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Robin Hood Returns to Europe - France Takes Up the Tax

Support for a Financial Transaction Tax is growingThe global movement to implement a small tax on some financial industry trades has gained its first European partner: France. Religious and economic reform groups have been leading the movement to implement versions of what has been called the "Robin Hood Tax" or the "Tobin Tax" since the 1990s. As global markets falter and national economies are brought to their knees by an unregulated financial industry, this financial transaction tax is one small way to impact global reform. 

With the passage of the new French budget, France becomes the first European country to impose a transaction tax on share purchases, including high-frequency trading and credit default swaps. The transaction tax, aimed at curbing market speculation, will be paid on the purchase of French stocks with market values of more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).The bill’s passage into law marks “the first step toward fiscal reform and a move toward justice,” Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said in a statement.
 
Here's an excerpt:

>>On 1 August, France became the first European country to introduce a new financial-transaction tax (FTT) on equity sales and high-frequency trading.

The FTT, often called a ‘Robin Hood tax', is a tax on selected products traded by the financial sector, such as equities, bonds, foreign exchange and their derivatives. Where those countries where such a tax has been introduced (in South Korea, South Africa, India, Hong Kong, the UK and Brazil), the tax may have been tiny (ranging between 0.005% and 0.5%), but it has raised substantial amounts of revenue. The FTT discourages high-risk financial operations and makes the financial sector pay its fair share of taxes. This is sensible: a reckless casino culture in parts of the financial sector caused the financial crisis. It is also fair: our governments bailed out the banks but left taxpayers with debts of trillions.<<

Read more here.

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No 'Quick Fixes' For The Economy

Author and academic Jeffrey Sachs argues in a Huffington Post piece:

Investors are awaiting the miraculous delivery from crisis by the ECB and the Fed, but they are waiting in vain. The economic problems in the U.S. and Eurozone are mostly structural, not monetary. Unfortunately ideologues and politicians on both sides of the spectrum are interested in quick fixes rather than the real groundwork of economic progress.

Consider the new U.S. unemployment announcement. If you are a college graduate, there is no employment crisis. 72.7 percent of the college-educated population age-25 and over is working. The unemployment rate is 4.1 percent. Incomes are good.

If you have less than a high-school diploma, however, you are barely scrapping by. Only 40.4 percent of those without a high-school diploma have a job. Their unemployment rate is 12.7 percent. Incomes are too low to make ends meet.

There are two Americas: the college-educated crowd that may have taken a hit in their retirement accounts, but who are generally doing well. Then there are the rest, around 60 percent of the population, who are increasingly dropping out of the middle class. Nearly one-half of American households are now classified as low-income, within twice the poverty line.

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Lawmakers Highlight Tragedy of Food Assistance Cuts

In an op-ed for Politico, two Representatives highlight the recent cuts to food assistance programs, and the damaging effects they will have on the state of the nation: 

The House gutted $16.5 billion from food stamps — our nation’s most important anti-hunger program, which gives low-income families modest aid during tough times. These cuts mean up to three million low-income Americans – largely families with children – can’t buy food.

These cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also eliminate free school meals for 280,000 children. School breakfast or lunch is too often the only complete meal a child can eat all day. We expect our students to compete in a global economy. We expect them to come to school ready to learn — but we conveniently ignore the facts.

Poor nutrition negatively affects students’ academic achievement. Children who are hungry often miss more days at school and, when they do attend, they may have more trouble concentrating. They often have lower test scores.

Right now, 46 million Americans live in poverty, and more than 32 million adults and 16 million children live in food-insecure households. These families struggle every day to make ends meet — particularly as food prices continue to rise. As more and more families are getting by on less and less, food stamps help make groceries more affordable, so parents have more money to pay the rent, gas up their car and meet their children’s other basic needs. Food stamps kept 4 million Americans over the poverty line in 2010, including 2 million children, and lifted another 1.3 million kids above 50 percent of the poverty line. More than any other benefit program.

Read the full article here

 

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America Wants Great Equality

Duke professor Dan Ariely writes for The Atlantic

The inequality of wealth and income in the U.S. has become an increasingly prevalent issue in recent years. One reason for this is that the visibility of this inequality has been increasing gradually for a long time--as society has become less segregated, people can now see more clearly how much other people make and consume. Owing to urban life and the media, our proximity to one another has decreased, making the disparity all too obvious. In addition to this general trend, the financial crisis, with all of its fall out, shined a spotlight on the salaries of bankers and financial workers relative to that of most Americans. And on top of these, and most recently, the upcoming presidential election has raised questions of social justice and income disparities, bringing the issues into focus even more.

Check out the piece for more insight 

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Forbes Columnist Responds to Edelman Poverty Piece

Writing in response to Peter Edelman's article on ending poverty in America, Tim Worstall counters:

The reason we can’t end poverty in America is not because the country isn’t rich enough to do that: it is rather because of the ignorance of those who would end poverty in America. Peter Edelman has an Op/Ed in the New York Times which shows this to horrific effect. And what’s really worrying is that Edelman is supposedly one of the experts on how we ought to reduce poverty.

One point that has to be made about poverty right at the start: to all intents and purposes America, like all other industrialised nations, has abolished poverty. What we have traditionally called poverty that is. Proper destitution, people dying of starvation in the streets from the lack of the wherewithal to purchase food. Absent drug or mental problems this simply does not happen any more. The reason being that we’ve all had those industrial revolutions and the societies are rich enough that we make sure such doesn’t happen. Sure, different places have different ways of doing it, some more governmental and tax based than others, but that basic job of feeding the starving, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless does get done.

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New York Times Columnist Asks: How Do We End Poverty?

Peter Edelman writes for The New York Times:

We have the ingredients. For one thing, the demographics of the electorate are changing. The consequences of that are hardly automatic, but they create an opportunity. The new generation of young people — unusually distrustful of encrusted power in all institutions and, as a consequence, tending toward libertarianism — is ripe for a new politics of honesty. Lower-income people will participate if there are candidates who speak to their situations. The change has to come from the bottom up and from synergistic leadership that draws it out. When people decide they have had enough and there are candidates who stand for what they want, they will vote accordingly.
 
I have seen days of promise and days of darkness, and I’ve seen them more than once. All history is like that. The people have the power if they will use it, but they have to see that it is in their interest to do so.
 
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Is the End of Poverty in Sight?

The Associated Press reports on new analysis on global poverty:

Poverty across the planet will be virtually eliminated by 2030, with a rising middle class of some two billion people pushing for more rights and demanding more resources, the chief of the top U.S. intelligence analysis shop said Saturday.

If current trends continue, the 1 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day now will drop to half that number in roughly two decades, Christoper Kojm said.

"We see the rise of the global middle class going from one to two billion," Kojm said, in a preview of the National Intelligence Council's global forecast offered at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

"Even if some of the most dire predictions of economic upheaval" in the coming years prove accurate, the intelligence council still sees "several hundred million people...entering the middle class," Kojm said.

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Candidates Silent on Poverty

Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes for The Huffington Post:

The devastating impact of poverty on American economic life is well known. It wastes the talents, energy, and productive potential of many in the work force. In some communities, it increases crime which overburdens the police, the courts, and prisons, and makes doing business in these areas more costly. It strains the health care, and the welfare system. This results in a bigger tax drain on the middle-class. It sharply reduces the ability of thousands of consumers to purchase goods and services. This further crimps business growth and reduces government tax revenues.
 
Yet, there is not a faint mention of the word poverty on the presidential campaign trail. There's a reason, in fact several reasons, for this. One is trying to define who is poor. Apart from the visibly homeless, and those rummaging around on skid row, and in some of the poorest and most recognizable urban inner city communities, one can easily be considered working, or even middle class, one day and the loss of a job, and tangible income, can quickly dump that person into the poverty ranks. This makes the poor even more diffuse, and hard to typecast. They cut across all ethnic, gender, and religious and even political party affiliation lines. There are low income persons in the South, Middle America, and the rural areas, that are conservative, and vote GOP.
 
The other reason is that the poor do not have an advocacy group to go to bat for them with lawmakers such as labor, civil rights, education, environmental, or abortion rights supporters have. This further increases their political invisibility. The only time the poor had loud champions was a brief moment during the 1960s when a small band of anti-poverty groups and organizers got the attention of the Johnson Administration. They shouted, cajoled, and actively lobbied LBJ for a major expansion of anti-poverty programs, funding, and initiatives to reduce poverty in the nation. But the anti-poverty crusade quickly fell victim to Johnson's Vietnam War build up, and the increased shrill attacks from conservatives that the war on poverty was a scam to reward deadbeats and loafers, and sharp budget cutbacks.
 
Read the full piece here
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Kids Hit Hard By Economic Crisis

USA Today reports on a new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, called Kids Count:

The well-being of American children looks to be a mixed bag, with gains in academic achievement and health offset by growing economic distress, a new study finds.

The percentage of children living in poverty in the U.S. is on the rise, according to the new Kids Count report, which also finds more children living in single-parent homes and with parents struggling to afford housing.
 
The data, which track change in 16 indicators of well-being from 2005 to 2010, also show more children had parents lacking steady employment. The decline in children's economic situations is ominous because living in extended periods of deep poverty threatens children's development, says Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which released the Kids Count report.
 
Read more about the study here
 
 

 

 
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Working in Poverty

Employee rights activists Mary Kay Henry and Christine L. Owens write for CNN:

Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage. For the last three years, while the prices of gas and milk have risen steadily and the richest 1% have enjoyed huge tax breaks, the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $7.25 an hour, which amounts to just $15,080 a year -- as long as you get paid for any time you take off. That's more than $7,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of four. As a result, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has slowly eroded -- in just three years, its real value has sunk to $6.77 per hour, a nearly 50-cent drop.
 
The Bush tax cuts, which are simply the perquisite of the moment for the 1%, allow for the richest to prosper at the expense of middle-class and low-income workers. While CEOs make millions and their corporations make billions as part of a so-called economic recovery, the majority of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. This struggle is exacerbated by the low federal minimum wage. As middle-class jobs are increasingly replaced by low-wage work, however, this is the economic reality for a growing number of Americans.
 
Read more of their op-ed here
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In Congress, a Bipartisan Effort to Hold Wall Street Accountable

Reuters reports:

"Senators are planning to introduce a bipartisan bill on Monday to give the country's securities regulator the authority to seek tougher fines for alleged Wall Street criminals.

The bill, sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, would boost the penalties that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission can seek from firms and individuals accused of wrongdoing and triple the cap on funds the agency can seek from repeat offenders.
 
'If a fine is just decimal dust for a Wall Street firm, that's not a deterrent,' Grassley said in a statement. 'A penalty should mean something.'"
 
The bill comes only months after SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro asked Congress to boost the agency's firepower, after a federal judge in New York tossed out two SEC settlements over paltry penalties.
Learn more here
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Conservative Congressman defends Muslim-Americans, religious pluralism

Scott Keys reports for ThinkProgress

 

"One of the most conservative congressmen in the country stepped up to defend Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and the rights of all Muslim-Americans yesterday against Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) spurious accusations that she is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, calling them 'the wrong thing to do.'”

During a town hall held by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) on Sunday, a constituent lauded Bachmann’s anti-Muslim witchhunt about a supposed Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government and called on her congressman to support her efforts. Sensenbrenner instead used the opportunity not only to defend Abedin, but to advocate for the larger notion of religious pluralism in America and a separation between church and state."

Read more about Rep. Sensenbrenner's response here

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Social Justice Protester Dies Following Self-Immolation

On Friday, The New York Times reported:

:Moshe Silman, the desperately indebted Haifa man who set himself aflame last weekend as part of a social justice protest in Tel Aviv, died Friday from the second- and third-degree burns over 94 percent of his body.

In the year since 400,000 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard last summer, setting off a national protest movement, Mr. Silman, 57, had become a fixture of demonstrations in Haifa. His self-immolation stunned but also galvanized the protest movement, which had been struggling to find its footing."

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Free range farm workers?

Many of us take great care of where our food comes from, whether it is organic and has been treated humanely. But do we take the same care over the workers who grow and pick that food? Apparently not, according to Salon:

The food industry employs one in five private sector workers. Yet only an estimated 13 percent of those workers make a living wage. Thanks to lobbying by the National Restaurant Association (once led by Herman Cain), the national minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour. Many warehouse and farm workers are paid by the piece, which can amount to even less. And so, in a situation riddled with irony, food-system workers rely on food stamps at double the rate of rest of the U.S. workforce.

In the food industry, as in America overall, the concerns of low-wage workers tend to get swept under the table. A generation of hipsters has built its identity around sustainable food. Maybe it’s time to start a new trend. The next time you order that hormone-free hamburger on a stone-ground bun with organic ketchup, ask for a side of worker justice.
 
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So just who is middle class?

The Associated Press reports on Presidential candidates attempts to sway the middle classes, and the lack of clarity about just who the middle class actually are:

In a recent speech, President Barack Obama referred to the "middle class" 14 times, defining it as a family that makes up to $250,000 a year. Republican challenger Mitt Romney has looked at it from the other direction, saying that someone who falls into poverty "is still middle class."

In the fuzzy labels and loose speech of this political season, "middle class" has ballooned to cover just about everyone. So what does the term really mean?

There's no official definition.

If anything, a slew of economic data suggests a middle class that's actually shrinking. Mid-wage manufacturing and other jobs are disappearing due to automation and outsourcing, while lower-income positions and poverty spike higher. The White House's chief economist, Alan Krueger, said in January that the middle class fell from 50 percent of U.S. households in 1970 to 42 percent in 2010, as more families moved to the extreme ends of income distribution.

But it's not just about economic ranges. And politicians are not bound by such gauges anyway.

Learn more here

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