Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Contrasting advice for Wall Street protesters

On Sunday, Nicolas Kristof, the estimable New York Times columnist and Oregon native, offered a list of “practical demands” that he thought the “Occupy Wall Street” organizers should get behind. See his full column HERE.

His three “suggestions” are as much evidence of the problem as they are efforts at a solution. Take a look. (As you will see, my own "suggestions" are radically different):

1. Kristoff wants to impose a financial transactions tax. The “modest tax on financial trades” .... would “dampen speculative trading that creates dangerous volatility.”

2. Close the “carried interest” and “founders’ stock” loopholes, which, in Kristof’s words, “may be the most unconscionable tax breaks in America.”

3. Protect big banks from themselves by “moving ahead with Basel III capital requirements and adopting the Volcker Rule to limit banks’ ability to engage in risky and speculative investments." Kristof calls this “the finance equivalent of a pollution tax.”

Right. So what’s wrong with this surprisingly modest list?

Nothing really, except nothing on it will happen because the money-driven political system won’t allow it.

What’s needed is overarching political change. Note I didn’t say “reform.” Considerable “clean slate” thinking is needed here. Instead of nibbling ineffectively at the tax code, we need to take a hard look at that “holy of holies) the U.S. Constitution to see where it is at odds with democracy, civility, freedom and fairness.

So here is a list of changes (13 demands!) to commend to the Wall Street protesters:

1. Whatever constitutional provisions allow soulless Corporations to have the rights of individual citizens need excising.

2. Whatever constitutionally allows a handful of votes (in small rural states) to block the majority's will (through filibusters etc.), must go.

3. The electoral college is an anachronism. Out with it!

4. We need universal health care, period. No compromises, NONE. (this very likely can’t happen until 2. and 3. are in effect.)

5. The right to education and employment should have equal status with the right to vote — which, by the way, is also under attack — thanks again to the Constitution and the powers it gives the states.

6. In the name of peace, we should require that our foreign aid be equal to or greater than our military spending. The two must NOT be conflated.

7. The Second Amendment should be rewritten so that it clearly serves domestic tranquility, not crime, mayhem, “accidental deaths” and hatred.

8. Media literacy should be a required course in all schools — at every grade level.

9. We should create an economy based on needs, not wants. Note: that means our societal priorities should be public needs (schools, health care, bridges, mass transit, social services) at the expense of private wants (jewelry, expensive cars, second and third homes, private jets, yachts etc.) Basic needs should be spelled out and guaranteed. Housing, health, education, food etc. (We don't need to re-invent the wheel. See the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

10. We must legislate requirements that create a “carbon neutral” economy. We must end global warming.

11. Employees (including — and notably — CEOs) should be paid what they are worth, not what the easily manipulated market will bear or what closed boards of directors decide or compromised "compensation consultants" recommend. And, yes, the question of what employees are 
worth needs to be discussed, determined and negotiated openly and honestly. Questions of equity, living wages and human dignity should be addressed.

12. The judicial and law enforcement systems must be just and equitable. Minimum sentencing is a denial of due process and capital punishment is, in every case, “cruel” and “excessive.” Both should be outlawed.

13. Get big money out of politics once and for all. Limit campaign contributions and/or simply publicly finance elections. Believe me, it will be “cost effective.”

The contrast of my list to Kristof's solutions to our problems is stark and, frankly, worrying. I admire him for writing so boldly about the problems he finds among the poor abroad. Why, then, is he so wobbly and narrowly focused in writing about our problems here at home?

An afterthought: Under the present political system, my list is even less likely to be implemented than Kristof's. The difference, however, is that my list is attuned to working outside the system, which is exactly what the protesters are doing. More power to them — and us!

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Blogger Tom said...

I support your list except #2 and #3.

Small states and big state republicans will block this so what is needed is populist organizing in the small states. It may turn out to be easier than you think as corporate overreach is hurting rural people as much or more than anyone. When the good folks win elections in the small states the corporate lobby will flip and support your demands.

2:58 PM  

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