Sign On to Pressure the Super Committee

The twelve members of the congressional Super-Committee charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction are nearing their November 23rd deadline. The decisions that they make will determine the direction that our country and economy take for years to come. They will be making choices about the future of vital social programs, tax policy and military spending.

There are two ways that you can get involved right now.

  • Add your name to our sign-on letter to the Super-Committee (details below), and please forward the letter to anybody that you think might be interested, especially upper-income taxpayers, investors and wealthy individuals.
  • Register for an important update on the Super-Committee with Senator Al Franken put on by our friends at the Coalition for Human Needs. You can join this emergency update next Wednesday, November 16 at 4:00 PM by phone or online. Register for it now. The update will cover Super-Committee negotiations that include disastrous plans to reduce tax rates for millionaires, while cutting Medicaid and other essential programs, and making people wait till they are 67 to get Medicare. This doesn't have to happen. Find out more on Wednesday in the 20 minute update.

Details about the letter:

Super-Committee members need to hear that wealthy individuals, investors, and business owners support our priorities. We are seeking signers of a letter to the Super-Committee. More than 40 upper income taxpayers have already signed our letter in the last two days. The letter says:

  • At least half of the total deficit reduction package should come from increased revenues that would improve tax fairness by increasing taxes on wealthy people and corporations.
  • At least half of any spending cuts should made by reducing unnecessary military expenditures.
  • There should be no cuts that impact beneficiaries of key social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, and other programs that help middle- and low-income families).
  • Any proposal that does not meet these principles should be rejected.

Click here to add your name to the letter today.

Some Democrats on the Super-Committee worry that the economy would be hurt if there is no deal. They need to understand that a bad deal is worse than no deal. Hearing from people like you will persuade them to hold firm for a deal that truly benefits our country. That’s why it’s important that you sign the letter to the Super-Committee by Sunday, November 13.

People who are not wealthy individuals, investors, and business owners can also sign the letter to show their support.

To increase our impact, we will release the letter to the media next week and put media in contact with signers who want to speak out.  We’ll also send the letter to all members of Congress before they vote on any package from the Super-Committee.

Please make sure to invite people you know to join you in signing the letter. You can also print a copy of the letter and ask friends and relatives to sign it.

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Yahoo! Income Inequality is Reaching Mainstream Media!

Today, my colleague (TFOC Coordinator, Karen Kraut) burst into UFE's communications spread with excitement beaming from her every pore:

Maz! I just opened Yahoo to check my personal email, and this was on the front page. It's a video about income inequality! This is really mainstream. Can you believe it?

UFE has been working to raise public awareness of economic inequality for 15 years, so this is certainly call for excitement. Yahoo News' video on income inequality, the first in their "Remake America" series, is accessible and deserving of the most views you can help to generate.

They includes testimonials from struggling people, many of which may sound familiar to you:

I was making a good living. That's basically disappeared.

Back in the day, you had good paying jobs. Now...it's minimum wage. Who can live off $10 an hour?

It doesn't matter how hard I work. I work hard..but I don't get anywhere.

We're still making less, but the prices of everything are skyrocketing.

How do I pay for groceries?

I tried to refinance my home, so I could keep my house, and I was told that I didn't make enough money.

They use social math to place income inequality into context—a messaging strategy that we at UFE regularly employ. The average U.S. worker's salary ($49,445) could pay for 10 months of health insurance, 5 months of college tuition, and buy 10 percent of an average home. On the other hand, the average Fortune 500 CEO's salary ($11.4 million) could pay for 300 years of health insurance, 200 years of college tuition and buy 34.5 new homes.

They connect the dots between economic inequality and the deterioration of other indicators of social wellness. (For more, read The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.)

One interviewee expressed a sentiment that most of us likely share:

I think the most unfair thing is that the people who need help the most are the ones that aren't being listened to.

Perhaps most important of all, they use this video to address just that by asking these regular folks what they think the solutions are.

Some ideas are to reform the existing system: "The rich are gonna be rich. You want to fix that? Get rid of loopholes, fix the tax code!"

Others desire more unity: "I went down to Occupy Wall Street...just to see, does our country have the guts to go through the change that is going to be required?" UFE fully supports the Occupy Movement. We encourage all people to support Occupy Wall Street and their local occupations. Here's how you can get started.

One gent noted with an air of giddiness, "This is an issue that, for the first time in the 30 years that this has been happening, could really have an effect on the election." It could. But as flawed and corrupted by corporate money as our political system is, we'll have to raise the awareness of millions more and mobilize an unprecedented vote for candidates that will challenge this devastatingly unequal status quo.

There is no single thing we can do to bring about the change we need; there are a lot of things we must do on as constant a basis as we can manage. Sharing this video is one of them.

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UFE Needs a Development Director

Please help us spread the word about this new job posting!

United for a Fair Economy seeks a full-time development director to join our staff team. This position encompasses responsibilities in four areas: Development Team coordination, planning and oversight, major donor relations and grant work.

UFE is a unique organization within the non-profit, social change sector in that nearly 70% of our funding comes from individual donors as opposed to grants. As such, we need a development director with a well-rounded understanding of all aspects of fundraising.

For more details, please see the Development Director job description.

Please help us spread the word by forwarding this message widely, posting the job listing wherever you can, and suggesting any leads you may have to Ruth Orme-Johnson at rormejohnson@faireconomy.org.

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OP-ED: We Must Act to Halt Downward Spiral in Black Communities

Photo h/t jonesor on Flickr

For as long as unemployment data by race have been collected (about 39 years), black unemployment has been roughly double that of whites. Today, the black unemployment rate is an alarming 16 percent. If discouraged workers are included, that number would be much higher.

The causes of disproportionate unemployment in the black community are many and varied, but economists believe that the main three are the lingering effects of discrimination, the educational attainment gap and economic segregation.

The erosion of manufacturing jobs in recent decades, coupled with the anti-government attack on public-sector jobs, have worked together to exacerbate these historical inequalities.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that between 1979 and 2007, manufacturing jobs held by blacks fell from 23.9 percent to 9.8 percent. The auto industry, for example, has had above-average employment for blacks for a long time, but it has crumbled, meaning that the loss of jobs has been devastating for that community.

Similarly, the assault on public-sector workers — teachers, social workers, food inspectors and more — has a clear racial impact. United for a Fair Economy’s 2011 State of the Dream report notes that blacks are 30 percent more likely than the overall workforce to hold public-sector jobs, and 70 percent more likely to work for the federal government.

Unemployment levels experienced in the black community continue to concentrate high levels of poverty in already-struggling communities, which has profound social effects in perpetuating a downward spiral of crisis. Children growing up here are exposed to high rates of crime and violence, to low-quality foods, and to some of the worst-performing schools, with a lasting impact throughout their lives.

Policymakers in Washington must take bold action to break this cycle. Leaders need to target job creation and retraining strategies in communities hardest hit by the Great Recession. Targeting job creation strategies will help lift struggling black communities in ways that the “shovel-ready” focus of previous job creation efforts cannot.

That’s one reason the Congressional Black Caucus in 2009 called for more job creation funding for economically distressed communities. As unpalatable as it is to the austerity mindset in Congress, increased federal government spending is necessary to keep people working, including black Americans.

This op-ed was originally published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on October 25, 2011.

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A Tax System for the 99%



Ownership of household wealth in the U.S. in 2007
Source: Federal Reserve

The taxes we pay lay the foundation for a sound economy and for wealth creation. Tax revenue funds roads and railways, well-educated workers, courts, clean food and water, scientific research, and much more. We all benefit from these vital public systems and structures, which one person can not create alone.

A progressive tax system means that people and corporations who have a lot more income pay a lot higher tax rate than the 99% of people who have less income. Right now our federal tax system is only slightly progressive. The tax system became much less progressive after President Reagan changed it. The opposite—a regressive tax system—means that people who have less income pay a higher tax rate; this is how the tax system works in most states. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax proposal is seriously regressive.

  • A truly progressive tax system would mean that we, the 99%, have enough money to fund the priorities we support: educating our youth, paying for health care, allowing seniors to retire with dignity.
  • A truly progressive tax system would mean that the typical person’s tax rate is a lot lower than a very wealthy person’s tax rate.
  • A truly progressive tax system would mean that investing in the stock market is not taxed less than working at a job.
  • A truly progressive tax system would slow the increase in the share of US income after taxes that goes to the 1 percent.
  • A truly progressive tax system would lessen the racial wealth divide.
  • A truly progressive tax system would mean that people with multi-millionaire parents could not inherit more tax-free than a typical worker earns and pays taxes on in a lifetime.
  • A truly progressive tax system would mean that corporations pay a bigger share of taxes. Giant corporations like Bank of America, Verizon, GE, and Exxon would no longer pay zero or shamefully low federal income taxes.
  • A truly progressive tax system would mean our country no longer goes into debt that is held by the same 1% of wealthy people who crashed the economy. It would mean the 99% are not paying increasing interest on the national debt.

How can you work for a truly progressive tax system? Find out here.

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Occupy Your State Tax System

The media's obsession with federal politics can sometimes cloud over state level solutions to our country's fiscal crisis. Occupy Wall Street has created hundreds of forums in nearly every state for concerned people to come together and consider various ways to rebuild the economy. One step to consider is overhauling our state tax systems, and here are five reasons why we should:

  1. They are regressive. That is, they take a greater share of income from low- and middle-income people than from wealthy people.
  2. They don't bring in enough money. Most states face deficits year after year because their tax systems don't generate enough revenue to pay for the public services and infrastructure state residents need and want.
  3. They are filled with special interest loopholes and freebies to the powerful and influential and force the rest of us to pick up the slack.
  4. They diminish, rather than enhance, economic activity by depending more for revenue on those who are most apt to spend their money in the economy, rather than shelter it to accumulate more.
  5. They are not transparent. Corporations that benefit from tax breaks often maintain secrecy so the public rarely knows if their tax dollars are being spent wisely.

State tax systems should be progressive, transparent, economically sound and should raise enough money to provide a decent quality of life to all residents. This system overhaul could generate hundreds of billions of dollars to not only wipe out state budget deficits, but also make long-overdue investments in our economy. 

Occupy for a fair and progressive state tax system.

For suggestions on how to get from here to there, see UFE's report "Flip It to Fix It." 

 

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UFE Provides Tools to Occupy Our Economy

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at home with the Occupy Wall Street livestream playing in the background when I heard a young woman on the “people’s microphone” give a shout out to UFE.

...If you want a great source of accessible information about economic inequality...check out United for a Fair Economy...w-w-w-dot-faireconomy-dot-org.

She finished with that, and the people's mic erupted into cheers and applause. I was overcome with a feeling of great pride, and wanted to do my part to see that UFE was a part of this powerful movement.

The Occupy Movement has brilliantly sharpened the focus of the national debate on the top 1% and on Wall Street leaders as the chief culprits of the global economic collapse. This, in and of itself, is a major victory. The national dialogue for the better part of the last year has centered on distraction issues like the deficit. The policies that ensued have worsened conditions for already struggling people. Now, people are able to imagine an alternative reality where all people, not just the wealthy, have opportunity.

The process of creating a more inclusive economy requires that we as individuals carefully consider the ways in which we interact with our society and make the necessary changes. One member of Occupy Boston's anti-oppression working group explained the necessity of an anti-oppression analysis:

An analysis of race, gender and class politics is foundational to our ability to achieve our goals of change. Without such an analysis, and subsequent articulation and action based upon it, we severely limit the potential of our movements. I would go so far to argue that our goals are not attainable at all without it.

Recently, this working group held its first session on racism and white privilege, and UFE was invited to contribute to the discussion with over 250 occupiers and supporters. We opened with an activity from our “Closing the Racial Wealth Divide” workshop to demonstrate historical and contemporary rules and policies that have offered boosts for some and presented barriers for others.  

We explained that while "the 99%" may have much in common, the folks on the bottom—disproportionally people of color and women—have borne the brunt of trickle-down economics. As our report, State of the Dream 2008: Foreclosed, states, “the subprime mortgage crisis resulted in the single greatest transfer of wealth out of communities of color in modern times!”

Since September 17, the first day of OWS, requests for workshop materials and speaking engagements have nearly tripled. From Seattle, WA to Fort Collins, CO, Prescott, AZ to Northampton MA, UFE volunteer trainers, college teachers, labor educators, community organizers, students and others, are using UFE’s human graph activities to engage people in dialogue about the greatest concentration of wealth, income, and political power since 1928.

This is an extraordinary moment in history, and I'm glad we're able to provide tools to help folks Occupy our economy. 

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How I Perceive the Occupy Movement (For Now)

As word spreads about Occupy Wall Street, it's getting harder and harder for the typically apolitical to ignore it. Because my Facebook wall has become something of a clearinghouse for Occupy-related news, I frequently field inquiries on what it's all about. Here's the most recent:

"Maz, can you clearly explain to me what the goal of OWS is? I've asked about 40 people and no one comes even close to an intelligible answer. Seriously though, I am very curious."

It's true, the amorphous nature of the Occupy Movement can make it difficult to put into words. There are no "leaders"—in the most typical sense of the word—to approach for all the answers. Instead, supporters have chosen to operate in the spirit of collectivism; the will of the group having priority over that of the individual. We're all welcome to our own interpretations, and the process encourages us to find common ground. I find that refreshing and necessary, even, because building a better world will require more imagination and cooperation than seems to exist in our state and national capitals. So, without further ado, here's how I responded:

"Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and, now, the global Occupy Movement, is about money, power and opportunity. Specifically, it's a rejection of a political and economic system that before anyone else serves the already wealthy and corporate interests.  

In order to become a politically viable force, the first step was (and continues to be) to bring people together around that broad notion. Each occupation has nightly General Assemblies (GA), where participants (anyone who chooses to attend) practice direct democracy through consensus-building processes to determine their occupation's goals and strategies. This process stands in stark contrast to both our electoral and policy-making processes, which are mired in corruption and cronyism.

The reason no one is able to provide a crystal clear answer as to what the goal is, is because the ultimate goal has yet to be established. What we do have, for now, is the OWS first official declaration; a compilation of grievances that thousands and thousands of participants and supporters have agreed are issues of great concern to humanity.

The occupation itself is an awareness-raising tool that grows more effective as more people join (as occupiers or supporters in various capacities). A day in an occupation is more than just the GA, rallies, marches, sign-toting and yelling. The occupations are also meant to serve as a public display of the sort of humane, egalitarian, democratic and cooperative society that supporters believe in; one where everyone, rich or poor, has a voice.  

It's also about education—workshops on an array of subjects are being held on the regular. It's about collaboration—working together to literally keep a community going. Working groups are established on food, logistics, tactics, media, education, arts and culture and more. Under this model, everyone has a job; everyone can make a meaningful contribution to society; our destinies are not under the control of CEOs and corporate boards who can put thousands out of work with the wave of their hands. 

How this will affect our status quo, our existing political apparatus, is unclear—which is fine. The idea is that we don't have to wait for someone up high to tell us what we're supposed to do; that we have the power to be a part of that decision. And, who knows how long that might take? [Re]building a society with our collective well being in mind, rather than that of the richest among us, won't be a quick or easy process.  

Even if the Occupations disperse, if nothing else, we want them to have shaped the national and global discourse about how people should be governed. We want them to have altered our mass psyche in a way that will foster greater solidarity and respect for humanity and the natural environment in the future. 

There is no simple answer. In many ways, it requires a leap of faith for those of us who have been hard-wired to believe that we just have to live with what we have, for better or worse. But, with Occupations and meet-ups having gathered in over 1,500 cities worldwide, this movement seems to be capturing a lot of people's imaginations."

For more on the origins and emergence of Occupy Wall Street, read Nathan Schneider's "From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere" on TheNation.com.

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Tim's News Round-up: Occupy Fever & Citi Evils

Tim SullivanEach week, UFE's online news hawk, Tim Sullivan, will share a list of stories that he finds interesting. Tim's first round-up includes the latest on Occupy Wall Street, the action in our own backyard at Occupy Boston, the delusions of Wall Street insiders and [more] reasons to be very upset with Citigroup. Enjoy!

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Occupy Your Mind

Occupy Wall St. has been granted a reprieve after Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties threatened to evict them today for a “park clean-up.” Protesters were reportedly elated as the announcement boomed over the “people’s mic” at 6:40 AM, spilling out into the streets. Of course, the eviction has only been delayed, not eradicated, and eventually the occupants will be forced to make their next move. Many are wondering: what will be their next move? And more importantly: does it matter?

In Boston, LA, DC, Austin, Philadelphia, Portland and many cities across the nation, Occupants are taking a stand against corporate greed and the growing wealth gap. Fellow Americans watch them on television screens, newspapers, and twitter feeds, or even out their windows and wonder: what is this? Does it pertain to me?

With young people at the helm of the occupy movement, universities also seem to be at the epicenter of this media frenzy. Almost as soon as Occupy Boston set up their tents, people on my campus had developed “Occupy fatigue.” Some students whined for the pre-Occupy days when everyone could be apathetic in peace. Now, it seems students have to justify not caring.

What lies at the root of this Occupy skepticism? Why are some young people so charged up that they are camping in the streets, while others are rolling their eyes? Here are some critiques of the Occupy movement floating around bars, tables and in dorm hallways:

  • This protest is just the latest fad cause, we say; it will soon pass.
  • The Occupy movement hardly even has a cause, we say, they have no spokesperson, no slogan, no clear strategy or ideas for the future.
  • A large, unorganized movement could be detrimental to the change we desire.
  • We can’t just protest capitalism. Sure, the wealthiest one percent of the population holds 34 percent of all wealth, and their wealth has increased exponentially in recent years. Sure, the wealthiest tenth owns 70 percent of wealth while 80 percent of the population owns 7 percent of wealth, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

Regardless of the merit of these critiques, I'm glad these conversations are happening. And if I’ve learned anything in 3.5 years of a Peace and Justice Studies major, it's that movements tend to get a facelift in hindsight. Generations after a major period of action, people turn time-tinted lenses back and see wise, courageous revolutionaries guiding altruistic and equally wise individuals to march against the obviously evil powers-that-be.

Consider the civil rights movement without the corrective lens of hindsight. You will see a Martin Luther King who struggled with himself. You will see an array of affiliated organizations whose opinions were seldom unified; their policy positions never clear. You see determined yet frightened activists who often needed years convincing to speak out against a bigoted government.

Already, it seems spectators are looking at the momentum of the Occupy movement through the corrective lens. They look for an inspirational face of a leader or individual that represents the movement. The Obama campaign had that, but Occupy Wall Street does not. Summarizing a movement with a face may be good for media coverage and may make writing history books a bit easier, but that does not mean it’s a weakness of the Occupy movement.

Indeed, the Occupy movement may not have a clean, infallible facade, but it does have an expanding membership of motivated individuals, frustrated with traditional politics’ inability to address the growing wealth divide and willing to work for an alternative solution. What it does have is a wide net that is cast over organizations with similar goals. What it does have is political opportunity in the widespread dissatisfaction among Americans. These are the ingredients for change.

But why should we care? Because we are the 99 percent. We all have a story. We are the unemployed, unemployable, and the tenuously employed, looking to our government to support us as we have supported it. We are the hardworking citizens who believe that economic injustice for some means economic injustice for all.

I am a college senior looking out into an abyss of unemployment and slim job prospects. It pains me to hear Republicans repeatedly shoot down jobs bills and progressive measures to bolster economically stimulating public funding. As a voter, I am sorry that the ‘liberal’ candidate for 2012 has sacrificed progressive policies for wishy-washy centrism too weak to pay off crippling debt. I am scared, but I’m ready to do something about it.

I say, even if you can’t define ‘em, join ‘em.  Even if you’ve never been formally educated on economic issues, let the movement occupy your mind for a moment. Get informed about our gargantuan wealth gap, corporate influence over the government, or racial and gender economic disparities. There may not be a leader handing out a one-shot solution, but there’s a group of people asking for new ideas—and why shouldn’t you have a say?

We can allow ourselves to believe in change. The media has hyped this up so much it seems like a fad, but even if Occupy Wall St. is evicted the protesters’ flame will not be extinguished. Because the Occupy movement is more than a bunch of tents in a park. It is a coalition of the willing, a call to action, and a harbinger of change. 

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