UFE's E-News March 2010

In this Issue:


Article One

It's Time to Roll 'Em Back

It's no secret that wealth inequality in the United States has increased drastically (PDF) in recent years. There's also no mystery as to why we've seen such a dramatic increase.

It's not a trick of fate or the will of the gods — it's due to real, man-made policies that impact us all. In a way, this is good news, because it means we're able to do something about it. Even better news? — some of the policies that led to such extreme concentrations of income and wealth are set to expire at the end of this year, making 2010 a year of incredible opportunity.

The Bush tax cuts, first passed in 2001, have cost trillions of dollars to date. They also predominantly benefit the wealthiest Americans. Now, they're set to expire. We're working with members of our Responsible Wealth program on a national campaign raising public awareness about this important issue to ensure that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire as scheduled once and for all this year.

Want to know how much you gained from the Bush tax cuts this year? Our 3-minute Tax Cut Calculator is an easy way to find out. Please consider taking a stand with us by pledging your cut to tax fairness organizing efforts.

And be sure to check out Katrina vanden Huevel's recent blog in The Nation.

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Article Two

Solutions for Main street

Over half the states are still struggling to close huge budget deficits for the 2011 fiscal year. Because state governments lack the deficit spending capabilities of the federal government, many choose to fill their budget gaps with cuts to important public services and revenue from regressive taxes and fees.

A new set of guidelines, released by UFE's Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative (TFOC), seeks to remind state legislators that there is a far more responsible solution, and it's well within their reach.

The TFOC's new position paper, entitled "Solutions that Work for Main Street: Progressive Guidelines for Closing Recessionary State Budget Gaps," urges states to implement a multi-faceted approach, with proactive and defensive strategies, to close their budget gaps.

In a recession of this magnitude, the best way to stimulate and recover is to fund programs and services – not to cut them. Common practice has been to use a combination of spending cuts and minimal revenue raising measures – most of which disproportionately fall on low- and middle-income taxpayers. According to the Guidelines, states should focus on making more money available using a variety of sensible mechanisms, the centerpiece of which is taxation based on ability-to-pay.

Of course, with proposals for tax increases of any kind come the expected band of anti-tax hell-raisers. To combat this, the guidelines advocate for a well planned, "just-the-facts" defense. They also provide proponents of progressive taxation with clear arguments for why it's the best approach for their state, and they recommend advocates uncover and publicize hidden truths behind opponents' "no new taxes" sentiment.

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Article Three

"Taking Back the Tap"

March 22nd was World Water Day, a day for all of us to "reaffirm that clean water is life, and our lives depend on how we protect the quality of our water."

Our friends at Corporate Accountability International are reminding folks that part of protecting our water involves challenging an economic system that allows for its exploitation by Big Business.

Corporate Accountability's Think Outside the Bottle campaign produced a web video, "The Story of Bottled Water," a 7-minute animated film hosted by Annie Leonard ("The Story of Stuff"). The video sheds light on "manufactured demand," a deceptive marketing strategy employed by beverage companies to get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week – at about two thousand times the cost of tap water!
Tap or Bottled

Globally, over 1 billion people in impoverished communities have little choice but to use limited and potentially harmful sources of water. Meanwhile, many Americans, who generally have access to an abundance of safe tap water, continue to consume bottled water despite the enormous waste of money, energy and resources it represents.

Viewers are encouraged to honor that access to clean, safe drinking water is a human right by "taking back the tap." Watch
                                           the video for details and ways to get involved.

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Article Four

Financial Reform on the Horizon

Senator Chris Dodd's draft of financial reform legislation is finally out of committee. The bill is now on the floor of the Senate waiting for them when they return from recess in April. It will probably be the dominant issue in Congress now that health care legislation is finally completed.

The House passed their version of financial reform back in December. So, how does the Senate draft compare to the House version? Paul Krugman offers an interesting analogy to answer that question. Mike Konczal explains some of the details here.

And what about the CFPA? Well, that's an interesting question. It's in Dodd's draft, but it's weaker than would be ideal. Heather Booth, Executive Director of Americans for Financial Reform, explains it well.

A strong and independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency must be the cornerstone of any meaningful reform. We believe the best way to structure a strong and independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency is through a stand-alone agency, and we are troubled by the provisions that allow Consumer Financial Protection Agency decisions to be appealed to a council dominated by institutions that failed consumers in the past, and by holes in its enforcement authority.

Basically, the Dodd draft is just that, a draft. And it needs to be improved in several ways. It's going to be a contentious debate before a final version is ultimately passed. Significant changes will be made to the bill – we just hope those changes will serve to strengthen the bill, not gut it. And since health care reform was so easy to pass, this should be no sweat, right? Well, that's where 'we the people' come in.

It's always a good time (even during recess) to call your Senators to let them know that you want a strong, independent CFPA (Capitol switchboard 202-224-3121) as part of meaningful financial regulation reform. Remember that for every member of Congress, there are four banking lobbyists working to weaken reform. The banks are eager to gut this bill and are willing to spend to do it. We need every voice who supports reining in the banks, protecting consumers, and putting our economy on firmer footing to make their voice heard.

Deeper Reading:

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Article Five

Three Cheers for Health Care

We cheer the passage of health insurance reform, but it's not a standing ovation – yet. While it's a not a perfect bill, it is a giant step forward for health care in the United States.

The bill provides the greatest gains in health care since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. With it millions of Americans will have a chance at economic stability and medical security. It also has some positive consequences for the economy as a whole. It will, for example, increase entrepreneurship and economic mobility by reducing job lock, not to mention being the biggest deficit reduction legislation in quite a while.

Oh yeah, and it's the biggest blow in decades against the rising tide of economic inequality.

It is indeed a big step forward. There are more steps to take, but for now, it's time to celebrate an achievement.

Still have some lingering questions about what it all means? Check out the Q&A we've put up on our website.

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Article Six

Keepin' It Creative

UFE has a long history of creative action as a tool for raising awareness about the ills of economic inequality, and central to all of our workshops are interactive exercises that make information about the economy more accessible.

While the issues we deal with are often serious, statistics alone are not always very compelling. People need to feel connected to what's behind the statistics — something our popular education approach is all about.

Taken at face value, something like 9.7 percent national unemployment may seem a little abstract, but recognizing the "me and five of my close friends" within that percentage brings a whole new meaning. And remembering that there are real people behind all the numbers thrown around the halls of Congress and touted in the media is key for calling folks to action.

From the first days of the "Billionaires," to "The 10 Chairs," and "Income Quintiles," UFE has used humor and creativity to illustrate the most boring of economic statistics in a new light, making economics — dare we say — fun.

We did a little digging through our archives and found some great photos that show just how much fun we've had while doing really meaningful work at the same time. You can check them out in the slideshow we've posted on YouTube by clicking the video below.

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Article Seven

You Can't Stop the Movement

We are deeply saddened by the announcement that ACORN has made the difficult decision to close their doors due to loss in funding. ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) was targeted by a smear campaign led by right wing activists.

Starting in the Presidential campaign in 2008, community organizers in general and ACORN in particular, were vilified by Sarah Palin. Her attacks were picked up by far-right activists, culminating in a scandalous video that seemed to show ACORN employees giving illegal advice. The video turned out to be heavily doctored and misleading, but before all of the evidence was in, the New York Times, the Daily Show and others picked up the story, and the damage was done. (The right wing activists who made the video were later arrested trying to pull a similar stunt at the office of Senator Mary Landrieu.)

Unfortunately, a large number of institutional and individual supporters withdrew their funding from ACORN after right wing activists targeted the organization, leading to the closing of the national organization. The good news: local ACORN chapters around the country are not shutting their doors. They will continue to do their work with low-income constituents. UFE has partnered with ACORN in the past; and we look forward to continuing to work with local ACORN affiliates.

We hope that the national ACORN organization will rise from the ashes as other organizations have, and return to its important role of coordinating grassroots advocacy for low-income people. The attack on ACORN is an attack on the right of all people to organize and be heard. We encourage individuals and foundations to see this as a call to action – to support local organizing, including local ACORN affiliates, and to stand up for our brother and sister organizations in the struggle when they are attacked.

The important role of ACORN in championing the voices of low-income people in their communities must and will be continued. Opponents of ACORN may have succeeded in shutting the national organization's doors in the short term, but ACORN (and United for a Fair Economy) are part of a broad movement for social and economic justice that will continue to organize and grow and demand justice for all.


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May 27 - 30, 2010
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In 2008 alone, the top
1% of income-earners in the US received $79.5 billion in tax cuts. If you laid out $1 bills end-to-end, that
would be enough
money to circle the globe 302 times!

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The top 10% of income- earners in the US own 70% of the wealth. If the same ratio applied to their control over the total land in the US, then 90% of Americans would be confined to live in an area the size of California, Texas, and Alaska.

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What's your share of the
Clinton and Bush-era tax cuts?
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The average CEO makes 344 times the average American worker.

If these two participated in a one hundred meter dash, it would be the equivalent of a man walking at normal speed racing an F22 Raptor fighter jet.

El Estado del Sueño 2010

State of the Dream 2010 report cover

The Spanish-language version of
UFE's State of the Dream 2010
is now available. Please
spread the word and be sure
to visit EconomíaJusta.org
or FairEconomy.org to download
your FREE COPY of the report!