My heart-shaped cake

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Elizabeth Warren Valentine's Day CakeFebruary 14 -- Valentine's Day and my mother's birthday.

From the time they were in high school, my daddy bought my mother a heart-shaped box of chocolates every year. And once I was big enough to manage the oven on my own, I baked my mother a heart-shaped cake every year. I loved Valentine's Day.

When my mother was in her 80s, she had some surgery. The day before she was scheduled to go home, she was in good cheer. We gathered in her hospital room and told funny stories, and she was the willing passenger as the teen-aged grandchildren organized impromptu wheelchair races in the hallway. Finally, Daddy sent us all home, cautioning that we would tire her out.

A few hours later, she was propped up in her hospital bed watching television. Daddy was holding her hand when she sat forward and said, "Don, there's that gas pain again." She fell back dead.

The doctors were there in less than a minute, and they did everything they could, but she was gone.

When the call came that she had died, I didn't cry right away. I just couldn't believe it. How could she be gone?

Later the autopsy showed that she had advanced coronary disease. Despite her regular trips to the doctor for check ups and her repeated trips for "that gas pain," Mother had never been checked for heart trouble.

Every year on Valentine's Day, I still bake a heart-shaped cake. I think about my mother and about the millions of women who have died from undiagnosed heart disease. And every year I email my female relatives and friends and ask them to check out the risks because heart disease kills 1 out of every 4 women in America.

I ask the people I love to take care of themselves -- and I hope you'll do that too.

But there's more we can do. Medical science has made great discoveries in the treatment of heart disease, but those discoveries aren't free. At a time when we're on the brink of powerful breakthroughs, funding for the National Institutes of Health and other research investments has been strangled. As a proportion of our GDP, the federal government is spending about half what it was spending the late 1960s.

When NIH was hit with the sequester that slashed another 5% out of its budget, the Framingham Heart Study -- the world's premier longitudinal heart research project -- was threatened. Even now, over 83% of promising research proposals -- proposals seeking to combat some of our biggest health challenges like Alzheimer's, autism, ALS, and diabetes -- go unfunded. Young scientists, seeing how hard it is to get their research funded, are beginning to leave research work for other fields where they see a more promising future.

I'm fighting to double the investment in NIH. The way I see it, if we invest in first-rate medical research, millions of people will lead fuller lives. Millions of children will have the chance to reach their full potential. Millions of mothers will be around longer to have fun with their grandchildren and enrich all our lives.

Double our funding for research. That's the best memorial I can offer to someone I've lost.

Thanks for being a part of this, and happy Valentine's Day!

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Jamie Dimon got a raise

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JPMorgan Chase recently reached yet another settlement with the U.S. government -- a $13 billion deal with the Department of Justice for peddling deceptive mortgages.  

The banking giant broke the law, recklessly gambled with our economy, and had to pay a record government settlement. Guess what happened next? You guessed right: JPMorgan's CEO Jamie Dimon just got a 74% raise yesterday.

The New York Times speculates that Dimon got the raise because of his "active role" in negotiating government settlements last year. And as Dimon put it himself, it could have been a lot worse if JPMorgan had been forced to go all the way to a trial instead of just settling.

So here's my question: If JPMorgan is so happy with their settlements that they are rewarding their CEO with a big raise, do you really think the federal bank regulators were tough enough?

There are a lot of steps we can take to push the regulators to do their jobs and hold financial institutions fully accountable when they break the law, and I think a good starting place would be by enacting the Truth in Settlements Act.  

This is the bill I recently introduced with Senator Coburn that would require accessible, detailed disclosures about settlement agreements so the public can hold regulators accountable -- no more hiding out behind closed doors and keeping the details secret.

Sign up now to show your support for the Truth in Settlements Act.

When I question federal regulators in Banking Committee hearings, they insist that they don't need to take big banks to trial when they break the law. They stand by their claim that settlement agreements are tough enough.

But if a settlement is so weak that Wall Street is celebrating with pay raises, it's not a good deal for the American people.

This week Jamie Dimon admitted that the big banks don't want to go to trial, so now there's no doubt: If the regulators were willing to go all the way to a trial, even once in a while, they would have a lot more leverage in the settlement negotiations. And maybe they could get better deals on behalf of consumers and taxpayers.

This is simple: Bankers on Wall Street need to be held accountable when they break the law, and regulators in Washington need to be held accountable when they enforce the law.

So sign up now to show your support for the Truth in Settlements Act. It's time for real transparency and accountability.

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Dr. King's coin

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Each year, we honor the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We honor his struggles and his triumphs. We honor his work to stand up to racial injustice and to help America move one step closer to her founding promise of equality.

But when Dr. King was taken from us, he was engaged in another struggle – a struggle that was no less challenging, a struggle that he believed was essential to America's soul.

It was the struggle to end poverty. And it is a struggle that is still with us today.

For years now, we have heard the claim that America is broke, that we cannot afford to invest in our children and that we must tell our seniors to try to get by on less. We face a world in which those born in wealth will have plenty of opportunity, but those born in poverty have little chance to escape – a world in which people work their hearts out and barely hang on.

That is not the promise of American life. That was not the America of Dr. King's dreams. And that must not be our American future.

In 1967, Dr. King told us what it would take to combat poverty. He said:

[W]e are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

We are now engaged in a great debate over poverty and inequality. And as Dr. King argued, "true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar."

Our success as a community will be measured not by the riches of a few, but by the success of many.

There are some people who say that there is little that we can do, and perhaps less that we can do together, as a country. Dr. King had a response to them. He said, "[t]here is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will."

In this, the richest and most powerful country in the world, we can expose the symptoms and causes of poverty, just as Dr. King's nonviolence "exposed the ugliness of racial injustice."

In this, the richest and most powerful country in the world, we can come together to build an economy that works for all our children, just as Dr. King's movement helped make "justice a reality for all God's children."

"In the final analysis," Dr. King said, "the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent."

The struggle may be fierce, the climb uphill, the obstacles tall. But in a democracy, we, the people, get to choose our destiny, and we can choose a country that lives up to America's founding promise and achieves Dr. King's dreams.

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This is just wrong

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Millions of families are hanging on by their fingernails to their place in the middle class – and the United States Senate just voted to let them fall.  

I'm ashamed that the Senate didn't extend unemployment benefits yesterday. I'm sickened that my colleagues went home last night knowing that they just cut off a little help for millions of people who have worked hard and who can't find a job.

And I'm appalled that so many Senators cannot admit the simple reality: we are still in the middle of a jobs crisis. People have been looking for work for months or even years. Many are starting to give up entirely. Young people are beginning to think that there isn't a future out there for them. Long-term unemployment isn't just about money; it's also about losing hope.

These people – our friends, our families, our neighbors – they weren't the ones who broke our economy. So many people worked hard, played by the rules, and did everything we told them to – and now struggle to find work. They need our help.

We help because we care about people, but we also help because it is good for the economy. The numbers show money put into unemployment goes right back into the economy to help stimulate more demand and more business activity. According to a new Congressional report, in just one week after unemployment benefits expired, our state economies lost $400 million. Extending unemployment makes good business sense.  

There's so much we should be doing to strengthen our economy and rebuild our middle class, and yesterday we took a step backwards. Washington needs to get back to work solving problems – not making them worse – so families can get back to work.

I really don't get why the Republicans would stand in the way on this issue. I don't get it, but I'm taking stock – and like many of my colleagues who voted to help people yesterday, I'm not giving up.

My new bill to stop the back-room deals

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Almost a year ago, during my first banking committee hearing, I asked several federal regulators a simple question: When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank all the way to a trial for breaking the law?

The regulators were stumped. After some hemming and hawing, they said they didn't need to take the biggest banks to trial for breaking the law because settlement agreements were tough enough to enforce the law.  

I was little skeptical.  

But here's the deal -- if the regulatory agencies are so confident that settlements are a good deal for the taxpayers they represent, then you would think they would be willing to publicly disclose the key terms and conditions of those agreements -- hang it right out there so everyone can see what a great job they did on behalf of the American people. But too many times, that isn't what they do.

Instead of making all the terms public, they announce a big "sticker price" for the settlement, then hide the details in fine print or fail to disclose that the company will get a big tax deduction or -- worst of all -- declare all the terms of the deal "confidential."

Senator Tom Coburn and I have introduced the bipartisan Truth in Settlements Act to require accessible, detailed disclosures about these agreements so the public can hold regulators accountable for these deals.

Sign up now to show your support for the Truth in Settlements Act.

These hidden details can make all the difference. When you dig below the surface, settlements that seem tough and fair can end up looking like sweetheart deals.

Last year, federal regulators cut a deal with thirteen mortgage servicers accused of illegal foreclosure activities. The sticker price was $8.5 billion -- which is a great headline.  But a loophole in the way that credits are calculated could end up cutting that value by more than half.

Wells Fargo settled a case involving the sale of fraudulent mortgage securities for a fraction of what JP Morgan had to pay in a similar case -- but since the Wells Fargo agreement is confidential, we have no idea why they got such a better deal.

And the list goes on.  

Our bill takes several steps to fix these problems:
  • It requires federal agencies to explain in written public statements that reference a settlement amount whether any portion of that "sticker price" is potentially tax-deductible or includes the cost of "credits."
  • It requires federal agencies to post basic information about settlements over $1 million on their websites.
  • It requires companies that settle with enforcement agencies to state in their SEC filings whether they have claimed a tax deduction for settlement payments.
  • It requires federal agencies to explain their reasoning publicly any time they deem a settlement confidential.
  • And it requires federal agencies to report annual aggregate statistics on confidential settlements.Increased transparency will help ensure that Congress, citizens and watchdog groups – people like you and me -- can hold regulatory agencies accountable for strong and effective enforcement.  
The job of the regulators is to make certain that no one is above the law no matter how powerful or well-connected they are. The Truth in Settlements Act is one way to keep their feet to the fire to see that promise through.

Sign up now to show your support for the Truth in Settlements Act.

Government agencies work for us, not for the companies they regulate. That means agencies should not be able to cut bad deals and then hide the embarrassing details. The public deserves to know what's going on.

Our Mayor

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It is often said that more than half of all Bostonians have met Mayor Tom Menino personally.

I don't think that's true at all. The number has to be much, much greater. It seems as if the Mayor attends every community event, potluck dinner, school play, soccer game, and – during this time of year – every Christmas tree lighting.

In every corner of the city, we know Mayor Menino will be there for us in our greatest moments of triumph – ribbon cuttings for new buildings and parks, World Series victories, a new Bostonian's citizenship, a child's graduation. And we know he will be there for us in our moments of great tragedy – the death of a loved one, or terror in Copley Square.

Looking back at his 20 years in office, it is clear Mayor Menino will be remembered as one of the greatest leaders in the history of Boston. In the almost 400 years since Boston was founded, a history that is filled with names known across this country – Winthrop, Adams, Lowell, Lodge – few have done more for Boston than our Mayor.

From the waterfront and innovation district to Dudley Square and Roxbury, Mayor Menino has led the resurgence of our neighborhoods, expanded parks and livable spaces, and created a city whose innovative potential is unbounded.

With firm convictions, he cautioned against predatory lenders, starting the "Don't Borrow Trouble" campaign long before the 2008 financial crisis.

With political will and courage, he has improved education for all our kids – creating full day kindergarten and making Boston schools some of the best in the country.

With foresight of the next frontiers, he has fought for hospitals and scientific research, giving Boston the world's leading health care institutions.

And with fierce moral clarity, he has stood firmly for equality – equal opportunity for immigrants, equal rights and equal marriage for the LGBT community, equal pay for women.

Please join me in thanking Mayor Menino today – his 71st birthday – for his hard work, his service, and his dedication to making Boston a better place.

For 20 years, Mayor Menino has made Boston into a city that all eyes can see is a model for the country and for the world. And he has succeeded because he knew all along that our fortunes depend on our work together – as one people, as one community, as one Boston.

On behalf of a grateful people, Mayor Tom Menino, thank you (and happy birthday!).

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Your employer doesn't need to know

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Much of America – hard-working, bill-paying America – has a damaged credit rating.

There are a lot of different reasons, but a lot of people just caught a bad break. They got sick. Their husband left or their wife died. They lost their job.

Problems only got worse after the financial crisis. Shrinking home prices made it impossible to sell or refinance a home. People lost their small businesses. Smaller savings left people without much cushion to ride out the tough times. People missed a payment or went into debt.

Most people recognize that bad credit means they will have trouble borrowing money or they will pay more to borrow. But many don't realize that a damaged credit rating can also block access to a job.

It was once thought that credit history would provide insight into someone's character, and many companies routinely require credit reports from job applicants. But research has shown that an individual's credit rating has little or no correlation with his ability to succeed at work. A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected personal crisis or economic downturn than a reflection of someone's abilities.

Today, along with Senators Blumenthal, Brown, Leahy, Markey, Shaheen, and Whitehouse, I am introducing a bill to stop employers from requiring prospective employees to disclose their credit history or disqualifying applicants based on a poor credit rating.

Become a citizen co-sponsor of the Equal Employment for All Act.

After a terrible blow like a family death, a divorce, or a life-changing disease, many people scramble to get back to work, pick up a second job, or change jobs so they can get back on their feet financially. But they are knocked back by their damaged credit rating.

Highly qualified applicants with bad credit can be shut out of the job market. That's wrong.

Let's be honest: This is one more way the game is rigged against the middle class. A rich person who loses a job or gets divorced or faces a family illness is unlikely to suffer from a drop in his or her credit rating. But for millions of hard-working families, a hard personal blow translates into a hard financial blow that will show up for years in a credit report.

People shouldn't be denied the chance to compete for jobs because of credit reports that bear no relationship to job performance and that, according to recent reports, are often riddled with inaccuracies. Show your support for my new bill, the Equal Employment for All Act.

It's been five years since the financial crisis, and it's time for struggling families to stop paying the price for the recklessness on Wall Street and failed oversight in Washington that tanked our economy. 

The Equal Employment for All Act addresses just one small issue, but for many families, it'll make a world of difference.

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In my heart

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Thanksgiving is a holiday I remember in blinks of memory.

My grandmother with her head bowed, leading the blessing.  

My Aunt Bee proudly presenting her special green Jell-O molded salad for everyone to admire.  

Our son Alex, racing through the house as a three-year-old, making monster noises and holding out his hands with pitted olives stuck on the end of each finger.  

Seven-year-old Amelia and her eight-year-old cousin Michelle decorating place cards and deciding where each relative should sit (and arguing loudly over whether Aunt Nancy's name was spelled "Ant Nancy" or "Ante Nancy"). 

Nephew Dan coming in just before dinner, still muddy from playing in the traditional high school rivalry game between Plymouth North and Plymouth South.

Baking pies with my granddaughters.  

Holding a tiny grandbaby and eating my dinner with one hand.  

Somewhere, we probably have photographs from every Thanksgiving – but even if we don't, I have them all in my heart.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday – a chance for all of us to give thanks for all the things that previous generations have given to us. But it is also a chance to think about the world we are leaving to the generations that will follow us.

I'm deeply grateful for every blessing in my life. I'm also deeply grateful to have the chance to fight for a world that includes opportunities for all our children and a real chance for hard-working people to build some security.

I realize that the changes we need to make will be hard, and I know that we won't win every fight – but I know that if we fight, we have a chance to build something better.  

Thanksgiving is a time for us to be grateful, and I'm grateful to have you by my side. Your stories, your hopes and wishes are with me today and every day.

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

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Where were these women filibustered?

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It hasn't been even a month since the Republicans shut down the government, and they're already trying to paralyze the government again.

There are vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, and Republicans now hold the dubious distinction of filibustering all three women that President Obama nominated to fill those vacancies.

They all have extraordinary legal resumes and have received bipartisan support from top litigators around the country. They are among the top legal minds of a generation.

So why have these women been filibustered? To keep this President from doing his job.

With your help, we made enough noise to finally give Rich Cordray an up-or-down vote to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We need the same sort of pressure for our judicial nominees.

Tell the Senate: It's the President's job to nominate highly qualified people to court vacancies. It's the Senate's job to confirm them. Give our judicial nominees an up-or-down vote.

Every day in Congress, we deal with the influence of powerful groups and their armies of lobbyists. But in our democracy, when we write laws, we can push back on their power. That's how we got a strong consumer agency to level the playing field for working families after the financial crisis.

But the story doesn't end when Congress passes a law. Powerful interests don't just give up – they shift their fight to the courts. They know if they can weaken or overturn a law in court – and rig the system with sympathetic judges in lifetime positions – they turn defeat into victory.

In the next few years, the DC Circuit will decide some of the most important cases of our time – including cases that will decide whether Wall Street Reform will have real bite or whether it will just be toothless.

Swaps dealers, the securities industry, the Business Roundtable, and the Chamber of Commerce are all lining up to challenge the new rules that agencies have written to try to put some teeth in Wall Street Reform and other laws. These big industry players want business-friendly judges to help them out.

Republicans may not like Wall Street Reform. They may not like Obamacare. But Congress passed those laws, and President Obama signed those laws. It is not up to judges to overturn those laws or their associated regulations just because they don't fit the judges' policy preferences.

We need to call out these filibusters for what they are: naked attempts to nullify the results of the last Presidential election – to force us to govern as though President Obama hadn't won the 2012 election.
 
Tell the Senate to give President Obama's court nominees an up-or-down vote.

We are caught in a fight over the future of our courts – a fight over whether the courts will be a neutral forum that decides every dispute fairly, or whether the courts will be stacked in favor of the wealthy and the powerful.

I'm in this fight, and I hope you are too.

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