Occupy Health–Our Planet’s, Our Own–this May Day

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the premise of the new health care law, which is that all Americans should buy health insurance so that the healthy can help subsidize the sick.

I don’t hear anyone whining about the fact that we are all required to buy car insurance, even though many of us, like me, hardly ever have cause to use it.

Health insurance could and should operate under the same principle. If everyone pays their share, the costs will also be shared.

And the so-called individual health insurance mandate will most likely be much less expensive for society in the long run, since it will result in increased preventive care and far fewer expensive emergency room visits.

Of course a universal single-payer system—Medicare for all—would be much better than the “free-market” insurance system that is under discussion today.  But at least having everyone insured, with subsidies to help those who can’t afford to pay, is a good step in the right direction.

The new law also prevents insurance companies from denying people health care because they’re sick, a truly barbaric Americanism, and allows families to continue to cover their children’s insurance up to age 26.  Who could argue with that?

The truth is that our nation could easily afford to cover all its citizens’ health care, and then some, if we took several crucial steps:

  • Properly tax the rich: close tax loopholes, tax financial transactions, make a genuine commitment to closing the abyss between the 10% at the top and everyone else.
  • Shut down the war machine; spend money on butter, not guns—or better yet, on organic vegetables that will keep people healthy.  It’s insane to put so many trillions into weapons aimed at blowing people up, and then throw a hissy fit about government spending on keeping people healthy.
  • Raise the minimum wage substantially, so that people can afford to eat healthy food, live a healthy lifestyle, and buy own their health insurance policies.

We live in a nation besieged with ill health.  From cancer to diabetes to heart disease and asthma, not to mention depression, ADHD and autism, we are a country of chronically ill people.  I blame much of this on the toxic food that has been sold to us over the past 60 years, since the end of World War II, by the industrial agriculture and food packaging giants, which have irresponsibly poisoned our waters, air, soil—and our bodies.

The powers that be want us to believe that the solutions are very, very complicated. So much so that we should just leave it to the experts—go back home and eat some more antibiotic-laced hamburgers, why don’t you, and watch some more mind-numbing reality TV.

Actually, it’s just the opposite. It is not complicated at all, it’s very simple.

We the people pay our taxes so that our government will work for us.  We have a right to healthy food, water and air.  We have a right to health care.  We have a right to expect that our elected representatives, as well as our Supreme Court Justices, will act in our best interests.

Since the Citizens United decision, it has become starkly apparent that corporations, not people, get preference when it comes to rights.  Money talks: they have the billions to buy the politicians and the media, and the rest of us be damned.

Well, enough is enough.  This is exactly where the Occupy movement has to step in and show that Americans have not become the catatonic stooges that the media giants aimed to produce.

We know what’s going on.

We have been so, so patient. So law-abiding.  So earnestly hopeful, with each election, that things would get better.

Things have only gotten worse, and there is no end in sight.

President Obama has done far better than a President McCain would have done, but he is no knight in shining armor.

No one politician can do this on his or her own.

It’s going to take the collective will of a great coalition of ordinary folks to get this nation to focus on what’s really important in this new century.

And let me tell you, it does not have to do with health insurance.

It has to do with climate.

Tonight in New England a bitter wind is blowing, and the temperature is expected to drop to the single digits, with a wind chill below zero Farenheit.  After a week of balmy summery temperatures in the 80s, the blooming trees and flowers are going to get a harsh night of frost.

This is apparently the new normal as regards our climate.  Even if we were to immediately do everything possible to slow down carbon emissions, a ship the size of our planet would take several of our little lifetimes to rectify itself.

So we need to get used to it.  And if we don’t want it to get worse—that is, absolutely uninhabitable for most current life forms—we need to roll up our sleeves and put all our intelligence to work at creating new, sustainable forms of agriculture, industry and lifestyle.

It can be done.

But not while we fritter away our precious time in begging the entrenched powers to give us some crumbs.

No, we need to unseat those powers and dramatically reorganize our social priorities.

It can be done.

May Day is coming.  It must be a day of reckoning, the gateway to a hot summer of the hard work needed to provoke serious, transformative change.

1% > 99%: Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone

Why does it not surprise me that no comments were allowed on this op-ed piece from Sunday’s NY Times, which has been rankling at me for the past couple of days?

The authors, one a prof of law at Yale, the other UC Berkeley professor of law and economics, pose as compassionate conservatives who are concerned about the growing gap between the fabulously wealthy 1% and the rest of us 99%.

Their solution?  Impose a new, automatic tax on 1-percenters whose income exceeds $330,000—currently 36 times the median American household income.

“This new tax…would apply only to income in excess of the poorest 1-percenter — currently about $330,000 per year,” the authors (who admit to being part of this bracket) say. Their aim is not to “reverse the gains of the wealthy in the last 30 years,” but just to “assure that things don’t get worse.”

Ahem.  How about making things better???

A stark picture of the lives of those in the median (full disclosure: you’ll find me in this social landscape) was painted in today’s NYT editorial on the middle class: 

“Recent government data show that 100 million Americans, or about one in three, are living in poverty or very close to it. Of 13.3 million unemployed Americans now searching for work, 5.7 million have been looking for more than six months, while millions more have given up altogether. Even a job is no guarantee of middle-class security. The real median income of working-age households has declined, from $61,600 in 2000 to $55,300 in 2010 — the result of abysmally slow job growth even before the onset of the recession.”

You would think that our elected representatives in Congress would be concerned about this dismal state of affairs, and would be doing everything in their power to make things better for those hundreds of millions of troubled Americans, wouldn’t you?

Hah!  No, our reps in the House couldn’t be bothered to pass a bill giving us a very modest payroll tax cut, amounting to about $1,000 per year per median paycheck…because they’re holding out for strings attached that will, for example, fast-track the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let’s connect more dots here.  According to a recent report by the non-partisan group Public Campaign, “30 multi-million dollar American corporations expended more money lobbying Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, ultimately spending approximately $400,000 every day — including weekends — during that three-year period to lobby lawmakers and influence political elections.”

You know, there would be nothing so wrong with corporations lobbying Congress IF they had the best interests of society as a whole at heart.  But we all know that’s not true. While 2010 was a “record year for executive compensation,” it was also a record year for lay-offs. And don’t even get me started about corporate sins against the environment.

It all comes back to the greed of the 1%.

In an unusual personal aside, the Yale and Berkeley profs confess that their “grandparents would be shocked to learn that the average income of the 1-percent club has skyrocketed to more than 30 times the median income — just as we will be shocked if 20 years from now 1-percenters make 80 times the median, which is where we will be if inequality continues to grow at the current rate unabated.”

So they want to hold inequality to its current levels.  That’s like saying let’s hold global warming to where it is now.  Hello-o?  Both inequality and global warming are at deadly levels right now.  Maintaining the status quo is like setting the throttle in full gear and leaving the wheel to have a drink, while the bus rolls off the cliff.

Professors, you should be ashamed of not having had the courage to enable the comments on your brilliant proposal.

Let me just put a little spin on your title, may I?  Instead of “Don’t Tax the Rich, Tax Inequality Itself,” how about: “Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone.”  Let’s call a spade a spade–and let the debate begin!

Much to protest…and much work to be done to make it right

Riots in Rome, a huge protest in Times Square, New York, and rolling protests from New Zealand to London to L.A. Things haven’t been this globally lively since the 2003 protests against the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Where is it all leading?

None of us know.  But the police are getting out their riot gear, and it is very possible that there are going to be more violent clashes, as there were in Rome today.

As the protests gain momentum, it’s important to keep our eye on just what all the anger is about.

Business Insider, of all sites, published a very interesting set of charts and commentary last week promising to explain just what all the fuss was about down in Liberty Plaza.  Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Here are a few of the most damning charts:

The U.S. ranks below China, Iran and India in terms of income INEQUALITY.

Five percent of Americans own 69% of financial wealth.  The top 1% own 42% of this country’s financial wealth.

And the tax rate of these fabulously wealthy people is about the same as everyone else’s. That’s why they continue to get richer and richer, and everyone else slides inexorably downward.

While CEO pay is up nearly 300% since 1990, average workers’ pay is up 4%.  I don’t know about you, but the modest increases in my salary over the past decade have been totally absorbed by higher expenses, from food to gas to health insurance premiums and everything else.

So hell yes, there is something to be angry about!  There is a lot to protest!  There is a lot of work to be done to turn this country and this world around. The question is, how far will we go to rock the comfortable cruise ship of the one percenters?  And how far will they go to keep the status quo the way it is?

Police forces have always done the bidding of the wealthy in capitalist societies; is there any chance this could change?  The police are workers just like the protesters; is there any chance they will break their indoctrination and side with their own class interest?

Seems unlikely, but let’s not underestimate the forces of change.  Who would have believed, even six weeks ago, that people would be turning out in the thousands across the world to protest corporate greed and social inequality?

Look at this crowd.  It’s pretty clean cut, isn’t it?  This doesn’t look like a case for the riot police.  By and large, these people don’t want revolution. They just want to be able to live decent lives in a country they can be proud of.

Is this too much to ask?

No.  But, and this is a BIG BUT: what we’ve come to consider “a decent life” is going to have to change in the 21st century, given peak oil, the impending collapse of industrial agriculture, and the climate crisis.

So much will depend on our being smart enough to put these pieces together with the economic injustice we perceive so clearly, and see our way clear to a new, sustainably grounded society.

This is not too much to ask either.  But it will be a challenge to move from the fist-in-the-air stage to the creative visioning, and most of all to the implementation of a more just and sustainable economic system.

We have no choice but to meet this challenge.  Our global future as a species depends on it. This is the central task of our time.

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