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Democratic lawmakers may have finally heard our voices. For the first time in a long time, party leaders in the House of Representatives have put forth a progressive tax plan that would tax Wall Street to give Main Street a little relief. Last week, Representative Chris Van Hollen announced the Democratic plan to create “the kind of economy where the pie is growing and everyone is getting a better slice.” That new plan would levy a transaction tax on Wall Street to expand or create new tax breaks for apprenticeship programs, child care, people who save for retirement, middle class working families, and even companies that give workers a raise. Although these ideas aren't likely to come to fruition while Republicans are in charge, many people are happy to see Democrats once again demonstrating how they're different from those on the Right. During the last election cycles, party leaders seemed to miss the message when it came to what voters wanted. Instead of calling for bold, progressive solutions, many Democratic candidates moved toward the so-called middle, and lost touch with the social and economic ideas that separated them from the Republicans. Unsurprisingly, that didn't pan out well for Democrats. This bold new tax plan can put the Left back on course towards a future of shared prosperity. We used to be the party of strong unions, the party of making the rich pay their fair share, and the party that fought for the middle class. Somehow, our lawmakers forgot those points, but losing big in the last elections may have finally woken them up. This tax plan may not become reality under this Congress, but hopefully it's the first of many steps that Democrats take on the path towards progress.

We all knew that the last election would break records on campaign spending, but where that money came from is still a giant surprise. According to a new analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, the 2014 election saw massive increases in outside spending and so-called “dark money.” As the Center for Responsive Politics explains, dark money is a term applied to nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their list of donors. So, although we may know which 501(c) groups got involved in the last election, we don't always know who was bankrolling those organizations. Brennan Center's analysis found that outside spending and dark money have both more than doubled since the 2010 election, and led to outside sources having a bigger impact on close Senate races than actual voters or donors. We aren't just fighting to get money out of our political system, we're fighting for the ability to know who it is buying off our politicians. That's one more important reason why we need to get money out. Go to MoveToAmernd.org to find out how.

President Obama is speaking up for municipal broadband. Last week, the president announced a new effort to support communities that want to set up their own internet infrastructure and eliminate barriers to publicly-owned broadband. In his announcement, President Obama talked about community broadcast success stories like Cedar Falls, Iowa, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. He explained that these cities “have internet speeds nearly 100 times faster than the national average and [they] deliver it at an affordable price.” Despite this clear evidence to support publicly-owned internet providers, there are laws in 19 states that make it harder for communities to set up their own system. President Obama said, “In too many places across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors. Today I am saying we are going to change that. Enough is enough.” Expanding broadband in communities across our country would create jobs, keep internet prices low, and connect millions of people to the world wide web. So, why aren't we expanding public broadband nationwide?

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback wants school children to pay for his bad economic decisions. Back in 2012, Governor Brownback eliminated all state income taxes for business, and set his state up for massive budget shortfalls. Rather than reversing course on his tax cuts to cover this year's $200 million dollar budget gap, the Governor wants to cut education funding. In his recent State of the State Address, Governor Brownback quoted a three-judge court panel that recently reviewed education funding. He read from the ruling saying, “one cannot classify the school financing structure as reliably constitutionally sound.” However, he left out the judges' main point – that education funding is too low to abide by the Kansas State Constitution, which sets minimum levels. Brownback can use all the out-of-context quotes that he wants, but doing so won't fix his state's failing budget. The people of Kansas need to wake up, and demand that Governor Brownback reinstate taxes on business and that he keeps his hands off of education funding.

And finally... In 2014, Thomas Piketty's book “Capital in The Twenty-First Century” sparked a national discussion about income inequality in our nation. This year, that same book may be responsible for workers at one of our nation's largest insurance companies getting a hefty raise. Last week, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini announced that his lowest-paid employees were getting a big bump in pay. That company will increase their base wage to $16 dollars an hour, which means that about 5,700 workers will see their pay go up between 11 and 33 percent. After reading Piketty's book on inequality, Mr. Bertolini decided that his company should do more to close the income gap. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Bertolini said, “It's not just about paying people, it's about the whole social compact. Why can't private industry step forward and make the innovative decisions on how we do this?” In addition to fighting inequality and improving the lives of workers, these raises will have big benefits for Aetna as well. Bertolini predicts that better pay will reduce turnover and increase performance at the company, and create a “better and more informed workforce.” While it shouldn't be innovative to recognize the value of treating workers well, it's great to see private industry stepping up and working to create a future of shared prosperity.

And that's the way it is - for the week of January 19, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.

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The Post-Citizens United Era.

This month marks five years since the United States Supreme Court made their infamous ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling turned a century of legal precedent on its head with the declaration that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money in elections. And, that ruling opened the floodgates to massive spending levels in our political process.

From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann channels the best of the American Founders with voice and pen. His deep attachment to a democratic civil society is just the medicine America needs."
Tom Hayden, author of The Long Sixties and director, Peace and Justice Resource Center.
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"With the ever-growing influence of corporate CEOs and their right-wing allies in all aspects of American life, Hartmann’s work is more relevant than ever. Throughout his career, Hartmann has spoken compellingly about the value of people-centered democracy and the challenges that millions of ordinary Americans face today as a result of a dogma dedicated to putting profit above all else. This collection is a rousing call for Americans to work together and put people first again."
Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO
From The Thom Hartmann Reader:
"Thom Hartmann seeks out interesting subjects from such disparate outposts of curiosity that you have to wonder whether or not he uncovered them or they selected him."
Leonardo DiCaprio, actor, producer, and environmental activist