A New Declaration of Independence
The weight of the 1 Percent has become intolerable. How can we take our country back? Here’s a fresh draft
BY ALEX PAREENE
In Liberty Plaza in Lower Manhattan, in Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza, and at other parks and public squares across the nation (and the world), Occupiers are daily creating the more perfect democracy they’d like to see. As part of that process, groups and individuals and intellectuals and pundits have put forth proposed “demands,” to address the myriad problems laid out above. From Occupy Wall Street’s principles of solidarity to the General Assembly’s proposed New New Deal to Robert Reich’s list of essential progressive reforms to the Working Group of the 99 Percent’s Petition of Grievences, we’ve read the proposals and humbly offer our own, for ways to begin to make the richest nation on the planet fair for those of us who can’t afford a congressman.
Our list is meant to be the beginning of a conversation, not a final product.
1. Debt relief
Total household debt in America is $13.3 trillion — 114 percent of after-tax income. That millions of working Americans owe every penny they make to hugely profitable financial institutions is absurd and grotesque.
We demand immediate relief for the 99 Percent, particularly the poor and young students and college graduates. The Debt Jubilee is an ancient idea, and an attractive one in an era of growing economic feudalism, as the poor increasingly devote all their labor to repaying the rich. It is not in the national interest to force the impoverished to become wage slaves to pay off insurmountable debts owned to payday lenders and hugely profitable bankers.
Every other rich nation on earth heavily subsidizes higher education. We force mere kids to mortgage their futures, then ensure that the debt follows them the rest of their lives, regardless of their living circumstances. Student loan debt hurts not just the graduate but everyone else in society, too: The cost of healthcare would surely decrease, and the availability of primary care for disadvantaged populations increase, if new doctors were not regularly graduating school $200,000 in the red.
And real and widespread relief for homeowners in crisis is urgent. Even millions of homeowners who “did everything right” find themselves underwater, or illegally foreclosed upon by banks running roughshod over the rights of homeowners by robo-signing fraudulent foreclosure documents by the thousands. Banks servicing mortgages are (rightfully) more worried about getting sued by the owners of securities made up of Americans’ debt than they are about getting in any sort of trouble for bullying or illegally seizing the homes of regular people. Everyone should get a shot at a renegotiation of their mortgage, at fair rates, and with support from the government.
2. A substantial jobs program
Most American cities are filled with beautiful old buildings and monuments and parks dating back to the recovery programs of the New Deal, as well as increasingly decrepit bridges and roads and structures that have been neglected by the last couple of decades of shrinking infrastructure investment. A real, direct jobs program, done in the WPA style, would rebuild our cities and towns in addition to putting thousands of people back to work.
3. A healthcare public option
Medicare is probably the single most popular government program in the country, which is no surprise, because government-subsidized healthcare tends to be the most popular government program in every nation that has implemented it.
If a true single-payer system would be too disruptive, we can put the building blocks in place by giving people a public option. Expanding the pool of Medicare recipients to include healthy younger people paying into it would instantly improve the program’s fiscal outlook. Nationalizing the underfunded Medicaid system would instantly reduce the deplorable inequity of our healthcare system, too. If this new Medicare could negotiate drug prices — like the Veterans Administration, our wonderful, totally socialized healthcare program for one group of Americans — it would save even more. (Hey, why not combine the proposal with debt relief for young doctors?)
4. Reregulate Wall Street
Taking the “unsophisticated” broad view, it seems painfully obvious that Wall Street deregulation undid the stabilizing effects of 1930s-era Wall Street regulation. We’re on a boom-and-bust cycle, and a shrinking number of growing megabanks now regularly threaten the entire world economy. It’s hard to imagine that we wouldn’t be better off with a worldwide network of small, independent credit unions than massive financial institutions daily innovating new and more arcane methods of shifting vast sums of imaginary capital around, but in lieu of smashing the banks with brickbats why not just reinstate the rules that effectively limited their behavior for 40 years or so? Bring back Glass-Steagall. Pass the Volcker rule, too. Ban banks from trading derivatives. Limit their behavior and tax their earnings.
6. Repeal the Patriot Act
Speaking of expensive wastes of resources that are also in direct violation of the nation’s founding principles, let’s dismantle the expansive domestic surveillance state, hurriedly established at a panicky period of national crisis and then enshrined as permanent without a word of serious debate.
The extra-constitutional “delayed-notice search warrants” given to law enforcement by the Patriot Act have been used far more for fighting the war on drugs than the war on terror, which is to be expected from a law that was essentially a massive laundry list of tools and privileges that prosecutors and FBI agents had wanted for years that had thus far been denied to them by pesky constitutional checks on their powers. The government even has its ownsecret legal readings of the act, allowing it to do secret things we can know nothing about.
The government now has vast powers to track and spy on us for whatever reasons it chooses, and both parties are mostly fine with that. When the NSA was found to be engaging in illegal domestic wiretapping and data mining, Congress responded by granting them more domestic wiretapping and data mining powers. As we’ve moved further from those panicky days that birthed the Patriot Act, the law and its associated unaccountable domestic surveillance state have, perversely, become more normalized. Those in favor of limited government should be the most alarmed at this.
7. Tackle climate change
We may be rapidly approaching the catastrophic point of no return when it comes to preventing major, devastating climate change. To keep warming below “dangerous levels,” one recent study says, we’d need to “reverse the rise in emissions immediately and follow through with steep reductions through the century.” Immediately — like now.
Frustratingly, even half-measures have found no support in Congress, where the industries doing the polluting have far more clout than mere scientists or human beings who’ll be alive in a future period of mass extinctions, hunger, flooding and drought. At the very least — and this is literally the very least the government should be doing right now to combat climate change — a price should be put on carbon emissions, either in the form of a direct tax or as part of a cap-and-trade scheme. This is a policy so self-evidently beneficial to the vast majority of mankind — it taxes a bad thing, so that corporations do less of the bad thing, while also giving the government revenue to spend on good things — that cap-and-trade’s defeat in Congress says just about all there is to say about the corrupting power of industry money on the government process.
10. Fix the tax system
There are a million ways the tax code could be made fairer, simpler and more progressive, and most of those ways are opposed by powerful entrenched interests. But it is an inescapable fact that for most of the 20th century, federal income tax rates were very high on the wealthy — very, very high, in fact — and most of that period also happened to be a time of widespread prosperity for rich and middle-class Americans alike. The experiment in slashing taxes on the rich seems to have failed everyone but the rich.
The system as it currently stands forces states to fund essential services with the most regressive taxes possible, mainly sales taxes, in order not to scare businesses elsewhere. The current system allows hugely profitable transnational corporations to get away without paying anything, to make killings “overseas” while operating at imaginary losses domestically. Warren Buffett, as we all know, is paying less than his secretary.
So let’s create a millionaire’s tax bracket, and a financial transactions tax. Let’s close the carried interest tax loophole and raise the estate tax and taxes on capital gains. Let’s get the highest marginal tax rate back up to, at the least, Reagan-era levels. Let’s stop all being held hostage, as a nation, to the fanatical anti-tax doctrine of the 1 Percent.
[For The Full List and Justification …. Go To]:
The Costs of Wall Street Greed Sarah Anderson October 26, 2011
Bank of America had impeccable timing when it decided recently to charge a $5 monthly fee for the privilege of using its debit cards. The notorious bailout baron, having just announced 30,000 job cuts, decided to stick it not to the platinums, not to the golds, but to the debit card masses.
Occupy Wall Streeters could not have asked for a more perfect target. They’ve melted the bank’s debit cards, organized “mass account closures” and rallied outside numerous branches around the world. So thanks, Bank of America, for making one of the costs of Wall Street greed so crystal clear. But wouldn’t it be illuminating if we got a monthly bill tallying up all the ways the financial industry makes the 99 percent pay for the pleasures of the 1 percent? I’m not even talking about the incalculable costs of the 2008 meltdown, the bailouts and the ongoing crisis. I’m talking about the less conspicuous ways the financial industry picks our pockets. Here are just a few examples: § Oil speculation: $82 per month. Ordinary Americans pay extra at the pump because of high-roller gambling in oil futures markets. When gas was nearly $4 per gallon in May, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, professor Robert Pollin estimated [seePDF] the monthly cost of this speculative premium at $82 for the average two-car family. A new report by Better Markets finds that excessive speculation on food commodities also inflates our grocery bills. Americans for Financial Reform, Maryknoll, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and other groups are fighting for regulations that could end such brazen price manipulation. Among the proposals: strict limits on how much of the market a single speculator can corner. § Tax breaks for wealth creation: $65 per month. When the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, it’s the 99 percent who have to fill the gap—or face painful spending cuts. One of the most absurd loopholes allows gazillionaire hedge-fund chiefs to pay only a 15 percent capital gains tax on “carried interest,” the profit share they get as a management fee. The White House estimates this loophole costs the Treasury around $20 billion over ten years, about $1.50 per household every month. But let’s look at the broader cost of this preferential tax treatment. By favoring those who make money from money, even if it’s from high-speed gambling with no social value, the tax break for capital gains keeps the Wall Street roulette wheels spinning. The estimated cost of the capital gains discount: $88 billion per year, or $65 per household every month. § Tax haven abuse: $74 per month. US financial firms use tax havens to avoid paying their taxes, and they help clients do the same by setting up their offshore accounts. Gains from such tax dodging pad the wallets of the 1 percent. Prudential Financial, for example, has lowered its tax bill [see PDF] by establishing thirty-six subsidiaries in tax-haven countries. CEO John Strangfeld made $16.2 million last year, while the firm received a $722 million refund on its federal corporate income taxes. Tax havens overall cost Americans an estimated $100 billion per year [see PDF]—or $74 per month per household. Senator Carl Levin and Representative Lloyd Doggett have introduced bills to close numerous loopholes that facilitate such tax dodging. But it’s not enough for the 99 percent to stop paying the costs of Wall Street greed. The Occupiers have shined a brighter spotlight on the need for our financial sector to actually serve, rather than bilk, the rest of the economy. [Read The Ful Story Here]: http://www.thenation.com/article/164208/costs-wall-street-greed?rel=emailNation