The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

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Personal account of our New York City event on January 14th

In Events, Legislation, Programs on January 31, 2010 at 9:17 pm

[Written by Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, the board chair of the Frances Perkins Center. For more information about the event, along with photos and videos, go to:]

Well, it all started last summer at the Frances Perkins Center’s first annual garden party at The Brick House in Newcastle, Maine (home of the Frances Perkins Center). We had invited friends from far and wide and were delighted and happily surprised when Karenna Gore Schiff and her friend Catherine Ann Corman turned out to be among them! Karenna had mentioned that she was working on a film about FP (based on the story in her biography, Lighting the Way: Nine Women Who Changed Modern America) with Catherine. Karenna said that she and Catherine planned to have their new film ready around the turn of the year and one thing led to another as soon as they got to talking with Barb Burt, the Center’s executive director.

Very soon, we had a major event planned for January 14th, in New York at the Harvard Club, which evolved into an afternoon and evening consisting of two panel discussions, a reception, remarks, and the premiere of the new film on FP. You can see a PDF of the program here: Jan14_Program Front.

The months passed quickly and we soon became aware, with mounting trepidation, that we had planned an event in the middle of the winter in New York City, a place where winter can mean business! We all prayed and FP may have been pulling strings again because the weather could not have been nicer. About 160 people came, including a very special surprise guest, Karenna’s father, Vice President Al Gore. His presence was a huge honor for all involved and gave the entire affair a good helping of extra excitement and all-around buzz.

After a perfect simple lunch at the club, the event swat team consisting of Barb Burt, Tomlin Coggeshall, board members Christopher Rice, Betty Wilson, and Sarah Peskin, and some great volunteers, Casey Maliszewski and Emily Wazlak, both Mount Holyoke students, and Heidi Overbeck and Jorge Ruiz from the Women’s City Club of New York, began final preparations for people to begin arriving and registering. Name badges were assembled, programs were collated, seats were set up, video people were testing and adjusting the projection equipment, other video people were setting up to record the panel discussions which turned out to be extremely relevant and incisive. All was coming together very well, a testament in no small part to expert management of the whole affair by Barb Burt, the Center’s executive director, par excellance.

Two rooms were used, one for the “theater” where the panel discussions would take place and a second room, separated from the first by to gigantic mahogany pocket doors at the back of the “theater” room. They opened onto a somewhat smaller room where there were low tables with chairs for authors to sign books, high cocktail tables for guests to talk around, and a cash bar for those who wanted a little fortification. All of it steeped in Harvard Club ambiance and crimson, plenty of old world charm and elegance.

Thanks to Barb’s foresight in having the panel discussions taped, we can share those with anyone interested. Both panels were on Social Security, the first on “The Birth of Social Security and the Transformation of America” and the second on “Strengthening Social Security in the 21st Century.”

After the panel discussions ended, we opened those great doors and had a very nice party. A new portrait of FP was set up on an easel in this room for guests to admire. It had been painted and brought down by car from Maine by artist Rob Shetterly, who has a series he calls “American Who Tell the Truth” and has added FP’s portrait to his series. During the reception, quite unexpectedly, Vice President Gore strode into the room and began chatting with people who he met or who came up to say hello. It was wonderful to see him there and truly was an honor for all.

The reception ended about 7:30pm and the group migrated back through those mahogany doors to settle back into their seats for the premiere of Karenna and Catherine’s new film. Tomlin Coggeshall, FP’s grandson, offered a few words of welcome then invited Christopher Breiseth to share a memory or two of FP which he obligingly did in his delightful way, Chris, in turn, introduced Brian Kennedy (a Telluride House resident for four of the five years that FP lived so happily and comfortably there being so lovingly taken care of). Brian gladly shared some fond memories, and then Barb Burt gave us an overview of the Center’s accomplishments and plans as she introduced Ruth Acker, president of the Women’s City Club of New York, and Rob Shetterly, the Maine artist who brought his portrait of FP down from Maine.

After Rob finished speaking, Barb introduced Karenna and Catherine, who gave us a good understanding of the process and background on their film. They mentioned that their film was in a draft form and and invited comment from the audience. The film imparted a clear sense of FP’s complicated and varied life and career through narration by Karenna with chapter titles and a series of wonderful black and white photos.

So, to recap a recap, on January 14, 2010, we enjoyed wonderful afternoon and evening of…

Panel discussions, a reception with many friends, old and new, some remarks by some, viewing a new portrait of FP by Maine artist Rob Shetterly, and the premiere public showing of a new film on FP by Karenna Gore Schiff and Catherine Ann Corman.

Senator Byrd’s letter opposing the fast-track commission amendment

In Legislation Today on January 22, 2010 at 8:45 am

Press release — “Say NO to the Fast-Track Commission”

In Legislation Today on January 19, 2010 at 10:42 am

This morning we received this notice from colleagues worried about the fast-track commission.

“Say NO to the Fast-Track Commission”
National Call-In Day – January 19, 2010 – # 1.800.998.0180

Contact: Anne Bollinger
Phone: 202.719.0725

WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, January 19, 2010 OWL, AFSCME Retirees, AFT Program on Retirement and Retirees, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Association of University Women, Generations United, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Senior Citizens Law Center, NOW, Pension Right Center, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and several other national organizations are calling on their members to flood the Senate with phone calls against the Conrad-Gregg Fast Track Commission proposal.

Senators Conrad (D-ND) and Gregg (R-NH) have come up with a special fast-track commission that they say will cure America’s budget problems, and they are holding up other legislation until the Senate votes on their proposal.  Debate begins on January 20th.

“It is clear from their press release that Senators Conrad and Gregg have painted a big red target on Social Security and Medicare,” Senator Baucus (D-MT) warned. “That’s what this commission is all about. It’s a big roll of the dice for Social Security and Medicare.”

This type of fast-track commission is undemocratic and takes power away from Congress to make decisions about Social Security.  Social Security does not contribute to the national debt; it is insurance that workers have earned through their hard work.

Social Security is fundamental to the economic security of all Americans, particularly women, seniors, minorities, the disabled children who lose a parent, people who lose a spouse, and veterans.

“The average Social Security recipient receives $13,860 annually, less if you are a woman.  The fact that Senators Conrad and Gregg think the way to fix budget shortfalls is to make seniors poorer is shocking and laughable – first, because Social Security doesn’t contribute in any way to the national deficit, and second, because essentially Congress has allowed $150 billion in Wall Street bonuses,” stated, Ashley Carson, OWL Executive Director.  “Robbing grandma to reward Wall Street fat cats is not sound economics.”


The number for the call-in day is 1.800.998.0180 and has been generously provided by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare who has been a leader on this issue and whose members have been making calls already.

Great online exhibit from Columbia’s Butler Library

In Biography on January 11, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Jenny Lee, the curator of the Frances Perkins Collection at Columbia’s Butler Library, has created a wonderful online exhibit. Check it out: Butler Library Exhibit

NPR was punked

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2010 at 11:43 am

This morning, Deborah Amos interviewed David Walker, executive director of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and she gave him free reign to promulgate the message that his boss and colleagues are spending millions with which to blanket the airwaves. I wrote this in response:

Dear Deborah Amos and colleagues,

I’m sorry to tell you that you’ve been journalistically “punked.”

This morning’s interview with the executive director of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation is yet another piece in a multi-million dollar public relations campaign by the Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson and his various mouthpieces to create a fast-track, undemocratic mechanism with an aim to slash social insurance programs — the very programs that are sustaining Americans through a time of economic hardship brought on by Wall Street and its rapacious disregard for Democratic safeguards.

The deficit is a real problem — one of many we face today. However, the path to controlling and reducing the deficit does not lie in diminishing Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is not in any way a contributor to the deficit; it is projected to be solvent for at least another 33 years or so, and small, careful adjustments can be made to make sure that it continues to be solvent in perpetuity. The issue with Medicare is the cost of health care; the way to solve its financial woes is to bring the cost of health care down, as the bill in Congress’s conference committee is the first step in achieving.

The bias of Peter G. Peterson, his foundations, and his other public relations organs such as the Fiscal Times is well known. Last week, the New York Times covered a recent example in which the Washington Post relied on Peterson’s Fiscal Times to cover this same subject. Peterson and his cohorts want us to believe that the public is unanimous in feeling that the only way to cut the deficit is to cut social insurance programs but this is far from true. In fact, it is a highly orchestrated and well-funded disinformation campaign.

For the other side (a side which has the public’s best interests at heart), please consider interviewing experts such as Nancy Altman, author of the Battle for Social Security, and elected officials who oppose the fast-track commission idea such as Senator Baucus and Speaker Pelosi.

And I’d like to invite you (and/or colleagues) to cover a symposium that the Frances Perkins Center is presenting this Thursday in New York City: “Frances Perkins and Social Security — A Celebration in Film, Food, Art, and Discussion” (

Thanks for your attention to this matter.

Yours truly,

Barbara Burt

Fast cars, fast trains, fast food, fast track commission? Great video

In Political world on January 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Senator Conrad — shaving points and shaving programs

In Political world on January 6, 2010 at 10:51 am

Back in 2008, this scandal broke:

Two U.S. senators, two former Cabinet members, and a former ambassador to the United Nations received loans from Countrywide Financial through a little-known program that waived points, lender fees, and company borrowing rules for prominent people.

Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide’s “V.I.P.” program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.

[from’s Countrywide’s Many ‘Friends’.]

Today the Times reported this about Dodd, who’s not seeking re-election:

But his standing in Connecticut had been on the decline starting when he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency in 2008 — moving his family to Iowa — and when questions arose about a disputed loan he took from Countrywide Financial, the fallen subprime company.

So, what’s been the political fallout of the Countrywide scandal on Senator Conrad? Hard to say. His next election is not until 2012. But it’s interesting to note that he’s teamed with Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) to force the formation of the commission that would cut social programs in the cause of “deficit reduction.” (More about that here.)

There’s some consistency in Senator Conrad’s ideas about saving money — shaving points on sweetheart mortgages and shaving programs that sustain the rest of us through hard times — both ideas are ethically challenged.

Perhaps he’ll end up paying the price eventually.

Washington Post parrots the Peterson “deficit reduction” line

In Political world on January 6, 2010 at 10:12 am

In what’s turning out to be an embarrassing misstep, on December 31st the Washington Post printed a story created by The Fiscal Times, a paper funded by Pete Peterson, Wall St. tycoon, founder of the Concord Coalition and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and longtime opponent of social insurance programs such as Social Security.

Peterson has been one of the main forces behind a push to force a fast-track commission on the Congress that would propose cuts in social programs in the name of deficit reduction. He reportedly is spending tens of millions to influence members of Congress to support the commission.

The Washington Post article, Support grows for tackling nation’s debt, included this statement:

“I think there’s more interest in the proposal not only in Congress but at the White House because there’s a growing realization the deficit and the debt are reaching such levels they can’t be ignored any longer,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that advocates entitlement reform and balanced budgets.

Note that the spokesperson is the executive director of the Concord Coalition — another Peterson connection. The Post later appended this statement to their article:

Correction to This Article
The article by the Fiscal Times, about growing congressional support for a bipartisan commission to address the nation’s debt, contained a statement supporting the concept by Robert L. Bixby, the executive director of the Concord Coalition. The article should have noted that the Concord Coalition receives funding from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Peterson, but not his foundation, also funds the Fiscal Times, the independent news service that prepared the article.

The article’s attribution ran thus:

This article was produced by the Fiscal Times, an independent digital news publication reporting on fiscal, budgetary, health-care and international economics issues. Fiscal Times staff writer Adam Graham-Silverman contributed to this report.

After an outcry by many experts and organizations — many of whom have sent letters to Congress and the Administration opposing the establishment of a so-called deficit reduction commission — the Post’s ombudsman is looking into the issue.

The story has been picked up by many progressive blogs. Yesterday it hit the mainstream media: in its Media & Advertising section, the New York Times ran this article, Sourcing of Article Awkward for Paper.

The Times article reported on the conflict-of-interest angle but didn’t mention that the conflict of interest led to an inherently incorrect article, points of which has been soundly refuted. Here’s an excerpt from a letter signed by many social insurance experts and sent to the Post’s ombudsman:

Consistent with the bias of the founder, the story reports glowingly of the increasing support for a commission, failing ever to mention that over forty national organizations, including the AARP, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, National Organization for Women, Common Cause, to name just a few, have been outspoken in their opposition to the proposal.  Indeed, most readers would have no idea from this story that there was any opposition to the proposed commission whatsoever.