Levees Not War
Rebuilding New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast.

Posts Tagged ‘Kumbaya for Billionaires’

Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

We are the 99% . . . You are the 99%.”

“Banks got bailed out / We got sold out!”

“Whose street? Our street!”

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This Is Not the Fringe.
This Is the Middle Class.

Yesterday into last night we gathered near New York’s City Hall and marched with what looked and felt like at least 100,000 “marginal fringe elements” such as nurses’ and teachers’ unions, the New York City Transit Workers’ union, the AFL-CIO, and innumerable others through Lower Manhattan to Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, the home base of Occupy Wall Street. We’ve been on numerous protest rallies in Manhattan and Washington and London with hundreds of thousands, and this felt as jam-packed as the anti–Iraq War marches in 2003, 2004, 2005.

But this—this feels like a revolution.

Yesterday’s marchers in the tens of thousands were nurses, teachers, professors, bus drivers, subway track workers, secretaries, students, at least one World War II veteran on an aluminum walker (according to the sign around his neck), many children on foot and in strollers, and so on. This is the middle class. As the signs and chants say, “We are the 99%. You are the 99%.”

Among the unions that announced their support and sent members to the march were National Nurses United, AFL-CIO (AFSCME), United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, Service Employees International Union, SEIU 1199, the Transport Workers Union, Transit Workers Union Local 100, Working Families Party, Communications Workers of America, United Auto Workers, and Writers Guild East. (Click here for a longer list.)

A Few Things to Know about Occupy Wall Street 

•  Whatever you see on TV or read in the newspaper is probably a distortion, a minimizing dismissal, a marginalizing caricature. If you want the view of a seasoned journalist who has spent a lot of time with the OWS activists, read Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize–winning former New York Times reporter, at Truthdig and hear this interview with him. He describes the Occupy Wall Street activists as “the best among us.” See the video of Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Jeff Madrick, author of Age of Greed, talking with the Occupants last weekend through the “people’s microphone” (bullhorns are forbidden).

•  The OWS organizers, a loose-knit, non-hierarchical network, are not fringey radicals, but mostly well-educated, social media–savvy young people, creative and resourceful, and organized. They have worked hard in school but there are no jobs. The system—both the economy down to its foundations and the government—is not working for anyone but 1%. It’s over.

•  The Occupation was inspired by both Tahrir Square, Cairo, and the Arab Spring, and by Adbusters.org. See New York magazine’s revealing findings in “Meet the Occupants.” Learn more at OccupyWallSt.org.

•  This Occupation is not limited to Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. Occupy Together lists meetups in 588 cities. L.A. Chicago. Philadelphia. Boston. Seattle. Albuquerque . . . Tomorrow, more. London, you’re next. See map below.

•  The activists are not “unfocused” or lacking in specific aims. They have some very specific demands, including raising the tax rates on upper incomes; calling on the federal government to protect homeowners from arbitrary foreclosures by banks; establishing a financial transactions tax; and closing the “carried interest” and “founders stock” loopholes that, in the words of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, “allow our wealthiest citizens to pay very low tax rates by pretending that their labor compensation is a capital gain.”

•  Americans prefer Occupy Wall Streeters to Congress. New York magazine reports: “A new Rasmussen poll shows that 33 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Wall Street protesters, compared with the 14 percent or so who said the same about the legislative branch. A whopping 79 percent also agreed with what Rasmussen characterized as the movement’s main statement: ‘The big banks got bailed but the middle class got left behind.’ ”

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2001 Bush Tax Cuts: Where the Deficit Began

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Those intrepid researchers at Think Progress have dug up a headline from Aug. 1, 2001—almost exactly 10 years ago—that shows the long-bleeding fiscal damage done by the Bush tax cuts. Only six months into his first term, after George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Democratic president Bill Clinton and Congress passed a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut, the AP reported that “the Treasury Department was tapping $51 billion of credit in order to pay for the budgetary cost of the first round of Bush tax cuts’ rebate checks.”

This headline might have been useful in 2010, when extension of the Bush tax cuts was being avoided by timid congressional Democrats before the midterm elections, and then, afterward, steamrolled to passage by Tea Party–drunken Republicans over a passive Conciliator-in-Chief to the tune of “Kumbaya for Billionaires.” Think Progress observes, “The opponents of the tax cut turned out to be right. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts combined have blown a $2.5 trillion hole in America’s budget and created deficits stretching on for years.”

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  • To see how well the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 performed in creating jobs and distributing tax relief among income levels, check out this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Republican-led White House, Congress Built This Deficit

How was it looking four years later? Projections released by the Congressional Budget Office in January 2005 showed that “changes in law” enacted since January 2001 had increased the deficit by $539 billion. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “in the absence of such legislation, the nation would have a surplus this year” (our emphasis). Tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 accounted for nearly half of the revenue shortfall (see chart below). Although the deficit was blamed on “runaway domestic spending” or growth in the costs of entitlement programs (sound familiar?), in fact by January 2005 tax cuts and defense + homeland security expenditures accounted for 85% of the deficit.

 


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How Deep Is Our Disgust with Obama and PussyDems

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Obama and Democrats Must Defend Social Security, Medicare—and the Middle Class—Before They’re Gone

In “Our Cowardly Congress,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof points out that last week’s Shutdown standoff happened only because the cowardly Democrats—the PussyDems, we now call them—opted not to vote on a full year’s budget last fall when they had a majority in both houses of Congress:

. . . this mess is a consequence of the Democrats’ own failure to ensure a full year’s funding last year when they controlled both houses of Congress. That’s when the budget should have been passed, before the fiscal year began on Oct. 1. But the Democrats were terror-stricken at the thought of approving spending bills that Republicans would criticize. So in gross dereliction of duty, the Democrats punted.

Right, we remember now: Facing a tidal wave in the mid-term elections, and seeking to deny Republicans any more openings for attack (as if that would stop them), Democrats opted not to cast a vote for more spending. They chose not to speak up for social spending or investments in infrastructure during a depression; feared to speak up for their own money-saving health care reform bill, and so on. And why? Because they knew the President would not back them up. Had Obama been more forceful—or the least bit audacious—in defending domestic spending in a nation with at least 10% unemployment, with some 24 million unemployed or under-employed, the Democrats would have had more courage. The president shows little interest in being the leader of what we thought was his own party.

Last fall and summer, before the midterm elections, was also when the Democrats, again lacking protection by the putative head of their party, shrank from voting against extension of the Bush tax cuts. This made room for the Tea Party–drunken Republicans to come roaring in in their domineering way and force an extension of the tax cuts for billionaires while Obama sang “Kumbaya.”

Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the Democrats’ ranking member on the House Budget Committee, told Rachel Maddow last week that when House Majority Leader John Boehner demanded $32 billion in cuts, Obama came back and offered $33 billion. As the G.O.P.’s threats and demands escalated through the week, they ended up with $38.5 billion in cuts—in a struggling economy that needs all the spending it can get. Firm negotiating, there, Mr. President. You really held the line. Paul Krugman observes that it looks as though “the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions” (“The President Is Missing”). Did we mention this was the same week Obama officially announced he’s running for re-election?

Why Re-Elect a President Who Won’t Lead His Party?

We contributed money and volunteered for his campaign in 2008, but we really don’t see why Obama deserves reelection, or what he would do with a second term other than cave in to Republicans week after week. To us he is more of a Republican than our idea of a Democrat. Can we have a real stand-up, fighting Democrat instead, or at least some protector of the middle class and the social safety net? Anthony Weiner for president, anyone? At the rate we’re going, Obama and the Democrats will stand aside while Medicare and Social Security are shredded, and Obama will praise the Republicans for their willingness to compromise.

“Someone’s crying, Lord, kumbaya . . . Someone’s sleeping, Lord, kumbaya . . .”


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Taxing the Rich: Still a Good and Fair Idea

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Budget cutting is all the rage; a recent attempt to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire was defeated by Obama’s deal with the Republican congressional leadership. (See our reaction to that regrettable deal here and here.) In this time of (unnecessary) revenue shortfalls and budget crises, who speaks for raising taxes? We do. And we’re not alone. (For example, Bill Gates Sr., a wealthy man, believes the rich should pay more.)

Recent letters to the New York Times in response to a superficially reasonable column by David Brooks spoke well about the need to raise revenues by taxing the wealthy, reducing tax breaks for the rich and for corporations, and, when cutting the budget, to include defense spending. (As is often the case, the best part of the paper is the Letters to the Editor.) The writers convey their views well, so we’ll say no more except to commend their good sense.

 

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If you feel the same way, please write letters to the editors of your own local papers, and phone your local news stations and the news networks listed here (lower page) and say so. Demand that producers present the views of proponents of fair taxation of upper-income Americans—such as the Citizens for Tax Justice and the National Priorities Project—rather than only presenting the arguments of “fiscally conservative” budget-slashers. Thank you.

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A Letter from Senator Mary Landrieu

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

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Landrieu on Her Reluctant Vote for the Republican Obama Tax Deal

In December during the fight against renewal of the Bush tax cuts (now the Republican Obama tax cuts) for millionaires and billionaires, we posted a tribute to Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s strong condemnation of the immoral giveaway and wrote to her to say thank you

for your strong words . . . against the Obama-McConnell tax plan. Levees Not War has posted a ‘tip of the hat” (“If we had three hats we’d tip them all to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu . . .”) and we’ve urged our readers to contact your office to thank you for standing up for “justice and doing what’s right.”

. . . We’re concerned that if the tax cuts are extended, their cost to the Treasury will be used (again) as a rationale for cutting Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and other social safety-net programs. As Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont has written in his letter to Speaker Pelosi, “Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.” This is wicked policy and cannot be abetted by Democrats.

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Senator Landrieu sent a reply, and we wanted to share some of her remarks:

On December 17, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Authorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, extending the lower income tax rates enacted in 2001 and 2004 for two more years.

Although this tax package was not perfect, I strongly supported portions of the legislation directed towards extending tax relief to middle-class families and small businesses including the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and the employer-provided child care tax credit, which were set to expire on December 31, 2010. You may be interested to know that this legislation provides income tax relief for more than 98% of Louisiana families. In addition, the legislation also contains a necessary extension of long-term unemployment benefits to help Americans who are out of work pay the rent, keep the lights on and feed their families while they look for a job. For these reasons I voted in favor of this legislation.

This bill also extended several Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone tax provisions that will mean almost $1 billion in Gulf Coast construction activity and jobs. In the next Congress, I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass a bipartisan provision that will extend the GOZone Low-Income Housing Tax Credit through 2012 so that critical recovery projects will not be stalled or completely shelved.

Even with the benefits for the middle class and the people of Louisiana, this legislation has much room for improvement and I hope that changes can be made during the next Congress. Please rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as Congress debates tax legislation in the future. . . .

P. S. : I am excited to announce that my office is launching new e-newsletters to keep you updated on what I am working on here in Washington, D.C.

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When Vermont senator Bernie Sanders held the floor of the Senate for eight and a half hours on Dec. 10 to denounce the tax cut extension—a diatribe so popular that it temporarily shut down the Senate’s web video server—Ms. Landrieu was one of the Democrats, along with Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who joined Mr. Sanders in speaking out against Obama’s misguided deal with Senate Republicans. We salute their stand. We vote for Democrats Who Fight.

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Yes We Can Pass Good Legislation

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Our last post was illustrated with a big YES and this can do no less.

Congratulations to the 111th Congress—especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (with emphasis on “Leader”) and the suddenly productive Senate in the last days of this so-called lame duck session. Not so lame, after all. Let’s set aside for a moment the regrettable extension of the Bush tax cuts, now properly called the Obama-Republican tax cuts, or “Kumbaya for Billionaires.” This extension, however hateful to us, seems to have opened the gates toward better things. We want to briefly celebrate the last few days’ repeal of the odious Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, passage of a health bill for 9/11 responder-heroes sickened by (some dying from) the toxic ash at Ground Zero, and Senate passage of the New START treaty with Russia that will reduce nuclear stockpiles and provide for closer monitoring of old weapons facilities in the former Soviet Union. (See “Hiroshima, 65 Years On” and “Nagasaki, Not Forgotten.”) (The photo above shows President Obama and Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev signing the treaty in Prague in early April.)

We also want to thank the Republican senators who joined the Democratic majority and helped put these bills over the top. We understand that these votes were not politically easy for them, and we’re grateful for their votes of conscience. Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, in particular, helped move his colleagues to vote for New START. The nation should be grateful to Mr. Lugar, one of the true grown-ups of the Senate, and the Republican senators who listened to him.

The bills approved in the last week were passed in a flurry of activity because they had been deliberately held up for an unconscionably long time by the Republican leadership. They—particularly Jon Kyl of Arizona—repeatedly delayed dealing with the New START treaty, then whined about being rushed into action. Senator John Kerry deserves praise, too, for his steady, patient leadership on New START. The GOP also stubbornly, coldly stonewalled passage of the 9/11 responders health bill until they were shamed into submission by Jon Stewart (dead serious on Comedy Central) and Shepard Smith of Fox News, to both of whom we tip every hat on the rack. How many sick and dying workers suffered needlessly as Republicans postured about fiscal austerity while pushing for the billionaires’ tax cut extension? (The bill, we note with dismay, was whittled down from the $7.4 billion legislation passed by the House to $4.3 billion.) New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand deserves great credit for her leadership on the DADT repeal.

While praising the accomplishments of the 111th Congress under the leadership of Senator Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, let us point you to a piece from just after the midterm elections, “A Failure to Communicate—Not a Failure to Govern,” that shows the accomplishments of the House and Senate in the last two years. The Democrats, with scarcely a vote from the other side, passed an impressive, indeed historic amount of public-friendly legislation. They deserve our gratitude, which can come in the form of phone calls, letters faxed and mailed (see our Political Action page for contact info), and votes. Campaign volunteering, too.

Although we’ve been harshly critical of the president about the tax deal among other issues, we thank him for his steadfast push on New START and applaud his careful, strategic planning on repeal of DADT (he wanted to build military brass support + Senate repeal rather than letting the courts kill it). The president says “we are not doomed to endless gridlock.” We can hope, but we expect insane and raucous fights, often over nothing, in the 112th Congress. We pray that the president and (still) Senate Majority Leader Reid and congressional Democrats have learned a few things about standing up for what they believe in, persisting, getting the message sharp and clear, and not backing down. The tax bill was a horrible, costly, long-damaging error that didn’t have to happen. It hurt Obama’s relations with his own party, but may have earned a little goodwill from a few members of the opposition party (we’re not holding our breath). Let’s hope Democrats have learned some lessons in fighting. And let’s keep after them to keep the gloves on. They’ll need them.

These positive developments, after so many months of obstruction and passivity, all make for a merrier holiday season. They will bring a healthier new year for the long-suffering 9/11 responders (not just New Yorkers: volunteers poured in from every state), some relief for military service members oppressed by the unjust, 17-year-long DADT policy, and a safer new era for every person and nation endangered by aging and unsupervised nuclear stockpiles and weapons systems.

Now, back to writing those last Christmas cards (including ours to you) and wrapping a few last gifts . . .

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Obama/Medvedev photo by Doug Mills/New York Times

U.S. Capitol by E. McKnight Kauffer

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Sanctimonious Purists Unite

Friday, December 10th, 2010

“People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves, and sanctimonious about how pure our intensions are and how tough we are.”

President Obama, in reply to a question about “what your core values are, what specifically you will go to the mat on”

White House press conference, Tues. Dec. 7, 2010

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An Open Letter to Obama and Biden

NO DEAL

Unfair, Unaffordable  |  No “Kumbaya” for Billionaires

Dear President Obama and Vice President Biden:

You can denounce us “sanctimonious purists” if you like, but one thing you should understand is that we’re not just disgusted with the deal you’ve struck with the Republicans; it’s your timing, and the fact that this desperate compromise did not have to happen. What we oppose is your habitual over-readiness to compromise, your unwillingness to fight before you get backed into a corner. We’re not interested in your readiness to fight Republicans next year (we’ll believe it when we see it); we’re angry about your failure to fight them on these issues in 2010. For the past year you could have been speaking out loudly, publicly, in a sustained fighting-mode campaign, for the continuation of unemployment insurance benefits and against the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Instead you signaled a willingness to find “common ground.”

You never pushed for the unemployment extension when you had a chance, and when you had big Democratic majorities in Congress. You didn’t take the lead to embolden Congressional Democrats before the midterm elections, making big speeches in the districts of the wavering, cautious members of Congress up for reelection. (They weren’t bold, either, but had you taken the lead they would have had more calcium in their spines.) You didn’t meet with Congressional Democrats before you cut this deal with the Republicans, according to Senator Mary Landrieu, who denounces this deal’s “almost moral corruptness.” Now, if Mary Landrieu is disgusted, then the outrage cannot be said to be limited to “liberals.”

Why should a Democratic-majority Congress vote for a measure Republicans want, a deficit-deepening measure for which the GOP will later hypocritically blame them? This is part of the GOP strategy. Let Dems do the lifting, then blame them. You know how Republicans operate.

We’re very concerned that if the tax cuts are extended, their cost to the Treasury will be used (again) as a rationale for cutting Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and other social safety-net programs. As Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont has written in his letter to Speaker Pelosi, “Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.” You didn’t address this, and you can’t blame the “sanctimonious purist” liberals for this predicament.

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No “Kumbaya” for Billionaires

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

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[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

Today when the New York Times reports “Tax Cut Timing Is Proving Problematic for Democrats,” we faxed and mailed the following letter to President Obama and sent similar messages to his economic team (Goolsbee, Bernstein, Elizabeth Warren), along with Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine. We’re sorry to hear the timing’s inconvenient, but our view is that a shortage of tax revenue from the upper 1 and 2 percent tax brackets is “proving problematic” for America: for the unemployed, for the crumbling infrastructure, the public transportation that isn’t being built, the teachers and police who are being laid off, and so on. The richest 1% of Americans now take home almost 24% of income; in the past 30 years more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes has gone to the richest 1% (Nicholas Kristof, “Our Banana Republic”).

Join us in pressing on the White House and congressional Democrats (there are still some left) to do the right thing for America and not extend the Bush tax cuts for the upper 2%. Obama and the Democratic-led 111th Congress passed some 25 tax cuts for the middle class (the “lower 95%”), as he promised he would in 2008, but the Democrats forgot to make sure we knew it. Contact info here. White House phone: 202-456-1111. White House fax: 202-456-2461. Senate. House of Representatives.

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Restore Top Rate to Reagan-era 50%

Dear President Obama:

It has to be you, the President, taking the lead on not extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%. Congressional Democrats won’t move without your lead. Gain the upper hand and the moral high ground by not compromising on this. Speak up, and hold firm. Stay in campaign mode—the G.O.P. surely will.

Economic fairness. It would be unfair to the point of criminal to extend the upper 2% tax cuts when the nation is suffering 10% unemployment, 15 million are unemployed, infrastructure is crumbling, and the richest 1% own almost 24% of income. In the past 30 years more than 4/5 of the total increase in American incomes has gone to the richest 1%.

Political winner. In addition to the moral argument, it is essential politically that Democrats take a stand for the middle class. The G.O.P. is handing you a gift, just as Gingrich did to Clinton over Medicare cuts. Bring it on, G.O.P.—we’re not backing down. Force the Republicans to show who they really care about. You already know that they are not serious about reducing the deficit. Anyway, the more they pay in taxes, the less they’ll have to donate to anti-Obama commercials.

“Compromise” by honoring Reagan. Raise the upper-income rates to the 50% they paid during the Reagan years of 1982–1986. Tell ’em, “You’re always praising Reagan, so if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for you now.” Honor the Gipper, and pay your share.

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