Sunday, April 7, 2013
We are the 99%, and we're not going anywhere except out in the streets
We Are The 99%: The Focus of Our Rage
I have given a lot of thought and engaged in plenty of research regarding the plight of “the 99%” of America's population, and what should and should not be done to bring the top 1% in line with the rest of us. Having written two books about this topic, I will now attempt to spell out the basics of what we want, and why we 99%-'ers are undertaking the various “Occupy” protests that are springing up all over the world. We all want basically the same things. We want all the legalized bribery out of politics. This can be accomplished by strict regulation of the lobbyist profession at the very least, but most likely we should consider outlawing the lobbyist profession as it currently operates. If Washington won't do it then “we the people” will have to do it for them. We can accomplish this by, among other things, “occupying” K Street and the offices of the lobbyists, or by laying siege to their offices through human barricades (nobody comes and nobody goes), or other forms of nonviolent protest. Either take the rampant corruption out of our nation's politics and fully prosecute those responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown on Wall Street and for creating the housing bubble just before they intentionally popped it, or else we may well be destroyed by Wall Street and their armies of lobbyists, shady co-conspirators and other henchmen, starting with the Federal Reserve and working our way down from there.
From my vantage point, and based on my own experiences, the least common denominator to everything that we are protesting, marching and occupying for can be boiled down to 2 things: the rights of workers and independent contractors, and the right to economic equality including the peaceful restoration of the American middle class to its former economic and social position in American society. Allow me to use the next few pages to explain exactly how we can go about accomplishing these goals in a manner that is legal, peaceful and orderly so we can set a good example for our nation's kids and grand-kids. One very good way that we could go about accomplishing this is to emulate the peaceful and nonviolent tactics of Rev. Dr. King, Jr. that were utilized during the civil rights marches and protests of the 1950's and 1960's. In so doing, history will be on our side and victory against the top 1% will ultimately be ours.
Let me add one more thing before I get into this. You will notice as you read the rest of this essay/op-ed that there are a lot of ideas in here about how to restore America and its middle class, and how to re-balance the distribution of wealth in a peaceful and orderly manner for the mutual betterment of everyone. These ideas I am about to share are simple and practical solutions to some huge problems that America faces. You will also notice that these ideas can be easily implemented using our existing governmental framework and technology. It won't be necessary to reinvent the wheel in order for America's people to accomplish their goals for the perfection of our society, starting with a rescue of the poor and middle class.
The first and foremost issue of what we 99%-'ers want should be the rights of all workers and independent contractors. We want a $12.00 per hour minimum wage combined with the abolition of the federal income tax and an end to the withholding of US income tax from our paychecks. This would give everyone who makes less than $108.000.00 per year a pay raise amounting to an average of 20% immediately, pumping billions of fresh dollars into the US economy that generates many millions in new tax revenue without raising any existing taxes. Full employment should become the new standard of the world, and that standard should be set by the USA.
The second issue I wish to mention is the right to higher education and/or vocational retraining at will and at nominal cost. This is what we should do for all the long-term unemployed, all the homeless who are healthy enough to work, all unemployed veterans, and for all newly released prisoners who are re-entering society. This is how we can end homelessness for good; simply give these people a trade. Every human being on the face of the earth has the unconditional right to a livelihood and to a living wage. Those unable to find work, or who are having difficulty locating suitable work, and those needing to learn new job skills in order to be self-sufficient have the basic human right to professional retraining without cost. Let our colleges and universities remain as they are, but let our public institutions of higher education consider becoming nonprofits so that higher education is unconditionally accessible to everyone. The days of exclusively for-profit educational institutions must come to an end, because I am convinced that it is immoral and mean-spirited to prevent another human being from being able to sustain themselves because some CEO or policy wonk somewhere thinks that retraining America's workers would be “too expensive”, as if they are not worth the trouble. The best part about this as far as I am concerned is that America can easily afford this, and I will use the war in Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan as an illustration.
If the US government took all the money spent in one single day on the illegal occupation of Afghanistan and put it into a basic savings account, there would be enough money to put every school kid in America through 4 years of college fully paid for, including tuition, books, dorms, food, transportation and Internet access, plus a new desktop or laptop computer. Let me give you another example. If the US government took all the money spent in one single day on the war in Afghanistan and put it into a savings account, there would be enough money to put every homeless person or family in America – all 2 million of them as of 2012 – into a new 3,000 square foot home fully paid for, fully furnished, with the utilities turned on including Internet access (which the UN declared to be a basic human right as of 2011), and stocked with a years worth of groceries. This is what converting to a peacetime economy can do for America. And all on one day's military expenditures. Then, send them back to school to teach them new trades so they can keep those houses forever.
There is one more important thing that I have yet to mention. The world is changing and developing so rapidly as scientific and technological advances are made that the job market has become very dynamic. As you know, the pace of this advancement is accelerating, resulting in different types of jobs coming and going rapidly in order to meet an ever-changing demand. Higher education, the US public school system and for-profit vocational schools will most definitely have to adjust their curriculum accordingly. You have probably noticed that some very traditional jobs are disappearing. Just ask anybody who used to be in the travel industry, or direct sales, or a factory worker, or a former computer repairman like I was for 23 years. When I went back and tried to get retraining I was told that my credit rating was not good enough to qualify for a student loan. Many of the courses taught in various vocational schools cost tens of thousands of dollars, and I was broke at the time (come to think about it, I still am, but I digress). So, I found myself shut out from any chance at changing careers. As I began to research this I found that it is actually quite commonplace in today's dreary job market. Instead of going back to work like I wanted, I was forced into early retirement, and forced to depend on a government that I despise for my sustenance. I would much rather be self-sufficient, but never mind that. My government has already decided to throw me away because I'm allegedly too old (I'm in my mid-50's as I write this), and therefore too expensive to keep around. Therefore I insist that this practice must come to an end, that higher education should be free for everybody, and that higher education is a basic human right. The days of a college education or vocational retraining being only for those who can afford the tuition (or who “qualify” for predatory and unethical student loans) must come to an end. Do you want to have a better educated country? Fine! Let everybody who wants to get educated – or reeducated – go back to school, and let the government and corporate America foot the bill. The funds are definitely available, as I wrote above.
Of course, I can hear my critics laughing already. Where, they will say, do we get the money to fund re-educating the whole country? We're running a $14 trillion deficit as it is! You know what? You're absolutely right, we do have a seemingly insurmountable federal deficit. How do we tackle both problems together? By creating new taxpayers who have found new careers and gotten their incomes restarted, and there is ample precedent for this very thing. At the end of World War 2, there were about 600,000 former GI's who had just returned from the European and Pacific theaters in the wars against Germany and Japan. Many of them didn't have any marketable job skills, so Congress passed the GI Bill and put all those soldiers through 4 years of college. It paid off handsomely, paving the way for the record economic expansion of the 1960's. Well, if they could do that in the 1940's, why can't they do it in 2013? The answer is that the system most certainly can, and we of the Occupy and 99% Movements must count reeducation as one of the things that we occupy and protest for. Either employ us or retrain us, and we're not leaving until we get what we want.
One final thing about the basic right to higher education. According to data I obtained from the US Department of Labor, and some additional information I obtained from “CareerBuilder.com”, the average student graduate from college today will have to change careers anywhere from 5 to 8 times during the course of their lifetime of employment. So, by today's standards, and assuming career changes involve getting 2-year degrees, somebody going back to school a total of 8 times multiplied by the average cost of obtaining each of those degrees – roughly $30,000.00 times as much as eight – could be as much as a quarter of a million dollars, plus interest. Do our colleges and universities seriously believe that people will be willing to go into that much debt from student loans in their lifetimes, just so they can remain employable? How ridiculous! The cost of tuition for higher education in the early 21st century has reached a level that is so unreasonable that getting a degree has become financially out of reach for all but the top few percent. Excluding the overwhelming majority of all others for purely financial reasons is a social injustice and a human rights violation if there ever was one. We must start demanding our right to higher education as part of our goals. And so we will continue to “occupy” and protest peacefully until we get what we want. We are the 99%!
The third fundamental human right that I want to write about is to be free from poverty and hunger, with an equal chance at prosperity, in a clean and peaceful environment. How do we do all that? We clean up the environment that we already have, and for that you will need lots of people. That brings me to the topic of a huge public works program that this country urgently needs, and this is part of the solution that I see. Therefore, this is indeed another basic human right. This is something that should already have been done at the Presidential level, but unfortunately it is not as of yet. We need massive protests and demonstrations, and a major effort through the social media to get this passed into law. My proposed solution is that all the long-term unemployed people plus all the others I mentioned above be put to work in this new series of public works projects. Some will be doing environmental cleanup, others will assist with bridge and highway repairs, and still others will be repairing sewers and sidewalks. The homeless will be put to work revitalizing abandoned homes left over from the “great foreclosure robbery” (as I called it in my first book). When they are finished with the first home, they can go live in it as they begin repairs on others. We do have the capacity to have full employment at a living wage, and to end homelessness while ending the foreclosure crisis. This is one way to accomplish just that. I encourage anyone having additional ideas to publish them as I have, and the more input the better. And what about all the households where both parents work, or single-parent households? Who is going to watch all those kids? I think we should have on-site daycare available for everybody free of charge. It would be yet another way to create jobs with a starting wage of $12.00 an hour, income tax free.
The fourth fundamental human right, and another way to articulate what we want, is to address the problem of health insurance and its ridiculous cost, pricing 54 million Americans out of the health insurance market and forcing many of us to rely on the local emergency room for medical treatment. It is a fact that every developed country in the world has national health insurance except for the United States. From Europe to Canada to Japan, getting sick is never a problem unless the illness is terminal. Not so in the USA, where health care is on a for-profit basis, and we are the only country in the developed world where this is so. We have the highest cost for health care and the most expensive prescription drugs of any country in the world by far. In other words, good health care in this country is only for those who can afford it. The rest of us are left stranded on the side of the road to health and wellness and without remedy, eventually to die, and well before our time. Speaking as an Internet pastor, I find the idea of denying healthcare to nearly a fourth of the US population (about half of whom are children) just because they can't pay for it to be immoral, unjustifiable, and utterly barbaric.
So what is the solution to this pressing problem? One thing is for sure, every human being on the face of the earth has the unconditional right to good health care. It's as basic as access to clean water (another area where mankind has some work to do). I strongly maintain that it should be a crime for any patient to die because they lacked access to treatment due to having no money or health insurance. There is simply no excuse for that to be happening in the richest country in the world, and I for one am ashamed that it is occurring, and I doubt that I am the only one who has this opinion. Also, people with preexisting conditions or who are beset with a catastrophic illness should always have unconditional access to health care. One possible way to do this would be to change the health care industry in the US from for-profit entities to nonprofits.
Anyone seeking treatment for substance abuse or mental illness, or who are in need of any organ transplants, or kidney dialysis, cancer treatment, or any other serious illness requiring constant monitoring or ongoing therapy, must be able to get treatment without financial qualification. This is not a privilege of the well off, it is a basic human right. It is pointless and very expensive to prosecute and incarcerate nonviolent drug users. They don't need jail, they need treatment.
The question remains then: How do we get caught up with the rest of the developed world when it comes to universal health care? Also, how do we do this within the framework of the existing US health care system(s) in order to conserve on start-up costs and minimize overhead? The plan I propose is simple: Take all currently available medical care in all its forms and put it under one umbrella, so to speak. Merge private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, government health insurance for civilian employees at the state and federal levels, the military and Congress' (including the President's) healthcare plans, plus the entire Veterans Administration hospital system into one single-payer system so that no one is left out. Next, streamline the new universal single-payer health care system by eliminating all the duplicate departments, and by making it an online, Internet-based and paperless system utilizing leading edge information technology in order to lower operating costs and cut way down on paperwork. And third, once this new online system gets rolled out and becomes available to everyone, we'll simply eliminate Medicaid – by putting everybody in the entire country on Medicare, and all persons will have unconditional access to the same level of care, from the President down to the dishwasher at your favorite restaurant. And now, before I move on, let me point out another equally big advantage to having a universal healthcare system such as this.
Having the government take over the administration of healthcare for the entire country is a solution that is long overdue. Don't worry about what might happen to the existing insurance industry, it isn't going anywhere and I will explain why in the next paragraph. Allowing a hypothetical universal healthcare system to work in this manner (and so-called Obamacare comes up way short) would take the burden of providing health insurance for its employees off the backs of businesses, substantially enhancing the profit margins of all US companies both great and small. This will give the American economy – together with US businesses – a far greater financial shot in the arm than any government tax cut could ever hope to. In the process, making US medical care into a series of nonprofit entities will bring American health and wellness up to 21st century speed with comparatively nominal operating costs.
So what happens to the existing insurance industry? These very companies will be the ones who will administer this new digitized healthcare system. They will do so by way of a competitive bidding process to ensure that costs are kept under control, effectively farming out the day-to-day operations of the healthcare program. The companies with the lowest bids will get the contracts, which will be brought up for renewal periodically – say, every 5 years. Running the new universal healthcare system this way will ensure that only the best insurance companies will be administering the program, and that the marginal or substandard insurance companies be ultimately either forced to improve or go out of business.
The fourth and final main thing I want to write a couple of paragraphs about is that of economic inequality, or what I call in my first book “enforced inequality”. Class warfare has been declared by the top 1% against the rest of us, meaning the 99% who are losing our jobs, our homes, our cars, our savings and eventually our health as the enforced liquidation of the US middle and working classes continues. What is needed is a peaceful and orderly redistribution of wealth that is done in a non-violent manner. So how do we accomplish this? I have a couple of ideas, but the first step for America would be to enact an all-new tax system, abolishing the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. This proposed new tax system will be a 2-tiered system, with the national sales tax – or consumption tax – set at 9% (excluding groceries, fuel, utilities, wholesale goods, raw materials, and all government entities). Why 9%, you ask? Well, according to some data that I obtained from the IRS, as well as from the alternative media, the average personal income tax rate in 2011 was roughly 18%, so I am proposing cutting that rate in half. The second tier of this proposed new tax system will be what I call an “excess wealth tax” for the mega-rich, and for any financial transactions that are over a certain limit. For individuals, there is no income tax on the first $1 million, but anything above that gets taxed at a rate of 50%. So, a wealthy household or individual who made $25 million last year would pay no tax on the first $1 million, but they would pay $12 million on the remaining $24 million. For businesses, the proposed consumption tax rate is noticeably more generous, with the first $700 million tax free, and a tax rate of one-third on anything over and above that. So, a company that made $1 billion dollars the previous year would pay no tax on the first $700 million, but they would pay $100 million on the remaining $300 million. On the other hand, a multinational corporation that had $300,000,000.00 in gross proceeds in a given year would also pay a rate of one third, so their tax rate would be $100,100,000.00, or $1.001 billion. As a result, all itemized deductions would come to an end. Ditto for the estate tax and capital gains tax, both of which would be replaced by my proposed Excess Wealth tax. The alternative minimum tax and self-employment tax would also be phased out, replaced by the national sales tax. And the motivation under the current unfair system to stash trillions in profits in overseas bank accounts would become a moot point, generating still more revenue while cutting the tax rate as it stands today.
Under this plan, there is ample incentive for the rich and big business to get enthused about my idea. First, the necessity of providing group health care would go away for US businesses (due to my proposed Medicare-for-all system), followed by the repeal of the income tax. All the money being spent on income taxes and group insurance could be put back into these businesses, making them more competitive than ever before. In fact, I would estimate that such a move by the federal government would go a long way toward making America very competitive in the global economy because the costs associated with operating a business will drop so drastically due to the elimination of these two expenses. And second, the “excess wealth tax” that I just proposed would still provide sufficient funding for costly government institutions like the military and the space program, not to mention the cost of public reeducation and the public works projects I mentioned previously.
Another way to redistribute wealth is by converting unwanted or surplus housing and commercial or office structures into residences, live-work-play developments, green or urban garden space, or new worker-owned businesses such as cooperatives. One of the things that can and should be done with my proposed national public works program is to get rid of all the empty, boarded-up houses that have been abandoned to foreclosure and neglect. Put all the homeless and jobless to work remodeling this otherwise worthless real estate. There are millions of unemployed construction workers who would love to get a chance to do something like this, so why not let them (especially if they have families)? And when they are finished rebuilding them, let them live in them and so revitalize America. Reward them by turning them into homeowners. This is how we can end unemployment and homelessness while turning around the US foreclosure crisis. We can do the same with healthcare and with higher education. Make them both available to everyone unconditionally as a way to enforce economic equality and social parity. This is how we can redistribute American wealth in a peaceful and nonviolent manner, and in so doing set a good example for our kids and grand-kids. The days of making good healthcare and higher education available for only those who can afford it must come to an end. That is unfair, discriminatory, it is a social injustice and therefore a civil rights violation of the worst magnitude. To tell anyone that they can't stay well, or that they can't improve themselves because they have insufficient funds with which to pay, should be a crime.
In closing, everybody needs to have an income and a livelihood. It is cruel and mean-spirited to tell anyone that they are not needed nor wanted, or that they can't be hired because there is allegedly no money to pay them while corporate America sits on trillions of dollars in excess cash. If unemployment is brought to an end using the methods and ideas that I have written about, poverty, hunger and crime will be brought to an end as well – not in a matter of decades, but rather just a couple of years, or the time that it takes them to finish their (free) education. We already have the means to do this, so it would be irresponsible and immoral for us not to act. However, some will say yes, but employed at what? I've been looking for a job for years and I haven't found squat. I have found this to be particularly true among older workers, minorities and people of color.
Brothers and sisters, this is not your fault. Your government, together with some of this country's most well-known institutions such as the US public school system and the multinational corporations, have let you down. All the jobs that could be outsourced overseas were sent away, never to return. The ones that couldn't be outsourced were mostly downsized out of existence, ending millions of careers prematurely. It is for these reasons that we are now protesting in the streets and occupying America in New York, Boston, Washington, DC and Atlanta, among others. Because the truth of the matter is that since these jobs aren't coming back, we as a country should be making new ones, and this should have started decades ago. We have a lot of catching up to do in the area of job creation. The good news is that there are new industries currently being born that can replace all those lost jobs that I wrote about. Green industries like solar power, windmill power generators, the construction of a low-voltage national electrical grid and of fusion reactors, not to mention biotechnology, stem cell research, nanotechnology, robotics, seashore desalination plants for an endless supply of clean water, and a greatly expanded and revitalized space industry are the new growth industries of the 21st century.
Seriously, people! We first landed on the moon in 1969, took our last trip there in 1972, after which our country's “leadership” mysteriously gave up and quit. This was alleged at the time to be due to insufficient funding, but if the US hadn't been involved with the war in Vietnam, America could easily have afforded to continue NASA's Apollo program. The immoral and strategically questionable occupations or wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today are preventing our country from returning to space in much the same way as Vietnam did. It's all a matter of the proper allocation of resources. So when do we start a grassroots campaign to stop the wars overseas so we can fund our needs at home? How much longer are we going to delay? How about starting today?
Once that serious matter is taken care of, the next step will be for us to decide how to allocate all the money the country will save by ending the wars overseas and bringing our troops home. All right, check this out. We are supposed to be in the space business already! Hello! Instead, we debate among ourselves whether or not women should have abortions, or whether gay marriage is acceptable or not. Speaking as an independent Internet preacher of the more radical kind, if we are serious about wanting to lead good lives and to be productive contributors towards the common good, then we need to be creating jobs and helping to rebuild people's lives. We need to be helping people regain their sustenance and self-sufficiency. I also am appalled that the mainstream church is so against abortion while being in favor of the death penalty and of waging war. I am equally appalled at the mainstream denominations for their condemnation of gay marriage while the divorce rates for evangelicals are about the same as for the secular world. These are glaring contradictions to their faith, to say the least.
OK, so here's how we fix our public schools and accelerate the start-up of all these new 21st century businesses, all at the same time. First, government and business should get together and find a way to give large grants to these fledgling companies that are already started up in one form or another. They need start-up capital, and they're not going to find it at the bank branch down the street. Government can and must step in. Our only alternative is to become a second-rate country, a has-been of military and economic power. The other thing that needs to be done is to start training future astronauts now. Update public school curriculum, and put it on-line. Turn the public schools into an Internet-based system that is paperless and that doesn't need to buy expensive textbooks every year (save the trees!). Then, start teaching the kids skills that they will need for a technology-based world and a digital workplace, with an emphasis on science and math. Start teaching them to be astronauts when they're 12 years old, because by the time they graduate from college there will be thousands of astronauts needed, not just a select lucky few like today. I can easily explain this.
At the peak of the US space shuttle program, NASA was launching about three missions per year. Having just witnessed the birth of the privatization of space by the recent docking of the first commercial space flights to the International Space Station, I can tell you that by the end of this decade there will be about three launches per week instead of per year. Ten years after that in 2030 there could easily be more than 3 launches per day, and so on. The time to begin getting ready for our space-faring future is now. Then do the same with the adults. Retrain everybody who can't find work, or who are in need of a career change, and pick up the tab just like the GI Bill. Performing this service for America's workforce will literally lift them all up to the next level and make it much more competitive. I have heard people complain over and over again that “we can't compete” with some dude in China who does the same job we do for $2.00 a day. What America needs is new careers to replace those that have been eliminated. We not only have the capacity to do this already, we are way behind and we have some catching up to do. But we are Americans. We can and will succeed if only we will unite together in this effort. Let's all get started today.