The sun was shining in Salem, Oregon for the May 1st rally for workers’ and immigrants’ rights, where a diverse and lively crowd of over three thousand gathered and cheered. Chants of “Si Se Puede” echoed off the capital building onto a sea of families, students, and activists waving American and rainbow flags, as well as handmade signs reading “Keep Families Together” and thank you’s to the governor.
Governor John Kitzhaber joined the May Day March to sign into law Senate Bill 833, the Safe Roads Act, a bill that provides access to driver’s licenses to all Oregon workers, including immigrants. This bill ensures that everyone in Oregon has the ability to drive themselves to work, school and everywhere else our busy lives take us, legally and safely. The Governor signed the bill into law on the steps of the capitol, a historic first, cheered on by many voices, including the Oregon AFL-CIO, CAUSA, PCUN, labor unions, faith leaders, law enforcement, and Working America.
Governor Kitzhaber said:
Today I signed into law a bill that not only improves our public safety, but helps Oregonians integrate into and contribute to our society and economy…
This bill is motivated by a larger vision – one where all Oregonians deserve and get their shot at the American dream…
Where we are creating secure jobs with upward income mobility, and supporting safe, secure communities where people have a sense of common purpose and commitment to one another….
We are celebrating the promise of a better future, for every Oregonian. And we are celebrating that our democracy is made stronger – in fact, our democracy is made possible – because we share that belief in the American Dream and are working together to achieve it.
As of January 1, 2014, tens of thousands of immigrants – and many elderly and homeless people – who are unable to show the correct documentation living in Oregon will be eligible to obtain a four year driver’s license.
In the weeks before the rally, Working America organizers talked to nearly 1,300 community members about this important bill, and many wrote letters to their representatives to express their support for safety and equality.
Member Alex C. in Portland wrote, “This is a common sense approach to the real life needs of people in our state, ALL of the residents and employees of our great state.”
Lisa A. in Hillsboro gave a parent’s perspective. “As a mother, it’s important to me to know that all drivers on the road are able to obtain and have insurance, to help keep my children and our community as a whole safe,” she wrote.
Our members and our allies continue to stand together to continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and we thank our representatives who heard our voices loud and clear and voted yes on the Safe Roads Act. ¡Si Se Puede!
There are signs of life in the economy, and we’re hoping for a good jobs report at the end of the week—but the recovery from the devastating Great Recession is still fragile, with a number of dangers that could tip us backwards. The most irritating threat to the recovery, however, is a self-inflicted wound: the shredding of public sector jobs as austerity fever hits state budgets.
In education, in public safety and in other vital services, states are kicking people off the job rolls—even as, in many cases, they’re cutting taxes for corporations. When hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters and other public workers lose their jobs, it’s just like when anyone else loses a job: they end up competing in the job market for a smaller number of openings, they draw on unemployment insurance, they have a harder time making mortgage payments and feeding their families, and they have less money to spend to support businesses in their community. What’s more, their neighbors are getting a lower level of public service. It’s lose-lose. Newly-elected state legislators on an ideological quest to shrink the services states provide are playing their games at the expense of actual people’s actual paychecks.
And as David Dayen notes, these cuts aren’t just short-term: “when you scale back public education and investment, the practical effect of those job losses, that has far-reaching effects into the future.”
Of course, President Obama’s American Jobs Act could have helped in this regard—it would have given states money to invest in keeping teachers and public safety employees on the payroll. But it was repeatedly filibustered by Republicans in the Senate who are about as interested in how the economy works for real people as their colleagues in state capitols are.
That includes Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
That includes new Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who said “We cannot afford to be bailing out local governments.”
That includes Senators Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, who are frequently deemed “moderate” by the press.
To the American public, this is not a controversial bill. A CNN poll found that 75 percent are in favor of the policy that helps prevent layoffs in police departments and firehouses by charging a small surcharge on adjusted gross incomes exceeding $1 million.
But instead of explaining their actions of voting against an overwhelmingly popular bill that would have incredible public benefit, Republicans and their allies had a little sideshow about the Vice President saying crime rates are up, specifically that rates of rape are up. Senator John Barasso (R-WY) said these comments reflected White House “fear tactics” and “desperation,” and right wing reporter Jason Mattera accosted the Vice President after a press conference to ask him if he thought the comments were “appropriate.”
“I think he is concretely worried that with fewer police on the beat crime will go up,” O’Neill told The Daily Caller. “I think he is imagining the lives of real people. That is not a device — that is an actual ability to know what everyday people go through.”
I don’t think anyone, let alone Biden, should have to apologize for pointing out the consequences of the Republicans political games. They push 30 year old economic theories, they talk about how this will hurt President Obama politically, but then to turn around and react with faux outrage when someone talks about how their irresponsible votes will affect actual Americans?
As the VP said, “This is about priorities. Watch your senator. Watch him or her choose.” Well, they’ve chosen. And we saw. Republicans voted for the ability of about 700 millionaires to breathe a little easier, and ignored the fact that crime rates, including murder, rape, and burglary, are ticking upwards. Those are their priorities.
With a minority of Senators having blocked even an attempt at debate on the American Jobs Act, Senate leaders are moving individual provisions as stand-alone bills this week. And first up is a bill to put hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters and other employees back to work.
In a packed Senate conference room yesterday, a few hundred firefighters, nurses, teachers, police officers and their allies were joined by Vice President Joe Biden and legislative leaders to push for the bill. It’s a $35 billion measure that would send money to the states to help them save jobs that are right now disappearing thanks to short-sighted budget cuts. Sen. Harry Reid plans to put the bill up for a vote this week.
As Biden noted at yesterday’s rally, this isn’t a radical, ideological proposition. It’s common sense. It gives people paychecks and helps communities keep the services and protections they can’t afford to lose. “It’s not only about your needs, it’s about the public needs,” Biden told the enthusiastic crowd. “This is not very complicated…real people will get real relief, right now.”
The bill is completely paid for by a small 0.5% surtax on money earned after the first $1 million dollars. To put that in basic math, if a wealthy person has $1,000,010 in taxable income, the surcharge would raise their taxes by a nickel. “Everything is about priorities,” Biden aptly noted, saying that Senators could save nearly 400,000 jobs—or they could save millionaires a little bit on their tax bill. “This is so simple. Watch your senator. Watch him or her choose.”
Among those who spoke at yesterday’s rally were Rodney Barton, a retired Maryland police officer, and Cherine Akbari, a teacher from Oakland Park, Florida who got her pink slip on Teacher Appreciation Day. “I’m one of 1,400 teachers laid off in my district,” said Akbari. “I’m worried about losing my home, which I just bought thinking I could have a career in education. I’m worried for myself but I’m even more worried for my students.”
These layoffs hit communities in two ways. First, they obviously reduce cities and towns’ ability to provide for public safety and good education, which hurts everything from property values to the future earnings prospects of students. Second, it has the same economic impact as any other layoff: depriving local businesses of customers and throwing more and more people into competition for a too-small number of job openings.
So what is it going to be, U.S. Senators? Go with the overwhelming public consensus and put people like Cherine back to work, or keep taxes on millionaires from inching up above their historic lows? It’s a sign of a deeply dysfunctional debate in Washington that this would be anything like a hard choice.
In addition to the bill to fund teachers and public safety workers, the Obama administration is also proposing as a stand-alone bill a program to help businesses hire veterans, another portion of the American Jobs Act.
Last week, Pinellas County, on Florida’s west coast, voted to stop adding fluoride to its public water supply after starting the program seven years ago. The county joins about 200 jurisdictions from Georgia to Alaska that have chosen to end the practice in the last four years, motivated both by tight budgets and by skepticism about its benefits.
Public health advocates don’t agree:
But the United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the communities that stop adding fluoride to the water supply are misguided. The government continues to recommend the practice, which began in the 1940’s and has had its share of recent successes, including San Diego’s move to fluoridate water this year after a long delay. Some 72 percent of the population in the country drinks water with added fluoride.
Keeping fluoride in water is especially important today because many people cannot afford dental care, public officials say.
Fluoridated water has always been the subject of controversy. The John Birch Society insisted that fluoride in the water was a Communist plot. (For the record, there were no Communists in the fluoridated Massachusetts town in which I grew up.)
What is truly unfortunate is that these decisions aren’t always being made by rational, well informed people:
But Kenneth T. Welch, a Pinellas County commissioner who voted to continue adding fluoride to the water, said he was stunned by the commission’s decision, saying it was pushed by Tea Party supporters. He called for another vote on Tuesday but the outcome was the same. Fluoridation will end in the affected areas of the county by Dec. 31. The county expects to save $205,000 annually from halting fluoride use.
“Political rhetoric won out over science and the best advice of our medical and dental community,” Mr. Welch said.
This will have the greatest impact on the folks who are least likely to be able to afford dental care. Another victory for the anti-science crowd, but once again, hurting the most vulnerable.