Documenting the Silent Depression

Bill Fletcher writes: "Growing up my father would regularly say to me that while the Great Depression officially ended during World War II, for African Americans it never really ended. While most economists would take issue with my father's analysis, he was onto something that both mainstream economists and political figures wanted to avoid: structural racist oppression has represented, to borrow from Columbia University Professor Manning Marable, the underdevelopment of Black America. Specifically, the conditions under which we have operated, often in the so-called best of times, have represented recession or sometimes near depression-like realities for millions of people.

"My father's analysis was not his alone. Discussions about the economic underdevelopment of Black America have taken place, and continue to take place regularly in our community. The majority of White America either ignores or is oblivious to these exchanges, and in fact, tends to live in denial as to the realities of structural racist oppression, making the current discussions of an alleged ”˜post-racial era' nearly laughable."

Read the full story in Black Commentator.

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Recession Worsens the Racial Divide

UFE staffer Mike Lapham writes: "During any crisis, it is common to focus on the surface troubles and thereby miss opportunities for addressing underlying problems. Already, as the new administration tackles the current economic crisis, it seems diligent about plugging today's holes, to the exclusion of preventing more holes in the future.

"For example, one gaping hole has to do with the myth that a rising economic tide lifts all boats. This has been completely disproven by the extreme growth of economic inequality during the last 30 years. Instead, we learned that some boats can be lifted spectacularly high, while others sink deeper in the mud. So, even as we scramble to keep the whole economic ocean from draining, it's vital that we pay attention to all the boats - big and small. The obvious implication is that if we want to build an economy that's inclusive, we must pay special attention to the worst off.

"But while we watch the first black president take office, we risk falling into another trap: Thinking that race is finally irrelevant. The truth is that, in an economic sense, race continues to be a major barrier."

Read the full article in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

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2008 Financially Bad Year for Blacks - 2009 May Be Worse

The nation's unemployment rate soared to 7.2 percent last month as the economy loss 524,000 jobs. The current recession took jobs from all major population groups. Whites saw their jobless rate jump from 6.2 percent in November to 6.6 percent in December. Black unemployment rose from 11.3 percent to 11.9 percent while joblessness for Hispanics increased from 8.6 percent to 9.2 percent. Unemployment for Asians stood at a seasonally unadjusted 5.1 percent.

Referring to the number of Blacks losing their homes as a result of the mortgage crisis, a Boston-based non profit organization United for a Fair Economy issued a report which concluded, "This represents the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern U.S. history." The report was titled "Foreclosed State of the Dream 2008.

Click here to read the Washington Informer article.

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King’s take on dream? ‘Yes, but . . .’

Those on both sides of the civil rights divide like to argue about what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would say if he were still around.

The essence of his message can better be found in the pages of "State of the Dream 2009: The Silent Depression," the report released today by United for a Fair Economy.  

Click here to read the Buffalo News story.  

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State of the Dream 2009: The Silent Depression

State of the Dream 2009: The Silent Depression

State of the Dream 2009 Report CoverIn this 2009 report for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we found that people of color are experiencing a silent economic depression. It’s silent because it’s going unnoticed, unacknowledged and unaddressed – and yet the evidence is striking.

While the general population has been in recession for one year, people of color have been in recession for five years. By definition, a long-term recession is a depression.

We detail additional evidence that shows the current racial economic inequity, including poverty rates, wealth and assets and economic mobility. While racial barriers did not prevent an African-American from becoming President, they continue to impede many people of color from achieving the same economic success as their white counterparts.

Read the report in English (PDF 6.6MB)

Read the report in Spanish (PDF 7.73MB)

Dedrick Muhummad, co-author of The Silent Depression, discusses the report on Democracy Now!


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Responsible Wealth 2009 Shareholder Resolutions

2009 Responsible Wealth Shareholder Resolutions

This year, Responsible Wealth members are filing shareholder resolutions in three areas:

  1. Shareholder "Say on Pay" on Executive Compensation
  2. Predatory Lending
  3. Remittances

Shareholder "Say on Pay" on Executive Compensation

With the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street and the struggles of the U.S. auto industry in the news, exorbitant CEO pay has come under intense scrutiny this year from both shareholders and lawmakers. Responsible Wealth members have expressed their concern through Say on Pay shareholder resolutions, which propose giving shareholders a non-binding vote on the pay of senior executives in the company. Say on Pay allows shareholders to provide valuable input in the formulation of CEO compensation packages by opening up dialogue between top executives and shareholders and holding executives more accountable for the company's long-term performance as reflected in their compensation. In 2008-2009 we filed Say on Pay resolutions at Alcoa, Prudential, Target, Schering-Ploug, Yahoo! and FedEx.

Predatory Lending

The sub-prime lending industry, the dominant financial service provider in low-income communities and among people of color and the elderly, had been the fastest growing part of the financial services industry until the housing bubble began to burst in late 2007. Fair housing activists have identified several abusive lending practices, termed "predatory lending." Among these practices are: charging excessive interest rates relative to the credit risk of the borrower, excessive fees, significant pre-payment penalties (a practice virtually eliminated in conventional mortgage markets), and aggressive marketing practices that result in loan-flipping. The Coalition for Responsible Lending estimates that predatory practices cost borrowers $9 billion a year. These risky lending practices have played a critical role in the crippling of the financial sector, including over 20 bank failures in 2008. In 2008-2009, Responsible Wealth is filing a resolution addressing subprime lending practices at Wells Fargo Bank.


The Community Reinvestment Act requires banking institutions to appropriately address the needs of the communities in which they operate, which include urban, low-income, and immigrant communities. However, the act does not apply to wire transfer providers, such as Western Union. Therefore, Responsible Wealth has teamed up with TIGRA (Transnational Immigrant Grassroots Research and Action) to file a resolution asking that Western Union put more at stake in the low-income communities in which they operate through developing long-term programs that meet the needs of those communities. These programs could help ease the tremendous burden that monthly remittances have on the income of immigrant workers.

Please follow the links below to see the text of the 2009 resolutions.

Company Issue Documents
Alcoa Say on Pay Resolution
Prudential Say on Pay Resolution
Schering-Plough Say on Pay Resolution
Target Say on Pay Resolution
Yahoo! Say on Pay Resolution
FedEx Say on Pay Resolution
Wells Fargo Racial Disparities in Mortgage Lending Resolution
Western Union Community Reinvestment Policy Resolution

To file or co-file a shareholder resolution, a stockholder must have owned a minimum of $2,000 worth of the company's stock continuously for at least one year. In addition to filing resolutions, Responsible Wealth members also co-file resolutions that are filed by others and assign their proxies to allow others to represent them at annual meetings.

If you are interested in participating in Responsible Wealth's shareholder work, please contact Mike Lapham, Responsible Wealth Project Director at or 617-423-2148 x112. For media inquiries, please contact Mazher Ali, Communications Coordinator at or 617-423-2148 x101.

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Responsible Wealth 2008 Shareholder Resolution Campaign

Company Issue Documents
Western Union Community Reinvestment Policy Resolution
Wells Fargo Racial Disparities in Mortgage Lending Resolution
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What's Up with the Bailouts?

What's Up with the Bailouts?  

The movement against the Wall Street bailout proved that people have power to change the rules of our economy. But we also learned that a spontaneous, reactive, one-time campaign is not very effective.

We need to stay engaged to make fundamental economic changes for the long-term.


January 2009

What's Happening?

December 2008

What's Happening?

•   America's Future's Main Street Economic Recovery Plan signed by UFE and 200 others, December 9, 2008.

Sitdown Strike in Chicago; Bank of America is Targeted

•   John Nichols' "Making a New New Deal: Sitdown Strike in Chicago," in The Nation blog, December 7, 2008.

• Jobs with Justice's campaign targeting Bank of America.  

•   United Electrical Workers' News Coverage, December 7, 2008.


November 2008

What's Next?  

• Peter Bernstein's "Put Away The Wish List, And Help Households Bounce Back." in The New York Times, November 9, 2008.

• Robert Schiller's "The Real Mandate Is To Bridge The Wealth Gap." in The New York Times, November 9, 2008.

• Alan Blinder's "Remember That Capitalism Is More Than A Spectator Sport." in The New York Times, November 9, 2008.

• Naomi Klein's "Real Change Depends On Stopping the Bailout Profiteers." in The Huffington Post, November 4, 2008.

• Joseph Stiglitz' "Reversal Of Fortune." in Vanity Fair, November, 2008.

What's Wrong

"Goldman Sachs Urged Bets Against California Bonds It Helped Sell." in The Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2008.

• Amit Paley's "A Quiet Windfall For U.S. Banks." in The Washington Post, November 10, 2008.

More Resources

• Pro Publica's Bailout Bucks To Banks, is a running tally of banks given preliminary approval for the capital injection program. November 10, 2008.

October 31, 2008

What's Next?

• Chris Hedges' "Populism Arising–but Will It Be the Killer Kind?" in truthdig, October 26, 2008

What's Wrong

•   United Steel Workers' letter to Henry Paulson (PDF) criticizing him for paying double what he should have for Goldman Sachs, October 28, 2008.

What's New?

• Kevin G. Hall 39;s "Bailout funds being spent in ways Congress never foresaw," in McClatchy News, October 30, 2008.  

"U.S. mulls up to $600 billion in home loan guarantees," in Reuters, October 29, 2008.

"Bailout Expands to Insurers; Treasury to Take Stakes in Firms as Distress Spreads Beyond Banks," in Washington Post, October 25, 2008.

What Happened?

• Institute for Policy Studies' "Talking Points on the Economic Meltdown," October 28, 2008.

• Terrance Heath's "Concentrating the Wealth - Part 1,", October 29, 2008.

October 23, 2008

What's Next?

• Howard Zinn's explanation on the necessity of direct action. October 22,2008.

• Robert Reich's, "No Company Should be Too Big To Fail," on the problematic aspects of companies becoming too big. October 22, 2008.

• Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati's, "Rewrite Bailout Rules On CEO Pay," examines how the bailout lacks reform to executive pay. October 20, 2008.

• Dean Baker's perspective on ephemeral paycuts on Wall Street. October 21, 2008.

• David Lightman and William Douglas' article, which counters claims that Barack Obama's tax plan is Socialist. October 21, 2008.

• David Sirota's "Here Comes The Onslaught," addresses biased media towards the current financial crisis. October 19, 2008.

October 10, 2008

What's Next?

• SmartMeme's Take on What Story We Should Tell  

• Alan Jenkins' "Pre-Inventing History," on countering disinformation from the right, October 7, 2008.  

What Happened?

• USA Today's Editorial "In Ways Large and Small, Washington Coddles Rich," October 9, 2008.

• Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati's "Truth, Lies, the Bailout and CEO Pay," October 6, 2008.

• Common Cause's Report: "Ask Yourself Why... They Didn’t See This Coming," September 24, 2008.

More Resources:

Dollars & Sense Financial Crisis Info & Blog

Extreme Inequality Working Group

October 7, 2008

What's Next?

"Beyond The Bailout: What We Must Do Now," video interview with William Greider and Robert Borosage, October 4, 2008.

• Howard Zinn's "From Empire to Democracy," October 2, 2008.  

• Institute for Policy Studies' "Sensible Plan for Recovery," October 1, 2008.

What Happened?

• David Sirota's "Bailout Is Capitalism Murdering Democracy," October 3, 2008.

• Howard Gleckman's "Brother, Can You Spare a Tax Credit?" October 2, 2008.

The Big Picture

• Garrison Keillor's "They're Stealing from You and Me – Where's the Outrage?" October 6, 2008.

"The End of American Capitalism? 5 Short Takes on Where the Financial Crisis Might Be Headed," October 7, 2008.

• Herb Boyd's "MELTDOWN! When Economy Sneezes, Black America Gets Pneumonia," September 29, 2009.

Debunking the Criticism of the Community Reinvestment Act

• Sara Robinson's "Firing Back at the CRA Libel," September 30, 2008.

's "No, Larry, CRA Didn't Cause the Sub-Prime Mess," April 15, 2008.

• Robert Gordon's "Did Liberals Cause the Sub-Prime Crisis?" April 7, 2008.

 October 1, 2008  

Wall Street Bailout Update:

Now A Major Opportunity to Start Rebuilding a Fair Economy

As we write this, Congress is gearing up for another vote on the bailout - as early as tonight! On Monday, they heard a clear, "No!" But based on the proposals being aired this morning, they didn't get the rest of the message.

We think the message is to scrap the whole idea of a bailout and take the opportunity to put in place an economic recovery plan built around the important progressive rule changes we want to see (for ideas, see below).

Please think about what concrete things you want and call both your Senators and your Rep. And especially today, make sure that Congressional staffers listen to your specific concerns.

Call Congress today: toll-free 800-830-5738 or 202-224-3121.

More Resources:

• John Nichols' article for The Nation, examines the "No Bailouts" Act from Rep. DeFazio (D-OR).

• Find a summary of liberal and conservative objections to the bill:

• See the Common Sense Conditions endorsed by UFE and many of our allies.

• See what the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) says about the bailout.  

• James K. Galbraith's Washington Post article, which examines whether or not a bailout is necessary. (Humor)

September 24, 2008,
updated September 26

The US and world financial markets are in serious crisis, the end result of many years of bad federal deregulation and lax oversight.  A bailout costing upwards of $700 billion is being rushed through Congress.

Make your voice heard.  Call Congress today (toll-free  800-830-5738 or  202-224-3121) and demand that any bailout plan include:  

  1. mortgage assistance for those most affected by the crisis.
  2. controls on excessive CEO pay.
  3. protection for ordinary taxpayers from bearing the costs of the bailout, by returning a  portion of any profits made by bailed-out banks to the American people, and  increasing taxes on wealthy investors.

Join our allies:

Campaign For America's Future is asking people to sign a petition to legislators that rejects a bailout for Wall Street.

Working Assets is asking people to sign a petition that is against a bailout for Wall Street.

The Coalition on Human Needs is asking people to call legislators and ask them to reject a blank check bailout for Wall Street.

SEIU is asking people to sign a petition against the $700 billion bailout.

RESULTS is asking people to send letters to their local newspapers that speak out against the bailout. is asking people to attend or host events that speak out against the Wall Street bailout.

For More Information:

Inter Press releases an article that examines the implications and details of the Wall Street bailout. Inter Press.

Working Group On Extreme Inequality coordinator Chuck Collins' proposal on who should pay more taxes, to help pay for the bailout. The Nation.

Robert Reich's point of view on what conditions should be stipulated for Wall Street to get a bailout funded by taxpayers. TPMCafe.

Cash For Trash is an Op-Ed written by Paul Krugman, which examines the bailout and what lead to its implementation. The New York Times.

• For info on federal taxes becoming more regressive, see CBPP’s analysis.

Our Related Issues:

CEO Pay: 2008 Executive Excess Report

Fair Taxation

Racial Wealth Divide: UFE's Amaad Rivera's article about how people of color are affected by the financial crisis leading to a potential $700 billion dollar bailout.

Responsible Wealth

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Glossary of Economic Terms

Things that have earning power or some other value to their owner. Fixed assets (also known as long-term assets) are things that have a useful life of more than one year, for example buildings and machinery; there are also intangible fixed assets, like the good reputation of a company or brand. Current assets are the things that can easily be turned into cash and are expected to be sold or used up in the near future.

Bear market
In a bear market, prices are falling and investors, anticipating losses, tend to sell. This can create a self-sustaining downward spiral.

A debt security - or more simply an IOU. The bond states when a loan must be repaid and what interest the borrower (issuer) must pay to the holder. Banks and investors buy and trade bonds.

A description of rapidly rising equity prices, usually in a particular sector (for example, housing, technology), that some investors feel is unfounded. The term is used because, like a bubble, the prices will reach a point at which they pop and collapse violently.

Bull market
A bull market is one in which prices are generally rising and investor confidence is high.

The wealth - cash or other assets - used to fuel the creation of more wealth. Within companies, often characterized as working capital or fixed capital.

Chapter 11
The term for bankruptcy protection in the US. It postpones a company's obligations to its creditors, giving it time to reorganise its debts or sell parts of the business, for example.

Collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)
A collateralised debt obligation is a financial structure that groups individual loans, bonds or assets in a portfolio, which can then be traded.
In theory, CDOs attract a stronger credit rating than individual assets due to the risk being more diversified. But as the performance of some assets has fallen, the value of many CDOs have also been reduced.

Commercial paper
Unsecured, short-term loans issued by companies. The funds are typically used for working capital, rather than fixed assets such as a new building.

Commodities are products that, in their basic form, are all the same so it makes little difference from whom you buy them. That means that they have a market price. You would be unlikely to pay more for iron ore from a particular mine, for example.

Credit crunch
The situation created when banks hugely reduced their lending to each other because they were uncertain about how much money they had. This in turn resulted in more expensive loans and mortgages for ordinary people.

Credit default swap
A swap designed to transfer credit risk. The buyer of the swap makes periodic payments to the seller in return for protection in the event of a default. A bank which owns a lot of mortgage debt could swap it, but would have to make a pay-out if those mortgages were not repaid.
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Derivatives are a way of investing in a particular product or security without having to own it. The value can depend on anything from the price of coffee to interest rates or what the weather is like. Derivatives can be used as insurance to limit the risk of a particular investment. Credit derivatives are based on the risk of borrowers defaulting on their loans, such as mortgages.

In a business, equity is how much all of the shares put together are worth. In a house, your equity is the amount your house is worth minus the amount of mortgage debt that is outstanding on it.

Fundamentals determine a company, currency or security's value. A company's fundamentals include its assets, debt, revenue, earnings and growth.

A futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell a commodity at a predetermined date and price. It could be used to hedge or to speculate on the price of the commodity.

Hedge fund
A private investment fund with a large, unregulated pool of capital and very experienced investors. Hedge funds use a range of sophisticated strategies to maximize returns - including hedging, leveraging and derivatives trading.

Making an investment to reduce the risk of price fluctuations to the value of an asset. For example, if you owned a stock and then sold a futures contract agreeing to sell your stock on a particular date at a set price. A fall in price would not harm you - but nor would you benefit from any rise.

Investment bank
Investment banks provide financial services for governments, companies or extremely rich individuals. They differ from commercial banks where you have your savings or your mortgage.

Leveraging means using debt to supplement investment. The more you borrow on top of the funds (or equity) you already have, the more highly leveraged you are. Leveraging can maximise both gains and losses. Deleveraging means reducing the amount you are borrowing.

London Inter Bank Offered Rate. The rate at which banks lend money to each other.

Limited liability
Confines an investor's loss in a business to the amount of capital they invested. If a person invests £100,000 in a company and it goes under, they will lose only their investment and not more.

The liquidity of something is how easy it is to convert it into cash. Your current account, for example, is more liquid than your house. If you needed to sell your house quickly to pay bills you would have drop the price substantially to get a sale.

Loans to deposit ratio
For financial institutions, the sum of their loans divided by the sum of their deposits. Currently important because using other sources to fund lending is getting more expensive.

Mortgage-backed securities
These are securities made up of mortgage debt or a collection of mortgages. Banks repackage debt from a number of mortgages which can be traded. Selling mortgages off frees up funds to lend to more homeowners. See securities.

The act of bringing an industry or assets like land and property under state control.

Negative equity
Refers to a situation in which the value of your house is below the amount of the mortgage that still has to be paid off.

Preference shares
A class of shares that usually do not offer voting rights, but do offer a superior type of dividend, paid ahead of dividends to ordinary shareholders. Preference shareholders often also have superior status in the event of a liquidation.

Profit warning
When a company issues a statement indicating that its profits will not be as high as it had expected.

Bonds are rated according to their safety from an investment standpoint - based on the ability of the company or government that has issued it to repay. Ratings range from AAA, the safest, down to D, a company that has already defaulted.

To inject fresh money into a firm, thus reducing the debts of a company. For example, when a government intervenes to recapitalize a bank, it might give cash in exchange for some form of guarantee, such as a stake in the company. Taxpayers can then benefit if the bank recovers.

A period of negative economic growth. In most parts of the world a recession is technically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth - when real output falls. In the United States, a larger number of factors are taken into account, like job creation and manufacturing activity. However, this means that a US recession can usually only be defined when it is already over.

Retained earnings
Money not paid out as dividend and held awaiting investment in the company.

Securities lending
Security lending is when one broker or dealer lends a security to another for a fee. This is the process that allows short selling.

Turning something into a security. For example, taking the debt from a number of mortgages and combining them to make a financial product which can then be traded. Banks who buy these securities receive income when the original home-buyers make their mortgage payments.

Essentially, a contract that can be assigned a value and traded. It could be a stock, bond or mortgage debt, for example.

Short selling
A technique used by investors who think the price of an asset, such as shares, currencies or oil contracts, will fall. They borrow the asset from another investor and then sell it in the relevant market. The aim is to buy back the asset at a lower price and return it to its owner, pocketing the difference. Also shorting.

The dreaded combination of inflation and stagnation - an economy that is not growing while prices continue to rise.

Sub-prime mortgages
These carry a higher risk to the lender (and therefore tend to be at higher interest rates) because they are offered to people who have had financial problems or who have low or unpredictable incomes.

An exchange of securities between two parties. For example, if a firm in one country has a lower fixed interest rate and one in another country has a lower floating interest rate, an interest rate swap could be mutually beneficial.

Toxic debts
Debts that are very unlikely to be recovered from borrowers. Most lenders expect that some customers cannot repay; toxic debt describes a whole package of loans where it is now unlikely that it will be repaid.

When used of a rights issue, the institution pledging to purchase a certain number of shares if not bought by the public.

A document entitling the bearer to receive shares, usually at a stated price.

Reducing the book value of an asset to reflect a fall in its market value. For example, the write-down of a company's value after a big fall in share prices.

Zombie Bank
Refers to a financial institution with an economic net worth that is less than zero, but which continues to operate because its ability to repay its debts is shored up by implicit or explicit government credit support.

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A Bailout We Don't Need

By James K. Galbraith in The Washington Post, September 25, 2008

Now that all five big investment banks -- Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- have disappeared or morphed into regular banks, a question arises.

Is this bailout still necessary?

The point of the bailout is to buy assets that are illiquid but not worthless. But regular banks hold assets like that all the time. They're called "loans."

With banks, runs occur only when depositors panic, because they fear the loan book is bad. Deposit insurance takes care of that. So why not eliminate the pointless $100,000 cap on federal deposit insurance and go take inventory?...

Read the full story in The Washington Post.



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No Adult Supervision

The current financial crisis is disproportionately affecting people of color. In our search for solutions, we must remember that deregulation led us to this crisis and that those who are traditionally the hardest-hit are people of color.

Our current financial crisis reeks with the smell of hypocrisy. We have traded the rights of people for the rights of profits, and continue to watch the house of our economy crumble, due to its rotten foundation of deregulation. As foreclosures continue to reach an all-time high and more than $290 million of housing wealth is lost in the next year; housing values are likely to fall another 15% during this period.

Read the full article on Movement Vision Lab.

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Evaluating Candidates on Taxes

Evaluating Candidates on Taxes

Whether at the state or federal level, candidates for public office are crafting proposals and taking positions on tax policy.

While tax policy can be used for a wide range of purposes, in our view one of its most important functions is addressing economic inequality.

Some candidates, but not all, share this value. But often it's difficult to see through the rhetoric and evaluate a candidate's position – especially on topics as complex as taxes.

That's why we created Action Tools for evaluating candidates on taxes. They contain short descriptions and definitions of key progressive principles and sample questions that you can ask as you research candidates' proposals and positions.

-More on How to Use the Tax Action Tools

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