Heal America: Tax Wall Street!

The New York Times points out today that the three current and former Republican governors running for presidential nomination have focused on opposing Obama’s health care initiatives rather than on their records as state governors. While Romney and Huntsman both enacted health care reforms of different sorts, “Mr. Perry, by contrast, eschewed direct efforts to expand coverage in Texas and cemented its status as the state with the highest rate of people without insurance.”

As well as lacking healthcare, in Perry’s state people are starving on minimum-wage jobs, children are the most uneducated in the western world, and politicians are the most ignorant.  The Guardian reports from a 200-strong food bank line in Dove Springs, an Austin suburb: “This is the Texas where millions have no health insurance and a growing low-wage economy means having a job is not enough to provide the basics of life. This is the hungry Texas that the food bank serves. … ‘The vast bulk of people we serve are working people,’ said John Turner, director of marketing at the Capital Area Food Bank.”

“Texas – rich in so many things – is overflowing with poverty,” says The Guardian. “One in seven Texans are on food stamps. Latest census bureau figures show more than one in six Texans are living below the poverty line. The state also has the sixth-highest rate of child poverty in America, at almost one in four children. In healthcare the figures are also shocking. More than a quarter of Texans are uninsured, partly because so many of the state’s employers do not offer, or are not required to offer, coverage to their workers.”

Perry’s blueprint for America is to govern in favor of the super-rich at the expense of everyone else. In case they vote against this plan, a right-wing columnist recently advocated denying voting rights to the unemployed. Registering the poor to vote is “like handing out burglary tools to criminals,” writes Matthew Vadum in a column for the American Thinker. “It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country — which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote,” he continues. “Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn’t about helping the poor. It’s about helping the poor to help themselves to others’ money.”

According to the Washington Post, GOP lawmakers are seeking to overturn federal rules spanning health care, workplace safety and the environment. They want to make the U.S. more like Texas, whose lack of environmental regulation is extremely attractive to companies looking to slash their bottom line.  Or to dump toxic chemicals into the air.

Faced with this, Obama last week made a tactical decision to suspend the EPA’s enforcement of its rules on ozone smog. But this is yet another concession to the extreme right that will embolden the Republicans and alienate his own supporters. The Post reports: “Most notable in the smog decision was that Obama made it himself — undercutting his own Environmental Protection Agency leadership and siding with industry officials who warned that stricter ozone standards risked further damage to a fragile economy.” The idea that enforcing ozone standards will kill jobs is absurd, because the industries that will benefit from this decision are extremely capital-intensive and investment will create few jobs.

It is difficult to see how Obama’s anticipated speech on employment strategy to be given Thursday can offer more than platitudes, since the government is now strait-jacketed into fiscal rules which prevent it from job creation, and cash-strapped states are laying off workers.

Unreported except in the alternative media are encouraging signs of a fight back. The National Nurses Union organized a highly successfully national lobby of legislators last Thursday calling for a tax on Wall Street trades. Thousands of nurses and other supporters gathered in 61 Congressional offices in 21 states for a wide variety of imaginative actions, from rallies to food drives to blues concerts. An open-air soup kitchen in San Francisco, a “town crier” in period costume in Boston, and a larger-than-life Michele Bachmann puppet in Minnesota were among the colorful and lively protests.

The NNU proposes a “Main Street Contract for the American People” that would initially raise $350 billion dollars by assessing “a tiny tax on Wall Street trading of 0.5 per cent on transactions like stocks, bonds, foreign currency bets and derivatives.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett in Austin, Texas

Rep. Lloyd Doggett in Austin, Texas, signs the pledge to support a tax on Wall Street

Of course, Republicans were not available to see them, but several Democratic Congress members agreed to sign a pledge to support the transaction tax, including Joe Baca and Bob Filner in California, Keith Ellison in Minnesota, and Al Green, Lloyd Doggett, and Sheila Jackson Lee in Texas. Inside Colorado Senator Mark Udall’s office, nurses and their supporters demanded to know“Which side are you on?” This is a significant development, because people are beginning to call Democratic legislators to account.

Nurses are on the front line of the connection between social welfare and health problems. Lauren Kelly of AlterNet reports: “Every day they see stressed and malnourished children, unemployed Americans whose COBRA has run out, and cancer survivors who can no longer afford their medications. … More than 500 supporters turned up for the action in Chicago. NNU co-president Deborah Burger, who was there, told me that several nurses from Illinois’ Cook County Hospital shared stories with the audience, one of them recounting that she had seen children discharged from the burn unit only to return to the hospital when their skin grafts didn’t take due to poor nutrition.”

In San Francisco, California Nurses Association board member Diane Koorsones told union supporter Carl Finamore: “Our union leadership works in the hospitals and what we see every day in the faces of those without insurance or without adequate insurance other people, other progressive organizations maybe don’t see. Maybe they are too far removed from the misery we see and then they miss the big picture, miss the big solutions that need to be adopted.” That’s why broad coalitions encompassing unions, homeless advocates, and community organizations need to be built.

This is the kind of coalition that has been built in Wisconsin. Another example is the campaign led by the “No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude”  organization to mitigate the effects of foreclosures in Springfield, Mass. The city council passed an ordinance that would enact a city-run mandatory mediation program and increase requirements for foreclosing institutions, including charging foreclosing institutions a $10,000 cash-bond to assist the city in paying to secure and maintain vacant properties after foreclosure. The movement is fighting to make banks stop no-fault evictions, accept rent and give loan modifications that include a principal reduction

This is an important step because it challenges the power of banks to enforce homelessness on those who are unable to pay their mortgages. Finance is a class war issue: the banks were able to blackmail taxpayers into covering their own bad debts, but now they want to be sure that citizens don’t have the same opportunity.

The super-rich has written off the casualties of their economic austerity campaign and would like to disenfranchise them, slash their benefits and herd survivors into prisons. However, there are clear indications of an independent mass movement developing which will overturn the calculations of the financial and political elite.


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Filed under austerity measures, financiers, health care, marxism, Obama, political analysis, rick perry, state unions, strikes, Uncategorized

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