Kickin' Off the New Year
January with Congress in recess for most of the month, post New Year hangovers, and December spending sprees to recover from is often a quiet month for economic policy and organizing. But, the first month of UFE's 15th anniversary proved to be something of a departure from the typical slow drip of news to start the year.
To begin, our thoughts are with the people of Haiti, and our hope is that the attention of the world will remain after the rubble is cleared, leading to solutions to the crippling inequality in the poorest nation in our hemisphere. While the earthquake was an unpreventable natural disaster, the impact was multiplied by entrenched poverty and economic deprivation which are man made and can be cured.
In our own country, the influence of money and the political agenda of those who have it has gained an even stronger foothold with the Supreme Court's landmark decision to reverse long-standing precedent and allow unchecked corporate spending on elections. UFE is standing with thousands of individuals and organizations in demanding action to return democracy to the people.
Pundits across the political spectrum reacted to the special election in Massachusetts as if it was the defining election of our lifetime. But as it turns out, Scott Brown's victory was neither a referendum on healthcare reform nor the death knell for all varieties of progressive policy priorities that we were told it was. When polled about their votes, the people of Massachusetts said that more than anything else, the election was about the demand for results from elected officials in dealing with the state of the economy, and about the personalities and campaigns of the two candidates.
Contrasting with Massachusetts, coverage of two statewide referendums on progressive taxation in Oregon (see Article 3) has been rather muted. With actual policy rather than individual candidates on the ballot, this historic victory for progressive taxation offers a clear lesson: voters want policy solutions to the Great Recession that benefit struggling Americans, not the already wealthy. Some of the Obama administration's initial proposals like new fees on the biggest banks are a good start, but much more is needed (see Article 2).
Lastly, we lost a brilliant historian and activist in January with the passing of long-time friend of UFE Howard Zinn. We honor his life and work, and will always strive to challenge the influence of concentrated power through education and organizing.
The beginning of our 15-year anniversary did indeed get off to a busy start. See the stories below for more details about our work this January.
The Battle for Consumer Protections
An out-of-control financial industry brought our economy to its knees.
Protecting consumers from the loan sharks and gambling addicts
on Wall Street will also prevent the same disaster in the future. That's why we need a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
In December, the US House of Representatives passed a financial reform
bill, which includes the establishment of a Consumer Financial
Protection Agency (CFPA) the "lite" version of one, anyway. Now the issue is on the Senate's doorstep, and the prospects for an independent
CFPA aren't so great. Sen. Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd, once thought to
be a hard-nosed critic of the banking industry, has indicated he is
willing to drop the CFPA on the condition that a consumer protection
division is created in an existing federal agency.
We are not giving up on a strong CFPA without a fight. UFE's Responsible
Wealth project is looking for the voices of retired or current
businesspeople, business owners and investors to join a campaign for
Congress to create an independent CFPA as part of overall financial
A CFPA with real policing authority over banks is essential to the
financial security of small businesses and individuals across the
country. It would protect consumers from unfair and deceptive products
and services, and would hold lenders accountable for what they're
selling. It's time for the financial industry to take responsibility for what they've been peddling.
If you are a businessperson, business owner or investor, please join
us and sign our letter to the Senate today.
Oregonians Vote for the Common Good
UFE commends the voters of Oregon, Vote Yes for Oregon, and TFOC
members, Our Oregon and Tax Fairness Oregon on an historic victory for progressive taxation.
Why was the recent statewide referendum in Oregon so important? There are a few
reasons, but let's start with a little context. The Beaver State, like
so many others, is dealing with a sizeable budget deficit, theirs
amounting to $727 million.
On the ballot this month were Measures 66 and 67, which, respectively, called for a modest tax increase for high-income individuals and couples, and an increased corporate minimum tax and new top corporate income tax rate. Measure 66 will only affect 2.5% of Oregon taxpayers, and under Measure 67, 97.5% of businesses
will either owe no more than they currently do, or will only pay an additional $140 per year.
Revenue from these taxes will prevent what were inevitable cuts to
public education, health and human services, and public safety all of
which serve the common good of the state. These cuts would have in
some way impacted each and every Oregonian.
Now, back to why this was so historic.
For starters, the state hasn't voted to approve a general tax increase
for nearly 80 years. The last time they did was in 1930, when Oregonians enacted
the state's income tax. Additionally, the passage of these measures
has opened the doors for Oregon to advance an overall more progressive
Gov. Ted Kulongoski wants his state to stop "budgeting from crisis to crisis." He now has his sights set on reversing Oregon's highly
regressive "kicker" law, which would allow budget surpluses to be saved, rather than rebated, in order to better preserve the common good in future
State of the Dream 2010
UFE's much-anticipated, seventh annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
report was released earlier this month. State of the Dream 2010:
Drained Jobless and Foreclosed in Communities of Color delves into
our country's racial economic divide in the wake of the Great
Recession, and finds that the way out of crisis is through a targeted
policy approach focusing on communities most heavily impacted by
unemployment and foreclosure.
This year's report has garnered an extraordinary level of media
attention (see below), duly so, as communities of color nationwide are
dealing with the brunt of this recession, and have stood in line long
enough. We will be working with partners in key cities across the
country to raise community awareness of the systemic roots of this
issue and to advocate for the sensible policies that will help reverse
Visit our website for a free download of Drained today. To reserve
your hard copy of the report, contact Anneka Landgraf at 617-423-2148
x100 or email@example.com.
Bob Herbert cites UFE's State of the Dream 2010 in his The New York Times column on how well, or poorly, we as a nation uphold Dr. King's campaign for economic justice.
Dion Haynes mentions both State of the Dream 2010 and a new study by the Economic Policy Institute as he highlights the current dire circumstances for Black communities in this article in The Washington Post.
Profile of State of the Dream 2010 by Daniela Perdomo on AlterNet.
UFE board member and State of the Dream co-author, Ajamu Dillahunt, advocates for a fair jobs policy in this Huffington Post op-ed.
Common Dreams op-ed by UFE board member and State of the Dream co-author Mike Prokosch, sharing his views on recent megabank bonuses in light of persisting unemployment and foreclosures.
Addressing Corporate Mischief from Within
Responsible Wealth's (RW) 2010 Shareholder Actions are off to a great
start with two successes before the close of the year's first month.
Earlier this month, State Street Global Advisors responded amicably to
a resolution filed by RW with Walden Asset Management, calling for the
financial firm to accept greater proxy voting responsibility. In the
past, State Street automatically dismissed any shareholder resolution
pertaining to social and environmental issues. Now, they are
committing to vote in favor of those making a strong case for how
shareholder values can be jeopardized.
Another resolution at microchip giant, Intel, put the brakes on the
company's intent to hold online-only shareholder meetings. RW and
Walden argued that in-person meetings are the only way to generate
meaningful dialogue about shared concerns amongst shareholders, and
for company management to be held accountable by shareholders.
Stay tuned this year for updates on RW's other shareholder
resolutions, which will address executive compensation, shareholder
meetings, proxy voting policies and board diversity.
Estate Tax in Limbo
The Senate failed to extend the estate before the end of the year.
Because of their outrageous and fiscally irresponsible failure to act,
the estate tax has disappeared for one year starting Jan. 1, 2010.
UFE supporters did their part. People like you called the Senate and spoke to the media to express their support for a strong estate tax.
Tamara, an estate tax supporter from Washington, wrote to Congress, reminding them of its importance:
"[The] estate tax is a crucial element of empowering the government to
serve the people. Particularly in a time of economic recession, the
U.S. needs the funds generated by the estate tax to serve the needs of
the living the middle class who work so hard to make our country
strong. The revenue generated by this tax is significant and important
to the government's commitments to education, equitable health care,
and the development of clean energy sources. Please keep the majority
of your constituents in mind as you vote on estate tax issues. A $7
million exemption is more than sufficient for wealthy families. A tax
of 55% or higher on the remainder is more than fair."
Tamara has it exactly right, and Congress will need to take action,
although it's still unclear when or if the Senate will vote on
either a temporary "patch" for 2010 or a permanent estate tax law.
One possibility is that the estate tax "patch" might be part of the
"extenders" package of tax cuts. We will keep you informed as the
situation develops in Congress and your calls and support for the most
progressive estate tax possible make a difference. Stay tuned...
For more information on how to be involved in the fight for a strong
estate tax contact Lee Farris.
UFE is turning 15,
help us celebrate!
TELL A FRIEND
Click here to help address economic inequality by spreading the word about UFE.
Raise money for United for a Fair Economy just by searching the web and shopping online!
TAKE THE RW TAX FAIRNESS PLEDGE TODAY!
What's your share of the
Clinton and Bush-era tax cuts?
Find out now and
take Responsible Wealth's
Tax Fairness Pledge!
UFE in Action
Podcast of Brian Miller
on Pacifica Radio's
"Letters to Washington"
discussing State of the Dream 2010.
See FairEconomy.org for
media coverage of all of UFE's work.