Contract In Detail

I:  BASIC FAIRNESS ISSUES:

 

1)  Minimum wage of $15 per hour.  Job losses from raising the minimum wage would be more than offset by the economic boost caused by millions of Americans being lifted from poverty, and better able to buy goods and services. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/07/19/332879409/states-that-raised-minimum-wage-see-faster-job-growth-report-says, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2014/01/10-ripple-effect-of-increasing-the-minimum-wage-kearney-harris,

And no one working full time should be in poverty.

 

It is nice to get low prices at places like Walmart, but those low prices are subsidized by our tax dollars for food stamps and healthcare for Walmart employees.  In 2012 about a million Walmart employees made less than $25,000.  That same year the  company made  roughly  $17  billion in profits, and the CEO made over $23 million.

http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2013/11/12/wal-mart-pay-raise/

The world economy is largely powered by the American consumer.  That may not be the best or most sustainable economic system, but it is what we have.  Yet middle class jobs are going away, and as long as consumers are essential, we’d better make sure lots of people can consume.

 

2) Equal pay for equal work.  “Whether women earn 77 cents to the male dollar, as the Obama administration sticks to, or the figure is closer to Pew’s findings of 84 cents for most women and as high as 93 cents for younger women, it’s clear that the playing field is not equal. It’s also clear that disparities are indeed related to gender. Recent cases have shown that women who ask for pay increases often don’t get them. What they get instead: negative reactions. A 2007 study found that women who asked for raises were perceived as demanding. Men, meanwhile, faced no backlash. Women are also more likely to disrupt their careers to raise children or care for ill family members, and come back at a disadvantage.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peggy-drexler/equal-pay-for-equal-work_b_5151267.html

Several things could be done to help:  Both men and women should be able to take family leave without retribution.  All employees should be allowed to share salary information without punishment.   Employers should be forbidden to punish those who ask for a raise, and in particular from treating one group of employees differently from another. And employers should not be allowed to demand information regarding one’s salary at a previous job, nor have salary guidelines which limit what can be paid based on your previous salary.  That just perpetuates inequality.   More transparency of what others in an organization make has also been shown to be helpful toward reducing inequity.  (There was a Fair Paycheck Act in Congress,  blocked by Republicans):  https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/84.)

 

3) Easy refinance of student debt to 3% (or prime plus 2.5%), and offer new student loans at same rate.  We don’t want the rates to be so low that people  incur more debt by borrowing more money than necessary, or play games with borrowing and investing, etc.  But if educated workers and voters are crucial to our long term success, why lend money to Too Big to Fail Banks almost for free, and charge students usurious rates?

Our International Online University could be the best IOU ever.  Private online universities cost $20,000 per year or more.  Germany recently eliminated all tuition on higher education, while American students are drowning in $1.2 trillion of loan debt. Even if we can’t immediately match Germany, at least we could offer a free on-line alternative.  Free Community college should be next.

If you borrow a few hundred thousand dollars to buy a Ferrari, get drunk and crash it, go to jail, lose your job, and go bankrupt, your debt is forgiven.  If, however you borrow that money to go to a good university, take a low paying job which helps humanity, then need to pay the medical expenses of a loved one, so go bankrupt, you still owe the money.  How did we allow this?  Why don’t we change it?

Bernie Sanders’s platform calls for free university tuition at regular brick and mortar institutions as well.  That of course requires a large funding source.  Is free college tuition the best use of the tax on financial trading?  Let us know what you think.

 

4)  Equal Protection Under the Law:

This is a fundamental part of American government we learn in Civics class, but it is not reality. Poor people go to jail for small offenses, and Wall Street Bankers break the law, crash the economy causing hardship for millions, and don’t even have to give back their ill-gotten bonuses.

Police are “To Protect and Serve” all citizens, but that is not reality either. Leveling the Justice playing field with reform and demilitarization of police forces should be a very high priority. One excellent suggestion is that “ALL law enforcement (local, state and federal), be required to wear video recording cameras at all times while on duty. Any camera that is turned off or tampered with, carries a mandatory minimum 1 year prison sentence.  We need to end the racism and police misconduct brutality and corruption.  But we need to help the police do their job better, and be an effective and valued part of their communities.  So we will  need many other changes as well.  What laws do you think we need?

 

5) Veterans should be treated fairly.  Our promises should be kept.  We should help them rebuild their lives and ensure that no veteran is homeless, hungry, or forgotten.

6)  Comprehensive Immigration Reform:  For a nation of immigrants, we certainly are conflicted regarding those following in our (or our ancestors) footsteps. But it is an extremely complex issue.  There is no way we can accept all the billions of people who would like to live here.  We have to treat immigrants fairly, while reassuring voters we’ve included safeguards to protect their jobs, and tax dollars, and try to promote actions that make more people happy to stay where they were born.  http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/issues/DREAM-Act

7)  Net neutrality–critical for a well informed electorate, and to give ordinary people some means to possibly level the playing field against the rich and powerful.

8)  Combine the best ideas of the whole political spectrum to advance our societal well-being and cohesion.  Again, this contract is crowd-sourced.  The “wish list” we present Candidates is the one best supported by voters.  We see this contract as being in two parts, a populist part which conservative and libertarian voters might embrace, and some clearly progressive suggestions they might dislike very much.  We would have no problem with an affiliated or similar organization, overlapping with us on populist issues to bring even more voters against the influence of big money on elections and money, while having their own conservative wish list/contract as well.  Letting voters choose what they want from their elected officials is our goal.  Please share your thoughts and ideas.

 

II:  TAX REFORM:  

1) Eliminate the lower tax rates for capital gains income.  Income is income, and all should be taxed the same .  For years we’ve heard that the rich need special treatment of investment income so they will re-invest it and prosperity will “trickle down” to the rest of us.  But that was never true. Nearly all new wealth in recent years has gone to the wealthiest 1% or 0.1%, and wealth disparity has grown to the highest levels since the Robber Barons.

If you had the good fortune to have $1million in a US stock market index fund in 2013, you made about $250,000 without doing anything.  If you had $1billion in such a fund, you made $250 million.  Without doing anything.  One could argue that capital gains should be taxed at HIGHER levels than regular income, but probably treating all income the same is fairest, with higher tax rates for the wealthy, elimination of many loopholes, and/or stronger alternative minimum taxes. Certainly, taxing Capital gains at LOWER rates than income obtained by real work by real people is crazy, and the fact that has been the case since 1921 largely reflects how well the government does what  rich people want.

Even the famed tax cutter (and extremely wealthy) Andrew Mellon apparently concluded that ‘unearned income,’ that is, income from capital, should be more heavily taxed than ‘earned income, or labor income’.  (Capital Gains should be taxed higher than regular income.) “As he argued in his 1924 book, Taxation: The People’s Business[8] The fairness of taxing more lightly incomes from wages, salaries and professional services than the incomes from business or from investments is beyond question.”

2)  All Financial Trades Should Be Taxed 0.5%.

“It’s a simple tweak that would reign in an out-of-control financial sector, stimulate jobs, generate billions of revenue, and possibly prevent another heart-wrenching crisis. Nobel Prize-winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman want it. Billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates want it. Polls show the majority of Americans want it. Even the Pope wants it.

We’re talking about a financial transaction tax (FTT) — a tiny tax of, say, less than half a percent: maybe 3 cents per $100  — on Wall Street trading. It’s simple, more than fair, widely supported by the public, and long overdue.  Wall Street has been raking in billions of dollars in profits from financial transactions. And they pay not a penny in taxes on most of them.

Instead of talking about nickel-and-diming seniors by cutting their Social Security and Medicare, letting our infrastructure crumble, and forcing our children to go without proper education or medicine, we could be returning sanity and balance to our financial system. The FTT would put the breaks on the sort of reckless, breakneck-speed computer gambling that helped tank the American economy five years ago. It could raise hundreds of billions annually. Did you hear that, deficit hawks? We’d have enough to close the funding gaps in states that had their budgets destroyed by Wall Street’s risky behavior and predation. We’d even have enough to invest in new jobs. ” http://www.salon.com/2013/10/18/the_tax_that_could_save_america_from_wall_street_partner/

 

“This small tax of less than ½ of 1% on Wall Street transactions can generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year in the US alone.

Enough to protect American schools, housing, local governments and hospitals. Enough to pay for lifesaving AIDS medicines. Enough to support people and communities around the world – and deal with the climate challenges we’re facing.

It won’t affect ordinary Americans, their personal savings, or every day consumer activity, such as ATMs or debit cards. It’s easy to enforce and tough to evade.

This is a tax on Wall Street, which created the greatest economic crisis in our nation, and globally, since the Great Depression. The same people who have returned to record profits and bonuses while ordinary Americans, the 99%, continue to pay the price of their crisis.

So it’s time for justice for ordinary families and businesses. For American families faced with a choice between buying food or paying the heating bill.

The Robin Hood Tax is just. The banks can afford it. The systems are in place to collect it. It won’t affect ordinary members of the public, their bank accounts or their savings. It’s fair, it’s timely, and it’s possible.

It’s not a tax on the people, but a tax for the people.”

http://www.robinhoodtax.org/how-it-works

A financial transaction tax would also help eliminate the scam of being able to trade stocks a few milleseconds faster, which does nothing productive, but does suck billions of dollars out of the economy and into their companies and bank accounts. Now many of our best and brightest young people go into financial fields for great wealth with no benefit to society, rather than helping solve the many large problems we face. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-29/cable-across-atlantic-aims-to-save-traders-milliseconds.html

 

3) Eliminate corporate tax loopholes: http://www.njpp.org/releases/many-of-americas-most-profitable-corporations-pay-little-or-no-federal-income

 

“NEW REPORT: Many of America’s Most Profitable Corporations Pay Little or No Federal Income Taxes; Multinationals Pay Higher Rates Abroad Than in the U.S.

“Corporate lobbyists incessantly claim that our corporate tax rate is too high, and that it’s not ‘competitive’ with the rest of the world,” said Robert McIntyre, Director of Citizens for Tax Justice and the report’s lead author. “Our new report shows that both of these claims are false. Most of the biggest companies aren’t paying anywhere near 35 percent of their profits in taxes and far too many aren’t paying U.S. taxes at all. Most multinationals are paying lower tax rates here in the United States than they pay on their foreign operations.

111 of the companies enjoyed at least one year in which their federal income tax was zero or less.

26 companies, including Boeing, General Electric, Priceline.com and Verizon, enjoyed negative income tax rates over the entire five-year period, despite combined pre-tax profits of $170 billion.

Of the 125 multinational companies in this sample, two-thirds paid a lower U.S. tax rate than the rate they paid to foreign governments on their foreign profits. On average, their foreign effective tax rate was 12 percent larger than their U.S. effective rate.

 The total amount of federal income tax subsidies enjoyed by the 288 profitable corporations over the five years was $362 billion.”

Perhaps we should decrease Corporate tax rates, but make sure companies doing business here cannot avoid them.  We can and must do better than having many of our wealthiest and most successful companies pay little or no corporate taxes.

4) Reinstate inheritance taxes on Estates more than $5 million, and eliminate perpetual trusts to lessen the formation of a hereditary aristocracy. (Wealth and our Commonwealth, Gates) http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/publications/url.cfm?ID=1000792, http://www.amazon.com/Wealth-Our-Commonwealth-Accumulated-Fortunes/dp/0807047198

According to a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, only 1.6% of Americans receive $100,000 or more in inheritance. Another 1.1% receive $50,000 to $100,000. On the other hand, 91.9% receive nothing (Kotlikoff & Gokhale, 2000). Thus, the attempt by ultra-conservatives to eliminate inheritance taxes — which they always call “death taxes” for P.R. reasons — would take a huge bite out of government revenues (an estimated $253 billion between 2012 and 2022) for the benefit of the heirs of the mere 0.6% of Americans whose death would lead to the payment of any estate taxes whatsoever (Citizens for Tax Justice, 2010b).  http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

 

5) Bolster Social Security by having the wealthy pay the same percentage as their secretaries and servants. 

Social Security payroll tax contributions are only paid on wages up to $117,000 in 2014, , with employees  and employers contributing equally.  Less than 6 percent of the population has wages above the cap.  While the vast majority of Americans must make payroll tax contributions on all of their wages, millionaires and billionaires only do so on the first $117,000 of their earnings.  Scrapping the cap so that all earnings are subject to the payroll tax would come very close to closing Social Security’s entire projected 75 year funding gap.  Congress scrapped the cap on payroll tax contributions to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund in 1993.  It’s time for Congress to do the same for Social Security.  www.robinhoodtax.org/

 

III:  FAIRER ELECTIONS and LESS CORRUPTION in GOVERNMENT:

Not that long ago, when you paid a government official to get the laws you wanted, it was called Corruption, or Bribery.   Now we just call it Government. 

To avoid becoming a government of the money, by the money, and for the money, we need:

 

1) A Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United and Hobby Lobby.  Corporations are NOT people, and do not have a right to Freedom of Religion, or “free speech” in the form of buying elections and elected officials.  The Citizens United decision gutted campaign finance restrictions and we need a constitutional amendment to limit the power and influence of money in elections and government.  “Broad Bi-Partisan Consensus Supports Reforms to Supreme Court,” Democracy Corps, May 7, 2014   http://www.moveon.org/r/?r=300406&id=100190-8946818-7ylbUTx&t=4

But there are things we can do in the meantime, without involving “free speech”.

One thing is the “Shareholder United Act“, which would allow corporations to make political donations only with the approval of the majority of their shareholders.  (This would be a good start, but would not help with privately held companies like Koch Industries.)

Another promising trend would be encouraging “Benefit Corporations“, whose charters include promoting public benefits, not just maximizing shareholder profits.

Some other ideas below:

 

2) Transparency.  Make names of all major donors public   Perhaps if candidates accept more than $1000 from any one person, they  would need to list the donor and amount given.  (you can have all the “free speech” you want, but not anonymously).  Equally important is assurance that election results actually reflect what the voters intended.  Regardless of what voting machines or methods are used, there must be a way to audit results to insure accuracy.  We do NOT have that now.  Venezuela, of all places, reportedly has a far more technologically advanced, reliable system.

 

3) Anticorruption Measures:  Even the Supreme Court acknowledges that “corruption or the appearance of corruption” is not a good thing.  Yet we allow politicians to accept money, and then do what the donor asks.  More ethical and reasonable would be that a politicians can take all the money they want from any individual, but if it is more than, say $10,000, they must recuse themselves from any vote likely to benefit the donors more than the general public. 

There is also the American Anti-corruption Act,  which addresses many of the same concerns expressed here.  It is being encouraged by Represent.Us.  These laws would be useful at all levels of city, county, state, and federal government.

 

4)  Make lying to confuse or mislead voters illegal.  This may already be illegal.  If so, we should enforce those laws.  As in the measure above, there will of course be gray areas, reasonable disagreement, and need for litigation at times, but the potential for punishment for intentional misleading (as for passing laws for money) should have some salutary effect.

 

5) Prohibit unreasonable restrictions on voting, and registration. A new voters’ rights act to prohibit election laws designed to discourage certain groups from voting.  Voter ID would be allowed, but only if states ensured that seniors, minorities, etc. were able to easily obtain such ID.  Voting hours, wait lines, availability of bathrooms at voting places, etc could not be manipulated in a discriminatory manner, and there should be penalties for legislators and election officials who violate those rules.

One possible solution is voting by mail–cheaper, more convenient, and less easily manipulated than polling places.  Federal financial incentives might be needed to encourage all states to participate.  One potential problem is that since absentee ballots can be prepared out of public scrutiny, voter intimidation might be possible.

Gerrymandering of election districts is complex and controversial.  It would seem the districts should be drawn up by retired judges, the league of women voters, or some other non-partisan group, with the goals of having minority populations get representation roughly proportionate to their percentage of the population;  that “safe districts”, where one party is almost sure to win, be avoided where possible; and that as much as possible, who is elected is the result of the individual candidate, rather than their race, ethnicity, or party.

 

6) Stop the “revolving door” between those in government and industry,.  Government officials should be banned for at least 5 years from lobbying the government.  Now it is very lucrative for former government employees to then use their relationships to sell out the public interest for special interests.

 

7) Limit ability of corporations and industries to set the regulations on themselves.   (eg, how can an ex- top lobbyist for the big internet service providers be a good choice to head the FCC as they are determining the future of net neutrality?)

IV:  CELEBRATE AND BUILD ON OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

1)  Embrace, support and improve Obamacare.  While not perfect, particularly during its rollout, it has helped, and will help many people, and was a necessary and difficult step.  We should be proud of it, educate voters, and work to make it better.

Many of its  real faults were that it didn’t go far enough (single payer, for example) rather than it went too far.

Many of its perceived faults are the result of blatant misinformation.

Work to make Health Care more patient centered, efficient, and cost effective.

 

2) Embrace global climate change as a scientific fact, and an existential threat to us all.  Embrace and celebrate the new emissions standards for existing coal  power plants.  Strongly encourage efficiency and renewable energy use by corporations, utilities and the public.  Prohibit utility companies from trying to cripple renewable energy competition.

Develop specific and extensive programs to provide new jobs, especially in coal mining and midwest “rustbelt” areas, in manufacturing, installing, and providing wind and solar energy, energy grid upgrades to allow 100% sustainable energy, and energy storage to allow intermittent sustainable sources such as wind and solar to provide electricity 24/7.