Click here to go to the Home Page Cover Story: Building a Movement For a Better Future (The past ain’t comin’ back!) By Ethel Long-Scott, Executive Director Women’s Economic Agenda Project, Editorial Board

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For all of the talk about getting our economy back from its 2008 crash, two things haven’t changed.  The super rich continue to get richer at the expense of the rest of us, while workers continue to lose ground.  Now that Congress and state legislatures are struggling with what additional safety net programs to cut, it’s clear that despite lots of protests and lots of hope, the widening gap between the rich and the poor is going to keep growing.  Our elected officials from both major parties are setting things up to guarantee that the super rich will continue to get richer at the expense of workers and the middle income and poor.  And guess what - they’re using the power of government to reorganize society so that private corporate power dominates everything and public services nearly disappear.  What we have to understand is that all of this is being driven by an economic revolution that should be used to provide a more secure life for everyone by expanding public resources instead delivering them to private interests.

Here are some of the latest indicators that show how our political leaders are setting things up to get government on all levels - federal, state and local - out of the business of providing public services that are good for everybody, and into the business of using everybody’s tax money to help the richest people and companies get even richer:

In 2010 the richest 20 percent of Americans earned half (49.4 percent) of the national income, while people living below the poverty line earned only 3.4 percent.  This earnings ratio of 14.5 to 1 was even better for the wealthy than in 2008, the year wealthy Wall St. speculators sent the economy into the worst depression since the 1930s.

In California, in late March the newly elected democratic Governor signed into law billions of dollars in budget cuts that according to the Los Angeles Times will mean fewer government services, particularly for the old, the poor and the sick.  Unions, along with public employees, have called for large public protests similar to those in February when tens of thousands demonstrated against the gutting of collective bargaining rights for most state workers in Wisconsin, but there is no indication that will deflect the slashing of public services.

In Ohio the anti-union moves are even tougher than in Wisconsin.   In both states collective bargaining over health and pensions are being prohibited.   While firefighters and police were spared in Wisconsin, in Ohio first responders are subject to the same austerity measures.  A race is under way state by state to gut collective bargaining while setting a blow torch to the safety net.

In Michigan, the state government passed a new law in March allowing the governor to remove elected officials and replace them with emergency financial managers in any municipality or school district facing financial difficulties.  One of the legislators sponsoring this law called it “financial martial law.”  Among other things, it allows the emergency financial managers to cancel labor contracts, fire elected officials and even dissolve local communities and school districts.  And the emergency financial managers, appointed by the governor, don’t even have to be human beings. They can be corporations if the governor wishes.  This is coupled with a governor’s budget proposing billions of dollars in cuts in state aid to Michigan cities and school district, virtually guaranteeing if it passes that many more will face financial difficulties.

The Michigan law didn’t draw the large public protests that developed in February and March in Wisconsin, when Gov. Scott Walker attempted to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.  His proposal, which prompted Democratic legislators to flee the state rather than be defeated by the Republican majority, was passed anyway and is currently hung up in a court challenge.  Walker has told a congressional hearing that he sees collective  bargaining as a negotiated entitlement, not a basic right.

BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?On the federal level, President Obama made it clear in a mid-April speech that he expects all Americans to sacrifice to slash the federal deficit, he just doesn’t want the sacrificing to be as unequal as the budget proposal passed in early April by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.   The new federal health care plan hasn’t fixed what’s wrong with our broken health care system, but it is delivering millions of new customers to boost insurance company and drug company profits.   New bi-partisanship proposals aren’t simply a blend of Democrats and Republicans but rather proposals to move public resources out of the public domain and put more resources into the clutches of corporations. Everywhere you look workers’ rights, wages and benefits are under attack.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.  But it will continue to be this way until we understand that our elected officials of both major parties have failed us.  They are determined to put corporate profits ahead of the public good.  And that’s not right, because the public good is what has helped so many people in this country achieve the American dream.  Isn’t government - on all levels - supposed to be about the public good?  Providing services, from quality education to water, to roads and bridges, that benefit all of us.  It will take some unconventional thinking before, as Sam Cooke sang it, “a change gonna come.”  And when the change comes, it’s going to have to come from us ordinary people.  There are people fighting back against the steadily widening gap between rich and poor.  But the fight back strategy, important as it is, can’t get us where we need to be.  It can slow down the takeaways and the givebacks, but even fighting back doesn’t address the economic revolution that is at the heart of our problems.

What nobody in the public policy arena seems willing to discuss is how digital technology and the computerized control systems and robots it spawned has fundamentally disrupted our economy.  It’s a huge change, as big as the Industrial Revolution, because digital technology and globalization have changed the basic relationship between labor and profits that is the fundamental enabler of capitalism. It used to take huge numbers of people to make things, and most people lived reasonably close to their jobs.  Not any more.  Every day the list of goods and services produced by computer-controlled machines instead of people grows longer. It’s no longer possible to have the capitalism that your grandparents and parents grew up under.  We began getting evidence of that 40 years ago with the first massive industrial layoffs as the manufacturing base of old industrial capitalism was systematically destroyed and employers moved jobs overseas in search of cheaper labor.  Then 20 years ago, the economic boom of the 1990s made the rich much, much richer without doing anything to improve the declining situation of blue collar workers and the poor.  That was how determined our political and business leaders were to use the profits from digital technology for their own private gain.  Making public services healthy enough to serve everybody was not part of their plan.  Parallel to this process was the transfer of much of much of old manufacturing base to the developing world, where workers rights were scarce to non-existent and rampant poverty insured higher profits through reduced labor costs.  We see more evidence of this today with all the talk of a “jobless recovery.”  When economists say “jobless recovery,” what they mean is that companies have found a way to produce more and more stuff with fewer and fewer workers.

As a nation, we’re not adjusting very well to this disruptive fundamental economic change.  And that’s not good.  Our history tells us that when big and successful institutions can’t adjust to disruptive fundamental change they die.  The American industries that grew rich and powerful building steam locomotives for 100 years were killed off in one generation by the perfection of the diesel engine.  General Motors, once the world’s most powerful corporation, ignored fundamental changes and is now merely a shadow of what it used to be, and would be dead if it hadn’t been put on government life support.  Newspapers, once our nation’s most profitable and powerful central gateways for public information, are shrinking rapidly as they struggle to cope with the decentralized information brought by the Internet.  Dealing with such a revolutionary change in the structure of the national economy requires a big leap forward in thinking to take advantage of the opportunities it offers.

Our country hasn’t made that leap forward in thinking yet.  It keeps trying to build the future by going back to the past, and we see the tragic results all around us.  The current global drain of wealth from lower income people to the higher income super rich has resulted in more poverty, escalating U.S. Unemployment, looting of the public coffers and destruction of services on state and local levels.    The decimation of industrial capitalism by what is now a “robotic nation” has hastened the destruction of the tattered safety net and thrown away the social contract of the mid-nineteenth century.  It’s been decades since U.S. workers could count on their children having better lives than they did.

Instead of looking realistically at the advantages and disadvantages of the revolutionary change, our ruling elite creates scapegoats to blame the changes on.  In the 80’s & 90’s  we saw a bi-partisan portrayal of women on welfare as the scourges of society falsely blamed for killing jobs and sucking up resources.  Today it is immigrants and public sector workers who are being wrongly blamed for disappearing jobs and skyrocketing taxes.  And while the politicians, the press and corporations present misinformation to a public looking for answers, the real issues that will determine our future are not discussed.  The real issues include the steady reorganization of government to move it out of the business of securing the public good, and putting it to work to boost corporate profits at both the state and federal levels, giving corporations what they need at the expense of workers and the community at large.

This gives new meaning to the often quoted words of rightwing political strategist Grover Norquist, who has said the goal is to starve the beast of government with trillions of dollars in deficits resulting from trillions of dollars in tax cuts:  "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Norquist’s comment has become a mantra, revealing how determined the elite class - the global super rich -- is to grab the money now being spent on valuable public services, and use it instead to bolster corporate profits.  The goal is to privatize the government by turning over its public service functions for corporations to run as a profit-making business. Once corporations provide “services” that used to be guaranteed in the name of the people, then government simply denies it has any responsibility to people at all.   People who are elderly, or disabled, or poor, workers who are injured or simply not well, will get only as much services as they can afford to pay for, even though they may have worked hard all their lives.

It is a lie to claim that taxes must not be raised.  To claim that, and then turn around and cut benefits to needy human beings, is class warfare, waged against working and middle income people to benefit the corporate class.  We now have a system that glories in the greatest polarization of wealth in human history while actively dispossessing the people who are being devastated by the economic crisis and throwing them on the streets.

Meanwhile, surveys show the number of millionaires and billionaires in the world is rising faster than ever before.  Who are these new super rich? There are 10 million millionaires in the world. It is said that real wealth begins when you have around $10 million. Fifty-five countries have billionaires. Today there are 1,210 billionaires in the world with combined wealth of $4.5 trillion” in U.S. dollars. Six years ago there were 447 which shows how rapidly the wealth is being transferred.

These super rich global elite are awash in cash.  In his article, Hedge Fund Gamblers Earn the Same In One Hour As a Middle-Class Household Makes In Over 47 YearsLes Leopold makes a compelling argument describing how the super rich are awash in cash that could help with supporting the public good , “The top 25 hedge fund earners took in $22.07 billion in 2010. Thanks to a generous tax loophole these billionaires will pay a top tax rate of 15 percent instead of 35 percent... It would take the median US household over 47 years to earn as much as Paulson pocketed in just 60 minutes. And, every hedge fund manager pays a lower tax rate than the average family.”

Our fights are not simply against nearby corporations, but against the global super rich with a global appetite for super profits and a dedication to accelerate dismantling our safety net and further destroy collective bargaining as a means to reduce labor costs.

The super rich global elite is moving to reorganize government to help them maintain their super profits.   To help them maintain their super profits, the super rich global elite have brought a powerful weapon into play here in the United States – nationalization to achieve the government help they need to transfer income from workers to themselves.

• The $13 trillion Federal bailout of the 2008 national bank meltdowns was perhaps the greatest single transfer of public wealth into private hands in history.  The government seized our personal property in the form of tax money, and simply handed it over to corporate private property, without so much as even requiring the banks to report on how they intended to use it.  These were the very corporate elites, of course, that ruined the economy in the first place.

• The new national Health Insurance program our nation is operating under is a form of nationalization which primarily benefits the Insurance Industry.  The so-called Health care reform leaves intact the cash cow aspect that the insurance companies and drug manufacturers depend upon for their profits.  That’s why health insurance and medicine prices keep going up to feed shareholder needs.  Additional examples include new proposals to further privatize Medicare and Medicaid programs by limiting services to those able to pay the costs.

• This massive reorganization of government to meet the profit needs of corporate America is also happening at state and municipality levels.   Here in California the goals of the super rich were secured by an orchestrated “budget crisis,” for more than twenty years.   This is still being used as a means to destroy government for public purposes while further transferring public wealth into private hands.  The so-called “budget crisis” could have been averted simply by having corporations pay more state taxes.  Corporations claim that they pay a high percentage of the total business tax, but this is because property taxes for corporations are so low.  California is 45th in the country in corporate property taxes. 

Similarly in 40 other states across the nation the only solutions being seriously pursued are to increase taxes on working people, cut more of the public services to the society at large and cut all of the jobs connected to those public services.   Just this year billions of dollars worth of cuts to services and jobs have been secured by bi-partisan legislatures.  While well oiled misinformation campaigns by corporate media pretend that job cuts are not also service and resource destroyers.  Lynda Carson’s summary in indy media, Budget cuts, and the pathway to homelessness, sounds the alarm about the further damage to the poor by the latest state actions and their continued benefit to the super rich.

As workers, our lives and our rights are under fire at every level as the super rich and corporations stop at nothing to increase their profits by squeezing workers pensions or health care or slashing life saving safety net programs. Ultimately either the corporations are going to win by creating a society where everything is privatized, there is no public good and you can only have as much qualify of life as you can pay for; or we the workers are going to win a world where the power of computer controls and robots will be used for public benefit, not private gain.  As they continue to extend their power over our government we need a new vision and a new strategy.

We need to build a broad transformative movement with organizing campaigns that show how we can establish a new social contract that puts the things we need into the public domain, from housing, to education, to health care, for the safety and security of all society!

This will be the fight of a lifetime, but we can do it.! One of the tragedies of where we’re stuck now is that the digital technology which is destroying the economic basis for capitalism is also creating the opportunity for a wonderful new world of a good life for everyone.

Great opportunities lie in the challenges of computer-driven technology, but it’s hard to see those opportunities if you stick with conventional wisdom.  Futurist Marshall Brain explains one of the primary challenges quite clearly in his essay “Robotic Nation.”   Our ATMs and supermarket self-service checkout systems are early, primitive signs of the robotic revolution we are living in. From about 2001, these automated systems proliferated and evolved until nearly every retail transaction can be handled in an automated way.  Corporations like automated systems because they’re cheaper than workers.  The price we pay is in jobs.  Five million jobs in the retail sector have been lost as a result of these systems.

Automated systems are now taking over a huge proportion of industry, from the manufacturing of cars, to flying our airplanes, to picking tomatoes.  Soon they are going to be cleaning our rooms and homes.  Marshall Brain predicts that by 2030 we will be able to buy a humanoid to do mundane and routine household tasks.   Capitalism as we know it is hitting a distribution wall.  How do you get men and women who have no jobs and no money to buy goods and services?

The automated systems that are destroying our jobs have have also given us the resources to give a good life to everyone without backbreaking labor. In the not so distant future we could have better food and housing production, the opportunity to end the agonizing worry and unnecessary suffering of so many people about their health care, a better education for many of our children.  What stands in our way is an idea that has become time-honored because it’s been around since the dawn of the industrial revolution.  It’s been around so long that it seems as natural as wearing clothes, but it’s now as outmoded and backward as the horse and buggy transportation that many of our ancestors thought would never go away.  It’s the idea that nothing should be done unless some private company can make a profit on it.  Thanks to computers, we no longer need the idea that making profits should determine how much respect we get as human beings.  What we do need is a new way of thinking about how to make the best use of this fundamental technological shift in the relationship between labor and profits.  What we need is a new social contract that puts people first, human rights first, and discourages profits as part of an outmoded value system.

So going forward we need to build a broad transformative movement that pushes for the future instead of the past.  For instance it could push for protecting and keeping Medicare out of the clutches of the super rich and their market driven forces.

So going forward we could push for improving Medicaid by bringing it up to the level of Medicare while expanding medical care for all.  This would allow us to keep these resources in the public domain for the good of everyone, not just private shareholders and the wealthy.   This would be a cost saver, and would help the 14,000 people who are losing their health insurance every day when they loose their job.

So going forward we need reject this false idea that there’s NO money and follow the money trail in the way that Les Leopold and others suggest.  “There’s a movement underway for what economist Dean Baker aptly named a “financial speculation tax...The FST (also known as a financial transactions tax or the Robin Hood tax) is a modest set of taxes on Wall Street trading – e.g. 0.25% (1/4 of a percent) on a stock purchase or sale and 0.02% (1/50 of a percent) on the sale or purchase of a future, option, or credit default swap. These rates are proportional to the actual transaction costs in the industry.  An FST would raise over $100 billion per year in badly needed revenue or $1 trillion over the course of a decade.This is a substantial sum of revenue, which skims the fat off of a sector of the economy that can afford to pay it.”

So going forward we need a new solidarity movement that truly proceeds that an injury to one is an injury to all.  This includes elevating the importance of poverty elimination in the our daily battles for workers rights, to defend and secure the safety net so that we might live.   This is especially important in the face of the onslaught against public sector workers.  Besides telling the truth about what’s really going on we need to share workers rights fights aimed at keeping and expanding the resources we need in the public domain, such as reflecting our goals and aims as workers in this new era, from the  positive impact in the state by state battles to aimed at curtailing health costs on a state and municipal level.   Ways we can start are exemplified by work and actions of auto workers from the old industrial area and now left with gutted benefits and little health care,

Retirees for Single Payer, and also

Health Care - Now’s recent meeting on threats to Medicare and Medicaid.

So going forward will include challenging popular corporate-sponsored rhetoric that Latinos - and undocumented workers specifically or public sector workers - are the reason for our budget problems and the job loss we have in America.

So going forward work today to build a movement to make public the resources we need to live & to Eliminate Poverty, Now! Editorial Board member Ethel Long-Scott is Executive Director of the Women's Economic Agenda Project, (WEAP), dedicated to attaining economic human rights for all people.. WEAP serves as state host of the California Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. She is known nationally and internationally for devoting her life to the education and leadership of people at the losing end of society, especially women of color. She is dedicated to economic security and justice and believes that the US is engaged in a relentless war against workers and the poor. Click here to contact Ms. Long-Scott.

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Apr 21, 2011 - Issue 423
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BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?
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