Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

by J. Thomas

In December, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) shockingly announced a delay in implementation of one of his most public, long-term political promises: guaranteeing health insurance for all Vermonters under a universal, publicly funded system. Governor Shumlin ran on this platform for many years, including during his reelection in November so it was extremely disappointing to see this policy turnaround.

Four years ago, the legislature passed a historic bill calling on the governor to develop a financing mechanism for universal health care for Vermont.

The governor’s preliminary plan contained an 11.5 percent across-the-board payroll tax in addition to a graduated 9.5 percent income tax, with the highest rates beginning at 400 percent of the poverty line and capped at $27,500 per year. Another 4 percent payroll tax and a 50 percent graduated income tax increase would be required for transition costs over the first few years of the program, for a total of $2.6 billion in new revenue.

Effectively, Vermonters’ taxes would have been doubled. Furthermore, funding for the system would have to be front-loaded and offsets would be delayed because it takes years to see the cost benefits of better health.

Vermont is a part of a national movement to establish commonsense health care. America spends more money on health care as a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) than any other country in the world – rich or poor. A Harvard study estimated that 45,000 Americans die every year because they don’t have health insurance. A publicly-funded universal health care system in Vermont is estimated to save 25 percent of total health care costs over the course of the first decade. The financial estimates for the first five years are detailed in an article from the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Public Citizen is standing in solidarity with our European allies who are leading the charge for a strong financial transaction tax (FTT or Wall Street tax) to come out of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin). Though France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Estonia, Austria, Portugal, Greece and Slovakia agreed in May 2014 to collaboratively tax financial transactions of shares and “certain” derivative contracts, with the tax taking effect no later than January 2016, the final details of the proposal are still in negotiation. When these European countries have a strong FTT in place it will pave the way for U.S. lawmakers to pass a Wall Street tax here in America too.

Because of the importance of this international agreement, Public Citizen and our allies are joining in a worldwide action to urge European financial leaders to agree to a strong FTT proposal. In advance of the final European finance ministers’ meeting of 2014 on Tuesday, December 9, we ask that you join this movement and show your solidarity too!

There are a few ways you can get involved:

  • Print out this placard and fill in the reasons why you support a European financial transactions tax. Then snap a photo of yourself holding the sign and Tweet it out to your followers using the hash tag #FTT. (See my photo and photo of U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to see how it’s done.) Your photo may be added to the international collage that’s being created for presentation to the European finance ministers.
  • Short on time? To make it easier, we’ve created some shareable social media images that you can find on Public Citizen’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
  • Support the U.S. proposal to tax Wall Street trades by taking Public Citizen’s online action.

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A new report from Demos details the dominance of individual big-money donors in the 2014 congressional elections. (Total 2014 election spending is estimated to have exceeded $3.67 billion.)

The report’s revelations are grim, but unsurprising. For instance:

Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more.

The authors note that this statistic does not include the estimated $1 billion in spending by dark money groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which exploit their dubious status as “social welfare” nonprofits to hide the identities of their funders.

A look at how these numbers play out in individual races is useful for illustrating just how much some candidates depend on funds from the wealthy. The report notes that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the onetime candidate for vice president and future chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, reported receiving more than $5 million from large donors – and nothing (actually, negative $360) from small donors. (How’s that for “makers” versus “takers”?)

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Now that the election and its tidal wave of dark money spending has passed, hopefully Congress will get to the process of governing. Granted, forging bipartisan alliances will be even more important as we usher in a new Congress, but holding Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis and reining in high speed trading is something leaders on both sides of the aisle should be able to get behind.

That’s why this fall Public Citizen and a diverse coalition of consumer, labor and economic policy groups hosted a congressional briefing outlining the benefits of a Wall Street Tax (sometimes called a Financial Transaction Tax or Robin Hood Tax) and explaining the great progress that’s taking place in Europe on this issue. But we’ve yet to gain even one Republican co-sponsor to this commonsense policy.

People — individual voices of constituents — are one of the best ways to get the attention of reluctant congressmembers. That’s where you come in. Public Citizen supporters like you have achieved some huge victories and reach very important milestones and we are calling on you to help us win another fight against Wall Street.

If you haven’t already done so, please send an email to your lawmaker in support of the tiny Wall Street Tax (three cents for every $100 traded) that would raise over $352 billion in less than a decade. Then take the next steps to help us win a Wall Street Tax: Watch and share the video below and share the image of Public Citizen President Robert Weissman calling for a Wall Street Tax.

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Today is Veterans Day.

Politicians are making speeches honoring the sacrifices made by servicemen and servicewomen. But being ripped off by predatory lenders — many of whom prey specifically on residents of military bases — should NOT be among our veterans’ sacrifices.

The Department of Defense has the authority to rein in the unpatriotic predators who gouge service members. Please join Public Citizen in urging the DoD to support the troops by cracking down on corporate predators.

Service members are targeted by “payday” lenders because military rules require them to maintain good finances, but the realities of service — such as sudden relocations to different parts of the country — often result in unanticipated expenses.

Meanwhile, forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of the terms for these high-interest (as in 500 percent) loans mean that our troops are denied their right to a day in court.

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