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Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with "The End of Nature" in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. The group he founded, 350.org, has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. The Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was "probably the country’s most important environmentalist."
Alexis Tsipras, a member of the Hellenic parliament, president of the Synaspismos political party since 2008, head of the SYRIZA parliamentary group since 2009, and leader of the Opposition since June 2012. SYRIZA currently leads in Greek opinion polls. Listen to the audio here.
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"Rand Paul: Making a Point," by Reginald Johnson, March 8, 2013
"The Bipartisan Gift: Budget Cuts," by Reginald Johnson, March 2, 2013
"Fighting for Gun Control," by Reginald Johnson, Feb. 18, 2013
"Tyranny of the Minority," by Reginald Johnson, Jan. 28, 2013
"Is President Obama About to Betray Those Who Re-elected Him Less than 2 Months Ago?" by Scott Harris, Dec. 21, 2012
"Will the Slaughter of the Innocents in Newtown Lead to Gun Law Reform in U.S.?" by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo, Dec. 16, 2012
"My Friend in Sandy Hook," by Doug Moss, posted by Scott Harris, Dec. 16, 2012
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Posted April 18, 2012
Interview with Lee Farris, senior organizer on Estate and Federal Tax Policy with United for a Fair Economy, conducted by Scott Harris
On April 16, the day before tax returns were due for most Americans, the U.S. Senate took up debate on the so-called “Buffett Rule,” legislation named for billionaire Warren Buffett who declared that wealthy people like him should be paying a greater percentage of taxes on their income - than for example, his secretary. A bill championed by President Obama would have set a minimum 30-percent tax rate for anyone earning at least $1 million a year. But Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking debate on the bill, by a 51 to 45 vote, denying Democrats the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.
Congressional Republicans and the party’s presidential candidates have long argued that increasing taxes on the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations would hinder the creation of new jobs. The position, often referred to as the “trickle-down” philosophy, was adopted by President Ronald Reagan when he was elected in 1980. Over the past three decades, taxes on the wealthiest Americans have decreased to their lowest level since the Great Depression, at the same time income inequality has risen to the highest point since 1928.
After the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement last September, the issue of growing income inequality has become a focus of discussion across the U.S. – both at the dinner table and in political debate in this presidential election year. A recent CNN poll found that 72 percent of Americans surveyed support the Buffett Rule, including 53 percent of Republicans. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Lee Farris, senior organizer on Estate and Federal Tax Policy with United for a Fair Economy, a group that has long drawn attention to America’s rising disparity in wealth. Ferris discusses the Buffett Rule and the other reforms her group advocates to make the nation’s tax system fairer for working families.
LEE FARRIS: It's a 30-year trend of downward or lessening tax rates for wealthy people. That's why you get situations like what Warren Buffett was complaining where he was saying his tax rate is lower that his secretary's tax rate. And there are numbers of millionaires and billionaires that are in that situation. And one of the reasons that they are in that situation is that the tax code is shifted toward wealth. So that folks that already have money get lower rates than people who don't have money yet. It seems really crazy, but for example, investment income such as capitals gains when you sell stock, or dividends that get paid annually on stock, that gets taxed at a maximum of 15 percent a year, whereas income from work for people who earn several hundred thousand dollars – that gets taxed at 35 percent a year. And where's the sense in that? Because most of the people that have the capital gains and dividend income are the wealthiest one percent, people who are having more than a million dollars a year in income. So, that's one of the problems.
Another of the problems is that the Bush tax cuts cut tax rates for everybody but they cut them more for very wealthy people that are earning hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year, so under President Clinton, that highest rate for that regular kind of work income used to be 39.6 percent and now because of President Bush, it's 35 percent.
And then another tax that only affects the very wealthy that has been reduced a lot is the estate tax, and that's the tax that multi-millionaires' heirs pay when somebody passes on and their estate passes on. And that, under President Clinton, you could pass a million dollars tax free, which is quite a lot of money, but now because of George Bush and further cuts that the Republicans in Congress extracted from President Obama, now you can pass on the first $3.5 million tax free, and under this new arrangement that's temporary, $5 million per spouse, tax free, which means $10 million tax-free for a couple. Which is just a crazy amount of money for someone to be able to inherit tax free. You know, if you won that in a lottery, for sure you'd be paying quite a lot of taxes on it. But not under our current tax system. Those are just three examples of the way the tax system is rigged for the wealthiest and richest one percent. And that's why we need tax solutions for the 99 percent.
BETWEEN THE LINES: For decades, Republicans, conservatives, big corporations and the wealthy elite in the country have talked about the trickle-down philosophy that says raising taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations will reduce investment in new enterprises and limit or hurt the creation of new jobs. And of course, the idea that somehow higher taxes would hurt the creation of jobs is a sensitive issue in an economy that has been ripped apart by so much unemployment. But how do you respond to the idea that taxing wealthy individuals and corporations at a higher rate at this point will somehow hurt job creation?
LEE FARRIS: Well, basically, I think it's a lot of malarkey. The reason why businesses are not creating jobs is that they don't have customers with money to buy their goods. It's pretty straightforward. We at United for Fair Economy talks in part about this, it's a self-made myth about the myth about the self-made successful businessperson, and in that book, we show that in fact, any businessperson is going to be getting somewhere with the help of investments that everybody has made together through the government, whether it's the Internet, roads, bridges, whether it's an educated populace. And, the businesspeople that we profile in that book, say in so many words that their tax rate has never affected any investment decision that they've made. They're only looking at whether they're going to be able to make a profit and that the main thing that determines whether they can make a profit is whether they can get customers.
Now, with so many unemployed people, and people scared that they're going to lose their jobs, then people are less likely to buy things. Whether it's computer, or whether it's a service, people are still worried and they still don't have enough cash to buy things.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell our listeners a bit about your organization, United for a Fair Economy's Tax Solutions for the 99 Percent. It's a program that would rebalance our tax system to be fairer to working families and make sure that the wealthiest people in the country actually pay for some of the services that they use as individuals with lots of bucks.
LEE FARRIS: The specifics are to end the Bush tax cuts, altogether, to let them expire at the end of this year. To return to the level of the estate tax that we would've had under President Clinton, and to return to the level of the capital gains tax that we had under President Reagan. That would mean that capital gains and dividends are taxed at the same rate as income, as I was describing earlier in the show. So people can check out that on FairEconomy.org.
For more information on United for a Fair Economy, visit FairEconomy.org.