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Posts Tagged ‘War on Middle Class’

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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What a Deal

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Is This What “Winning the Future” Feels Like?

“Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.”

—Joe Nocera, “Tea Party’s War on America” (see below)

“With all this incessant emphasis on deficit reduction, it’s going to be extremely tough to convince people that we actually might need to spend some money right now, in the short run, to help get this economy out of neutral.”

Jared Bernstein, former White House economic advisor (see below)

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Well, gentle readers, our weekend of faxing earnest, carefully crafted letters to Democrats in Congress (“Tell Obama to Use the Constitutional Option”) had the usual, predictable result.

Below are a few selections of choice commentary on the agreement reached Sunday by Senate leaders Reid and McConnell and Obama—but not yet voted on by Congress. The Senate is expected to pass it today. The House may vote by this evening, though large numbers of Pelosi’s and Boehner’s representatives may yet balk.

[ Timeline of debt ceiling negotiations ¶ How the plan would work ¶ Text of the bill ]

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New York Times editorial: “To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal

. . . a nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists. It will hurt programs for the middle class and poor, and hinder an economic recovery.

. . . this episode demonstrates the effectiveness of extortion. Reasonable people are forced to give in to those willing to endanger the national interest.

Paul Krugman (NYT): “The President Surrenders

. . . the deal itself . . . is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status. . . .

Republicans will surely be emboldened by the way Mr. Obama keeps folding in the face of their threats. He surrendered last December, extending all the Bush tax cuts; he surrendered in the spring when they threatened to shut down the government; and he has now surrendered on a grand scale to raw extortion over the debt ceiling. Maybe it’s just me, but I see a pattern here.

. . . It is, of course, a political catastrophe for Democrats, who just a few weeks ago seemed to have Republicans on the run over their plan to dismantle Medicare; now Mr. Obama has thrown all that away. And the damage isn’t over: there will be more choke points where Republicans can threaten to create a crisis unless the president surrenders, and they can now act with the confident expectation that he will.

Joe Nocera (NYT): “Tea Party’s War on America

America’s real crisis is not a debt crisis. It’s an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn’t address unemployment, it’s guaranteed to make it worse. (Incredibly, the Democrats even abandoned their demand for extended unemployment benefits as part of the deal.) . . . The spending cuts will shrink growth and raise the likelihood of pushing the country back into recession.

. . . What is astonishing is that both the president and House speaker are claiming that the deal will help the economy. . . . Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.

One thing Roosevelt did right during the Depression [as opposed to 1937 spending reductions] was legislate into being a social safety net to soften the blows that a free-market economy can mete out in tough times. During this recession, it’s as if the government is going out of its way to make sure the blows are even more severe than they have to be.

. . . Obama should have played the 14th Amendment card. . . . Yes, he would have infuriated the Republicans, but so what? They already view him as the Antichrist. . . . Inexplicably, he chose instead a course of action that maximized the leverage of the Republican extremists.

Steve Benen: “Don’t Call It a Compromise

I’ve seen several reports on the debt-ceiling framework describe it as a “compromise” between Republicans and Democrats. That’s far too generous a term. Is this a deal? Sure. Is it an agreement? Absolutely. Can it fairly be characterized as a “compromise”? Not at all.

Republicans threatened to crash the economy, on purpose, unless a series of radical demands were met. Democrats made an effort to lessen those demands and make them less painful than intended. The result, not surprisingly, is rather ugly, which is to be expected.

The debt-reduction framework isn’t a compromise; it’s a ransom. . . . If you’re looking for good news in this agreement, you’ll be looking for a long time. Overall, what we’re left with is bad news and less-bad news.

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Wake Up to the National Security Threat
From Our Own Domestic Extremists

Monday, July 25th, 2011

“Just supposing our national government . . . had fallen into the hands of men loyal to an alien power, then would the people yank the usurpers out of office at once?”

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In 2007 we asked, “Is the U.S. an Occupied Nation?” With the country exhausted by war and the Gulf Coast still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, Bush-Cheney and other Conservatives in High Places regularly showed such indifference, at best, to the well-being of ordinary Americans that it really felt as though the government had been abducted.

Now, with America pushed to the brink of an abyss by an extremist few of those same so-called conservatives—the very ones who drove up the debt in the first place—is it possible that the greatest threats to America’s financial, social, and political security have offices in the U.S. Capitol and are paid $174,000 per year, with benefits?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof thinks so, and in “Republicans, Zealots, and Our Security” he makes the case in convincing detail.

If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage. 

Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength—and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer . . . comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. . . . But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way. . . . in their effort to protect the American economy from debt, some of them are willing to drag it over the cliff of default.

(Meanwhile, Huffington Post business editor Peter S. Goodman comes right out and says that the congressional Republicans “are acting like terrorists. . . . willfully and intentionally driving us to the edge of a cliff, using the national interest as a hostage.”)

What is it exactly that these so-called conservatives are conserving?

Nicholas Kristof warns that even the slightest, briefest default could drive interest rates higher—“on mortgages, car loans, business loans and credit cards”—leading to a deeper deficit, purportedly the very thing the House Republicans say they’re determined to reverse. The Congressional Budget Office projects that a 1% rise in interest rates could add more than $1 trillion to borrowing costs over the next 10 years.

Republican zeal to lower debts could result in increased interest expenses and higher debts. Their mania to save taxpayers could cost taxpayers. That suggests not governance so much as fanaticism.

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Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

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“. . . to secure these rights [including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . . whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it . . .”

“In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”Declaration of Independence

 

On the night of Weds. March 9, after weeks of massive opposition rallies and national attention, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the state senate pulled a legislative maneuver to pass a bill that strips the state’s public workers of the right of collective bargaining. Wisconsin’s teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public workers had held and cherished the right to bargain for improved working conditions since 1959. These workers agreed to the fiscal remedies Walker sought, but refused to surrender their right to collective bargaining. He forced his bill through anyway, by trickery. Ironically, it was on another March 9 that Congress passed the first piece of FDR’s New Deal legislation, the Emergency Banking Act of 1933.

There was no fiscal crisis in Wisconsin when Walker took office on Jan. 3. But there was a big deficit after his first legislative priority as governor, to give Wisconsin corporations some $140 million in tax breaks.

What makes Walker’s action most reprehensible is his absolute refusal to meet with his opponents or to listen to the tens of thousands of people in the streets objecting to his scheme for “fiscal repair.” Collective bargaining is a right that would only be taken away by a tyrant, and only by force and deception. (Former labor secretary Robert Reich calls it a coup d’etat.) In Walker’s refusal to meet with or listen to the people he was elected to govern, he violates the very principles of representative government.

“Conservative” Is Not the Word for Someone Like Scott Walker

In the fall of 2009 as the Tea Party movement was growing louder and more raucous, we posted a piece titled “Are ‘Conservatives’ Conservative? Are They Even American?” The obviously provocative title irritated a number of our gentle readers—ungentled them, you might say. We said the question was asked not about ordinary citizens, with whose distress we largely sympathize, but about “the elites, the elected officials who until recently held the White House and majorities in Congress, certain corporate executives and right-wing think tankers and pundits who identify themselves as conservatives.” (more…)



Republican War on Working Families

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

It’s Not Only in Wisconsin, America

This TV ad is being launched today in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans. Please help Democracy for America spread the word by clicking here to contribute. Thank you.




In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like”

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

“Dr. King’s last act on earth, marching in Memphis, Tenn., was about workers’ rights to collective bargaining and rights to dues checkoff. You cannot remove the roof for the wealthy and remove the floor for the poor.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. (shown at right holding first-grader Emily Anne)

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We spoke today with Kevin, a teacher and union member in Milwaukee, about his up-close-and-personal view of the protests in Madison against Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s bill to take away union members’ right to collective bargaining. (Kevin is a cousin of one of our writers; see his YouTube video below.)

Scott Walker, a former Milwaukee County Executive who took office Jan. 3, has given the state legislature a “budget repair” bill that would force most public employees to pay higher portions of health care and retirement benefits and eliminate their right to collective bargaining, a right that Wisconsin state workers won in 1959. (This after giving corporations in Wisconsin a tax break that reduced state revenues by $100+ million.) Walker insists he is trying to balance the state budget; union members see the bill as union-busting plain and simple. Union members have generally agreed to significant financial concessions but refuse to surrender the hard-won right to collective bargaining. Walker insists there will be no negotiating: it’s all or nothing.

(Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received contributions from the billionaire right-wing activist Koch brothers. The Kochs also gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which gave substantially to Walker’s campaign.)

As many as 80,000 protesters marched in the state capitol of Madison on Saturday—cheerfully, peacefully, and determinedly—to stop Walker’s bill. Many signs reflect the recent struggles for freedom in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Kevin says that Walker’s bill is clearly seen by the public as a partisan issue. Democrats and union members are pretty much unanimous against the bill, and even moderate Republicans in Wisconsin see Walker’s all-or-nothing push as extreme, with potentially disastrous consequences. “This is not about money at all; this is about our basic right to have a voice in our workplace, a right we’ve had in Wisconsin since 1959” with the passage of a law guaranteeing public workers’ right to collective bargaining. (See Rachel Maddow’s great summary of how Wisconsin has been at the forefront of workers’ rights for many decades.) Teachers are back at work this week, he says. He is teaching his class—“the students come first”—but then he’ shuttling back to Madison to join in the protests.

It’s a family affair—Kevin and his wife Kelly and their children Joe and Emily are part of the movement—and people of all backgrounds are joining in to defend their rights and their fellow citizens’ rights to bargain collectively, to have a say in the conditions of their workplace. They go first to the capitol to get charged up, then walk around outside to join in the chanting. It’s a festive, positive atmosphere. He writes:

There are some very cool videos of the protests at defendwisconsin.org . . .  I’m making another starring Emily titled “This is What Democracy Looks Like.” Emily picked out the music and knows all the protest shouts: “Walker is a weasel not a badger,” “Union busting, that’s disgusting,” “Forward, not backward” . . . and of course, “Tell me what democracy looks like—This is what democracy looks like!”

Joe thinks it’s cool people are really nice and hand out free food. My union had a ton of stuff left over from a campus event so I put 7 platters of bakery into my van and we all passed it out to hungry protesters. People from all over the world are calling the pizza shop that’s 100 yds from the capitol [Ian’s Pizza on State Street] and ordering pizzas to be taken up to the kids occupying the capitol each night. It’s wonderful. Now dem legislators in Indiana have fled to Illinois as well. The showdown is ON!

This is a national fight that Wisconsin is at the very front of—we will not be silenced!

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