United for a Fair Economy's E-Newsletter (April 2007)

United for a Fair Economy's E-Newsletter
April 2007

National Awakening about Poverty

Praxis - How Education Can Move People to Action

Ouch! Who's really Hurting?

Holding Corporations to Account

Estate Tax Battle Heats Up Again

Taking Pride in Taxes

MyTaxCut Calculator and Tax Fairness Pledge

Our hearts and support go out to the students and faculty at Virginia Tech who were killed and injured in the tragic events of last Monday, and to the families and friends who lost loved ones.     Our thoughts are with you all.                      

                      -the staff at United for a Fair Economy

National Awakening about Poverty

Poverty never left us - but it left the national agenda for 25 years.     In the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson waged a "War on Poverty," and poverty was indeed reduced by nearly 50% in a little more than a decade.    

But before the job of ending poverty in the US was completed, Ronald Reagan threw in the towel, declaring that "we fought a war on poverty and poverty won." Today, new forces are rising once again to challenge the pessimistic view that the richest country in the world cannot eliminate poverty in its own midst.      

Recently, the US Conference of Mayors set up a Taskforce on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity chaired by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.   Their bipartisan action plan seeks "to integrate federal, state and local strategies, while leveraging maximum business, philanthropic, and individual participation."   It suggests concrete steps that can be taken to repair the economic ladder and rebuild our shrinking middle class.  

And on April 25, the Center for American Progress will release the report of its own Task Force on Poverty.     UFE's Executive Director, Meizhu Lui, and Board member Bárbara Robles both serve on the Task Force; its recommendations aim to once again cut poverty in half within a decade, and to eliminate poverty in a generation.     The report will be available after April 25th on both the CAP and UFE websites.

back to index

Praxis - How Education Can Move People to Action

Built into every UFE workshop is at least one learning activity that addresses the question, "Now what?" Answering this question means creating a dialogue about how participants can apply the concepts of economic inequality examined in the workshop to their own situations.

This approach follows one of the most basic principles of Popular Education articulated by Paulo Freire and other adult educators: the goal of education is transformation, both in the consciousness of the participants and to the oppressive circumstances of the participants.   But this process is not simply linear.   Instead, it is more like a circle or spiral of dialogue, reflection and action, often called praxis.

The key to praxis is the ongoing partnership among action, reflection, and dialogue.   For example, the Ten Chairs activity, used in several of UFE's workshops, describes the distribution of wealth (in 2004, 10% of the households in the U.S. owned 70% of the wealth).   Then a problem is posed to the participants: What are the consequences of this situation in your communities?   What do you think can be done about this?   What can you do?  

It is our hope - and the goal of our workshops - that participants who are not yet activists will see the world and themselves a bit differently, and be moved to act upon the world or at least continue to reflect upon the issues raised.   For those already doing economic justice work, we hope they will be equipped with additional information, engage in further reflection, and have their action newly informed.

"Hope is something shared between teachers and students.   The hope that we can learn together, teach together, be curiously impatient together, produce something together, and resist together the obstacles that prevent the flowering of our joy."

-Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom (1969)

For more information on UFE's workshops, which can be downloaded free, visit our website and learn more about Paulo Freire here.

back to index

Ouch! Who's Really Hurting?

It was big news when the stock market took a nosedive due to the problems of sub-prime lenders.   These companies, such as New Century Financial, were on the verge of bankruptcy because so many of their mortgage loans were not being paid.     Foreclosures are at "epidemic" levels, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC).     The delinquency rate for sub-prime loans, which have interest rates at least three points higher than conventional mortgages, is above 13%, and one million foreclosures are projected for next year.   Investors in the sub-prime loan industry were bound to take a hit.

When investors are hurt and the stock market drops, the nation says "ouch." But what about the people who are losing their homes?   Many sub-prime lenders are predators who target minority families, preying on their dream of homeownership and sweet-talking them into mortgages that they cannot afford.   This enormous loss of housing assets will increase the already unacceptable racial wealth gap.     It's sadly ironic that it's not news when low- and middle-income people lose all their savings and the roofs over their heads due to the greedy over-reach of this cruel industry, but it becomes big news when investors feel a little pain.    

To stop the epidemic, the NCRC, UFE's partner in building a Community Reinvestment Coalition in New Orleans, is at the forefront of the fight for a strong national anti-predatory lending bill.    

And speaking of New Orleans, the new Louisiana Community Reinvestment Act Coalition, directed by UFE's long time partner, Emma Dixon, is releasing a new report on the lending practices of New Orleans banks.     It brings to light some of the widest racial disparities in lending in the country.     The report will be available this week on UFE's website.

For more information, visit the NCRC.

Check out a related Boston Globe editorial about Responsible Wealth member Jim Campen's research on sub-prime lending.    


back to index

Holding Corporations to Account

Predatory Lending - Wells Fargo & Company

As highlighted in the documentary Maxed Out, Wells Fargo & Company is one of the leading providers of sub-prime mortgage loans. According to the Federal Reserve, wide racial disparities exist in the interest rates charged to minority borrowers.   For example, in 2005, these high-cost loans were the only options available to 55% of African-American borrowers and 46 % of Hispanic applicants.   In contrast, 17% of white borrowers had to take sub-prime loans.     For background on Wells Fargo's lending practices, see http://www.responsiblelending.org/pdfs/ip004-Wells_Fargo-0404.pdf.

Wells Fargo has been the subject of numerous legal actions for predatory lending offenses in the company's application process and fee structure.   Responsible Wealth's shareholder resolution asks the Wells Fargo Board of Directors to undertake a special review to explain the racial and ethnic disparities found in the cost of loans provided by the company.     The resolution will be presented at Wells Fargo's annual meeting April 24, 2007 in San Francisco.     If you would like to support this effort by handing out flyers outside the meeting or attending the meeting, please contact Larry Brown.

Global Remittances - Western Union

When immigrants send money to their families and their communities back home, those payments are called remittances.   It turns out to be a massive amount of financial assistance.   According to the World Bank, in 2005, worldwide remittances exceeded $230 billion, which is more than all foreign aid worldwide.     But one of the major providers of money transfer services, Western Union, has faced numerous lawsuits based on predatory fees and unfair exchange rates.     Responsible Wealth has teamed up with the Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action (TIGRA) to press Western Union on the effects of their remittance practices.     Responsible Wealth's shareholder resolution seeks disclosure of Western Union's fees, exchange rates and pricing structures, urging Western Union to evaluate the company's community reinvestment and corporate giving practices relative to its competitors.

Although the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) allowed Western Union to exclude our resolution from its proxy statement this year, we will be working with TIGRA to help them communicate our joint concerns to the company and to the media at the Western Union annual meeting in New York City, on May 10, 2007.     If you would like to support this effort, please contact Larry Brown.

If you own Western Union stock (formerly First Data; stock split recently), please contact Mike Lapham.

back to index

Estate Tax Battle Heats Up Again

Thanks to all of you who made calls about the budget asking Congress not to extend the Bush tax cuts! President Bush's budget proposed extending all of the tax cuts he made since 2001, including permanent repeal of the estate tax-without paying for any tax cuts! The good news is that the House and Senate each passed budgets that say extending any tax cuts must be paid for.  

But the Senate also said that if a budget surplus develops later, they want to spend billions of it on setting the 2010-2012 estate tax exemption at $3.5 million per spouse - not exactly a middle class tax cut.

In March, the Senate voted five times on budget proposals to repeal or reduce the estate tax - and ten senators changed their positions away from repealing the estate tax.     That's in addition to five pro-estate tax senators elected in 2006 who replaced anti-estate tax senators.    Check out our new estate tax backgrounder to learn more about how these votes put Congress at odds with the president.  

The budget is a guiding document and does not make final tax law changes.   For that we'll have to see what Congress does later this year - we'll keep you posted.

Estate tax supporters got an important new ally when Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testified before Congress that he supports keeping the estate tax - the first time he has taken such a public position.   For more on Gates' supportive statement, see the Wall Street Journal  and US News and World Report.

back to index

Taking Pride in Taxes

By Karen Kraut

As Americans pay their taxes this month, we ought to declare a "Tax Pride Day."  

In the face of all the greed going on all around us in our consumerist society, let's celebrate those who want a good government that provides all citizens with opportunity and essential services.   Our taxes pay for such a government.   Why not celebrate the shared investment we all make?

This would be a strong counterbalance to the people who celebrate what they call Tax Freedom Day -- the day that "average" taxpayers have finished paying taxes and can now "keep" the rest of the money they make.   Their point is that taxes and the government are the bad guys, something to be "free" from.

In fact, the name, Tax Freedom Day, is designed to mislead taxpayers into thinking of taxes as akin to slavery, incarceration and oppression.

Most people in this country are not so well off and so greedy as to want government to do less of the things we all value, such as providing good schools for our kids, security for our families and nation, a clean environment, public safety and public health  

We pay for these important things with our taxes and we should take pride in that.   Taxes are like a potluck dinner: everybody contributes a part of the meal and together a great feast is created for all to share.    

So this year, let's replace Tax Freedom Day with Tax Pride Day.     A day to remember the great country we've built together ­- paid for with our taxes.  

Read the full op-ed at TomPaine.commonsense.

Check out this audio link to hear UFE's Anisha Desai on the National Radio Project speaking about tax policy.

back to index

MyTaxCut Calculator and Tax Fairness Pledge

"What's my share of the recent tax cuts?"   You can answer that question in about 60 seconds using Responsible Wealth's secure and confidential online MyTaxCut Calculator.

Taxpayers in the richest 1% received over $51,700 in 2006 tax cuts, while the middle 20% of households got just $668.   Since 1998, many wealthy taxpayers have redirected their tax cuts to efforts promoting progressive taxes through the Tax Fairness Pledge.

back to index