Thoughts for the Occupy Movement
I am posting the following on behalf of Marvin Malek, a member of the Survey WG:
To Interested Members of the “Occupy VT” Movement:
I would appreciate if members of the Occupy VT movement would consider narrowing the focus of the movement, primarily focusing on three related goals:
1 Limiting corporate power—especially the power of Wall Street investment firms
2 Creating a banking sector that serves human needs and works to build a sustainable economy,
3 Addressing the ever widening inequalities in Vermont and in the US as a whole.
I’ve been a single payer activist for 25 years. Despite handsome profits for the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and despite spending twice the international average per capita on medical spending, millions of Americans—and nearly 50,000 Vermonters–have no form of health insurance. Millions more Americans—probably 70 million – have such poor coverage (high deductibles, exclusions, etc in their policies) that they would go bankrupt if someone in their family were actually to develop a major illness. So I wondered why single payer universal health care was not included in the list of demands
But my opinion is that the health care issue should not be the focus of the “Occupy” movement.
The US has involved itself in pointless wars in South Asia for over a decade, costing over a trillion dollars and a trail of death, disability, and destruction in the affected countries, and among those Americans who served, who so rarely seem to come back unharmed both physically and psychologically. It must stop. 53% of worldwide military spending is expended by the US government. That must stop.
But I also feel that reducing Pentagon spending and calling a halt to seemingly endless war should not be the major focus of the “Occupy” movement.
I would say the same about several other very important issues.
WHY “OCCUPY WALL STREET” OCCUPIED WALL STREET
Why didn’t our “Occupy” protest movement occupy the Pentagon, or occupy the national headquarters of Cigna, Aetna, or one of the big for-profit hospitals.
It was not an accident that the “Occupy” movement began on Wall Street.
Why Wall Street?
The economic calamity that began in 2007 was caused by Wall Street bankers who knowingly – and fraudulently—promoted worthless real-estate investment products on a massive scale. This ultimately led to tens of millions of Americans losing their jobs, and millions more losing their homes.
Yet not only did the federal government fail to prosecute even one single banker, but the government expended hundreds of billions of dollars to fully bail them out. At the same time, the government did very little to rescue the economy or support the unemployed. And virtually nothing at all was done to bail out those who had lost their homes.
Worse yet, three years later, both the unemployment rate and the number of foreclosures are thus far showing no sign of decreasing. And how is Wall Street doing three years later? Wall Street bankers’ incomes are now not only restored, but they’re earning more than ever before.
MOST EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN WHO WATCHES THE NEWS EVEN CASUALLY FINDS THIS SITUATION TO BE ABSOLUTELY OUTRAGEOUS.
The “Occupy” movement will be making a tactical error of historic significance if we produce a large laundry list of demands rather than focus squarely on the banking sector, and the inevitable inequalities the system of banking and investment has produced. Don’t misunderstand me: I support everything mentioned on the list developed at the Saturday meeting—and normally I would want to add military spending and the need to develop a humane, affordable health care system. But I don’t feel that way. Instead, I feel strongly that as a movement, we can take advantage of the widespread outrage against the “Banksters”, and promote a very progressive, yet sensible set of demands directly related to the issue that has led to the mobilization.
To be honest, I feel that starting out by sticking with the banking/corporate power issue will attract many more people, and over time, it should be possible to inform these newly mobilized individuals about all the other issues mentioned on the current list. And I feel that as we do so, we can use electronic means of communication to promote all the other movements if we are successful at developing a much larger list of individuals who were initially mobilized by the banking issue.
Keep in mind also that focusing on the banking issues, ever-increasing corporate power, and inequalities could hardly be characterized as a modest undertaking. By itself, this represents a huge, compelling agenda for the Occupy movement.
DEMANDS DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE BANKING CRISIS,
CORPORATE POWER AND EVER-INCREASING INEQUALITY
A friend of mine who is working with the Occupy movement in Upstate New York has developed the following list of demands which I have edited to a modest degree. I would like everyone who has joined the “Occupy” effort to at least consider this list of demands.
PROPOSED LIST OF DEMANDS FOR OCCUPY MOVEMENT
October 24, 2011
- Increase capital gains taxes so that these tax rates are as high as the tax rate on earned income.
- Capital gains taxation on investments that are held for a relatively brief period (e.g. less than 3 months) should be taxed at a higher rate than investments held for a longer period. And VERY short-term investments (less than 7 days) should be taxed at an even higher rate (to limit Wall Street stock “gambling” and increase emphasis on “investment”).
- Restore income tax rates to previous levels — with graduated rates leading to 60% tax rates at the 5+ million dollar income range
- Implement a financial transactions tax –a small fee, 0.25 percent, on the sale or transfer of stocks, bonds and other financial assets (this is what Great Britain does now).
- Implement tax and investment policies that reward domestic job creation
- Implement more aggressively tax and investment policies that reward companies that a) are environmentally responsible b) provide high levels of fringe benefits and medical/leave/educational benefits for their employees c) maintain moderate rather than extremely high wage ratios between the highest and lowest paid employees (CEO’s vs. janitors)
- Increase penalties for White Collar corporate crimes and strengthen financial oversight agencies
- Encourage stockholders to challenge unethical and unreasonable corporate practices (including very high corporate salaries) through the creation of a nationwide “ethical investment” stockholders organization that promotes responsible, labor-friendly, job-creating, and green investment.
- Repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 that eliminated key elements of the regulatory structure that governed investment banking successfully for 67 years. This Act was one key condition that led to the current banking crisis. We should also break up the big banks so that none are “too big to fail”.
- Put an end to free speech rights for corporations—Corporations are not people, they have never been incarcerated, even when the magnitude of their larceny vastly eclipses the wildest dreams of the average bank robber. The “Citizens United” ruling in the right-wing Supreme Court should be promptly reversed.
- Encourage the creation of public/private partnerships where the public ownership is 51% or more — to help ground companies in specific geographical areas and limit corporate flight.
I would like everyone to note that while demand #3 simply promotes an egalitarian redistribution of wealth—something most of us would probably support, I feel that more specifically redistributing wealth by taxing and limiting income from speculation and foreign investment represents the most useful ways to achieve wealth redistribution. Demands #1, 2, 4, and 5 do these things. As it stands, a wealthy Vermonter who opens a business and employs Vermonters is taxed at a much higher rate than if s/he invested in a foreign corporation. This must be changed
Demands #6 – 10 try to assert more public control over corporate decision-making in ways that benefit everyone in society—rather than just the bottom line of corporations and their wealthy investors. Demand #9 restores an appropriate level of government regulation over the banking sector—extremely important given the crisis we are enduring—caused by the clearly demonstrated inability on the part of Wall Street bankers to exert any reasonable level of self-regulation or self-control over their greed
Demand #11 is an especially major divergence from the status quo, essentially creating a semi-socialist situation: Rather than just giving tax breaks to already wealthy corporations that choose to locate in one’s community (the common practice currently done by state and local government), demand #11 provides public support for private sector investment in a manner that allows public control and also recoups revenue back to the taxpayers. Nearly all existing government programs to stimulate local investment fail to recoup any money back to the general public who paid for the stimulus package through higher taxes.
Thank you to everyone who takes the time to review these documents.