. But we’ll start by implementing solutions that we believe will work. We’ll continue by constantly revisiting and updating those solutions based on new public health research. And we’ll make structural changes to end the ability of corrupt extremists to block our government from defending the lives of our people — starting with ending the filibuster.

Here’s what that will look like.

As president, I will immediately take executive action to rein in an out-of-control gun industry — and to hold both gun dealers and manufacturers accountable for the violence promoted by their products.

I will break the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress by passing sweeping anti-corruption legislation and eliminating the filibuster so that our nation can no longer be held hostage by a small group of well-financed extremists who have already made it perfectly clear that they will never put the safety of the American people first.

I will send Congress comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation. I will sign it into law within my first 100 days. And we will revisit this comprehensive legislation every single year — adding new ideas and tweaking existing ones based on new data — to continually reduce the number of gun deaths in America.

Executive Action to Reduce Gun Violence

Reform advocates are engaged in a valuable discussion about gun reforms that can be achieved by executive action. We must pursue these solutions to the fullest extent of the law, including by redefining anyone “engaged in the business” of dealing in firearms to include the vast majority of gun sales outside of family-to-family exchanges. This will extend requirements — not only for background checks, but all federal gun rules — to cover all of those sales. This includes:

Requiring background checks. We will bring the vast majority of private sales, including at gun shows and online, under the existing background check umbrella.

Reporting on multiple purchases. We will extend the existing requirement to report bulk sales to nearly all gun sales. And I’ll extend existing reporting requirements on the mass purchase of certain rifles from the southwestern border states to all 50 states.

Raising the minimum age. We will expand the number of sales covered by existing age restriction provisions that require the purchaser to be at least 18 years old, keeping guns out of the hands of more teenagers.

My administration will use all the authorities at the federal government’s disposal to investigate and prosecute all those who circumvent or violate existing federal gun laws. This includes:

Prosecuting gun traffickers. Gun trafficking across state lines allows guns to move from states with fewer restrictions to those with strict safety standards, and gun trafficking across our southern border contributes to gang violence that sends migrants fleeing north. I’ll instruct my Attorney General to go after the interstate and transnational gun trafficking trade with all the resources of the federal government.

Revoking licenses for gun dealers who break the rules. Only 1% of gun dealers are responsible for 57% of guns used in crimes. My Administration will direct the ATF to prioritize oversight of dealers with serial compliance violations — and then use its authority to revoke the license of dealers who repeatedly violate the rules.

Investigating the NRA and its cronies. The NRA is accused of exploiting loopholes in federal laws governing non-profit spending to divert member dues into lavish payments for its board members and senior leadership. I’ll appoint an attorney general committed to investigating these types of corrupt business practices, and the banks and third-party vendors — like Wells Fargo — that enabled the NRA to skirt the rules for so long.

To protect the most vulnerable, my administration will use ATF’s existing regulatory authority to the greatest degree possible, including by:

Protecting survivors of domestic abuse. We will close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by defining intimate partner to include anyone with a domestic violence conviction involving any form of romantic partner.

Reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken our existing gun rules. We will rescind the Trump-era rules and policies that weaken our gun safety regime, including rules that lower the standards for purchasing a gun, and those that make it easier to create untraceable weapons or modify weapons in ways that circumvent the law. This includes overturning Trump-era policies enabling 3-D printed guns, regulating 80% receivers as firearms, and reversing the ATF ruling that allows a shooter to convert a pistol to a short-barreled rifle using pistol braces.

Restrict the movement of guns across our borders. We will reverse the Trump administration’s efforts to make it easier to export U.S.-manufactured weapons by transferring exports of semi-automatic firearms and ammunition from the State Department to the Commerce Department, and we will prevent the import of foreign-manufactured assault weapons into the United States.

The shooting in El Paso also reminds us that we need to call out white nationalism for what it is: domestic terrorism. Instead of a president who winks and nods as white nationalism gets stronger in this country, we need a president who will use all the tools available to prevent it. It is completely incompatible with our American values, it is a threat to American safety and security, and a Warren Justice Department will prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.

Structural Changes to Pass Gun Safety Legislation

The next president has a moral obligation to use whatever executive authority she has to address the gun crisis. But it is obvious that executive action is not enough. Durable reform requires legislation — but right now legislation is impossible. Why? A virulent mix of corruption and abuse of power.

Big money talks in Washington. And the NRA represents a particularly noxious example of Washington corruption at work. Over the last two decades, the NRA has spent over $200 million on lobbying Congress, influencing elections, and buying off politicians — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The NRA spends millions poisoning our political discourse with hateful, conspiracy-fueled propaganda, blocking even modest reforms supported by 90% of American voters.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the American people rallied for reform. President Obama suggested several serious legislative changes. The Senate voted down an assault weapons ban. It rejected a background checks proposal, even though 54 Senators from both parties voted for it, because of a right-wing-filibuster. These were the bare minimum steps we needed to take. And six years later, Congress still hasn’t done a thing.

This pattern repeats itself throughout our government. When money and influence can override the will of a huge majority of Americans, that is corruption, pure and simple.

It’s time to fight back. I have proposed the most sweeping set of anticorruption reforms since Watergate — a set of big structural changes that includes ending lobbying as we know it and slamming shut the revolving door. My first priority when I’m elected President is to enact this package to get our government working for everyone again.

But anti-corruption legislation alone won’t be enough to get gun safety legislation done. After decades of inaction, Democrats have rallied behind a number of important gun reforms. If we continue to allow bought and paid for extremists in the Senate to thwart the will of the people, we will never enact any of them.

Enough is enough. Lasting gun reform requires the elimination of the filibuster.

Legislation to Reduce Gun Violence

When I am president, I will send Congress comprehensive legislation containing our best ideas about what will work to reduce gun violence.

It starts by ensuring that safe, responsible ownership is the standard for everyone who chooses to own a gun. We’ll do that by:

Creating a federal licensing system. States with strict licensing requirements experience lower rates of gun trafficking and violence. A license is required to drive a car, and Congress should establish a similarly straightforward federal licensing system for the purchase of any type of firearm or ammunition.

Requiring universal background checks. I’ll expand background checks via executive action — but Congress should act to permanently mandate universal background checks. And I’ll push Congress to close the so-called “Charleston loophole” that allows a sale to proceed after three days even if the background check is not complete.

Increasing taxes on gun manufacturers. Since 1919, the federal government has imposed an excise tax on manufacturers and importers of guns and ammunition. Handguns are taxed at 10% and other guns and ammunition are taxed at 11%. These taxes raise less in revenue than the federal excise tax on cigarettes, domestic wine, or even airline tickets. It’s time for Congress to raise those rates — to 30% on guns and 50% on ammunition — both to reduce new gun and ammunition sales overall and to bring in new federal revenue that we can use for gun violence prevention and enforcement of existing gun laws.

Establishing a real waiting period. Waiting periods prevent impulsive gun violence, reducing gun suicides by 7–11% and gun homicides by 17%. Over the past 5 years, a national handgun waiting period would have stopped at least 4,550 gun deaths. The federal government should establish a one-week waiting period for all firearm purchases.

Capping firearms purchases. About one out of four of firearms recovered at the scene of a crime were part of a bulk purchase. Congress should limit the number of guns that can be purchased to one per month, similar to a Virginia law that successfully reduced the likelihood of Virginia-bought guns being used in criminal activity.

Creating a new federal anti-trafficking law. Congress should make clear that trafficking firearms or engaging in “straw purchases” — when an individual buys a gun on behalf of a prohibited purchaser — are federal crimes. This would give law enforcement new tools to crack down on gun trafficking and help keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Raising the minimum age for gun purchases. I’ll extend existing age requirements to virtually all sales, but federal law is currently conflicting — for example, a person must be 21 to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer, but only 18 to purchase a rifle. Congress should set the federal minimum age at 21 for all gun sales.

We can also do more to keep military-style assault weapons off our streets. We’ll do that by:

Passing a new federal assault weapons ban. The 1994 federal assault weapons ban successfully reduced gun deaths but was allowed to expire ten years later. Congress should again ban the future production, sale, and importation of military-style assault weapons, and require individuals already in possession of assault weapons to register them under the National Firearms Act. Just as we did successfully with machine guns after the passage of that law, we should establish a buyback program to allow those who wish to do so to return their weapon for safe disposal, and individuals who fail to register or return their assault weapon should face penalties.

Banning high-capacity ammunition magazines. High-capacity magazines were used in 57% of mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, allowing the shooters to target large numbers of people without stopping to reload. Congress should enact a federal ban on large-capacity magazines for all firearms, setting reasonable limits on the lethality of these weapons.

Prohibiting accessories that make weapons more deadly. Gun manufacturers sell increasingly deadly gun accessories, including silencers, trigger cranks, and other mechanisms that increase the rate of fire or make semi-automatic weapons fully automatic. Congress should ban these dangerous accessories entirely.

We should also do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of those at highest risk of violence. We’ll do that by:

Passing extreme risk protection laws. Extreme risk protection orders allow families and law enforcement to petition to temporarily restrict access to firearms for individuals in crisis or at elevated risk of harming themselves or others. Congress should pass a federal extreme risk law and create a grant system to incentivize states to enact their own laws that clearly define extreme risk.

Prohibiting anyone convicted of a hate crime from owning a gun. Too often, guns are used in acts of mass violence intended to provoke fear in minority communities; more than 10,000 hate crimes involve a gun every year. Any individual convicted of a hate crime should be permanently prohibited from owning a gun, full stop.

Protecting survivors of domestic abuse. Domestic violence and gun violence are deeply connected — in an average month, more than 50 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. I’ll close the boyfriend loophole, but Congress should make that permanent, and expand the law to include individuals with restraining orders or who have been convicted of stalking.

Securing our schools. Parents shouldn’t have to buy bullet-proof backpacks for their children — guns have no place on our campuses or in our schools. Congress should improve the Gun-Free School Zones Act to include college and university campuses, and apply to individuals licensed by a state or locality to carry a firearm.

If we want real, long-lasting change, we must also hold the gun industry accountable, including online sites that look the other way when sellers abuse their platforms. We’ll do that by:

Repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Nearly every other industry has civil liability as a check on irresponsible actions, but a 2005 law insulates firearms and dealers from civil liability when a weapon is used to commit a crime, even in cases when dealers were shockingly irresponsible. No one should be above the law, and that includes the gun industry. Congress should repeal this law, immediately.

Holding gun manufacturers strictly liable for the harm they cause through a federal private right of actionGun manufacturers make billions in profit by knowingly selling deadly products. Then they are let completely off the hook when people take those deadly products and inflict harm on thousands of victims each year. State tort law already recognizes that certain types of products and activities are so abnormally dangerous that the entities responsible for them should be held strictly liable when people are injured. Congress should codify that same principle at the federal level for guns by creating a new private right of action allowing survivors of gun violence to hold the manufacturer of the weapon that harmed them strictly liable forcompensatory damages to the victim or their family.

Strengthening ATF. The NRA has long sought to hobble the ATF, lobbying against staffing and funding increases for the agency and getting its congressional allies to impose absurd restrictions on its work even as the agency struggled to meet its basic responsibilities. Congress should fully fund ATF’s regulatory and compliance programs and remove the riders and restrictions that prevent it from doing its job.

Regulating firearms for consumer safety. Today there are no federal safety standards for firearms produced in the United States. We can recall unsafe products from trampolines to children’s pajamas — but not defective guns. Congress should repeal the provision of law that prevents the Consumer Product Safety Commission from regulating the safety of firearms and their accessories.

Tightening oversight for gun dealers. Today there is no requirement for federally-licensed gun shops to take even simple steps to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. Congress should pass basic safety standards for federally-licensed gun dealers, including employee background checks, locked cabinets, and up-to-date inventories of the weapons they have in stock.

Holding gun industry CEOs personally accountable. I’ve proposed a lawthat would impose criminal liability and jail time for corporate executives when their company is found guilty of a crime or their negligence causes severe harm to American families — and that includes gun industry CEOs.

Tragedies like the shootings we witnessed in El Paso and Dayton capture our attention and dominate the conversation about gun reform. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg of gun violence in America. Everyday, we lose one hundred Americans to gun violence, with hundreds more physically injured and countless more mentally and emotionally traumatized. And Black and Latinx Americans have borne the brunt of the gun violence tragedy in our country.

In the past, those statistics have been used to justify increased policing and strict sentencing laws. Communities already traumatized by gun violence were doubly victimized by policies that locked up their young people and threw away the key. We’ve got a chance to show that we’ve learned from the past and to chart a new path. It starts by acknowledging that gun violence is a public health crisis, one that cannot be solved solely by the criminal justice system.

We can start to do that by investing in evidence-based community violence intervention programs. Federal grant funding today focuses significantly on law enforcement and incarceration, rather than interventions designed to stop gun violence before it occurs. The data in urban communities indicate that the majority of violence is perpetrated by a small number of offenders, and many cities have found success with programs that identify those at highest risk of becoming the victim or perpetrator of a violent gun crime, then employing strategies to interrupt the cycle of violence before it escalates. Programs that engage the surrounding community, employ mediation to prevent retaliation, build trust with law enforcement, and provide needed long-term social services have been proven to de-escalate tensions and dramatically reduce violence. As president, I’ll establish a grant program to invest in and pilot these types of evidence-based intervention programs at scale.

Annual Research and Annual Reauthorization

Historically, when Congress works to address big national issues, we don’t simply pass one law and cross our fingers. Instead, we continue the research — into new policies and around the consequences of our existing policies — and then come back on a regular basis to update the law.

We don’t do this with guns. Not only have we not passed meaningful legislation in almost a generation, but thanks to the NRA, for decades Congress prohibited federal funding from being used to promote gun safety at all, effectively freezing nearly all research on ways to reduce gun violence. Last year, Congress finally clarified that the CDC could in fact conduct gun violence research — but provided no funding to do so.

This ends when I’m President. My budget will include an annual investment of $100 million for DOJ and HHS to conduct research into the root causes of gun violence and the most effective ways to prevent it, including by analyzing gun trafficking patterns, and researching new technologies to improve gun safety. These funds will also be used to study the reforms we enact — to see what’s working, what new ideas should be added, and what existing policies should be tweaked. And every year, I will send Congress an updated set of reforms based on this new information. That’s how we’ll meet our goal.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren’s Plan to Transform America’s Approach to Trade

Senator Elizabeth Warren, running to be the 2020 Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to break decades of Washington consensus and transform every aspect of America’s current approach to trade.  © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details a plan to transform America’s approach to trade: “Trade can be a powerful tool to help working families but our failed pro-corporate agenda has used trade to harm American workers and the environment. My plan represents a new approach to trade — one that uses America’s leverage to boost American workers and raise the standard of living across the globe. The President has a lot of authority to remake trade policy herself. When I’m elected, I intend to use it.” Here are the details, as provided by the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running to be the 2020 Democratic candidate for president, released her plan to break decades of Washington consensus and transform every aspect of America’s current approach to trade. 

America enters trade negotiations with enormous leverage because it is the world’s most attractive market. A Warren Administration won’t hand that leverage to big corporations to use for their own narrow purposes. Elizabeth will use it to create and defend good American jobs, raise wages and farm income, combat climate change, lower drug prices, and raise living standards worldwide. Under Elizabeth’s plan, America will engage in international trade — but on our terms and only when it benefits American families. 

The plan is the third pillar of Elizabeth’s 
economic patriotism agenda. Read more about her plan here and below:
 

Last month, I released my economic patriotism agenda — my commitment to fundamentally changing the government’s approach to the economy so that we put the interests of American workers and families ahead of the interests of multinational corporations. I’ve already released my ideas for applying economic patriotism to manufacturing and to Wall Street. This is my plan for using economic patriotism to overhaul our approach to trade.

For decades, big multinational corporations have bought and lobbied their way into dictating America’s trade policy. Those big corporations have gotten rich but everyone else has paid the price. We’ve lost millions of jobs to outsourcing, depressed wages for American workers, accelerated climate change, and squeezed America’s family farmers. We’ve let China get away with the suppression of pay and labor rights, poor environmental protections, and years of currency manipulation. All to add some zeroes to the bottom lines of big corporations with no loyalty or allegiance to America.

We need to completely transform our approach to trade. America enters into trade negotiations with enormous leverage because America is the world’s most attractive market. As President, I won’t hand America’s leverage to big corporations to use for their own narrow purposes — I’ll use it to create and defend good American jobs, raise wages and farm income, combat climate change, lower drug prices, and raise living standards worldwide. We will engage in international trade — but on our terms and only when it benefits American families.

A New Approach to Trade

My plan is a new approach to trade — one that is different from both the Washington insider consensus that brought us decades of bad trade deals and from Donald Trump’s haphazard and ultimately corporate-friendly approach.

Unlike the insiders, I don’t think “free trade” deals that benefit big multinational corporations and international capital at the expense of American workers are good simply because they open up markets. Trade is good when it helps American workers and families — when it doesn’t, we need to change our approach. And unlike Trump, while I think tariffs are an important tool, they are not by themselves a long-term solution to our failed trade agenda and must be part of a broader strategy that this Administration clearly lacks.

To ensure that American families benefit from international trade in the decades to come, I want to invest in American workers and to use our leverage to force other countries to raise the bar on everything from labor and environmental standards to anti-corruption rules to access to medicine to tax enforcement. If we raise the world’s standards to our level and American workers have the chance to compete fairly, they will thrive — and millions of people around the world will be better off too.

Achieving this vision isn’t about tough talk or tweets. We must do the hard work of transforming every aspect of our current approach to trade: from our negotiating process to the negotiating objectives we pursue to the way we enforce agreements. That’s what I intend to do.

A Trade Negotiation Process that Reflects America’s Interests

Our current approach to negotiating trade agreements works great for the wealthy and the well-connected. The negotiating text is kept confidential from all but a small set of advisory groups comprised mostly of corporate executives and industry trade group representatives. Once those corporate interests are finished whispering in the ears of our negotiators, the completed text is released. Then, under the expedited “Fast Track” procedure Congress typically uses to approve trade agreements, our elected representatives must vote up or down on the agreement with no ability to propose and secure any changes to it. Meanwhile, the negotiators who constructed it often breeze through the revolving door to take jobs with the corporations whose interests underlie the deal.

This is undemocratic and obviously corrupt. In a Warren Administration, we will negotiate and approve trade agreements through a transparent process that offers the public a genuine chance to shape it:

Trade negotiators will publicly disclose negotiating drafts and provide the public with an opportunity to comment. When federal agencies write new rules, they typically must publish a proposed version of the rule and permit the public to submit comments on it. I will adopt a similar approach for our trade deals. Prior to negotiations, our negotiators will publish a draft of their proposals in the Federal Register, let the public offer comments on the draft, and take those comments into consideration during negotiations. And then as talks proceed, they will publish drafts of the negotiating texts so the public can monitor the negotiations.
 

Trade advisory committees will prioritize the views of workers and consumers. I will ensure that there are more representatives from labor, environmental, and consumer groups than from corporations and trade groups on every existing advisory committee. And I’ll expand the current list of advisory committees to create one for consumers, one for rural areas, and one for each region of the country, so that critical voices are at the table during negotiations.  

The US International Trade Commission will provide a regional analysis of the economic effects of a trade agreement. Trade agreements can hollow out communities and transform regional economies. Yet the report the ITC provides before Congress considers a trade agreement only includes a nationwide analysis of a trade deal’s economic impact. I will push for the agency to provide a region-by-region analysis so the public and Members of Congress can understand how an agreement is likely to affect the places they live and represent.  

The congressional approval process will offer more opportunities for the public and elected representatives to shape trade agreements. I will seek expedited congressional approval of trade agreements only when every regional advisory committee and the labor, consumer, and rural advisory committees unanimously certify that the agreement serves their interests. I will also expand the list of congressional committees that must review any agreement before it is eligible for expedited consideration.

Together, these changes will ensure that our negotiations reflect the views of American families, not corporate interests.

Using Our Leverage to Demand More for American Families and to Raise the Global Standard of Living

While a better process will produce better agreements, we also must fundamentally shift the goals of our trade agenda so they are aligned with the interests of America’s families.

With certain important exceptions, we live in a low-tariff world. Modern trade agreements are less about the mutual reduction of tariffs and more about establishing regulatory standards for everything from worker rights to pollution to patent protections.

My approach to trade reflects that reality. For too long, we have entered into trade deals with countries with abysmal records on laborenvironmental, and human rights issues. In exchange for concrete access to the American market, we get vague commitments to do better, which we then hardly enforce. The result is that millions of people in our trading-partner countries don’t gain the benefits of higher standards — and companies can easily pad their profits by shifting American jobs to countries where they can pay workers next to nothing and pollute the air and water freely.

That will end under my Administration. I am establishing a set of standards countries must meet as a precondition for any trade agreement with America. And I will renegotiate any agreements we have to ensure that our existing trade partners meet those standards as well.

My preconditions are that a country must:

Recognize and enforce the core labor rights of the International Labour Organization, like collective bargaining and the elimination of child labor.  

Uphold internationally recognized human rights, as reported in the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights, including the rights of indigenous people, migrant workers, and other vulnerable groups.  

Recognize and enforce religious freedom as reported in the State Department’s Country Reports.  

Comply with minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  

Be a party to the Paris Climate agreement and have a national plan that has been independently verified to put the country on track to reduce its emissions consistent with the long-term emissions goals in that agreement.  

Eliminate all domestic fossil fuel subsidies.  

Ratify the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.  

Comply with any tax treaty they have with the United States and participate in the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project to combat tax evasion and avoidance.  

Not appear on the Department of Treasury monitoring list of countries that merit attention for their currency practices.

A country should only be considered an acceptable partner if it meets these basic standards. Shamefully, America itself does not meet many of these labor and environmental standards today. I am committed to fixing that as President. And to help bring other countries up to these standards, I’ll revitalize our commitment to providing technical assistance to help countries improve.

I will also go beyond these minimum standards in key areas to promote the interests of American workers and families.

LaborI will ensure trade agreements protect Buy American and other programs designed to develop local industry, contain strong rule-of-origin standards to promote domestic manufacturing, protect worker pensions, promote equal pay for equal work for women, and prohibit violence against workers. Unlike previous trade deals agreements that have put labor standards in side agreements that are difficult to enforce, I will make labor standards central to any agreement.

Climate Change and the Environment. Climate change is real, it’s man-made, and we’re running out of time to address it. America should be leading this fight, but we have turned our backs on our responsibilities — with communities of color in the U.S. and developing countries bearing a disproportionate amount of the harm.

Trump is moving us in the wrong direction — withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, renegotiating NAFTA without even a mention of climate change, and handing special carve outs to oil and gas companies.

Beyond requiring implementation of the Paris Climate accord and the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies as preconditions for any trade agreement, I have already proposed a Green Marshall Plan to dedicate $100 billion to helping other countries purchase and deploy American-made clean energy technology.

But we must do more. I will push to secure a multilateral agreement to protect domestic green policies like subsidies for green products and preferential treatment for environmentally sustainable energy production from WTO challenges. And because big corporations will move their production to the countries with the weakest greenhouse gas emissions standards — undermining global efforts to address climate change and penalizing countries that are doing their part — I will impose a border carbon adjustment so imported goods that these firms make using carbon-intensive processes are charged a fee to equalize the costs borne by companies playing by the rules.

Prescription Drugs. Last year, Americans spent more than $500 billion on prescription drugs. That’s a 50% increase since 2010. Nearly 3 in 10Americans report not taking their medicine as directed because of costs. And yet, one of the core elements of America’s current trade agenda is guaranteeing pharmaceutical firms monopoly protections so they can avoid competition from generic drugs — driving up costs and reducing access to necessary medicine abroad, and undermining our efforts to reduce drug prices here at home. That’s exactly what the Trump Administration has done as part of their failed effort to renegotiate NAFTA.

While medical innovation is important, there is no link between extremely long exclusivity periods and pharmaceutical innovation. These are giveaways to drug companies, plain and simple, which allow them to maintain ludicrously high drug prices.

As President, I will fight to bring down the costs of prescription drugs here and around the world. I will never use America’s leverage to push another country to extend exclusivity periods for prescription drugs. I will support efforts to impose price controls on pharmaceuticals. And I will actively seek out opportunities to reduce exclusivity periods in our existing trade deals in exchange for securing other changes that will help America’s working families.

Agriculture. For decades, trade deals have squeezed family farmers, with Black farmers losing their land particularly quickly. Between the trade fights incited by Trump’s haphazard tariffs and a series of natural disasters, America’s farmers are now facing the worst crisis in almost 40 years. They are also facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty and instability. Trump’s tariffs have reduced crop prices, threatened farmers already operating on razor-thin margins, and opened up new non-American markets against which our farmers are now forced to compete. Like trade deals of the past, Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 is written to help giant multinational agribusinesses at the expense of family farms, and it will do nothing to solve the newly created market insecurity Trump’s tariffs have caused.

As President, I will fight for trade agreements that reward American farmers for their hard work by negotiating for fair prices for goods, breaking up the monopolies in grain trading and meat packing, and protecting domestic markets to create stability for America’s family farms. And I will impose Country-of-Origin Labeling rules to protect American producers and provide transparency to consumers.

Consumer protection. We must ensure that the food we eat is high-quality and safe. But our trade agreements have limited safety standards and the inspection of imported foods, while simultaneously enabling a new flood of food imports that overwhelm food safety inspectors. In my Administration, our trade pacts will require imported food to meet domestic food safety standards, including enhanced border inspection requirements.

As with imported food, our current trade deals require us to allow imports of other products and services that do not meet domestic safety and environmental standards. My trade agreements will ensure that imported products and services must meet the same standards as domestic products and services.

Antitrust. We are in an era of massive consolidation across many sectors of the economy. One of the reasons why is that we have a narrow, permissive approach to mergers that looks only at economic efficiency and consumer welfare instead of assessing the impact that a merger will have on competition itself.

In recent years, we have added this problematic standard into trade agreements and proposed it as the defining objective for competition policy in new and renegotiated agreements. Under my administration, we will not propose this standard in any new agreement, and we will work to renegotiate agreements to remove it.

Delivering for American Families with Stronger Enforcement

Our approach to enforcing trade agreements drives down standards worldwide and undermines American families. We offer big corporations fast and powerful methods to enforce the provisions that benefit them but make it nearly impossible for Americans to enforce labor and environmental protections. Foreign governments only fear a challenge to strong rules that might hurt corporate bottom lines, not to weak rules that might not adequately protect workers, the environment, or public health.

I will entirely reorient our approach to enforcement so we drive standards up, not down. I’ll start by ending “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS, the favorable enforcement approach we offer corporations. Under ISDS, a company that believes that a new law violates some aspect of a trade agreement can skip the courts and challenge the law before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company wins, the panel can order that country’s taxpayers to pay out billions in damages — with no review by an actual court. What’s worse, the arbitration panels handing out these binding rulings are often made up of corporate lawyers whose day jobs are representing the very same companies that seek judgments before them.

Companies have used ISDS to undermine laws intended to benefit the public interest. A French company challenged Egypt when it increased the minimum wage. A Swedish company challenged Germany when it decided to cut back on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. These cases have real effects across the globe: an ISDS panel’s decision to hear a challenge that Philip Morris brought against Uruguay’s anti-smoking campaign prompted several other countries to abandon similar public health efforts.

As President, I will not include ISDS in any new agreement and will renegotiate existing agreements to remove ISDS from them.

And I’ll strengthen our approach to enforcing labor and environmental standards. Unlike a corporation under ISDS, a labor union seeking to enforce labor standards can’t bring a claim on its own — it must convince the federal government to bring a claim on its behalf. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, our government can refuse to act for diplomatic or other unrelated reasons.

As a result, the federal government has only pursued one such claim in the last 25 years. In that one case, the American government, AFL-CIO, and Guatemalan unions spent nine years trying to challenge the Guatemalan government for violating the labor chapter of one of our trade deals because Guatemalan workers were being murdered for trying to join a union. In the end, we lost because the trade agreement required a showing that the violations had affected trade.

I will replace this broken process by creating independent commissions — made up of experts in the area — to monitor potential violations, respond to complaints, and investigate claims. The commissions must review and investigate claims promptly so that claims don’t languish for years. If one of these commissions recommends that the United States bring a claim against another country, the United States will be required to do so, without exception.

I will also fix the problem that arose in the Guatemala case by pushing to remove language from our deals that require us to show that a violation of rights was “sustained or recurring” and “affecting trade or investment.” A violation is a violation, and I won’t let another case like Guatemala happen ever again.

I will strengthen our enforcement approach in other ways as well:

Under WTO rules, a country designated as a “non-market economy” can face more serious trade penalties. I will push for a new “non-sustainable economy” designation that would allow us to impose tougher penalties on countries with systematically poor labor and environmental practices. We cannot allow countries that treat their workers and the environment poorly to undercut American producers that do things the right way.  

I already have a plan to move the lead American trade negotiator — the Office of the United States Trade Representative — within my new Department of Economic Development. That will ensure that America’s trade policy supports our broader economic agenda of defending and creating good American jobs. I will also create a new labor and environment enforcement division at the USTR to more effectively enforce obligations, and embed a labor attache at U.S. embassies to monitor compliance with our labor standards.  

Unlike the current approach that lets our government ignore unfair trade practices, my administration will create automatic triggers to initiate investigations into unfair trade practices. If those investigations produce compelling evidence of a violation, the Department will impose trade remedies immediately until the offenders show they are no longer engaging in an unfair trade practice. These automatic triggers will also apply to violations of labor and environmental standards.  

Finally, when we impose duties to support particular domestic industries, I want to ensure that the money we collect actually goes to American workers, instead of being sucked up by executives and shareholders. I will fight to change our trade laws so that we review duties every six months and lift the duties if companies can’t demonstrate the benefits of the duties are going to their workers.

Democratic Candidates for 2020: Warren Releases Plan to Invest in Rural America, Build New Farm Economy

Senator Elizabeth Warren details a plan for Rural America that “will help create a new farm economy where family farmers have financial security and the freedom to do what they do best.” © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth Warren details a plan for Rural America that “will help create a new farm economy where family farmers have financial security and the freedom to do what they do best. Farmers of all backgrounds will finally have the economic freedom to pursue diverse, sustainable farming — and get paid up front for doing so. Americans will have a steady and affordable supply of food. Kids in rural communities will have healthy lunches grown in their backyards and packaged at local food hubs run by small town entrepreneurs. Taxpayers won’t pay twice — once at the grocery store and once through their taxes — for overproduced commodities. We will replenish our soil and our water to chart a path towards a climate solution and achieve the goals of the Green New Deal.”Here are the details, as provided by the Warren campaign:

Charlestown, MA – Elizabeth Warren released her plan to invest in rural America and build a new farm economy. Her plan includes creating a public option for broadband and ending government giveaways for private internet service providers, investing in rural health care, and taking strong anti-trust action against hospital mergers that threaten access to basic services. She outlines how her plans for universal child care and high-quality early education, student debt cancellation, building and rehabilitating affordable housing, and tackling the opioid crisis will restore opportunity in rural America. 

Warren also lays out how she will replace the government’s failed approach to the farm economy and address our climate crisis head-on by paying farmers for sustainable farming practices that can help us fight climate change. 

Warren released her plan before kicking of a 4-day tour across Iowa. Read more about her plan to invest in rural America here. Read more about her plan to build a new farm economy here.   

My Plan to Invest in Rural America

A strong America requires a strong rural America. Rural communities are home to 60 million people, hundreds of tribal nations, and a growing number of new immigrants who account for 37% of rural population growth. These communities feed our nation. And they are leading the country in sustainable energy, generating 99% of America’s wind energy and pioneering efforts to harness solar energy. 

But both corporate America and leaders in Washington have turned their backs on the people living in our rural communities and prioritized the interests of giant companies and Wall Street instead. Burdened by student debt, young people are leaving rural communities to find jobs elsewhere. Big broadband companies exclude entire communities – especially tribal communities and rural communities of color – from access to high-speed Internet. Rural communities are losing access to quality health care. Climate change – from more severe floods to extreme heat – is changing the rural way of life. And farmers are forced to compete with giant agribusinesses on an uneven playing field.

Our failure to invest in rural areas is holding back millions of families, weakening our economy, and undermining our efforts to combat climate change. It’s time to fix this. 

Protecting Access to Health Care in Rural Communities

Health care is a human right. But people can’t fully exercise that right in communities lacking access to basic services like primary, emergency, and maternity care. That is what’s happening across rural America, where the prevalence of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes is  higher, as is the risk of dying from the leading causes of death in the country compared to urban areas. Barriers to coverage, disappearing health facilities, and a shortage of health professionals are denying rural communities the high-quality health care they deserve. 

Insurance coverage continues to remain out of reach for many people living in rural communities – and even for those with coverage, rural America is quickly becoming a medical desert. In less than a decade, 112 rural hospitals have closed, with hundreds more teetering on the edge. Those that do remain open operate on razor-thin margins from uncompensated care, lower patient volume, and insufficient reimbursement.

That’s why I support Medicare for All, so that every person will have access to affordable care no matter where they live. That means access to primary care and lower health care costs for patients – and less uncompensated care for hospitals, helping hospitals stay afloat. We also need to increase reimbursement rates for rural hospitals and alleviate unnecessary restrictions that make it difficult for them to serve their communities. Medicare already has special designations available to rural hospitals, but they must be updated to match the reality of rural areas. I will create a new designation that reimburses rural hospitals at a higher rate, relieves distance requirements, and offers flexibility of services by assessing the needs of their communities.

But we can’t stop there. Higher rates of consolidation for both for-profit and non-profit hospitals are making it harder to access care. And yet, many hospitals can evade federal antitrust enforcement either because the value of the merger is too small to trigger mandatory review or because the Federal Trade Commission’s purview over non-profit hospitals is constrained. Vertical integration is also increasing as more hospitals acquire physician practices, and some states have deliberately sheltered hospitals from federal antitrust action. I will boost the federal government’s oversight of mergers and anti-competitive behavior to make sure that health care companies play by the rules and put the needs of patients first. 

As President, I will direct the FTC to block all future mergers between hospitals unless the merging companies can show that the newly-merged entity will maintain or improve access to care. If a proposed merger helps maintain or improve access to health care, that’s fine. But when it is a first step to closing hospitals or slashing basic services, then a Warren administration will block it.

I’ll also put forward a set of reforms to strengthen FTC oversight over health care organizations, including establishing new federal regulations and guidance to require that all mergers involving health care centers be reported to the FTC. I’ll authorize the FTC to conduct reviews of non-profit hospitals for anti-competitive behavior, update Department of Justice guidance on vertical mergers, and crack down on vertically integrated health care companies that are raising costs without improving the quality of care. And I’ll work with states to repeal Certificate of Public Advantage, or COPA, statutes that shield health care organizations from federal antitrust review and can leadto the creation of large monopolies with little to no oversight.

We also have a responsibility to make sure that places that have experienced a loss in services or are otherwise medically underserved can better meet the needs of their communities. That’s why I will increase funding for Community Health Centers by 15 percent per year over the next five years. I will also establish a $25 billion dollar capital fund to support a menu of options for improving access to care in health professional shortage areas, including: constructing a new facility like a Community Health Center, Rural Health Clinic, School-Based Health Center, or birthing center; expanding capacity or services at an existing clinic; establishing pharmacy services or a telemedicine program; supporting a diabetes self-management education program; improving transportation to the nearest hospital; or piloting models like mobile clinics and community paramedicine programs. 

Rural communities have been particularly impacted by the opioid epidemic, with the rate of opioid overdose deaths having been higher there than in urban areas in recent years. I’m pushing for $100 billion over 10 years to end the opioid crisis, including $2.7 billion for the hardest-hit counties and cities and $800 million in direct funding for tribal governments and organizations. Funding can be used for prevention and early intervention services at federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics and to train health professionals on treating substance use disorders in rural and other medically underserved areas. 

To ensure access to quality health services, we must also close the health care workforce gaps across rural America. Nearly 60% of Health Professional Shortage Areas – those lacking sufficient primary care physicians, physician assistantsnurses, dentists, pharmacists, EMTs, and home health aides – are in rural regions. More than 3,600 additional doctors are needed to close the rural physician workforce deficit today, but Congressionally-imposed caps on medical residencies and unstable funding of the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) have made this gap nearly impossible to close. What’s more, this shortage is rapidly increasing as rural physicians near retirement and fewerincoming medical students plan to practice in rural areas. 

As President, I will make sure we expand our health care workforce by investing more resources in building the pipeline of medical professionals in rural areas. This starts by dramatically scaling up apprenticeship programs as proposed in my Economic Patriotism plan to support partnerships between unions, high schools, community colleges, and a wide array of health care professionals to build a health care workforce that is rooted in the community. I’ll lift the cap on residency placements by 15,000 – and because residents are more likely to practice where they train, I’ll target half of new placements in medically-underserved areas such as rural residency programs, residency programs with Rural Training Track programs, and the Indian Health Service (IHS), while working with rural programs to ensure that they can take full advantage of these increases. I’ll also significantly expand the NHSC loan repayment program to $15 billion and the IHS loan repayment program to $1 billion over the next 10 years to cover full loan repayment for 5 years of service and to increase the number of health professionals serving rural and Native American communities.

Building Economic Security in Rural America

My plan doesn’t stop at health care. Every American is entitled to some basic financial security, no matter where they live. But people living in rural communities face challenges that can threaten that security. My plans are designed to address these challenges and allow people in rural communities to thrive economically. 

Take child care. Today, a majority of rural communities lack sufficient access to child care. On average, rural families spend more of their incomes on child care than families in urban areas. My plan for Universal Child Care will provide access to high-quality child care in every community that is free for millions and affordable for everyone. The federal government will also work closely with local providers and tribal governments to make sure there are high-quality child care options available in every community – including home-based child care services, which rural families are more likely to use.

Rural communities also face unique housing challenges. More than 150 rural counties have a severe-need for affordable rental housing and 38% of rural counties have moderately-severe rental housing needs. Home values in rural areas have also been slower to recover from the financial crisis. My housing plan invests $523 million to create 380,000 affordable rental homes in rural communities and provides an additional $2 billion to help homeowners with underwater mortgages still struggling to recover from the financial crisis. It also invests $2.5 billion to build or rehabilitate 200,000 homes on tribal lands, where overcrowding, homelessness, and substandard housing have reached crisis levels.

And the student debt crisis hits rural areas particularly hard. In part because of huge student debt burdens, young adults are leaving rural communities for jobs in cities. Just 52% of rural student loan borrowers remain in a rural area, compared to 66% of those who did not take out loans – and those with more debt are more likely to leave. My plan to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt will mean that recent graduates won’t need to flock to urban centers to find jobs that will help them pay down these loans. And my plan to provide universal free technical, two-year, and four-year public college will make sure that no student is ever put in this situation again. We need to make it possible for students to see rural communities as places of opportunity where they can live, work, and build a future for themselves. 

A Public Option for Broadband

One of the best tools for unlocking economic opportunity and advances in health care, like telemedicine, is access to reliable, high-speed Internet. In the twenty-first century, every home should have access to this technology – but we’re not even close to that today. According to the FCC, in 2017 26.4% of people living in rural areas and 32.1% of people living on tribal lands did not have access to minimum speed broadband (25 Mbps/ 3 Mbps), compared to 1.7% in urban areas. And given the notorious loopholes in FCC reporting requirements, these figures underestimate the gap. 

At the same time, while urban areas may be more likely to have access to fiber broadband, many residents can’t afford to connect to it. Nearly 27% of households in Detroit and Cleveland had no Internet access in 2017, and households with incomes below $35,000 comprise 60% of households without broadband access, despite making up just 31% of the national population. 

We’ve faced this kind of problem before. Prior to the late 1930s, private electric companies passed over rural communities they felt offered minimal profit opportunities, leaving the families living there literally in the dark. Just like the electric companies eighty years ago, today’s biggest internet service providers (ISPs) have left large parts of the country unserved or dramatically underserved. 

Not only that, they have deliberately restricted competition, kept prices high, and used their armies of lobbyists to convince state legislatures to ban municipalities from building their own public networks. Meanwhile, the federal government has shoveled billions of taxpayer dollars to private ISPs in an effort to expand broadband to remote areas, but those providers have done the bare minimum with these resources – offering internet speeds well below the FCC minimum. 

This ends when I’m President. I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford. That means publicly-owned and operated networks – and no giant ISPs running away with taxpayer dollars. My plan will:
 

Make it clear in federal statute that municipalities have the right to build their own broadband networks. Many small towns and rural areas have turned to municipal networks to provide broadband access in places that the private market has failed to serve – but today, as many as 26 states have passed laws hindering or banning municipalities from building their own broadband infrastructure to protect the interests of giant telecom companies. We will preempt these laws and return this power to local governments.
 

Create an Office of Broadband Access in my Department of Economic Development that will manage a new $85 billion federal grant program to massively expand broadband access across the country. Under my plan, only electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, cities, counties, and other state subdivisions will be eligible for grants from this fund – and all grants will be used to build the fiber infrastructure necessary to bring high-speed broadband to unserved areas, underserved areas, or areas with minimal competition.

The federal government will pay 90 cents on the dollar for construction under these grants. In exchange, applicants will be required to offer high-speed public broadband directly to every home in their application area. Applicants will have to offer at least one plan with 100 Mbps/ 100 Mbps speeds and one discount internet plan for low-income customers with a prepaid feature or a low monthly rate.

Of these funds, $5 billion will be set aside specifically for 100% federal grants to tribal nations to expand broadband access on Native American lands. In addition to necessary “last mile” infrastructure, tribes will be able to apply for funds to build the missing 8,000 miles of middle mile fiber on tribal lands.   

Appoint FCC Commissioners who will restore net neutrality. I will appoint FCC Commissioners who will restore net neutrality, regulatinginternet service providers as “common carriers” and maintaining open access to the Internet.And I will require all telecommunications services to contribute fairly into the Universal Service Fund to shore up essential universal service programs that provide subsidies to low-income individuals, schools, and libraries to increase broadband adoption, including signing into law and building on the Tribal Connect Act, so that we can work toward every tribal library having broadband access.  

Bolster the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy. This office holds trainings, technical assistance, and consultations for Indian Country. Providing it with dedicated, increased funding to expand its capacity will help close the digital divide.  

Improve the accuracy of broadband maps. Weak FCC oversight has allowed ISPs to greatly exaggerate how many households they serve and has given ISPs added fuel to downplay their failures and protect themselves from regulation. To provide universal broadband access and crack down on anti-competitive behaviors, the government has to know how extensive the problems are. I will appoint FCC Commissioners who will require ISPs to report service and speeds down to the household level, as well as aggregate pricing data, and work with community stakeholders – including tribal nations – to make sure we get this process right. Then, we will make these data available to the public and conduct regular audits to ensure accurate reporting.   

Prohibit the range of sneaky maneuvers giant private providers use to unfairly squeeze out competition, hold governments hostage, and drive up prices. It’s time to crack down on all the anti-competitive behaviors that giant ISPs have used to steamroll the competition. We will return control of utility poles and conduits to cities, prohibit landlords from making side deals with private ISPs to limit choices in their properties, and ban companies from limiting access to wires inside buildings. We will make sure that all new buildings are fiber-ready so that any network can deliver service there, and we will also enact “Dig Once” policies to require that conduit is laid anytime the ground is opened for a public infrastructure project.   

Ensure every person has the skills to fully participate in our online economy. Even when there’s access to broadband internet – and even when it’s available at an affordable price – people may still not take advantage of it because they don’t know how to use it. That’s why I will work to pass the Digital Equity Act, which invests $2.5 billion over ten years to help states develop digital equity plans and launch digital inclusion projects. 

Creating and Defending Jobs in Rural America

Expanding broadband is just the first step to boosting economic opportunity in rural communities. We need to do more to bring high-quality jobs back to rural areas and small towns and negotiate trade agreements that keep jobs in the U.S. – and don’t ship them overseas. That’s why I’ve committed to creating a National Jobs Strategy focused specifically on regional economies and trends that disproportionately affect rural areas and small cities. And why I will spend $2 trillion in green research, manufacturing, and exporting to create more than a million new jobs, reversing the manufacturing losses that many rural communities have experienced over the last two decades. 

I’ve also called for a $400 billion commitment in clean energy research and development 
– funding that will go to land grant universities, rural areas, and areas that have seen the worst job losses in recent years. I’ll dramatically scale up worker training programs, spending $20 billion on apprenticeships and instituting new sectoral training programs to boost job opportunities for people across Rural America.

Immigration is also revitalizing local economies and reversing population decline in a number of rural communities. I’ve called for expanding legal immigration – done the right way and consistent with our principles – to grow our economy, reunite families, and meet our labor market demands. My immigration plan will raise wages for everyone and make sure that businesses won’t be able to get away with dirty tricks that undercut pay.

And I will build a new approach to our trade policy to make sure that the new, high-quality jobs we create stay right here in America.
 As part of my new plan, I’ll fundamentally change our negotiation process so that rural communities are explicitly represented at the table, and use our leverage to demand more for workers and farmers by raising standards worldwide.

Bolstering Small and Local Business

Small businesses are critical to the economic vitality of rural communities, but people in rural communities face challenges accessing capital and financial services to start, grow, and operate their businesses. The number of rural counties without a locally owned community bank has doubled since 1994, and 86 new rural banking deserts have appeared since 2008, leaving these communities with no banking services within 10 miles. That’s why I’ve proposed allowing the U.S. Postal Service to partner with local community banks and credit unions to provide access to low-cost, basic banking services online and at post offices. 

What’s more, 25% of new rural banking deserts have been in communities of color. Credit and small loans are critical to starting and growing a small business, but longer distances between a borrower and their bank are associated with more credit denials and higher interest rates on loans. That’s why I will establish a $7 billion fund to close the gap in startup capital for entrepreneurs of color, which will support 100,000 new minority-owned businesses, provide over a million new jobs, and further boost economic development in rural areas. 

Private equity firms have further harmed local businesses, buying up everything from mobile home parks to hospitals to nursing homes to local newspapers, loading them up with debt, sucking them dry, and leaving workers to pick up the pieces. I’ll rein in Wall Street to hold private equity firms accountable and keep them from destroying businesses that bring economic opportunity – and jobs – to small towns and rural communities across the country. It’s time to prioritize the long-term interests of American workers, not the short-term interests of big financial institutions.

Building a New Farm Economy

Rural America is also the home of our nation’s agriculture sector, but today, farmers are getting squeezed by giant agribusinesses that are gobbling up more land and driving down prices. In 1935, there were 6.8 million farms in the United States – but in 2017, there were just above 2 million. What’s more, as the number of farms has decreased, the size of each remaining farm has dramatically grown – from an average of 155 acres per farm in 1935 to an average of 444 acres per farm today. Meanwhile, the farmer’s share of the food dollar has plummeted to just 14.6 cents in 2017 – the lowest number since the USDA began reporting this figure in 1993.

That’s why I’ve pledged to address consolidation in the agriculture sector by reviewing – and reversing – anti-competitive mergers and breaking up big agribusinesses that have become vertically integrated. I’ll also support a national right to repair law for farmers, reform country-of-origin labeling, and restrict foreign ownership of American agriculture companies and farmland. 

And I’ll take it one step further – charting a new farm economy that replaces our government’s failed approach with one that guarantees farmers a fair price and protects our environment. 

The cost of each and every one of these investments is fully offset by my plans to make the ultra-wealthy and large corporations pay more in taxes. Those plans include my annual two-cent wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million and my plan to ensure that very large and profitable American corporations can’t get away with paying zero taxes. And the new investments I’m announcing today for universal broadband access and health care options in rural areas can be offset by changing the tax laws that encourage companies to merge and reduce competition. 

I want Washington to work for communities all over this country. From expanding access to broadband to boosting investment in quality jobs, together we can make big, structural change to create new opportunities all across rural America


A New Farm Economy


Consolidation in the agriculture sector is leaving America’s family farmers with lower prices and fewer choices. Giant corporations use their market share to squeeze farmers from both sides. Farmers are pressured into taking on huge debts to pay the high prices that a small number of large suppliers charge them for inputs like seeds and fertilizer. Then, farmers are at the whim of a market that is controlled by meatpackers and grain traders that can pay them low prices for the commodities they produce — prices that often don’t cover all the money farmers had to spend in the first place. 

All of this causes tremendous overproduction of commodities. In the face of lower and lower prices in the market, farmers are left to produce more to try and break even. But this just causes prices to go down even further, benefiting the huge corporations looking to buy goods on the cheap and leaving farmers dependent on the government to backfill their costs. 

As a consequence, the agriculture sector has become one of the largestpolluters in our economy. As farmers are pressured to plant fence row to fence row and use more fertilizer in search of a higher yield, rural communities lose their soil and water and the environment suffers

Much of this situation is the direct result of government policy. Our current system of subsidies is supposed to make up the difference between the low prices farmers get on the market and what they have to pay to grow food. But instead it lets big corporations at the top of the supply chain get away with paying artificially low costs while farmers struggle and taxpayers make up the difference. It encourages overproduction by guaranteeing revenue regardlessof prices or environmental conditions. And it feeds climate change. 

Farmers are stewards of the land, and they know this system of overproduction is unsustainable — but without a change in incentives, they have no other choice. 

To fix this problem, we need big, structural change. That’s why I’m calling for a complete overhaul of our failed approach to the farm economy. Instead of subsidizing industrial agriculture and starving farmers and rural communities, my new approach will guarantee farmers a fair price, reduce overproduction, and pay farmers for environmental conservation.  

By making this shift, we can raise farm incomes and reduce taxpayer expenditures. We can break the stranglehold that giant agribusinesses have over our farm economy, and expand economic opportunities for small- and medium-sized farmers, family farmers, women farmers, and farmers of color. We can also provide consumers with affordable, high-quality, and often local food, while protecting our land and water and combating the existential threat of climate change.

Replacing our government’s failed approach to the farm economy

Our agriculture markets are badly broken. American farmers spend their days toiling over their crops, but at sale time, more than half report negative income from their farming activity. In 2018, the median income farmers made from farming activity before federal subsidies was negative $1,316. Why? Because the market is paying farmers far less than what it costs them to produce their goods.

And it gets worse. Farm subsidies that are necessary to keep farms afloat in this market function as an incentive to overproduce by guaranteeing payments only for certain commodities and encouraging farming on marginal land. This squeezes small farmers, undermines sustainable farming for the long-term, and damages our environment. 

It hasn’t always been this way. During the New Deal, FDR’s administration recognized the critical role farmers would play in getting our country out of the Great Depression. His administration set up a system that guaranteed farmers fair prices, tackled overproduction, and reversed environmental degradation. And it worked: for decades, this system gave farmers the security they needed to thrive, kept consumer prices stable, and helped restore our country’s farmland.

But starting in the 1970s, giant agribusinesses convinced the Nixon Administration to change the system. Corporations called it “deregulating” the farm economy, but of course, this didn’t actually mean reducing government intervention. It just meant shifting that intervention from advancing the interests of farmers, consumers, and the environment to protecting the bottom line of giant agriculture corporations.

Now, the Department of Agriculture budgets over $10 billion each year on post-sale subsidies that are supposed to make up for the low prices that big corporations and livestock giants pay farmers on the market. Meanwhile, Big Ag pockets the profit: one study shows industrial livestock giants, for example, have saved $35 billion over twenty years from buying feed below the cost of production. 

We need a new approach that uses taxpayer money more wisely, provides stable access to food,  and accounts for the complexities of the agriculture markets. Just like workers need a living wage, farmers need a fair price — one that covers the costs they have to pay to produce their goods. We need to replace our failed system with a tried-and-true method that guarantees farmers that fair price and ends overproduction. Building on the successful model of the New Deal, my plan calls for a new supply management program — which studies show would be billions cheaper for taxpayers than our current subsidy program, yet provide farm incomes that are higher.  

Here’s how it will work. First, we guarantee farmers a price at their cost of production. To do that, the government would offer farmers a non-recourse loan that covers most of their costs of production — essentially, an offer to buy their products at cost if a farmer can’t get a better price from a private purchaser on the market before the end of the loan period. Farmers can either repay the loan by selling their products or they can forfeit the products they used as collateral for the loan at the end of the loan period. 

If the farmer does not sell those products to a private buyer during that time period, then the government will store the products in reserves. As supply comes off the market as a result, prices will rise. And if prices rise beyond a certain point, the government can release the supply from the reserves back onto the market, stabilizing prices once again. This mechanism guarantees farmers a fair price at a far lower cost than the current subsidy system. 

In addition, to address overproduction, farmers will have the option of bidding acres of land currently used to produce commodities into conservation programs. USDA will offer attractive prices based on the environmental benefit that repurposing the land towards conservation programs would provide. This will provide farmers with the choice — and revenue — to diversify their farms, rather than face mounting pressure to produce more and more of the same. . 

This approach has advantages beyond guaranteeing farmers a fair price for their goods. It gives us the tools to stabilize farm income where farmers aren’t getting prices at the cost of production, like commodity crops and dairy. It enhances our food security by giving the government access to reserves if needed — a particularly important consideration as climate change continues to disrupt food production. It addresses our overproduction problem and helps reduce environmental damage. And it keeps consumer prices relatively stable

It would also save taxpayers billions. Because a supply management program only pays for the amount of commodities that it takes off of the market, it would substantially reduce costs for taxpayers who, in the current subsidy approach, can end up paying for every single bushel and bale that farmers grow.

Paying farmers to fight climate change 

To transition to a sustainable farm economy, we also need to diversify our agriculture sector. As President, I will lead a full-out effort to decarbonize the agricultural sector by investing in our farmers and giving them the tools, research, and training they need to transform the sector — so that we can achieve the objectives of the Green New Deal to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. 

This begins with paying farmers for embracing techniques that promote a sustainable future for all of us. Farmers are already adopting climate-friendly practices — including proven and profitable techniques like cover crops. But today, there are far more farmers who want to join land conservation programs than there are funds available to support them. That’s because we have continually underfunded a tried-and-true program — the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) — that provides funding for farmers eager to transition to sustainable practices, and that delivers substantial returns to taxpayers.  

My plan will make it economically feasible for farmers to be part of the climate change solution by increasing CSP’s payments for sustainable farming practices from around $1 billion today to $15 billion annually – and expanding the types of practices eligible for compensation – so that every farmer who wants to use their land to fight climate change can do so. This will put our future investment in conservation above the level we currently fund commodity programs. And I will support staff at USDA to empower them in the fight against climate change, from scientists in Washington all the way down to the county-level offices tailoring solutions to challenges in their local communities.

Research and innovation are also essential in supporting a transition to sustainable farming. I will dedicate resources from the $400 billion R&D commitment in my Green Manufacturing Plan towards innovations for decarbonizing the agriculture sector, including a farmer-led Innovation Fund that farmers can apply to use towards pioneering new methods of sustainable farming, like agroforestry

Our land grant universities also have a critical role to play – but first, we need to reclaim our land grant universities from Big Ag and restore them to their core purpose of supporting our family farmers. My Administration will reinvest inour land grant universities and focus their agricultural efforts in part on evaluating farmers’ ideas to decarbonize the agricultural sector and training a new generation of farmers. 

Take on Big Ag to level the playing field for family farmers

We also must take on Big Ag head on if we want to create a new farm economy. When Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture told farmers to “get big or get out,” he paved the way for the giant agribusinesses that have eroded America’s rural communities and turned the agricultural sector into one of the largestpolluters, all while making huge profits.

That ends now. I will use every tool at my disposal to level the playing field for family farmers and hold agribusinesses accountable for the damage they’ve wrought on our farmland. 

Break up Big Agribusinesses. Under my plan to level the playing field for America’s farmers I’ll use every tool I have to break up big agribusinesses, including by reviewing  — and reversing — anti-competitive mergers. 
 

Strengthen rules and enforcement under the Packers and Stockyards Act.In 1921, Congress passed the Packers & Stockyards Act (P&S Act) to protect independent farmers. But Trump has eliminated Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) — the office responsible for upholding the P&S Act —  as an independent office. My administration will restore GIPSA and make it easier for farmers to bring suits against unfair practices — including by clarifying that they do not have to prove harm across the entire sector to bring a claim. 
 

Make sure programs benefit independent family farmers, not the rich and powerful. Agribusinesses exploit loopholes to put taxpayer dollars that should be going towards family farmers into their own pockets instead. The Trump administration has handed over billions more into the pockets of the wealthiest through trade war bailouts. On average, the top 1% of recipients received over $180,000, and the bottom 80% percent received less than $5,000.  — all without Congressional authorization. I will prevent huge factory farms from accessing funds intended to benefit family farmers, like those for payment limitations and for programs like EQIP, and ban companies that violate labor and environmental standards from accessing funds, too. 
 

Hold Big Ag accountable for environmental abuses. Agribusinesses are the likely culprits for polluting hundreds of thousands of miles of rivers and streams and causing dead zones in our waters, including in the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I will make agribusinesses pay the full costs of the environmental damage they wreak by closing the loopholes that CAFOs use to get away with polluting and beefing up enforcement of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts against them, including by working with state and local officials.  

Build out local and regional food systems that support rural farmers and their communities

Because giant agribusinesses control entire supply chains, many small farmers today must send their products to huge packaging and distribution centers that are hundreds of miles away from their farms and from the end consumer. This deprives rural communities from access to produce, contributing to food desertsand obesity.

I will provide farmers and rural communities with the resources they need to build thriving local and regional food systems so that every community has access to healthy food — and the billions in economic opportunities that come with it.

I will use the full power of federal and state procurement to ensure access to local, sustainable produce in all communities. My administration will expand the “Farm-to-School” program a hundredfold and turn it into a billion-dollar “Farm to People” program in which all federally-supported public institutions — including military bases and hospitals — will partner with local, independent farmers to provide fresh, local food.

To meet this additional demand, farmers will need access to local and regional supply chain infrastructure. USDA’s Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) currently invests $50M a year in local infrastructure-building projects — which experts estimate falls far short of meeting the substantial demand. I will increase LAMP’s funding ten-fold, investing $500M a year over the next decade to fund food hubs, distribution centers, and points-of-sale that our rural and small town communities can use.

Create opportunities for diverse and beginning farmers 

Farmers of color have experienced a long history of discrimination, some of it at the hands of the federal government. From 1910 to 1997, black farmers were stripped of 90% of black-owned farmland. They received a mere fraction of the value of the land they lost —  a staggering loss of wealth that is a major contributor to the racial wealth gap. My plan will end the policies that have perpetuated this discrimination and help rural families of color build wealth and sustainable livelihoods.

Addressing the systematic dispossession of land in communities of color, including Black farmers and Native American communities. Over the past century, Black farmers were stripped of 90% of black-owned farmland and received a mere fraction of the value of the land they lost – largely because they held the land as “heirs’ property,” an unstable and much-exploited form of ownership.  I will establish programs to assist heirs’ property owners and make sure they retain access to their land, including building on successes in the 2018 Farm Bill to allow heirs’ property owners to present additional types of documentation to not only access USDA programs, but also other federal programs in FEMA and HUD. I will also fully fund the relending programenacted in the 2018 Farm Bill to expand support services for farmers of color, including legal and technical assistance to help farmers hold on to their land – and prioritize lending organizations operating in states that have enacted model legislation that protects heirs’ property ownership.

Native American communities have also experienced challenges related to fractionated land ownership. This problem was caused by a destructive federal policy from the late 1800s that  allotted tribal lands held in common to individual tribal members and sold additional tribal lands to non-Native settlers and commercial interests. This policy eventually led to roughly two-thirds of all reservation lands being taken from tribes without compensation. Several generations later, individual tribal allotments are now co-owned by many people — sometimes hundreds or thousands — making it difficult to use the land or coordinate activities on it.

Government policy created this problem, and government must help fix it. That’s why I will expand funding for the Indian Tribal Land Acquisition Loan Program and the Highly Fractionated Indian Land Loan Program, USDA programs that help tribal governments acquire land and preserve it for future generations. And I will also push Congress to provide another infusion into the Trust Land Consolidation Fund..

Expand access to credit and land for new and diverse farmers. Women and farmers of color have been disproportionately excluded from accessing the credit and land they need to farm. The Farm Credit System was founded a century ago as a government-sponsored enterprise to provide credit for farmers — but it has strayed from its central mission and instead is pocketing big profits. I will require FCS to allocate 10% of its $5 billion in annual profits towards supporting new and diverse farmers through regional lending mechanisms. I will make sure that farmers can access land, too, by stopping foreign interests from buying up American farmland and expanding the use of programs like the transition incentives program. Native American Community Development Financial Institutions also provide crucial access to credit in underbanked areas and for underbanked businesses, especially farmers. We should provide significant financial support to Native CDFIs.

Invest in protecting the civil rights of farmers of color. I will fully fund and staffUSDA’s Office of Civil Rights and administrative law courts — so that they have the resources necessary to resolve discrimination complaints at a reasonable pace. I will direct regular audits of USDA to ensure that it is not discriminating against farmers of color in issuing loans or subsidy grants. And I will increase the agency’s transparency by creating an online civil rights database that would regularly report on the complaint process.  

***

My plan will help create a new farm economy where family farmers have financial security and the freedom to do what they do best. Farmers of all backgrounds will finally have the economic freedom to pursue diverse, sustainable farming — and get paid up front for doing so. Americans will have a steady and affordable supply of food. Kids in rural communities will have healthy lunches grown in their backyards and packaged at local food hubs run by small town entrepreneurs. Taxpayers won’t pay twice — once at the grocery store and once through their taxes — for overproduced commodities. We will replenish our soil and our water to chart a path towards a climate solution and achieve the goals of the Green New Deal.

Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren Announces Plan to Protect Vote, Election Security, Strengthen our Democracy

Democratic Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren, US Senator from Massachusetts, proposes a sweeping, comprehensive plan to protect access to the ballot box and the security of elections © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Charlestown, MA – Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, Democratic US Senator from Massachusetts, released her plan to make voting easy and convenient and secure our elections from threats both foreign and domestic:

Elections are the foundation of our democracy, but in the United States – the greatest democracy in the world – our government treats voting like it’s one of the least important things we do. We have around 8,000 election jurisdictions all doing their own thing. They are overstretched, under-resourced, and their technology is often laughably out of date.

Voting should be easy. But instead, many states make it hard for people to vote. We have all heard stories about polling places running out of ballots, computer problems causing delays, ballot designs confusing voters, and extremely long lines preventing working people from voting. And on top of these administrative issues, racist and partisan officials often deliberately seek to stop citizens from exercising the right to vote. States have purged names from the voter rolls, limited same-day registration, closed polling places in communities of color, used voter ID laws to try to disenfranchise Native Americans, and even placed restrictions and criminal penalties on efforts to register new voters.

Our elections should be as secure as Fort Knox. But instead, they’re less secure than your Amazon account. State and local officials take their jobs seriously, but they often don’t have the resources to secure their elections. Even then, it’s hard for local officials to defend against attacks from foreign governments. In the 2016 election, the Russian government tried to infiltrate at least 39 state election systems and at least one election equipment company. They tried to spear-phish more than 100 local election officials’ email accounts. They even successfully broke into several voter registration databases. 

The harsh truth is that our elections are extremely vulnerable to attack: Forty-two states use voter registration databases that are more than a decade old. Laughably, in 2019, some still use Windows 2000 and Windows XPTwelve states still use paperless machines, meaning there’s no paper trail to verify vote counts. Some states don’t require post-election audits. And ten states don’t train election officials to deal with cybersecurity threats. This is a national security threat, and three years after a hostile foreign power literally attacked our democracy, we’ve done far too little to address it. 

We need a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote. But the moral necessity of this amendment shouldn’t stop us from acting now. The federal government already has the power to regulate federal elections, secure our democracy, and put a stop to racist voter suppression. 

Under our Constitution, Congress can regulate the “Times, Places, and Manner,” of federal elections. This power is so broad that even Justice Scalia believed this provision gives Congress “authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections.” Congress also has the power to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to prevent voting discrimination, and the power of the purse to grant money to the states to meet federal standards. It’s time to draw on these constitutional powers to strengthen our democracy. 

Enough is enough. It is time to make high-quality voting in the greatest democracy in the world easy, convenient, and professional. It’s time to secure our elections from all threats, foreign and domestic. It’s time to address election security, administration problems, and voter suppression. 

Here’s how my plan will work:

  • Federal elections get state-of-the-art federal machines, federal ballots, and federal security. Right now some jurisdictions use dated machines that are easily hackable with no paper trail. Ballot design is all over the place. No more. The federal government will replace every voting machine in the country with state-of-the-art equipment and require adoption of a uniform federal ballot. And we will lock all federal voting technology systems behind a security firewall like it’s Fort Knox.
  • Federal standards for federal elections. We have 8,000 election jurisdictions running elections. Problems with resources, malfeasance, and errors are rampant. No more. We will have federal standards to ensure everyone can vote, including mandating automatic and same-day registration, early voting, and vote by mail. My plan will mean no more arbitrary voter purges. No more registration issues. And no more gerrymandering. We will also make Election Day a holiday to make it easier for people to get to the polls.
  • Enforce the law and expand access – through incentives where possible, and with federal authority where necessary. My plan will give states cutting-edge voting equipment and election security protocols, all paid for by the federal government, and states will be required to follow all federal standards for federal elections. States who also choose to meet these requirements in their state elections can work through federal-state partnership agreements to have those elections fully funded by the federal government, too – and we’ll give them a bonus for achieving high voter turnout rates. And where racist or corrupt politicians refuse to follow the law, the federal government will temporarily take over the administration of their federal elections to guarantee the fundamental right to vote.
     

Securing Our Elections

Under my plan, federal elections will get state-of-the-art federal machines, federal ballots, and federal security.  The federal government will replace insecure and outdated systems with hand-marked, voter-verified paper ballot machines. To prevent hanging-chads and other confusing ballot designs, we’ll have uniform federal ballots all across the country that are based on easy-to-use design principles. The federal government will also provide every polling location with accessible ballot machines for people with disabilities and conduct research into how to improve voting security and accessibility for all people, including those with disabilities and people for whom English isn’t their primary language. 

Through a new independent Secure Democracy Administration, which will replace the Election Assistance Commission and be staffed by civil servants, the federal government will manage the cybersecurity aspects of elections and develop additional security procedures for election administration and the end-to-end handling of ballots. States will implement these additional security measures, and will receive technical assistance and training from the Secure Democracy Administration. In addition, states will be required to conduct risk-limiting audits prior to certifying elections – and we’ll have independent oversight of those audits.
 

Establishing Binding Federal Standards for Federal Elections

Our elections are never going to be secure, fair, or workable with so many jurisdictions each making their own rules — especially when some officials deliberately manipulate those rules to stop people from voting. Under my plan, we’ll have a uniform set of federal election standards that achieve four goals:

No more registration problems. My plan will mandate automatic voter registration and same-day registration for federal elections. State and federal government agencies will automatically register voters and transfer that information to state elections officials, and voters can opt-out, if they choose. Every state will also be required to offer same-day registration, which acts as a fail-safe for anyone who is mistakenly left off the rolls. 

No more voter purges. Under my plan, states will be banned from removing voters from the election rolls unless the voter affirmatively requests to be removed or there is objective evidence of a legitimate reason to remove them, like death, change of address, or loss of eligibility to vote. We will also re-enfranchise those who have served their time and left prison.  

No more difficulties voting. We will make Election Day a national holiday, and all federal elections will have a minimum of 15 days of early voting, expanded voting hours, the option to vote with a sworn statement of identity instead of an ID, convenient polling locations, and voting by mail. And we will pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Native American Voting Rights Act to shut down a host of festering discriminatory practices.  

No more gerrymandering. Under my plan, states will be required to use independent redistricting commissions to draw federal congressional districts to prevent gerrymandering. Both parties should compete on a level playing field; not in a rigged game designed to suppress the will of the people.  
 

Enforcing the law and expanding access – through incentives where possible, and with federal authority where necessary

Our democracy shouldn’t be about keeping people out – it should strive to bring everyone to the polls. Under my plan, states will receive new state-of-the-art machines and federal election security, all paid for by the federal government, and they will also be obligated to comply with the federal standards for federal elections. But we should make voting easier in all elections – federal, state, and local. I’m proposing a federal-state partnership so that states will have a strong financial incentive to follow these rules in their state and local elections as well — and to maximize voter turnout.

Here’s how it will work: the federal government will pay the entirety of a state’s election administration costs, as long as the state meets federal standards in its state and local elections and works to make voting more convenient. States will create state implementation plans, describing how they will adhere to federal law and increase access to voting (e.g. location of polling places). The Secure Democracy Administration will review state implementation plans for compliance with federal law, election security protocols, potentially racially discriminatory impacts, and efforts to make voting more convenient. States that achieve high percentage voter turnout, including across racial, gender, and age groups, will be awarded additional bonus payments. All plans will be finalized well in advance of Election Day, and states will provide data on their election activities. If a state does not participate in the federal-state partnership, but a local jurisdiction within the state wishes to do so, the local jurisdiction can work with the federal government to create a local implementation plan and it will get access to federal funds to cover its election administration costs.  

States can choose to follow their own rules for their state and local elections. But if they do, they won’t receive new funding for administering state elections beyond election security measures, and they will still have to administer federal elections in accordance with federal law – including preclearance for any changes that might have a discriminatory impact under the Voting Rights Advancement Act. 

If state or local election officials choose to ignore these federal rules and instead move to violate them, my plan will give the Secure Democracy Administration the authority to seek a court order to step in and guarantee that every voter has access to the polls unless or until the state shows its intent to fully comply with federal law. The right to vote is a fundamental right, and we will not let racist and corrupt politicians undermine it or our democracy. 

Our democracy is too important for it to be under-resourced and insecure. We need to do everything we can to make sure our elections are convenient, professional, and secure — and we should be willing to pay for it. Based on estimates of national election administration expenses, recent state efforts to upgrade their election systems, and assessments of the costs of new machines and audits, to cover these costs, we would allocate around $20 billion over ten years, which includes around $15 billion for election administration and around $5 billion for election security. This investment can be fully paid for with revenue generated from the Ultra-Millionaire Tax.

Democracy hangs on the idea that whoever gets the most votes wins. Politicians are supposed to compete over how many voters they can persuade, not how many they can disqualify or demoralize. And we have a solemn obligation to secure our elections from those who would try to undermine them. That’s why the Constitution gives Congress the tools to regulate the administration of federal elections. It’s time to pick up those tools and use them.

Read more about Warren’s plan here 

Elizabeth Warren Releases Plan to Rein in Big Tech, Giant Corporations

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Democratic candidate for president at rally in Long Island City, NY © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a declared 2020 candidate for 2020 presidential nomination, came to Long Island City, where local activists rejected Amazon, to propose a plan to rein in big tech and other giant multi-national companies that use their economic power to stifle competition and intimidate government. Here is her proposal — Karen Rubin, News& Photo Features

Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation. 

I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor

That’s why my Administration will make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition—including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

How the New Tech Monopolies Hurt Small Businesses and Innovation

America’s big tech companies provide valuable products but also wield enormous power over our digital lives. Nearly half of all e-commerce goes through Amazon. More than 70% of all Internet traffic goes through sites owned or operated by Google or Facebook. 

As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the Internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies. 

America’s big tech companies have achieved their level of dominance in part based on two strategies: 

  • Using Mergers to Limit Competition. Facebook has purchased potential competitors Instagram and WhatsApp. Amazon has used its immense market power to force smaller competitors like Diapers.com to sell at a discounted rate. Google has snapped up the mapping company Waze and the ad company DoubleClick. Rather than blocking these transactions for their negative long-term effects on competition and innovation, government regulators have waved them through.
     
  • Using Proprietary Marketplaces to Limit Competition. Many big tech companies own a marketplace – where buyers and sellers transact – while also participating on the marketplace. This can create a conflict of interest that undermines competition. Amazon crushes small companies by copying the goods they sell on the Amazon Marketplace and then selling its own branded version. Google allegedly snuffed out a competing small search engine by demoting its content on its search algorithm, and it has favored its own restaurant ratings over those of Yelp. 

Weak antitrust enforcement has led to a dramatic reduction in competition and innovation in the tech sector. Venture capitalists are now hesitant to fund new startups to compete with these big tech companies because it’s so easy for the big companies to either snap up growing competitors or drive them out of business. The number of tech startups has slumped, there are fewer high-growth young firms typical of the tech industry, and first financing rounds for tech startups have declined 22% since 2012. 

With fewer competitors entering the market, the big tech companies do not have to compete as aggressively in key areas like protecting our privacy. And some of these companies have grown so powerful that they can bully cities and states into showering them with massive taxpayer handouts in exchange for doing business, and can act — in the words of Mark Zuckerberg — “more like a government than a traditional company.” 

We must ensure that today’s tech giants do not crowd out potential competitors, smother the next generation of great tech companies, and wield so much power that they can undermine our democracy. 

Restoring Competition in the Tech Sector

America has a long tradition of breaking up companies when they have become too big and dominant — even if they are generally providing good service at a reasonable price. 

A century ago, in the Gilded Age, waves of mergers led to the creation of some of the biggest companies in American history — from Standard Oil and JPMorgan to the railroads and AT&T. In response to the rise of these “trusts,” Republican and Democratic reformers pushed for antitrust laws to break up these conglomerations of power to ensure competition.

But where the value of the company came from its network, reformers recognized that ownership of a network and participating on the network caused a conflict of interest. Instead of nationalizing these industries — as other countries did — Americans in the Progressive Era decided to ensure that these networks would not abuse their power by charging higher prices, offering worse quality, reducing innovation, and favoring some over others. We required a structural separation between the network and other businesses, and also demanded that the network offer fair and non-discriminatory service. 

In this tradition, my administration would restore competition to the tech sector by taking two major steps:

First, by passing legislation that requires large tech platforms to be designated as “Platform Utilities” and broken apart from any participant on that platform

Companies with an annual global revenue of $25 billion or more and that offer to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties would be designated as “platform utilities.”

These companies would be prohibited from owning both the platform utility and any participants on that platform. Platform utilities would be required to meet a standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users. Platform utilities would not be allowed to transfer or share data with third parties.

For smaller companies (those with annual global revenue of between $90 million and $25 billion), their platform utilities would be required to meet the same standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users, but would not be required to structurally separate from any participant on the platform.

To enforce these new requirements, federal regulators, State Attorneys General, or injured private parties would have the right to sue a platform utility to enjoin any conduct that violates these requirements, to disgorge any ill-gotten gains, and to be paid for losses and damages. A company found to violate these requirements would also have to pay a fine of 5 percent of annual revenue.

Amazon Marketplace, Google’s ad exchange, and Google Search would be platform utilities under this law. Therefore, Amazon Marketplace and Basics, and Google’s ad exchange and businesses on the exchange would be split apart. Google Search would have to be spun off as well. 

Second, my administration would appoint regulators committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers. 

Current antitrust laws empower federal regulators to break up mergers that reduce competition. I will appoint regulators who are committed to using existing tools to unwind anti-competitive mergers, including: 

  • Amazon: Whole Foods; Zappos
     
  • Facebook: WhatsApp; Instagram
     
  • Google: Waze; Nest; DoubleClick
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Democratic candidate for president at rally in Long Island City, NY © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy.   

Protecting the Future of the Internet

So what would the Internet look like after all these reforms?

Here’s what won’t change: You’ll still be able to go on Google and search like you do today. You’ll still be able to go on Amazon and find 30 different coffee machines that you can get delivered to your house in two days. You’ll still be able to go on Facebook and see how your old friend from school is doing.

Here’s what will change: Small businesses would have a fair shot to sell their products on Amazon without the fear of Amazon pushing them out of business. Google couldn’t smother competitors by demoting their products on Google Search. Facebook would face real pressure from Instagram and WhatsApp to improve the user experience and protect our privacy. Tech entrepreneurs would have a fighting chance to compete against the tech giants. 

Of course, my proposals today won’t solve every problem we have with our big tech companies.

We must give people more control over how their personal information is collected, shared, and sold—and do it in a way that doesn’t lock in massive competitive advantages for the companies that already have a ton of our data.

We must help America’s content creators—from local newspapers and national magazines to comedians and musicians — keep more of the value their content generates, rather than seeing it scooped up by companies like Google and Facebook.

And we must ensure that Russia — or any other foreign power — can’t use Facebook or any other form of social media to influence our elections.

Those are each tough problems, but the benefit of taking these steps to promote competition is that it allows us to make some progress on each of these important issues too. More competition means more options for consumers and content creators, and more pressure on companies like Facebook to address the glaring problems with their businesses.

Healthy competition can solve a lot of problems. The steps I’m proposing today will allow existing big tech companies to keep offering customer-friendly services, while promoting competition, stimulating innovation in the tech sector, and ensuring that America continues to lead the world in producing cutting-edge tech companies. It’s how we protect the future of the Internet.

See: Warren Brings 2020 Campaign to Long Island City to Call for Breaking Up Big Tech, Corporate Giants

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