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A New Social Contract, with Cathy Albisa

It can be so easy to get bogged down in the unending horrors coming from the news every day. But while we get stuck watching the bad news, organizers across the country have been engaged in creating solutions that democratize the economy, broaden participation, and fundamentally change our society for the better. A new report from the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative looks at these efforts and pulls them together to lay a blueprint for “A New Social Contract,” and NESRI’s executive director Cathy Albisa took the time to explain what the report entails and why it matters to look forward to a fundamentally different world.

The first thing we wanted to do was make sure we were looking at things that were truly structural, that would address the various intersections of injustice that people were experiencing today. Structural solutions will deal with economic, racial, gender, climate justice, all at once because they are looking at the root cause and these root causes are integrated. Once we looked at those structural solutions, we did see certain things that they had in common.
The first one should be no surprise to anyone, which is that they are driven by values. Too much in our economic and social policy is driven by profit, driven by hate, driven by things that we would consider completely anathema to our values. These solutions that are driven by core social justice and human rights values.
The second thing we noticed about them is what I mentioned earlier. They really are better for everyone. They center people that are most marginalized, but they are systemic solutions that if we really scaled up would really lead to universal systems that addressed people’s basic needs and offer opportunities for neighborhoods not to just survive, but thrive all over the country.
The third is that almost all of them had a really central component that involved reenvisioning local democracy. It is no secret that our democracy is in peril right now. We have been downgraded by The Economist from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.” Even before this election a report was coming out of Princeton, hardly a radical institution, they deemed that we were no longer a democracy, but really more of an oligarchy. It is clear that communities are feeling this and that they are coming up with new forms of local democracy, community control, worker ownership to rebuild that sense of collectivity from the ground up.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Halting the bipartisan deregulate-a-palooza, with Alexis Goldstein

Donald Trump ran a faux-populist campaign for office, bashing Democrats for being too close to Wall Street. But in office, it’s a different story. Alongside Congressional Republicans and a handful of Democrats, he’s been busy deregulating the banks, dismantling consumer protections, and otherwise handing Wall Street a bunch of gifts–to say nothing of the tax cuts. I spoke with Alexis Goldstein of Americans for Financial Reform to explain why, when we’re still living in the wake of 2008, deregulate-a-palooza is bipartisan policy–and how to stop it.

It is basically déjà vu all over again, is the short answer. It is like it is the 1990s and it is full speed ahead on ripping up all of the rules that we put in place after the last financial crisis. There are a few different things that are going on. One thing that is happening is in the consumer space. One of the best things that came out of the last crisis was the creation of this consumer bureau that was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was one of the few places that was actually looking out for the little guy and if your bank rips you off for like $15, you could complain and pretty quickly usually get a resolution because they have this complaint system and the Consumer Bureau would reach out to the company on your behalf. It is amazing. The other thing that they did is they sued companies and tried to get back money that financial companies had stolen from people. They got back billions of dollars to millions of Americans. Trump installed this guy, Mick Mulvaney, who is this Tea Party guy who was already at the Office of Management and Budgets, so this is his other job. He is basically like Scott Pruitt at the EPA, a longtime foe of the bureau, running the bureau and dismantling it from within. When you complain, there is this database you can look at. So, if you have a company that is really giving you the run-around, you can look into the database and see if other people have had the same problem. Mulvaney wants to take the complaints offline so you can’t read them anymore. There were a bunch of lawsuits that the Bureau was pursuing against payday lenders that were totally scamming people and charging them like 300% interest. He dropped some of those lawsuits. He totally eliminated the Office for Students and Consumer Protection, which was one of the best – in my opinion – offices looking out for student loan borrowers. That is the consumer space. Then, if you look into the more bank-y, more systemic risk, more crisis kind of stuff, we are also seeing rollbacks there. We are seeing proposals to undo Dodd-Frank. Then, the third piece is partially Trump, partially GOP, but also, there are Democrats to blame. There were these really big pieces of legislation that was recently signed into law, that kind of makes a future bailout more likely. It is sort of like Congress is doing bad things and then, Trump is doing bad things in both the consumer space and the financial systemic risk space. It is all the bad things.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Stopping family separation at the border, with Eve Stotland

There’s been a lot of anger about the Trump administration’s policies on immigration, and in particular lately, around the policy of family separation at the border. But what is actually happening, and what do families actually need? Eve Stotland of The Door is an attorney who has worked on just these issues for years, and she joins us to disentangle the questions of what the Trump administration is and is not doing to migrant children and their families, and to tell us how to challenge this policy and fight for fair treatment for migrants and for everyone.

There are a few things going on and I think that some of them are getting conflated, so it is really helpful to pull them apart. One thing that is absolutely going on is that the US government, and very specifically Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – these are two agencies that are in charge of policing our borders and enforcing our immigration laws–these agencies, when they detain families, when they are arresting families at the border for violating immigration laws, they are separating parents and children.
Now, some of this is new and some of it is not new. It is a surprise to a lot of people that I talk to that the US has been detaining–meaning prison, putting families who violated immigration law in prison, it is called immigration detention, but let’s remember it is prison–for many years. So that is not new. Also, immigration has been detaining children for many years. Also, Immigration has just been jailing a lot of people. In fact, I think there is something like 34,000 beds.
What is new here is that really Immigration did not have a policy at the border of separating parents and children. That is something that has developed recently. It is hard to track exactly when it started because the federal government is not being honest about it. One day they say there is no new policy. The next day, they say there is a policy. Then, Trump blames the Democrats for the policy.
The amount of intentional misinformation that is going out there is really intense, but what we do know, because people at the border, including the ACLU, have been tracking this and have brought a lawsuit about it, is that absolutely at least 600 parents and children have been separated in recent months at the border.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Defeating the attack on food assistance–for now, with Rebecca Vallas

A lot of things wind up embedded in the massive, regularly-renewed piece of legislation known as the “farm bill” each year, and one of the most important–at least, to the 40 million Americans who rely on it–is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously and still commonly known as food stamps. The program has been in the sights of Republicans, fresh off a victory on tax cuts, who want to pay for those cuts by slashing benefits to working people and the poor. Rebecca Vallas has been following the progress of these attacks and the broader push by the Right to put “Work Requirements” on everything, and she joins us once again to talk about how the farm bill was defeated and how SNAP might be saved.

A little bit of background on what the SNAP program is. It used to be called food stamps. People might be familiar with that name for the program, but today it is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It helps about 40 million Americans put food on the table in any given month. Now, the benefits that it provides are already extremely meager. Just $1.40 per person per meal. Just pausing there for a second. Imagine that as your food budget, but you have got Republicans in Congress saying, “Nope, that is too much. We have got to actually take some of that away from people who are struggling to put food on the table.”
That is what this what this farm bill would have done, is to make a program that is already incredibly meager, where families already, by and large, report running out of food by the third week in the month. It is to make that program even harder to access for people when they are facing hard times. And the people that it targets, by and large, are people who are struggling to find work or can’t get enough hours in their job. That is who would be most hurt by this proposal.
Now, what happened last week, is we saw total unity among Democrats. We saw Democrats saying, “This is a heartless bill that I can’t vote for” and we saw that from every single Democrat in the house. What we saw in the Republican caucus was really disarray. Not super dissimilar from what we have seen on a number of occasions with a number of pieces of legalization where Republicans can’t quite seem to agree on how heartless they want to be.
We actually saw the bill go down literally in the middle of the voting. It seems like Republicans weren’t aware that they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill. So, we saw Democrats in lockstep say, “No, I can’t vote for a piece of legislation that takes food away from as many as 2 million Americans,” which is what this bill would have done. And we saw Republicans split between wanting to see the bill be even crueler and take even more food away from even more people. In some cases, in the case of moderate Republicans, we saw them saying, “Actually, I am realizing this is going to be bad for me in November.”

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Making Private Equity Pay, with Debbie Beard and Carrie Gleason

When Debbie Beard found out the company she’d worked at for 29 years, Toys R Us, was closing down, she was shocked–she knew the company had been having financial difficulties for a while, but didn’t realize it was that bad. The more she learned, though, about the way the company had been looted by private equity firms Bain Capital and KKR, the more she determined that no one else should have to go through this. Debbie and other Toys R Us workers are organizing to demand severance pay from the company, and beyond that, organizing to stop the kind of leveraged buyouts that saddle viable companies with unsustainable debt. She joins me along with Carrie Gleason of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy to explain what can be done.

CG: This has been going on for quite some time, and during the recession, about ten years ago now, retail companies started to turn to these private equity firms to help them with their financial struggles. Many retail companies were bought out through this process called a leveraged buyout.
In the case of Toys R Us, what happened was in say 2005 the company only had 30% debt. Then, as soon as KKR and Bain Capital bought it out, that flipped and the company went to 70% debt and only 30% equity. The company had long paid back this debt, but then, as every year, they had to pay management fees and other kinds of, basically, fees to take care of Bain Capital from one year to the next, on top of interest, and it became financially unviable.
Then, Amazon gets on the scene and all of these investors across all of these retail companies look at what is happening with Amazon. Last year, it became the second largest retail company in America. They thought, “Well, maybe we should get out now, it is going to take too much investment, capital investment, to make this company competitive. So let’s just close the doors.”
The truth is that Toys R Us is a completely viable business. Many of these other retail companies that are closing doors, like Nine West, are completely viable businesses, but the problem is that the owners aren’t looking to run the business of retail. It is a big problem. Then, it is not just this private equity ownership. Big companies like Macy’s and Kohl’s have other kinds of debt that are really crippling them in this moment where they actually need to be changing their strategies for the new retail industry that is emerging.
As a result, I will say, a lot of people are losing their jobs. A lot of hard-working women like Debbie are losing their jobs. And, this is a disaster, a financial crisis that could completely be avoided if we just regulate these Wall Street firms.
DB: There are several single moms in my store. I get emotional about this. I am sorry. I have got a mom, Melissa, she has got three young boys under six trying to make a living because she is a single mom. Julie has a specific schedule because she is taking care of her mom. It is going to upset their whole lives. Julie, as a matter of fact, has been with this store for twenty-one years. She opened this store and now she is going to close it.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.