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Public Banking Bill

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Rashida Tlaib have proposed a bill that would pave the way for public banks across the country. This could save our cities and states millions of dollars — our tax dollars.

For example, the city of Boston now pays $67 million a year in interest to Wall St Banks. Just interest — this doesn’t include all the fees they have to pay up front. And this money, Boston taxpayer money, goes out of state immediately. A public bank would mean that cities, towns and states would be able to get loans without taking huge hits in fees and interest.

COVID has put cities and towns across America in dire straits. We can’t continue with “business as usual” where Wall St banks are allowed to gouge those least able to pay. We shouldn’t allow them to charge 30% interest rates to people with low credit scores, and we shouldn’t allow them to charge our cities and towns high interest and fees either.  City money is public money — it should be handled by a public bank.

And for a tasty climate-action bonus, AOC and Tlaib’s bill also prohibits public banks from investing in or doing business with the fossil fuel industry. About time.

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Fixing Unemployment

Written by Molly Kivi, who will appear on Solidarity LIVE Thursday at 1:30pm

On November 15, 2020, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered remarks at Riverside Church on the inequities in America saying “COVID was low tide in America, and it showed us the ugliness and flaws deep down in our society. And if we are smart, and if we are secure, we must now acknowledge the ugliness and correct it as we go forward.”

The Unemployment Insurance program is one of those inequities that has surfaced. The benefit payments do not factor-in purchase power, the tax structure is regressive, the employer’s tax rate increases when layoffs occur through no fault of the employer, and smaller businesses are paying at higher rates than large businesses. The trust fund that holds the money to distribute benefit payments hasn’t collected enough revenue to comply with the Department of Labor standards for decades. The consequence of not hitting these targets is paying interest on loans that would otherwise be interest-free. The projected unemployment trust fund deficit for 2021 is 4.7 billion dollars, and the Commonwealth will be borrowing funds from the US Treasury costing the Massachusetts taxpayers 60 million in 2021. Additionally, the Commonwealth will lose out on the FUTA tax credit worth 1.4 billion dollars.

I am advocating for an equitable and easy to understand tax structure. One that would create a solvent trust for normal times and prepare us for future economic downturns, natural disasters, and economic shifts. Benefit payments should factor in purchase power, experience rating system should be abolished, the tax should be levied on both the employer and the employee, and the tax base should capture the full base and not be capped.

This proposal would bring this social insurance up to the standards of
other developed nations.

Tune in Thursday at 1:30 to hear more about how we can fix our unemployment system that is a lifeline for so many during this crisis.

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Community Land Trust

The Somerville Community Land Trust is having its Fall 2020 Launch event (virtually) on Saturday, November 14th, at 11am. Everyone is welcome to attend to discuss this innovative and fundamental solution to having more affordable housing.

Lack of affordable housing is a difficult problem to solve. For example, granting more permits for developers to build while requiring 20% of their new housing to be classified as affordable does get us more units of affordable housing, but it also accelerates gentrification by raising the rental and purchase prices near the development.

Community land trusts are a great solution that creates more affordable housing out of our current housing stock while also slowing gentrification. How does it work?

The Community Land Trust buys the land under the house while the buyer buys the house itself. In Somerville, more than 2/3 of the price of housing is the value of the land. If you have identical houses in Somerville and in Detroit, you’d pay a lot more for the house in Somerville because of the location. The Somerville Community Land Trust can buy existing housing (not favoring developers or raising nearby land prices) to convert more of our housing stock into permanently affordable housing.

Join them on November 14th!

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All Eyes On Georgia

One could easily argue that Georgia has been the most interesting state to watch during the 2020 general election. Unlike most other states, Georgia will continue to be in the national spotlight after the presidential race due to its senate runoffs that will take place in January.

In any presidential election, there is much excited talk about the possibility of any given state “flipping” from its expected outcome. And indeed, we all watched with bated breath in anticipation of Georgia “flipping” blue last week due to record-breaking Democratic voter turnout. But it is crucial to recognize that Georgia didn’t simply “flip” from red to blue: Georgia’s left-leaning votes have been violently suppressed for decades. This year, those voices are being heard, thanks to the work of incredible activists and organizations who have been fighting voter suppression. Much well-deserved credit has gone to Stacey Abrams and her organization Fair Fight. And she’s not alone—there are many others who have also been doing the work of engaging with voters and uplifting oppressed voices in Georgia: LaTosha Brown with Black Voters Matter, Rebecca DeHart with Fair Count, Britney Whaley and Fallon McClure with Working Families Party, Nse Ufot with New Georgia Project, Tamika Middleton with Metro Atlanta Mutual Aid Fund, Helen Butler with Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Project South, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, GALEO, Georgia NAACP, and many more.

The point of my list is not to be exhaustive, but to highlight the fact that the Democratic party’s winning of Georgia in the 2020 presidential race is a direct result of tireless organizing on the part of progressive activists in Georgia. Indeed, all week we eagerly refreshed our browsers to see how many more progressive-leaning mail-in ballots had been counted, like those in the Atlanta metro area that ultimately “flipped Georgia blue.” Make no mistake: Black voters in Georgia made this happen, and they overcame decades of racist voter suppression to do it (consider checking out All In: The Fight for Democracy, a documentary featuring Stacey Abrams to learn more about voter suppression in Georgia).

Joe Biden and the Democratic party have taken a centrist approach to this presidential election. They have done nothing to cater to the demands of progressive voters, instead relying on the fact that a second Trump term posed a large enough existential threat to cause progressive voters to vote him out of office. For many progressive voters across the country, a vote for Joe Biden felt meaningful only as a vote against Trump. Indeed, for many of these voters, the Democratic party has rarely used its power to improve their lives—or perhaps it has actively harmed them. These voters are not happy about electing a notable supporter of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which exacerbated the issue of mass incarceration, nor are they enthusiastic about the Vice President from the Obama years under which ICE grew to become the well-funded, violent machine that it is today.

Joe Biden would not have won this presidential election without the support of progressives across the nation whose only motivation to vote for a Democratic candidate was getting rid of Trump. Having accomplished this task, progressive voters in Georgia are in a unique position as we look ahead at the January runoffs that will determine which party controls the Senate. If the Democratic party wants to take control of the senate in the January runoffs, it ought to seriously reevaluate its relationship with Black voters in Georgia and frankly, give them a reason to believe that the Democratic party controlling the Senate would substantially improve their lives. Maybe this means addressing the egregious medical abuse and human right atrocities at ICE detention facilities. Maybe this means abolishing private prisons. Maybe this means undoing legislation that protects corrupt police officers instead of their victims and demilitarizing the police. Maybe this means removing barriers to housing, healthcare, and education in order to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities and help them out of the current state of crisis. There are so many ways the Democratic party could be better serving these voters.

Last week, Georgia voters demonstrated the awe-inspiring power of progressive activism. The lesson for the Democratic party? Don’t take it for granted.

Much inspiration for this blog post came from Bad Faith Podcast.

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Does Inequality Lead to Violence?

Two researchers have combined inequality and a number of other factors into a statistic that tells us a society’s risk of erupting into violence.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the US is at high risk.

I studied inequality in grad school, and it was clear that inequality researchers equate high levels of inequality with political instability and social unrest. The last time there was inequality this high was before WWII, and different countries’ political unrest manifested differently: Italy and Germany elected authoritarian leaders, while the US elected a left populist.* Both led to major changes in policy, to say the least.

Trump was an outcome of political instability (as well as an instigator of it). But if we don’t resolve our deep structural problems, inequality at the core of them, we will end up with someone far worse than Trump. The researchers come to the same conclusion, saying the numbers “herald a disturbing future for the US that won’t be solved by politics as usual after the 2020 election.”

The only way to ward off the coming violence is to drastically reduce inequality. While tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, billionaires have increased their wealth by $854 billion — and that is just since COVID began in March. We need a wealth tax to reduce the wealth of the highest; we need a Medicare for All system (as every other major country has had for decades) to stop the hemmorhaging of low-income American’s money; we need to start thinking about debt forgiveness for both medical debt and student debt; and we should provide a job guarantee as a social safety net.

We can choose not to do that, but we should be careful just how far down the inequality path we go. We’ve probably already passed the breaking point.

*I wrote an article in 2016 warning of the dangers of inequality and a Trump election.

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GDP, the Stock Market, and well-being

Quick reminder that GDP isn’t synonymous with human wellbeing.” Well said.

Our pro-corporate establishment on both sides loves to look at our GDP and the stock market as if those accurately measure how well our country is doing. Not only do they not measure human wellbeing, they aren’t even good measures of the economy.

As to human wellbeing, our GDP puts us near the top of richest countries per capita. But our life expectancy, our infant mortality rate, our maternal mortality rate, our incarceration rate, even how our education system ranks, it is clear that our people are not doing well.

As far as the economy goes, the vast majority of the wealth is in the hands of the top ten percent. This means that much of our money is captured by people who have maxed out in their ability to buy goods and services, and that many of our people have no discretionary income and are struggling just to pay rent and food. Our GDP does not include unpaid work like unpaid household and child care work; over 80% of our stock market is owned by the top 1%; there are many glaring issues with both these measures.

We need other measures to turn to for measuring the health of our country — what are your favorites?

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Choices 2020

Last Wednesday night was the Vice Presidential debate. We saw a shining example of Vice President Mike Pence trying not only to interrupt Senator Kamala Harris, but force her to answer his questions. We have all seen the memes of a fly landing on the Vice President’s head and Karen Pence ignoring COVID protocol by walking on stage without a mask. Not once during either the presidential or vice presidential debates were candidates asked about queer or trans rights. Overall, the 2020 debates told us nothing new about the candidates, but did make me think of Mike Pence’s public health experience when he speaks of his capabilities as head of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force. 

In 2015, Pence was the governor of Indiana and the small, rural town of Austin, Indiana was experiencing an HIV outbreak that has now been linked to over 200 cases. In a population of 4,300. That’s a 4.6% infection rate, or the same as Tanzania. When health authorities called for the governor’s help in curbing the spread of HIV among the IV drug using population, he said he would pray on what to do. Local health officials were hoping to set up needle exchange programs, but Mike Pence said he didn’t “believe effective anti-drug policy involved handing out drug paraphernalia.” Just so we are all clear, needle exchange programs (Also known as Syringe Services Programs, or SSPs) don’t make people start using IV drugs; they can actually halt the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases and can help people get into treatment programs. When Mike Pence decided to allow individual communities limited abilities when seeking approval for these infection-halting programs, that was a policy choice. As the state of Indiana debates ending these programs next year, that is a policy choice. Pence chose to ignore the facts of officials and experts when a public health crisis was mounting before him, resulting in lasting damage. He is choosing to do the same as COVID-19 continues to cause over 50,000 cases in the US each day. 

As the former governor sits at the helm of one of the most important task forces in US history, Mike Pence aids in the manipulation of critical information that has the ability to save tens of thousands of lives. He could make the choice to have a federal mask mandate. But he doesn’t. Estimates show that local and state mask mandates can reduce the growth of the virus by up to 2% per day, preventing up to as many as 450,000 cases, along with physical distancing. Under the Vice President’s control, we have clear data that tells the truth- Black, Latinx, and Native peoples are being hospitalized at 5 times the rate of White Americans. When it comes to death rates, Latinx, Native peoples, and African-Americans are anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely than a White person to die from the virus. And in 36 states, White deaths are lower than their share in the population. Mike Pence knows all of this information and more. He has the ability to implement programs that could benefit the country and prevent countless deaths as we move towards the added strain of flu season. But he doesn’t. He chooses to pat himself on the back like he did in Indiana, because an unwanted community is being eliminated by an unforgiving virus. 

Hours before the vice presidential debate, Mike Pence said he would no longer resist the plexiglass barriers set up to protect everyone involved. He wasn’t mentioning that his White House was directly responsible for 20 COVID cases, causing the largest spike DC has seen since June. When the Vice President stands on a national stage talking about his time running the Coronavirus Task Force, his public health record on a state level, or his ability to follow basic public health guidance, he reminds us that he is proud of his choices. Everything Mr. Pence has chosen to do has been at the expense of simple solutions to the multiple public health pandemics the US faces. And the expense of marginalized lives. Just as Mike Pence has chosen to endanger this country, we have the choice to vote him out. 

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Housing Guarantee

By Ann Fogler

Over the past 6 months many of us have made resolutions to be anti-racist. We have marched against acts of hatred towards women, people of color, and the trans community.  We often forget, however, that many of us do not have to come to terms with the racist policies that exist within our very own governments, and posting on social media or attending a few rallies are not enough. We forget that we, through complacency, overlook and ignore the human rights violations occurring right before our eyes.

On October 17, 2020 the eviction moratorium in MA will come down and thousands of people’s lives will be uprooted and dismantled. Even Somerville’s remaining evictions moratorium will only prevent a few people from being displaced from their homes, as it does not stop the eviction itself, but only prevents the removal of property from within the home. The only legislation that even comes close to protecting victims of job loss and financial hardship from being robbed of their homes is THE GUARANTEED HOUSING STABILITY ACT – H.5018 in the Massachusetts State House. Time is running out and we need to act now.

Evictions are racist. Evictions have been a human rights violation from the start, and COVID-19 only illuminates to those blinded by complacency how deeply interwoven healthcare and housing have always been.

A society that houses its constituents, especially under a pandemic, is a healthy and just society. What kind of society do you want to be a part of? How will you truly be anti-racist? Sign the form below and call your legislators now!

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Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! It is a good day to pass four overdue bills here in Massachusetts:

  • S.1877/H.2776 to change the MA state flag,
  • S.247/H.443 to end the use of Native American mascots by public schools, and
  • S.1811/H.2948 to protect Native American heritage.
  • H.3665 to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in Massachusetts.

Our flag, which features a colonial broadsword held over a Native American, is the last state flag that still includes representations of white supremacy. Change is hard, but it’s not that hard. We’re supposedly one of the most progressive states in the US, and honestly, how many people living in Massachusetts have an affinity to the state flag? How many even know what it looks like? This should be an easy win, and if we can’t change this out-dated symbol that no one cares about, what hope have we of creating a more equitable world?

I thought it would also be a good day to post some news related to Indigenous peoples here in the US.

The Supreme Court made a landmark decision this July that about half of the land in Oklahoma is still under the jurisdiction of Native American nations, basically confirming that their treaties are still in effect. But a few days ago, the EPA essentially revoked that, granting the state of OK control over environmental regulation on tribal lands. At the request of Governor Stitt, any corporation may now dump a variety of waste and/or pursue fracking on native land in OK.

The California wildfires, which have focused national attention on the accelerating nature of climate change, are exacerbated by decades of forestry practices that prevent fires. Firefighting experts and policymakers are now turning to Native Americans to learn Indigenous forestry practices that may prevent future “megafires” from burning out of control.

A Montana court has ruled to strike down a law that suppressed the Indigenous vote. Unfortunately, mail-in voting does not work well for the Navaho nation for many reasons. For example, some voters on reservations have to drive up to 150 miles roundtrip to pick up their mail because tribal lands have very few post offices.

This Pawnee public health expert talks about the disproportionate toll COVID-19 is taking on native populations. She says the true impact of the virus on Indigenous communities is not yet known because of the exclusion of Indigenous communities from data sets and analyses used to make health policy decisions.

If you’ve got some time to watch a movie today, make it Dawnland. This Emmy Award-winning documentary about the recent Truth and Reconciliation process between Maine and its Native American tribes will shock you with the reality of how recently our government has been oppressing Indigenous communities. If it doesn’t bring you to tears I’ll owe you a coffee. And the director & DP of Dawnland lives in our district, so by watching you’re supporting our own Ben Pender-Cudlip. You can watch it tonight at 8pm online.