Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Friday, July 27, 2007

John Edwards Wants to Lower Your Taxes

The word "your" in the title of this article refers to everyone who makes less than $200,000 a year. If you make more than that, chances are you're not paying your fair share now, and Edwards will raise your taxes. But let's be very clear about this. For almost everyone who will read this article, Edwards wants to lower your taxes.

Here are a few statistics about income inequality in America today:

An Economy Only Growing at the Top: Income inequality is at its greatest level since 1928. American families are growing apart: 40 percent of the economic growth over the past 20 years has gone to the top 1 percent of families. In 2005, income grew by leaps and bounds for the top 1 percent – 14 percent in one year – but it was stagnant for the bottom 90 percent. The top 300,000 taxpayers now make more than the bottom 150 million. If all Americans were sharing in economic progress as they were nearly 30 years ago, families in the bottom 80 percent would be earning $7,000 more a year.

John Edwards sees the unfairness in this situation.

"It's time for us to put our economy back in line with our values," said Edwards. "It's time to end the president's war on work. And it's time to restore fairness to a tax code that has been driven badly out of whack by the wrongheaded rules of the Washington establishment – more wealth for the wealthy and more power for the powerful. In America, when the middle-class makes money from hard work they shouldn't pay higher taxes than when the rich make money from money."

Let's get into the nitty-gritty of what this means for most of us. (Quotes in italics come directly from the fact sheet provided by the Edwards campaign.)

  • A "Get Ahead" credit would help millions of families. The Get Ahead Credit will expand the Savers Credit to match savings up to $500 a year, providing as much as an additional dollar for every dollar of savings. The credit will refundable to low-income families and be phased out with income and families earning up to $75,000 would receive a credit.

  • Work Bonds would help low income families save. More targeted than the Get Ahead credit, Work Bonds will supplement the Earned Income Tax Credit to match the savings of low-income workers up to $500 per year. Together, the two tax breaks would let the lowest-income families set aside as much as $1,000 a year. The Work Bonds will be directly deposited into a savings account.

  • The first $250 in investment income would be exempted. Edwards will exempt from taxes each family's first $250 in interest, capital gains, and dividends.

  • You could save your child tax credit for the future. Edwards will allow families to deposit part or all of their child tax credit into a tax-free saving account. The funds could be withdrawn for any use when the child turns 18. A family that deposited the entire $1,000 every year would have $31,000 for college and their future after 18 years.

  • Better child care credits for middle-class families. To help millions of families with their child care expenses, Edwards will expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to pay up to 50 percent of childcare expenses up to $5,000 and make it partially refundable to benefit low-income working families. He will also allow stay-at-home parents to get the credit to help pay for child care for newborn infants.

  • Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. Edwards will offer more than $1,200 to poor single workers, tripling the current EITC, and it will give 4 million low-income workers an average tax cut of $750. He will also cut the marriage penalty in the EITC. Edwards believes that we must cut the EITC marriage penalty. His proposal will cut taxes for 3 million couples by about $400 a year.

  • Eliminate estate taxes for the middle class, small businesses, and family farmers. He will also eliminate estate taxes for the middle class, small business owners and family farmers, while keeping these taxes on the few families with large estates above $4 million in value.

Most people reading this article can find one or more of the tax changes above that would benefit them. But let's be realistic. This creates a shortfall that has to come from somewhere else. So whose taxes would be raised? The answer is that if you make over $200,000 a year, or if a significant portion of your income comes from investments, rather than work, you're going to be paying more under an Edwards administration.

  • Tax wealth as much as work. Edwards will raise the top tax rate on long-term capital gains to 28 percent for the most fortunate taxpayers, the same rate signed into law by President Reagan. The 28 percent rate will ensure that high-income investors will pay taxes on their investment income at a similar rate to what regular families pay on their earned income.

  • Repeal Bush tax cuts for people making over $200,000 a year. More than half of the Bush tax cuts – $132 billion – will go to the top 1 percent of taxpayers in 2010. Edwards will repeal the Bush tax cuts for the highest-income households.

  • Declare War on Tax Havens: About $300 billion a year in taxes go unpaid, and about $1.5 trillion in personal assets of U.S. taxpayers are held offshore. These unpaid taxes increase the share of the tax burden shouldered by honest taxpayers. Edwards will end the abuse of foreign tax havens: low-tax countries that facilitate American corporations and wealthy individuals seeking to avoid U.S. taxes.

  • Close the Hedge Fund and Private Equity Loopholes: Some of the most highly paid people in America are the managers of hedge funds and private equity funds, some of whom make hundreds of millions of dollars or even billions a year. Although most of their income, like other earned income, is nothing more than payment for the work they do, they pay only the 15 percent capital gains rate rather than the ordinary income tax rate. Edwards will close this loophole and also ensure that publicly traded private equity and hedge funds pay corporate taxes.

  • Cap Executive Pensions: Top executives at large corporations commonly receive deferred compensation packages that allow them to put off indefinitely the payment of taxes on much of their compensation. They have in effect unlimited IRAs or 401(k)s, without the limits that apply to other workers. Edwards will limit the amount of money that can be put into these funds to $1 million a year.

Now quite frankly, what Edwards is proposing is a lot more equitable than the tax code we have now, and it will help the majority of Americans while preventing the wealthiest from getting a free ride. Getting it done won't be easy. The wealthy people that Edwards wants to raise taxes on are exactly the people that control the media. You're going to hear a lot of spin about this proposal, most of it untruthful. You're going to also hear a lot of personal attacks on John Edwards as a result of this. Watch this video, and you'll get an idea of how strongly Edwards will fight for tax equity.

I don't know about you, but my money's on John Edwards.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

John Edwards - Haircuts, etc.

John's right on this, and people need to hear this message.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Road to One America: the Youngstown Business Incubator and Hill House in Pittsburgh

This is my third and final diary about the stops on John Edwards's Road to One America Tour that I visited on July 17, 2007. Previously, I've written about the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, where residents are plagued by predatory lenders and home foreclosures, and also Beatitude House in Youngstown, Ohio, a transitional shelter for homeless women working to get back on their feet. Today's diary focuses on the last two stops on the tour that day: the Youngstown Business Incubator in Youngstown, Ohio and Hill House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Youngstown Business Incubator was a very unusual stop on the Road to One America Tour. Youngstown used to be a big steel town with a lot of manufacturing jobs, but it has fallen on hard times. The Business Incubator is working to create partnerships between business, education, government, and the community to attract better jobs and high tech jobs to the area and train local workers to take those jobs. It is a model for how communities that have lost manufacturing jobs can transition to business models that will be more competitive in the new global economy.

John Edwards met with local business leaders in a roundtable discussion at the Youngstown Business Incubator. I was able to record some of the meeting on video before the battery died in my camera.

Here are some key points that were made during the discussion:

YBI links entrepreneurship and education, helping to keep kids in schools and help local businesses to create job opportunities. These job opportunities help local graduates stay in the Mahoning Valley.

Youngstown is making an effort to become the poster child for what needs to happen throughout the Great Lakes. This is a major transition, which requires local, state, and national help.

The key to the success of YBI is in creating partnerships on many levels. This includes private sector/public sector partnerships, profit/nonprofit partnerships, and business/government partnerships.

John Edwards called it a model for what can be done nationally.

Later that afternoon, Edwards visited Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he toured the facility at Hill House, then gave a rousing speech.

Hill House is a community organization which has multiple programs for education of youth at different ages, as well as Senior services and other community services. Prior to Edwards's speech, three graduates of various Hill House programs spoke about how those programs have helped them.

The first success story was a young woman who had participated in their Mission Discovery science education program, become a counselor in the program, and is now about to enter college on a full scholarship.

The second success story was that of a young man who, although once a gang member and drug dealer, learned parenting skills and life skills through their fathers program, and now coordinates that program.

The third success story was a woman who had at one time been addicted to drugs, homeless, and had her children taken away from her. The Hill House helped her to get clean, get her life back on track, get housing and get her children back.

After the speeches by the graduates of Hill House, John Edwards spoke about some of the problems facing working people in this country, some of the things he had witnessed on the Road to One America tour, and the programs he would propose to help solve these problems.

We've got 37 million people in this country who live in poverty. 15 million live in deep poverty. I mean intractable, deep poverty. It is not OK. The work that Dr. King began in Marks, Mississippi - that work has to continue today, and he has left this legacy in our hands. He has left this responsibility to us.

Here's an excerpt from his description of his visit to Cleveland earlier that same day:

In a one block radius - 38 homes in foreclosure. 38 homes. And this is not a poor neighborhood. These are working, middle-class people. The one thing that we've got to make sure everybody in this country understands and knows in their gut is that this cause, this march that we're on to end poverty and give opportunity, real opportunity to everybody, is not just about the poor. Everybody's at risk. Everybody is vulnerable.

One new thing I want to say a word about tonight is what we need to be doing about our schools. I'm sure some of you followed this U.S. Supreme Court ruling that turned Brown vs. Board of Education on its head. Taking away the power of schools to voluntarily desegregate - huge mistake. Huge mistake. But we don't just have racial segregation in our schools in America. We have huge economic segregation, and everybody knows it. [inaudible due to applause] ...it's not true that we have one public school system in America - oh, no we don't. We've got two public school systems in America. We've got one for those who live in wealthy suburban areas and then one for everybody else. One for kids who go to inner city schools and poor rural schools and one for everybody else. We have got to build one public school system.

His proposed solutions for economically segregated schools include bonuses to good schools that take in kids from the inner city and creating magnet schools in the inner city that will attract kids from all over.

Toward the end of his speech, Edwards called on all of us to help in the fight to end poverty.

What we need - what we need, brothers and sister, is we need a movement. We need a movement to end poverty in this country. We need a movement to lift up all those people that I've seen in the last day and a half. I carry them around inside me. I do. When I say this cause is the cause of my life - as long as I'm alive and breathing, I'm going to speak for them. I'm going to fight for them, and I'm going to stand up for them, but I need you. I need you in this cause. They need you. They need your courage. They need your strength. They need your voice to be heard, because it is the only way that they're going to have the chance that they're entitled to. It is the only way that they're going to have the dignity that every human being in this country ought to have. You know, if I can paraphrase Gandhi, you've got to be the change that you believe in. You can't stay home and help somebody else is going to do this for you.

After his speech, Edwards stayed around to answer some questions. I had a hard time getting close enough to him for my camera to pick up the audio, but here's a short clip where I think you can hear him OK. In this video, he's talking about football, affordable housing, and magnet schools.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Debate: John Edwards Comes out Fighting

It can easily be argued that John Edwards gave the strongest performance in the Democratic debate last night. Especially in moments when he took on Washington special interests and the sad state of health care in America, he showed himself to be the kind of fighter who will not rest until he does his best for the American people, which would be a big change from any president I can remember. (This is not to say that the two Democratic presidents I remember, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, weren't somewhat helpful, because they were. But, I don't remember Carter very well, and I know that Clinton made a lot of compromises he should not have made, such as NAFTA.)

In the debate last night, there were moments when Edwards was breathing fire. Most politicians sold us out long ago, and we the people need someone who will put up a good fight on our behalf. Edwards is that guy, and I hope at last that is becoming clear to everyone.

Before I get into the high points of the debate, I should take a moment to mention the new Edwards campaign video that everybody's talking about. The campaign obviously has had enough of a vapid mainstream media that can't seem to talk about the issues, because they are so obsessed with John Edwards's hair. In a powerful juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy, the Hair video asks us what is really important. The choice of music from the anti-Vietnam musical Hair is brilliant. It reminds us that then, as now, America fought a pointless war with obscure goals that our leaders seemed incapable of ending.

It would be nice to think that the reporters who have been perpetuating the hair story in the media are smart enough to know that they've just been roundly and justly insulted and decent enough to feel some shame over it. Time will tell.

During the debate itself, Edwards answered directly every question he was asked. His answers were blunt and to the point. Here are some highlights:

But I think the question is -- the question is: What is going to be done to stop this war?

The other people have raised the question earlier. And in fact, Senator Obama spoke just a minute ago about the White House agreeing that the parliament, the Iraqi parliament could take a month-long vacation because it was too hot, while our men and women are putting their lives on the line every day.

Here's my question. While the Iraqi parliament is on vacation, is George Bush going to be on vacation in Crawford, Texas?

What we need to do is turn up the heat on George Bush and hold him responsible and make this president change course.


It is the only way he will change course. He will never change course unless he's made to do it.

If you listen to these questions, they all have exactly the same thing, which is how do we bring about big change?

And I think that's a fundamental threshold question. And the question is: Do you believe that compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don't.

I think the people who are powerful in Washington -- big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies -- they are not going to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power. The only way that they are going to give away their power is if we take it away from them.


And I have been standing up to these people my entire life. I have been fighting them my entire life in court rooms -- and beating them.

If you want real change, you need somebody who's taking these people on and beating them over and over and over.

And just this past week -- in fact, you were with me on the third day -- I went on a three-day poverty tour in America.

The last day, I was with a man in western Virginia, in the Appalachian mountains -- 51 years old, three years younger than me.

He'd been born with a severe cleft palate, and he was proud of the fact that someone had finally volunteered to correct it. He had not been able to talk -- I want to finish this. He had not been able to talk until it was fixed.

Here was the problem. It was fixed when he was 50 years old. For five decades, James Lowe lived in the richest nation on the planet not able to talk because he couldn't afford the procedure that would've allowed him to talk. When are we going to stand up and do something about this?

We have talked about it too long. We have got to stand up to the insurance companies and the drug companies that Barack just spoke about. It is the only way we're ever going to bring about real change. We should be outraged by these stories.

Asked by one of the YouTube members who submitted a video question whether the candidates would be willing to work for minimum wage while in the White House, Edwards answered with a direct and simple "Yes." Now, I recognize that John Edwards has money and so this would not be the same as a low income family surviving on minimum wage, but it is still an important symbolic gesture if, as president, he would accept the same wage that's earned by some of our nation's poorest workers.

Asked by another YouTube member whether he would protect the rights of atheists and nonbelievers, this was his answer:

As president of the United States, we will embrace and lift up all Americans, whatever their faith beliefs or whether they have no faith beliefs, as Stephen just spoke about. That's what America is.

Now, my faith is enormously important to me personally. It's gotten me through some hard times, as I'm sure that's true of a lot of the candidates who are on this stage.

But it is crucial that the American people know that as president it will not be my job -- and I believe it would be wrong -- for me to impose my personal faith beliefs on the American people or to decide any kind of decision, policy decision, that will affect America on the basis of my personal faith beliefs.

I thought John Edwards had by far the strongest answers in the debate, but you don't have to take my word for it. Here are some samples of what others had to say...

Roger Simon at The Politico:

“FIRST PLACE: John Edwards. Analysis: John Edwards has found a theme: He is angry and he is on your side. He is bold and he will use his boldness for you. Here was his key response, his voice rising as he went along: ‘Do you believe that compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don't. I think the people who are powerful in Washington -- big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies -- they are not going to negotiate. They are not going to give away their power! The only way that they are going to give away their power is if we take it away from them!’”

John Dickerson at Slate.com:

...Edwards pressed his populist case as passionately as he has at any previous debate, presenting himself as the only one who would take the fight to banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies and other special interests. His genuine outrage was readily apparent which was a far more effective way of showing his passion than when he merely speaks about how passionately he cares about things.

CNN's Randi Kaye:

“The biggest spike of the night went to John Edwards. He may be trailing Clinton and Obama but on health care, one of his key issues, the meter movers thought he was tops.” The moment was when Edwards said, “We have got to stand up to the insurance companies and the drug companies that Barack just spoke about. It is the only way we are ever going to bring about real change. We should be outraged by these stories.” Said Kaye, “Take a look at that, did you see that? The meter hit 90, all the way up to 90. That was the most favorable reading of the night.” CNN’s group of viewers was comprised of undecided Democrats and non-partisan independents in New Hampshire.

MessageJury.com's New Hampshire focus group said it was "very much an Edwards night."

A plurality of our group (four of 12) thought Sen. Edwards won the debate. And we heard a word used to describe him afterwards that any campaign would want to be associated with their candidate: “genuine”. When asked, most of this group thought he was, indeed, “genuine.”

The questions in the debate, submitted by YouTube viewers, were often more pointed and more insightful than those offered in previous debates by reporters. Nevertheless, it seemed Edwards just couldn't get enough of answering questions. In a live webcast after the debate, Edwards answered additional questions, including the top 2 questions voted on by users at CommunityCounts.us.

It's kind of nice to see a presidential candidate who actually listens and responds.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Democratic Debate - John Edwards on Special Interests

Oh yeah, baby!

John Edwards - Hair

What's really important?

John Edwards to answer online questions in live webcast

After tonight's CNN/YouTube debate, which will be shown on CNN tonight from 7 P.M. to 9 P.M. Eastern, John Edwards will answer additional questions in a live webcast.

Click here to submit you questions. You can watch the webcast on John's web site, or right here on my blog.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

One more saturday night

I'm posting this just because I want to.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Video pick of the day: John Edwards in Whitesburg, KY

This is a video from part of the Road to One America Tour that I missed. The story about a man named James that John Edwards met on the tour, which he tells in this video, is amazing.

I have more video of my own, but I didn't get any more writing about it done today.

It seems like the tour had a positive impact on the media. There have been several nice articles in the mainstream press about John's poverty work, including one in Time. Also, both the Wall Street Journal and The Economist recently noted that John Edwards is setting the agenda for all of the other Democratic candidates, which Edwards supporters like me have known for a long time.

From Time:

Whatever else happens to Edwards this year, whatever his candidacy becomes, it matters that he spent three days talking about the problems of people like James Lowe. Maybe Edwards succeeds in linking those problems to the concerns of the middle class and ignites his candidacy. And maybe he doesn't. Either way, he did some good this week and won at least one vote. "It means the world to me that he come down here," said James Lowe. "He's talking about helping working people? He's listening to people like me? To me, that means everything."

From The Economist:

Mr Edwards is a man of big plans. No other presidential candidate, of either party, can match the sheer quantity, let alone the ambition, of his policy ideas. He has grand, progressive, goals—to end the war in Iraq (obviously), provide universal health care, address global warming, eliminate poverty in America within 30 years—and detailed blueprints of how to do it all.

From the Wall Street Journal:

NEW ORLEANS -- John Edwards may be stuck in third place in the polls and fund raising in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. But the populist seems to be playing an outsized role in driving the terms of the party's debate -- generally to the left -- on everything from Iraq to health care.

This week, the former North Carolina senator has made his most prominent bid yet to place the oft-ignored issue of poverty prominently on the 2008 agenda, with a four-day tour of some of the most run-down parts of the South and Midwest, beginning with his sixth trip this campaign to this city, devastated by Hurricane Katrina. He has talked about the issue more than any of his rivals, and was the first to craft a "poverty" plank in his platform.

About the time Mr. Edwards announced plans for his tour, one of his better-positioned rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, posted a poverty plan on his Website. Mr. Edwards ended his tour -- wending through a poultry plant and an industrial neighborhood hit by factory closing -- Wednesday in Kentucky. On that day, Mr. Obama delivered a major speech on the subject in Washington, D.C.

An Obama campaign official dismissed as "absurd" the notion that Mr. Edwards drove the debate on poverty or any other issues. But some voters feel otherwise. "I appreciate Edwards because he's at least talking about poverty," said Scott Myers-Lipton, a San Jose State University professor who caught Mr. Edwards speaking in New Orleans. "He's the only one talking about it."

What's absurd is the way Obama copies everything John Edwards does, but never gives him any credit. He's been doing it throughout this campaign, but it started way back in 2004, when Obama co-opted Edwards's familiar theme of Hope for his now famous speech at the Democratic convention.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

John Edwards visits the women of Beatitude House

This is the second in my series of diaries about traveling along with the Road to One America Tour. The series started with yesterday's diary about John Edwards visiting a neighborhood struggling with home foreclosures in Cleveland.

On Tuesday, I was following the Edwards campaign as John Edwards visited the women of Beatitude House, a shelter for homeless women seeking to reclaim their lives, in Youngstown, Ohio. To quote the Beatitude House website:

Beatitude House, sponsored by the Ursuline Sisters, is committed to disadvantaged women and children in the Mahoning Valley. In an atmosphere of care and compassion, the programs focus on counseling to promote self development and education to obtain needed skills.

Through this holistic approach, both women and children are empowered with the work habits and motivation to realize their full potential.

At Beatitude House, Edwards sat down at a picnic table with two women who are currently residents of Beatitude House, two women who are graduates of the program, and a woman who works there. He didn't give a speech. He didn't pontificate about anything, in fact. He just sat down with these women and asked them detailed, caring questions about how they came to be at Beatitude House and how Beatitude House had helped them.

Two things impressed me about this visit. First, the strength of these women who had been faced with challenges that many of us can't even imagine and who had somehow come out even stronger. Second, John Edwards's compassion.

I don't think this was an unusual visit for Edwards, except for the fact that media was there. I remember once hearing a high-level person in the Edwards campaign talk about how, before he was running for president, Edwards would go around to shelters like this one and go into a room with the residents, with no media present, and just ask them about their problems so that he could learn.

I know that as I watched his interaction with the women at Beatitude House, I saw in his face and heard in his voice a gentleness of spirit, a deep pride in what these women had accomplished, and a tough determination to fight for people like them.

I think that's all that I need to say. The videos speak for themselves.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

John Edwards walks neighborhood plagued by home foreclosures in Cleveland

When John Edwards announced that he would take three days away from campaigning and fundraising to shine a light on the problem of poverty in America and the possible solutions, I knew I had to be part of this.

The Edwards campaign has made a real effort to encourage citizen journalism, so bloggers were welcome on the Road to One America Tour. I strongly support Senator Edwards, and I applaud his efforts to create a movement against poverty in America. Over the past few months, my outrage has grown as wealthy Republicans and pundits, who never lift a finger to help the poor, continue to attack Edwards for his laudable efforts on behalf of those less fortunate. I knew it was time for me to stand up for this honorable man and his efforts to fight poverty, by acting as an honest witness.

Yesterday, I joined Senator Edwards for four of the stops on his Road to One America Tour. It was an eye opening and a heart opening experience. Seeing the depth of compassion that John has for those who are struggling and hearing the stories of the people that he visited made me more determined not to turn a blind eye to the struggles of those in this country for whom the American dream dissolves into a forgotten nothing in the cold light of day.

This is the first in a series of diaries about yesterday's tour stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania. For the first stop, we visited the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant in Cleveland, Ohio, where 38 homes in a one block radius face foreclosure.

I arrived in the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant a few minutes before Senator Edwards was scheduled to arrive. I was not surprised, however, when I soon learned that he was running on presidential campaign time, and would be a little late. I waited with a mix of journalists and neighborhood residents.

Before long, I was befriended by Ulysses Glen from the Eastside News, a local paper. When he found out that I was not from the area, he was kind enough to introduce me to some community leaders.

The first person Ulysses introduced me to was Zach Reed, the Cleveland City Councilman for that neighborhood. Mr. Reed was kind enough to grant me an interview about the problems local residents face with home foreclosures and predatory lenders. He told me that many of the residents of the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant are elderly African Americans, many of whom have lived in their homes for 30, 40, or 50 years, and many of whom are now facing foreclosure. Some help is available from the city government, but residents often are not aware of it, or are afraid to ask. Mr. Reed also gave me his thoughts on Senator Edwards. The full interview is in the video below:

The next community leader I met was Khalid Samad, a community activist in an organization called Peace in the Hood, which works to reduce gang violence, broker cease fires between gangs, and get gang members involved in positive activities such as entrepreneurship and school. Mr. Samad gave me a bit overview of some of the issues his organization faces, and its history.

Mr. Samad was a member of the youth gang unit for 11 years. As an activist, he has traveled around the country brokering peace deals between gangs. The organization was started in 1993 after the National Gang Summit, but the roots of Peace in the Hood go back even further.

In the 1980s, gang violence rates were so high that the United Nations considered declaring parts of Los Angeles war zones. Mr. Samad and others helped to bring together faith-based and nontraditional faith-based groups, such as Nation of Islam, Hebrew groups, the United Church of Christ, and the Lutherans to work on calming the violence. They started in two cities with the biggest gang problems: Chicago and Los Angeles. After initial successes in these cities, their efforts expanded to 10 or 15 more cities, and these efforts culminated in the National Gang Summit in 1993.

Mr. Samad told me that as a result of the efforts of anti-gang leaders, statistics in major cities for homicide and other gang related crimes fell 25 to 30% in the early 90s.

Though their initial efforts met with some success, the law enforcement community and the political establishment didn't embrace their efforts. It was mainly a grassroots movement, and it has been difficult to sustain a lot of it. Mr. Samad told me that to have continued success, more support is needed in areas like job training, help for ex-offenders, particularly in getting their records expunged, and people to do the needed work. They also need help with afterschool programs and job training.

I wish that I had had more time to speak with some of the these community leaders. I learned a lot from them, but I had to cut short my interview with Mr. Samad when Senator Edwards arrived.

John Edwards had come to visit the area because it is one of the hardest hit by predatory home foreclosures. Edwards met with local Cleveland ACORN members Mariah Crenshaw and Debbie Suber, who are in danger of losing their homes to predatory lenders.

In fact, local residents told Senator Edwards that there are 38 homes in foreclosure in a one block radius in that neighborhood.

According to information given to the media by ACORN members, Ohio saw a 64% increase in the number of foreclosures in 2006 over the number filed in 2005. ACORN says that Cleveland has the 14th highest foreclosure rate in the country. The area that Edwards visited was in two of the cities hardest hits zip codes, 44105 and 44120. There were 313 foreclosure filings in these zip codes in the month of April.

John Edwards walked the neighborhood with local residents and heard their stories. After gathering information from them, he addressed the media about the foreclosure and predatory lending crisis both in Cleveland and in the rest of America.

Speaking along with Senator Edwards was Mariah Crenshaw, a resident of Mount Pleasant who has lived in her family home for over 30 years. She inherited the home from her mother, but after facing a divorce and an illness at the same time, she found herself in financial trouble. She is now one of many neighborhood residents facing losing her home, and is leading neighborhood efforts to fight back against predatory lending and keep their homes.

Edwards spoke to the media about some of his plans to protect homeowners from predatory lenders, combat abusive payday lenders and help families to save, and promote economic diversity in schools. He then answered questions from the media.

Edwards's proposals include passing strong national laws to prevent predatory lending, creating a home rescue fund to help families in danger of losing their homes, and helping families in bankruptcy renegotiate their mortgages. He would also put a cap on interest rates that payday lenders can charge. Edwards also spoke of the need to promote economic diversity in schools.

Edwards spoke out strongly about the need to protect people's homes across America. He noted that some residents of Mount Pleasant are receiving assistance from the city, but said it should not be just a local problem. The federal government needs to come to the aid of homeowners, as this is happening all over the country.

A pamphlet I received from Cleveland ACORN members indicates that homeowners facing foreclosure should call them at 866-67-ACORN.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

The Road to One America - Ninth Ward of New Orleans

I'm on the road right now, so I don't have time for a lengthy blog post. The most I can manage for tonight is to post my video pick of the day: Senator Edwards taking a walking tour of the ninth ward of New Orleans on Sunday night. Tomorrow, I join Senator Edwards on the Road to One America Tour, as a citizen journalist. I'll have reports later this week! I might not have time to actually post until Wednesday, though.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

John Edwards Announces Three-Point Plan to Rebuild New Orleans

Tonight, John Edwards kicks off his Road to One America tour with a walking tour of the devastated ninth ward of New Orleans. Tomorrow, he starts off the day with a town hall on Good Morning America from New Orleans. Today, he announced his three-point plan to rebuild the city.

"We are not the country of the Superdome in New Orleans after Katrina. We can prove it by fulfilling our moral responsibility to get New Orleans back on its feet."
– John Edwards

His plan includes ideas to rebuild infrastructure, create jobs, and make the city safe, including fixing the levees. He expands each of these ideas into some detail in the fact sheet.

Edwards is the only candidate for president who has a plan to end poverty in the United States in the next 30 years and combat poverty worldwide. He is even willing to raise his own taxes, and those of other wealthy people, to do so, which seems to me to be a clear example of his integrity.

In the next few days, he will be touring impoverished areas of the United States to shine a light on the problems and solutions. He spoke recently at the NAACP presidential forum about the upcoming tour.

I will have much more on the Road to One America Tour in the next few days.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Keeping up with John Edwards

Sometimes I think people reading my blog must think that I'm a professional political junkie or something like that. I know all of my posts are about the Edwards campaign. In the past six months, for me, it's all about the Edwards campaign. Every single day the question I ask myself is "what can I do to help get the word out about John Edwards today?" It was not always this way.

Once, I had a life. Up until late 2003, as a matter of fact, I had more or less ignored politics for 20 years. I voted, but that was about it. Then, two things happened. Bush cheated his way into office and proceeded to ruin my country, which eventually angered me so much that I felt I had to do something about it. Then, in the course of looking for a Democratic candidate to challenge him in 2004, I discovered someone who I thought would be not just a good president, but a great president. That is John Edwards. I've been rooting for him ever since.

It's not easy these days to keep up with John Edwards. I write blogs about him at least a few times a week, but if all you know about John Edwards is what I write in my blog, I will be the first to confess that you're missing a lot of substantial news about him.

For one thing, the guy is a nonstop policy guru. His campaign puts out several press releases every week with new and detailed policy proposals, only some of which I find the time to write about. In this post, I'll do a quick update on a few things I didn't have time to write about in the past week or so.

A few days ago, Edwards announced a plan to protect our food supply, require country of origin labels, and strengthen the FDA. The plan would require imported food to meet the same safety standards as homegrown food produced in the USA, and would help protect the business of family farmers, too. From the press release:

Des Moines, Iowa – Senator John Edwards today announced a new initiative he would pursue as President to ensure the safety of food for American consumers and to help farmers and ranchers in Iowa and across the nation. Edwards will discuss the initiative on a conference call with Iowa reporters today and will be joined by Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), who is supporting his campaign for President.

"It's time to stop the delays and stop giving in to big agribusiness and food importers," Edwards said. "We need to give Americans the information they need to choose the best, and safest, food for their families."

"Senator Edwards grew up in rural America and understands the challenges we face, and that's reflected in his proposals to strengthen agriculture," Herseth Sandlin said. "We need the kind of presidential leadership he's offering, whether it's protecting our food supply, helping our agricultural producers, or revitalizing rural America."

Edwards is clearly right in step with what voters want on this one. A recent consumer reports poll shows that 92% of Americans favor country of origin labels on food.

What I didn't know, and wouldn't have known from the campaign's press release, is that Edwards has been an advocate of country of origin labeling since at least 2002. As MontanaMaven wrote in her great diary on the subject on Daily Kos,

Senator Edwards support of the 2002 Bill which mandated Country of Origin Labeling(COOL) for beef,pork,lamb, fish, perishable agriculture commodities and peanuts. (The fish and seafood part has already been implemented.)

Proving once again that John Edwards is COOL.

Then, just today, Edwards announced a plan to train 150,000 American workers every year for "green collar" jobs.

Des Moines, Iowa – Senator John Edwards today announced a new initiative he would pursue as President to ensure that regular Americans share in the benefits of the new energy economy. His investments in a new energy future are projected to create over a million new jobs economy-wide, and the new Green Collar Jobs training plan will offer job training and placement for up to 150,000 workers a year.

"We can turn the crisis of climate change into an opportunity for a new energy economy, right here in America – and Iowa in particular," Edwards said. "Now is the time to make sure that the economy of tomorrow is an all-aboard economy where nobody is left behind."

Green collar jobs! How cool is that?!

Another thing I like about Edwards is that he isn't afraid to speak out on things that other politicians find inconvenient to bring up. George Bush's mental problems, for example. This is what Edwards said yesterday about Bush's statement on Iraq:

"The president's remarks today defending his Iraq policy without regard to actual facts border on the delusional. The president claimed that the same people attacking U.S. troops today are the ones who perpetrated 9/11. It must be nice to live in a world where your actions have no consequences. There was no group called Al Qaeda in Iraq before the president's disastrous mismanagement of the war gave them a foothold, a fact the president flagrantly ignores. After being discredited again and again, the president is still trying to link Iraq and 9/11 - a rationale for the war that virtually everyone except Dick Cheney has now recognized was false.

"The president needs to stop pretending and start taking responsibility for the results of his failed strategy: There are more terrorists. Al Qaeda is resurgent and restored to full strength. And that's according to the Bush Administration.

"We need a real strategy against terrorism, like the one I have offered. We need to take Al Qaeda in Iraq as seriously as we take terrorism anywhere. As president, I will apply the full extent of our security apparatus to protect our vital interests, to take measures to root out terrorist cells, and to strike swiftly and strongly against those who would do us harm. I will also launch a sweeping effort to eliminate the conditions that generate instability, radicalism, and violence toward the U.S. and our allies."

I would have left out "bordering on," but I'm not a Southern gentleman.

Well, those are a few of the key events this week. I know that's not all. I expect to have even more trouble keeping up with John Edwards next week, when he launches his Road to One America tour to highlight the issue of poverty in the United States. Should be an exciting week!

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Video Pick of the Day: John Edwards on Climate Change

This is an oldie, but a goodie. John Edwards was the first presidential candidate to commit to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and I was there when he made the commitment! This is the video I recorded on March 14, 2007. I wasn't actively blogging here at the time, so I'm not sure if I've posted it here before. This is my top video on YouTube - it has been viewed more times than any of my other videos.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Edwards Wins on Global Warming

Today, MoveOn announced that John Edwards won their straw poll on the candidates responses about global warming in their virtual town hall on the subject. Edwards got more than twice as many votes as any other candidate.

From their press release:

Former Senator John Edwards won MoveOn.org Political Action’s poll on the climate crisis which asked, “Which candidate’s position on dealing with the climate crisis do you prefer?” Of the field of eight Democratic hopefuls, Edwards received 33% of the total votes cast–more than twice the support of the next two candidates, Rep. Kucinich and Senator Clinton, who each garnered 15.7%.

MoveOn member vote results:

Edwards 33.10%
Kucinich 15.73%
Clinton 15.71%
Obama 15.03%
Richardson 12.60%
Biden 3.06%
Dodd 3.01%
Gravel 1.78%

MoveOn will run print ads in newspapers in early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire next week, announcing the results of the straw poll on the climate crisis. Fundraising for the ads begins today.

“The enormous response we got from our members on this issue emphasizes how important it will be for our next president to make solving the climate crisis a top priority in 2008,” said Eli Pariser, Executive Director of MoveOn.org Political Action.

“MoveOn members want leaders who will take on the oil and coal industry and create a clean energy economy. That’s probably why Sen. Edwards’ support of cap and auction systems – which force polluters to pay citizens—and his call for more green collar jobs received such strong backing,” added Ilyse Hogue, Campaign Director of MoveOn.org Political Action.

MoveOn will run a print ad that congratulates the top three candidates. You can see the ad, and contribute to help pay for it, here.

Here are JRE's responses to the questions asked by MoveOn members:

How does your plan differ from those of other candidates?

Would you auction off carbon emissions and use the proceeds to develop alternative energy?

How will Americans, just not corporations, benefit from the new energy economy?

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Edwards to Launch Road to One America Tour in New Orleans

The Edwards campaign announced today that it will launch a three day tour of poverty-stricken areas in the United States that it is calling the Road to One America tour, on July 16.

“Everyday, one in eight Americans wakes up in poverty,” said Senator Edwards. “That’s not okay. Today, we have Two Americas in our country – one America that has everything it needs and another that is struggling to get by. Our next president needs not only to understand the struggles facing the 37 million Americans living in poverty, but also have a plan to lift them up out of poverty. That is what this tour and my campaign are about – giving them a voice so that we can build One America, where every person has the opportunity to work hard and get ahead.”

In a conference call with Edwards campaign manager David Bonior today, Bonior talked to reporters about the tour.

The Road to One America tour is designed to highlight Edwards's goals of raising 12 million Americans out of poverty in 10 years, and eradicating poverty in the United States in 30 years.

It will be a three day tour starting on Monday, and hitting eight states.

The tour will highlight the face of poverty by showing the human face of the poor, because as John Edwards says in his book, statistics do not struggle.

It starts on Sunday night with a walking tour of the ninth Ward of New Orleans. This is a pre-tour event. The real tour starts on Monday in New Orleans. The first day will also include visits to Canton, Mississippi, Marks, Mississippi, where MLK started his Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C. in 1968, then Marianna, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. At the end of the first day, they will fly to Cleveland, Ohio.

On the second day they will visit Cleveland, Ohio, Youngstown, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This leg of the tour highlights urban areas that are trying to rejuvenate.

On the third day they will start in Wise, Virginia (having flown there the night before), then on to Norton, Virginia, Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Prestonberg, Kentucky, where RFK ended his tour of impoverished parts of Kentucky in 1968.

From the press release:

Along the way, Edwards will meet with residents devastated and displaced by Hurricane Katrina and with people who have experienced persistent poverty in the Deep South, the Mississippi Delta and rural Appalachia. Edwards will also visit communities in the Rust Belt region that have suffered from the loss of American manufacturing jobs and cities that are struggling to cope with both urban poverty and the rising problem of poverty.

With this tour, Edwards hopes to focus attention not just on problems, but also on solutions and all of the good work that is being done across the nation to help lift people out of poverty. By meeting with these Americans and telling their stories to the rest of the nation, the campaign intends to show the diversity of the problem of poverty in America. The new faces of poverty in America come from a wide variety of racial, ethnic and regional backgrounds – from urban, suburban and rural areas. They range in age from the very young to the very old. Some are suffering from disabilities, which prevent them from finding work, and many are hardworking men and women with full-time jobs who are still struggling to make ends meet. All too often they don’t have access to the affordable health care, housing and education they need. And their numbers are growing. Edwards believes we all have a stake in doing something about our fellow Americans living in poverty and believes that working together we can help end poverty.

Edwards has made ending poverty in America a pillar of his campaign and laid out a plan to do so within 30 years. He has also outlined detailed plans to lift up working families by guaranteeing quality, affordable health care for every person in America, rewarding work by raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2012, protecting workers’ right to organize and making college more affordable. Born to working-class parents, Edwards understands the struggles facing working families and has dedicated his life to fighting for them. For the past two years, Edwards served as the Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He joined with grassroots coalitions to help raise the minimum wage in six states in 2006 and has helped more than 20 national unions organize thousands of workers into unions.

Bonior mentioned a list of the kind of people they are trying to help, all kinds of people in poverty, but my ears perked up when I heard him talk about helping people with disabilities, because I have wanted Edwards to talk about that a bit more, now that I have a partial disability, and some of my friends have disabilities as well.

There will be no fundraising during this tour and none of the states they're visiting are early states, so this is purely to highlight the issue of poverty.

One of the questions was from Ann Kornblutt at the Washington Post, who asked if there was a political strategy as well as the substantive strategy.

David Bonior responded that you can't separate the issue of substance here, because this is what John Edwards is all about.

Bonior then went through an impressive list of John's antipoverty credentials, only a few of which I had time to write down. He has been involved in 180 separate union organizing events, including a hunger strike with Cuban immigrants. His college for everyone program has raised college participation in the county where it operates.

She asked a follow-up question about who they are trying to reach with this tour, and Bonior said something like "it's aimed at you and the others on this call." He said they want to force the issue into the debate. He said they want to challenge the other campaigns, the press, and the public to come to grips with this issue.

Someone asked about the references he had made to 1968, and this was one of the most intelligent questions I've ever heard from a press person on one of these calls. He asked why is it more difficult to raise the issue of poverty today?

David Bonior said that 1968 was one of the most significant years in the last 100 years in this country. He said the difference now is that many in the press are not focused in on this issue as much as they should be. He then added that also political leaders aren't focused on it.

I did my part today to try to focus the press on this issue. I e-mailed Chuck Todd, the political director at NBC news, and challenged him to report on the Road to One America tour fairly. Earlier, I had written to Todd, because he wrote a piece I saw on the MSNBC website that I thought was unfair to Edwards. I won't report the content of the earlier correspondence, because he didn't know I was a blogger when it started, and that wouldn't be quite fair, but he had been very responsive to my complaint, so I issued him the following challenge:

Mr. Todd:

Thank you for responding to my previous e-mails about Edwards. I have a challenge for you. I'd like to see either you or someone on your staff go on the Road to One America tour that Edwards will launch in New Orleans on Monday the 16th, and see if you can report about the substance of what he talks about. Don't talk about his hair, don't talk about how rich he is and call him a hypocrite, talk about the issue that he is making the focus of his campaign: poverty. For extra credit, you can even talk about his wealthy predecessors who have also cared about the poor, such as FDR and RFK. One more part to this challenge: if you decide to interview a bunch of Republicans or conservative pundits who say his proposals won't work, also speak to some people who have worked with him on poverty and who say that they will, such as ACORN members or union leaders, and give them equal time.

Let's see if your organization rises to this challenge. All I am asking for is equal time for him and his proposals, and fair coverage of them.

I have since heard from Mr. Todd that he was in the midst of making a pitch to his producers about sending a crew and correspondent on this trip. I will be interested in their coverage.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

John Edwards Calls for Action to Stop Global Warming

I have just learned that on Saturday morning, July 7, John Edwards will again call for bold action to halt global warming as part of his Saturday morning e-cast series. According to a press release from the Edwards campaign, Edwards will call for America to meet three goals:

  • Halt global warming by capping and reducing greenhouse gas pollution and leading the world to a new global climate change treaty.
  • Create a new energy economy and 1 million new jobs by investing in clean, renewable energy, which will spark innovation, a new era in American industry, and life in family farms.
  • Meet the demand for new electricity through efficiency for the next decade, instead of producing more power.

The Edwards campaign was the first presidential campaign to be carbon neutral. According to the campaign, they balance the carbon emitted by campaign travel and the energy used in their campaign headquarters and field offices by conserving energy and purchasing carbon offsets.

According to the press release from the Edwards campaign, this is what Edwards will say in his Saturday morning e-cast:

"Let me say first thank you to everyone for joining me in this conversation. This is a really historic week in the worldwide movement to do something about global warming, to stop it. This Saturday, 2 billion people on seven continents will come together for the 24-hour Live Earth concerts, series of those around the world, that have been organized by Al Gore and Kevin Wall. Here in the U.S., members of MoveOn are going to host thousands of house parties to watch the concert and take action to deal with this issue.

"This is more evidence of an idea I believe in very strongly, which is that the true power in this country is not just in the Oval Office, it’s in the American people. And those people will gather in living rooms, town centers and communities for no more important task than saving the world.

"I'm not surprised that regular people are leading while Washington goes slowly and stalls, because we all know that Washington has been dominated by special interests, and they keep getting richer while the climate keeps heating up. Normal people are leading because the supposed leader of the free world is not leading– but I want to assure all of you that when I’m president, they will have a leader who is up to this task.

"I was proud of the fact that earlier this year, I was one of the first candidates to pledge a carbon neutral campaign and I was the first to come out with a detailed plan to stop global warming by reducing our carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, build a new energy economy that among other things produces 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, and to freeze our growing electricity demand with efficiency, getting more out of the power we already produce.

"My plan – which you can actually find on my website, johnedwards.com – has lots of ways that not just the government and not just business but regular people can stop global warming. I have also set up a website called ReduceYourCarbon.com where you can pledge to reduce your personal carbon footprint – visitors have pledged to reduce over 30 million pounds of carbon so far this year.

"But as this week’s gatherings show, this cause of stopping global warming is going to require us all to stand up and push back – because there are powerful interests who are profiting from the way it is.

"That’s why I want to talk to you today about just one of the ways I will take up the fight against climate change as president. Coal is the dominant source of electricity in America and it will be for decades to come, but we need to find a way to use it without heating the planet.

"So as president, I will stop big coal from building a single new power plant in America that doesn’t have the technology to capture their carbon emissions.

"The government reports that the coal industry and their financial backers on Wall Street are planning to build around 150 new coal-fired power plants to meet rising energy demand in the next few decades. That would add more than 800 million metric tons of CO2 to our environment a year. That’s 40 percent more than we’re emitting now. That’s when we know we need to go in exactly the opposite direction. And an estimated 30,000 Americans die every year from diseases linked to pollution from coal-fired plants.

"This is not something they are talking about in Washington. In the energy bill debate two weeks ago, some people actually tried to wrap increased pollution in the flag, saying that investing in more traditional coal-fired plants – or even worse, new fuels made out of liquid coal, which is a terrible idea – is the patriotic thing to do for America because coal is abundant here at home.

"Here's what I say to this: it’s not moral leadership if we reduce imports of oil but increase our exports of carbon pollution. We’re already 4 percent of the world’s population emitting 25% of its greenhouse gases.

"That’s not the America we want to be. As president, I will take back our democracy from these powerful interests so that regular people can change this country.

"Not only am I going to stop coal-fired power plants from adding to our pollution problems, but I will reduce our emissions, doing what the global community asked America to do at the recent G8 summit: cut the world’s carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050.

"It's time for the President of the United States to ask Americans to be patriotic about something other than war.

"We will need a cap and trade system where polluters pay if they pollute. And big companies are required to change the way they operate.

"Oil companies that run gas stations will have to carry alternative fuels at a quarter of their stations, because every new car in America will have to be equipped for alternatives or flex-fuels.

"Utilities that today profit by selling more and more polluting energy will have to help customers save electricity, and open up their grids to power produced locally, with rooftop solar panels and local wind turbines.

"Automakers that are squeezing profits out of high-polluting SUVs will have to develop the cars of the future with a 40 miles-per-gallon fuel economy standard.

"None of this is going happen unless we demand it. The oil companies won’t do it. The utilities won’t do it. The coal companies won’t do it. And as we saw with the energy bill, Washington won’t do it. Our generation has to do it – we cannot wait for somebody else to take responsibility.

"I've seen it with my own eyes what regular people can do when they are called to action. Actually, in January, our campaign asked supporters to join our One Corps National Day of Energy Action. All across the country, One Corps members took action and worked on community service activities, weatherizing homes, distributing energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. In April, I joined the thousands who gathered at “Step It Up” events across the country, demanding that Washington step up action on climate change.

"This is just the beginning. We are at that legendary crossroad: The point at which the future is determined by the choices we make and the action we take, all of us.

"As people all over the world are showing this week, if we don’t act now, we are going to be in trouble. But if we’re willing to act, and willing to lead, we can literally save the world.

"Thank you all so much."

You can also sign the LiveEarth pledge on the John Edwards website.

To all of this I say:

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JRE Remix

An upbeat, quick version of a JRE (John Edwards) stump speech in less than 4 minutes. Go to his web site (johnedwards.com) for a vast array of policy details, but this video give you an overview of some of his ideas.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

John Edwards and ACORN

On Monday, I was in Philadelphia to see John Edwards speak at both the NEA annual meeting and the ACORN presidential forum. Yesterday, I posted a diary on his speech about education to the NEA. Today's diary covers his speech at the ACORN presidential forum. I can't think of anything more patriotic I could do for the fourth of July than publish a diary about John Edwards's and ACORN's efforts to help working Americans.

ACORN is a community organization that works to support the needs of low and moderate income families and promote social justice. They are well acquainted with John Edwards, who traveled around the country with ACORN President Maude Hurd, long before he announced his campaign for the presidency, trying to get the minimum wage raised in various states. They were successful in six states. When the New York Times recently smeared John Edwards with nasty innuendo about his poverty work, in an article where they refused to talk to any of the beneficiaries of that work, ACORN president Maude Hurd stood up strongly for John Edwards. This is her statement:

Press stories that question Senator John Edwards’ commitment to ending poverty require a strong response from those of us who spend our lives in that fight. ACORN is the nation’s largest grassroots community organization working to eliminate poverty in America.

As ACORN’s president, I can personally attest that Senator Edwards has been a steadfast ally in this struggle – from raising wages to rebuilding the Gulf Coast.

One of the best ways to end poverty is to pay workers fair wages. In the summer of 2005, I traveled with Senator Edwards to cities and states across the country, launching ballot initiative campaigns to raise the minimum wage above the shamefully low $5.15 an hour.

While Senator Edwards could have chosen to do anything else with his time, he chose to spend it on the road with low-wage workers and their allies who were fighting to lift workers out of poverty. Edwards worked directly with grassroots community-faith-labor coalitions on the ground, leading rallies and press conferences to galvanize public support and working outside the spotlight to help organize support and raise funds to bring wage increase proposals to the ballot.

Last November, voters rewarded the efforts of Edwards, ACORN and our allies by resoundingly approving six state ballot measures to raise the minimum wage. As a result, more than 1.5 million of the country’s lowest-paid workers will get a raise. The ballot measures were just the most high-profile victories in a year that saw an unprecedented 17 states raise their minimum wage – many for the first time – including Edwards’ home state of North Carolina.

This movement in the states helped create the public pressure for a long-overdue increase in the federal minimum wage, which was passed last month and will help another 12.5 million low-income workers make ends meet. In addition to his work to raise wages, Senator Edwards has made an ongoing commitment to work with ACORN and others in the struggle to rebuild the

Gulf Coast and help Katrina Survivors return home.
In making poverty the defining theme of his campaign, Senator Edwards has shown his true colors. It is a sad statement that someone working not only to raise the issue of poverty, but to offer ambitious solutions and his put his feet on the ground to end it -- is attacked rather than applauded.

Alicia Russell, the chairperson of Arizona ACORN, also lauded Edwards for his work with ACORN when she introduced him. Her state, Arizona, is one of the states where Edwards helped ACORN to get the minimum wage raised. It should be no surprise then that Edwards got an enthusiastic reception from ACORN members, who know his work well.

I want to thank Machka, who recorded the webcast and made the videos available on YouTube.

Edwards praised the Congress for recently raising the minimum wage nationwide, but said we have a lot more work to do. He announced that when he is president, he will raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, and index it for inflation.

"I have a very simple view about this. I think that anybody working full time in the United States of America should not live in poverty. Period."

Just as ACORN has praised John Edwards, John Edwards praised them during his speech:

I have to be honest with you about something. I met with your board a few weeks ago. I was on the way over here looking for your agenda seeing if there's anything I -- there's nothing I need to study because your agenda is basically my agenda, and the things that I care about are the things that you care about. But I want to say one thing to all of you who are out there active, organizing, working. Sometimes people say to me, they say "ACORN: they get in your face, man!" And I say "GOOD! I hope they keep getting in your face. I hope they keep speaking out. I hope they keep standing up with backbone and courage for people in need someone to speak for them."

Edwards then went quickly through some of his proposals for ending poverty, including College for Everyone, supporting the right to organize and allowing workers to join unions by signing their name to a card, helping families to save, passing a national predatory lending law, true universal health care, and expanding the section 8 housing voucher program to provide more affordable housing. These are just some of his many excellent proposals, which he has laid out in detail on his website.

Edwards explains his College for Everyone program as follows:

"We say to every young person in America, graduate from high school, qualify to go to college, commit to work at least 10 hours a week your first year, we pay for your tuition and books. Very simple."

I find it disgusting that the mainstream media continues to smear John Edwards's dedication to fighting poverty. I have heard him speak on it many times, and I have seen what he has done on it, and I know he walks the walk. You can feel the depth of his passion for this issue when he says:

"This is the cause of my life. It always will be. You know, when we talk about these various policy ideas that all of us care so much about, and that you all have worked so hard on, and in some cases I've been able to work with you on, you know, it's a great thing to have policy ideas -- it is. But we need a President of the United States who wakes up every single morning and in their gut cares deeply about this cause. There are lots of issues facing the president. For example, ending this war in Iraq, which desperately needs to be done. But we need a president who wakes up every morning gnawing inside about ending poverty in America. You are looking at the candidate who has laid out a specific set of ideas and agenda to end poverty in America -- not to reduce it, to end it in the next 30 years, which I completely am convinced is achievable. We need a president who will go out on the White House lawn and say to America, to the entire country, that this is a huge moral cause for our country. It says something about the character of America what we're willing to do about the issue of poverty. It says something about America what we're willing to do about 37 million of our own people who wake up every single day worried about feeding and clothing their children. And I have to say to all of you, and I mean this, you know, Elizabeth and I had to make a decision a few months ago about what we're going to spend our lives doing. And we, like all of you, we've all faced these kind of challenges, we're faced with some serious challenges in our own family, but these causes, the plight of the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised, all those who desperately need a voice in this country -- this is the cause of my life. It's the cause of Elizabeth's life. And I'm here to tell you, as long as I'm alive and breathing, I will stand up for that cause."

After a relatively brief speech, Edwards was asked a number of specific questions by ACORN leaders. The question-and-answer period was at least as important as the speech itself, and was a part of the program where people already familiar with Edwards's many proposals might gain new information.

The first question asked about the patchwork quality of government services, and the problem of people who are eligible for those services often not knowing about them. Edwards was asked if he would work with community groups like ACORN to reach out to and enroll everyone in the services that they are entitled to.

To paraphrase his answer, it doesn't do any good to have programs that people don't know about them. The responsibility for educating people about these programs should not just be left up to community groups like ACORN, but is the responsibility of the president of the United States.

The second question asked about protecting people's assets and stopping predatory lending practices.

Edwards said he would support federal predatory lending laws and would create a new consumer commission responsible for regulating and monitoring lenders. He said that beyond counseling for families in debt, we need a national home fund for families in danger of losing their homes.

Next, Maria Blanco from New York ACORN asked him about what provisions he would support for immigrants to become citizens.

He said he would consider it his responsibility as president to move the immigration reform issue forward. He considers it a moral issue, because we can't have a first-class group of citizens and a second-class group of laborers. He spoke of America as a nation of immigrants and proposed creating a realistic path to citizenship. He said it's not doable for prospective citizens to have to pay $10,000. He said there should not be a touchback provision, where immigrants have to return to their country of origin in the process of applying for citizenship, because this is not realistic for many. He would support having illegal immigrants pay a fine for having broken the law and require that immigrants who want to become citizens learn to speak English. He also would require better policing of our southern border.

Sonia Mercer Jones from Baltimore city asked him about rebuilding American cities. There were three parts to her question:

1. Would he support a requirement for community impact statements?

2. What would he do to expand affordable housing?

3. What would he do to expand public school programs?

Edwards said he would absolutely support community impact statements and that programs for cities need help everyone in the cities. He pointed out that, just like we have two Americas, most American cities also have two cities, where some residents are neglected.

He repeated his call for a million new section 8 housing vouchers and for rebuilding and restocking our affordable housing supply.

He also talked about making sure that all schools in America provide quality education, no matter where they are located, and about providing incentive pay for inner-city teachers.

Bertha Brown from Pennsylvania ACORN asked about improving income, wages, and working conditions. There were three parts to her question as well, but she noted that Senator Edwards had already answered one of them and thanked him for it.

1. She was going to ask about an increase in the minimum wage, but instead just thanked him for the promise he had already made.

2. Would he support the healthy family act, which would provide sick leave for people to take care of their family members ?

3. Would he support an increase in the earned income credit?

Edwards pointed out that he had also addressed number three already, but expanded his answer, saying that he would expand the earned income credit, get rid of the marriage penalty in it, and also expanded to single people.

He said that a healthy family act, which provides a minimum of seven days for workers to take care of sick family members was only asking for very low amount of time, and is the least that we can do.

Next, Tony from Texas ACORN asked about what he would do to rebuild New Orleans. While asking her question, she acknowledged that Edwards had already talked about this a little bit, and said they know about his commitment to this issue. In fact, several of the people asking questions indicated in one way or another that they already knew that Edwards was committed to their issues.

She asked him whether he would support the Gulf Coast housing act introduced by Senators Dodd and Landrieu, and also what he would do as president to help rebuild New Orleans?

Edwards talked about going to New Orleans with several hundred college kids, an effort in which ACORN was also involved, to work in New Orleans over spring break.

He said that nothing has changed in New Orleans except with the efforts of community groups like ACORN. He said that yes, he would support the Gulf Coast housing legislation, but he would go far beyond that.

As president, he would appoint someone to be responsible for making sure progress was made in New Orleans, and he would ask that person for their progress report every day, making sure that whatever needs to be done gets done.

He spoke of the need to make sure people's lives are restored, and said that he would put the people of New Orleans to work rebuilding it, so that residents could have jobs. He also said he would rebuild the levees.

The final question was about protecting the right to vote. Maxine Nelson from Arkansas asked the question and pointed out that there has been an organized campaign to keep people from voting, especially in minority areas. Her question also had three parts:

1. Will an Edwards Department of Justice to enforce the voter registration act?

2. Does he support the ballot integrity act introduced by Senators Feinstein and Dodd?

3. There have been false claims of voter fraud that were made in the past couple of elections as a way to suppress voting. Will John Edwards work with groups like ACORN to speak out on this?

Edwards gave a very strong answer on these questions, and it was particularly satisfying to me, because this is an issue I have been very concerned about.

He said he will work with ACORN to speak out against false claims of voter fraud. He noted that those false claims are nothing more than an excuse to keep legally registered voters from voting. He spoke of the need to make sure voter registration organizations are able to do their job, and said he would support the ballot integrity act. He spoke of the need to stop voter suppression, and added that we need to get rid of black box voting and vote on paper ballots, so that were sure that votes are getting counted. (Edwards is the first presidential candidate to call for open source voting on paper ballots, although he did not specifically mention open source in this speech.)

Hearing John Edwards speak is always delightful and refreshing, and the ACORN forum was another such experience.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Video Diary: Edwards Speaks to NEA Annual Meeting

Yesterday, I went to Philadelphia to see John Edwards speak at the NEA annual meeting, then later at the ACORN presidential candidates forum. Today's diary focuses on the NEA event. Tomorrow I will post one on ACORN.

Edwards gave a rousing speech on education that was well received by the NEA audience. Video and some key points:

Part 1 of the video:

Edwards started by making an announcement that, although Congress has recently raised the minimum wage, he would go further as president and raise it to $9.50 an hour by 2012.

It's time to get rid of pension offsets for educators. Teachers deserve to get Social Security too. This policy announcement was greeted with applause so loud and sustained, that I couldn't hear the next paragraph of what he said. Here is a short video of that portion of the speech from the Edwards campaign, which is easier to hear:

He made a series of points about education:

The president must listen to teachers, and should bring back the teacher in residence program.

Early childhood education needs to be expanded.

No Child Left Behind needs to be dealt with and fixed. While talking about No Child Left Behind, he held up a T-shirt that said "a child is more than a test score." This generated a lot of applause from the audience.

Edwards said that standardized tests don't work and asked what the intent of No Child Left Behind really was. He pointed out that when the president has a program called No Child Left Behind, but doesn't fund it, the real intent is probably to undermine the public schools and make room for voucher programs.

Part 2 of the video:

Edwards talked about empowering teachers, creating second chance schools for dropouts, and his College for Everyone program, which would pay for tuition and books for the first year of college for kids who are willing to work 10 hours a week while they're there.

He emphasized his support for the public schools, which all of his children have attended, and said that we should not drain resources away from them with voucher programs.

Part 3 of the video:

In the final part of his speech, he spoke of organized labor as the greatest antipoverty movement in American history. His support for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow any worker to join a union by signing a card, earned him a standing ovation.

After his speech, he was asked two questions sent in by NEA members.

The first question asked how he would close the achievement gap by breaking down racial and economic barriers.

Question on breaking down economic and racial barriers.

His answer included expanding early childhood education, incentives for teachers to teach in poor communities, and getting parents more involved, but then he went beyond that to address some of his plans for eliminating poverty.

The last question he was asked was about No Child Left Behind. His answer was hilarious. I'm not going to describe it. You have to watch the video.

Question on No Child Left Behind.

After his speech to the NEA, Edwards gave a short press conference. It was held in a corner of a noisy public area of the conference center, so even though I was standing quite close to him, it was very difficult to hear what he said. I did manage to record a short video of his announcement about his plan to raise the minimum wage.

From what I could hear of the rest of the press conference, he mentioned the following points:

He said he doesn't think anyone else has proposed College for Everyone.

On No Child Left Behind, he said major changes are needed. The tests are intrusive, and they don't take into account struggling schools. There should be SWAT teams to help struggling schools. We need tests that are more responsive to the needs of states and individual schools. They need flexibility to use their own testing methods. In many cases this would yield more accurate information on student progress.

Asked how he pays for his College for Everyone program, he said it would be paid for by changing the way we do student loans. We can save upwards of $3 billion by making loans available directly from the government to students.

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