U.S. needs a new labor movement

Labor Day was first celebrated on Sept. 5, 1882 by the members of the Central Labor Union in New York. During the following decade, several states and cities made Labor Day an official holiday.

Meanwhile. the Pullman Co. of Chicago built a company town to produce its railroad cars. Its residents all worked for Pullman, their paychecks drawn from Pullman’s bank, their rent going to Pullman’s profits. In 1893, Pullman laid off hundreds of workers, cut wages, but kept rents up. The workers organized a strike, which the federal government declared a crime, broke up with 12,000 troops, killing two strikers, and jailing Eugene Debs, the president of the American Railway Union.

As a sop to organized labor, Congress made Labor Day a national holiday in 1894, even as the federal government deep-sixed union organizing for 40 years, until FDR and the New Deal.

Fast forward to 1981. When Ronald Reagan became president, one of his first actions was to break PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. Reagan set the standard for destroying unions and disorganizing workers right up until today.

So now, 30 years later, fewer than 1 out of 12 workers are organized into unions. It is better here in Washington, where every fifth worker is in a union. But that is bad, according to the Boeing boys in Chicago. That’s why they are setting up production in South Carolina, where fewer than 1 out of 20 workers are organized.

Do unions make a difference? They do for the people who actually live in our state. Our median middle class income is more than $60,000. South Carolina’s “middle class” income is $41,000. Our poverty rate is lower than South Carolina’s, our health coverage is better, more of our citizens have high school degrees, college degrees and advanced degrees.

One of the main reasons for this difference in quality of life is that we in Washington have done a much better job at holding onto the New Deal. So what about the New Deal? It was a promise to the people of this country that they could live with a certain amount of economic security and work with a certain amount of respect. Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership, it became the centerpiece for economic recovery. The New Deal brought Social Security, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, the 40-hour work week, and the right of workers to organize into unions.

FDR did not wave a magic wand and create the New Deal. He acted because of the demands of unemployed workers, poor workers, and workers organizing into unions, risking their wages, their livelihoods, and their lives. They propelled the New Deal, enabling FDR to overcome corporate opponents and conservative politicians seeking to preserve the status quo of wealth and poverty.

We are in a similar economic situation today. One out of 10 workers is unemployed. One of every 5 kids lives in poverty. The wealthy are grabbing more of the national income, while middle class families pay more for health care and education, and see their wages stagnate.

The reality of “you-are-on-your-own” politics is not pretty. But instead of revitalizing our country with a new New Deal, political leaders are either leading the charge to take down the New Deal or are caving into that demand. Republicans and Democrats are both guilty.

Whether it is coddling Boeing while it breaks federal labor laws, or figuring out how to take away Medicare and Social Security benefits, or bailing out the big banks while leaving homeowners under water, our political leaders have failed us. They are presiding over the demise of unions and our middle class quality of life, and the enthronement of global corporations.

Who can turn this around? The answer is as American as apple pie. It is workers organized into unions, to give ordinary Americans a voice and a lever to make a new New Deal. It will be unemployed workers organizing, minimum wage workers organizing, baristas and tellers organizing, along with machinists, teachers, engineers and grocery store clerks. Only a new labor movement can enable Americans to make a new New Deal.

Are we going to allow Labor Day to remain a sop to workers, enabling politicians to declare their respect for work, while dismantling the quality of life that American unions built? Or will we look back on this second decade of the 21st century as the time when this country turned itself around for middle class Americans? That’s up to all of us to determine. Happy Labor Day 2011!

Originally published here.

John Burbank is executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). His email address is john@eoionline.org.

Boss rakes in millions; workers get food stamps

All told, the federal government provides $65 billion a year in food stamps to almost 46 million Americans. While that sounds like a lot of money — maybe it’s something Republicans in Congress would like to cut out — it comes down to $118 a month for each recipient. And it pales next to the $2.2 trillion we’ve lost over the past 10 years thanks to the Bush (and now Obama) tax cuts for the wealthy few.

While watching Congress and the president wrangle over the fake crisis of raising the debt ceiling, the Department of Agriculture reported that 45.8 million Americans now receive food stamps to help purchase food. That’s one out of every seven Americans.

In our state more than 1 million people now depend on food stamps — almost one out of six. The number of people receiving food stamps has grown by 90,000 in Washington over the past year alone. That’s like putting almost the entire population of Everett into poverty. In five years, the number has grown by half a million.

There’s a simple reason for the increase: people are poor, and getting poorer, as the recession grinds on. How poor? Well, to get food stamps for a family of three, your annual income must be less than $37,000. For a single person working full-time, you cannot make more than $10.50 an hour. Exceed those limits and you lose your food stamps.

Food stamps are not easy to get. First, you have to be in or close to poverty — you can’t really earn a living wage. You pretty much have to empty out your bank account. And for those who worry about such things, no, you can’t be an “illegal” alien or have a drug conviction. So we are talking about keeping hunger at bay for working citizens. To get food stamps you have to be personally interviewed and go through a document check. That’s the red tape that keeps one-third of eligible people from receiving food stamps.

If you need food stamps, they are literally life-saving — so they’re worth a lot! But if you don’t, you might wonder about their value. So here are the numbers:

If you are single and making $10 an hour working full-time, you will get about $16 a month. Hardly worth going to an interview! In Washington, the average food stamp benefit per person is $120 a month. For a household, the average benefit is $243.

Though they are a relatively measly benefit, food stamps have an outsized economic benefit for our economy. Every $5 in food stamps spent on groceries generates $9 worth of total economic activity. That’s because the food stamps are spent in local stores employing local people, who also spend their paychecks locally. Direct expenditures on food stamps accounted for $1.4 billion in economic activity in 2010, and the multiplier effect meant that $2.5 billion was injected into our economy that year through food stamps.

If you think food stamps are just hand-outs to the undeserving, you should know a couple of things: About half of food stamp recipients are children. Another 10 percent are people over age 60. And the average household income for food stamp recipients is just three-fifths of what is considered poverty.

Now think about your local Starbucks barista. She very likely makes less than $10.50 an hour. If she works full-time, she is still on the cusp of poverty. She can and should qualify for food stamps. Meanwhile, the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, enjoyed a total compensation package of $21.7 million last year. That’s a lot of lattes. If he enjoyed a measly income of just $1 million, that other $20.7 million could have paid for food stamp benefits for 15,000 people. But he is not paying for those food stamps. Instead, the federal government and us taxpayers are subsidizing poor wages at Starbucks with food stamps for its employees. $21.7 million for the boss, food stamps for the workers … Something is out of kilter.

All told, the federal government provides $65 billion a year in food stamps to almost 46 million Americans. While that sounds like a lot of money — maybe it’s something Republicans in Congress would like to cut out — it comes down to $118 a month for each recipient. And it pales next to the $2.2 trillion we’ve lost over the past 10 years thanks to the Bush (and now Obama) tax cuts for the wealthy few.

But thank goodness there are food stamps. With wages stagnating, unemployment hovering at 10 percent and people discouraged from even looking for work, we should be able to make sure people can eat. In fact, it’s the least we can do in America, the richest and most productive country in the world.

Originally published at the Everett Herald

Budget deal puts a lid on our economy

Can we all breathe a sigh of relief now that Congress has passed and the president has signed a bill increasing the debt ceiling and cutting the budget by $1 trillion? After all, it seems like sanity prevailed.

That would have been the case if Congress has simply passed an increase in the debt ceiling. It didn’t. What we got was a package of bad policy gift-wrapped in rosy rhetoric from the president and Congress. What we will get in the next year is a stagnating economy, increased unemployment and a growing federal deficit.

How’s that?

The deal cuts $7 billion from federal spending starting in October. That translates to about 150,000 lost jobs, when you account for both the direct jobs held by civil servants and government contractors, and the jobs created when they spend their paychecks. Then it cuts another $3 billion in government services in the next year. Pile that on top of the national and Washington state unemployment rate of 9.2 percent, and the Snohomish County unemployment rate exceeding 10 percent, and you have the recipe for increasing unemployment and decreasing hope.

It doesn’t help that our economy grew by just 1 percent on an annual basis for the first six months of this year. That doesn’t keep up with population growth and it doesn’t make up for the trillions of dollars that “disappeared” when the economy initially tanked in 2008 and 2009. In our state alone, one result is that we have 150,000 fewer jobs than before the recession.

So now is not the time to cut back on government services. We need them more than ever. We need them to cushion the impact of this continuing stagnation on working and unemployed people, with unemployment insurance, food stamps and Medicaid. And we need the jobs other federal services require, whether those are at the Everett Navy base or in the national forest surrounding Arlington. Don’t count on them.

It gets worse. The deal cuts $1 trillion from federal programs in the next 10 years. On top on this, it empowers a “super-Congress” of 12 legislators to reduce the federal deficit by another $2.5 trillion, through spending cuts, including possible cuts to Medicare and Social Security. (They call this entitlement reform, but actually it is simply taking away benefits we all worked for.)

Congress and the president have engaged in a charade of rhetoric. They say, as if it was a good thing, that they will cut government spending. Would that be cutting the Food and Drug Administration, which tests and guarantees drug safety and effectiveness? How about the firefighters in the national forests? Maybe we could just let those fires burn out of control. How about the Federal Aviation Administration? Surely we don’t need air traffic controllers to land planes. Or just cut Social Security payments, now that we have seen the bottom drop out of our private retirement plans. Sure, cut the only sure bet for economic security in old age.

But the most damning thing about the deal is that it won’t work. It won’t do what it says it will do. It is based on fairy tales of economic growth that remain illusions. For example, the Congressional Budget Office forecast a 3 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product this year. Thus far, it is coming in at 1 percent.

Numbers like these mean that the deal will deepen stagnation and lead us into a double-dip recession. As a result, tax revenues will decline, because there will be fewer jobs, less out-of-pocket consumption and less income. At the same time, the need for essential supports, such as unemployment insurance, health care and food stamps, will increase, fueling more government spending.

So we will see a bigger federal deficit sooner — one that could actually force Congress and the president to again raise the debt ceiling before the next election, which is exactly what they wanted to avoid.

Originally published at HeraldNet

Cut services, then watch economy go into reverse

We have a big private-sector economy, which is floundering in stagnation. Chief among the victims are middle class Americans, some on the verge of losing their houses, others with their jobs exported out of the country, and others trying to figure out how to pay the accelerating costs of their kids’ education and their health coverage.

Meanwhile, instead of focusing on what it takes to get us out of this recession, conservatives in Congress are fixated on giving us a puny government. And too many liberals, including the president, are going along. They want to do only what they think they need to do to win the next election. Their politics trumps patriotism.

Indeed, while the president and the Republicans have stared each other into a total impasse about the debt ceiling, the forces undermining our economy have already won. The real question is just how much damage they will succeed in doing.

When the consensus is that a federal deficit is bad, and we have to cut government, then we know that the debate about lifting the debt ceiling is just cover for more fundamental damage to the American quality of life.

The unemployment rate in January 2009 in Snohomish County was 8.8 percent, in January 2010 it was 11 percent, in January 2011 it was 10.2 percent, in May it was 9.2 percent. Thirty-four thousand workers are officially unemployed in Snohomish County. In our state, that number tops 316,000.

We can only expect this to get worse, whether the president prevails with a lot of cuts to services and very few tax increases, or if the Republicans prevail with bigger cuts to services and a robe of protection around the very wealthy.

The United Kingdom provides a timely lesson. When the Conservative government was voted into office, it slashed government services in an “austerity to prosperity” approach to the economy. The result: zero growth for six months, dropping tax revenues, and no end to stagnation.

Turns out the problem isn’t government spending, it is household spending. That dropped by more than half a percent in the first three months of 2011. People don’t have jobs, those with jobs see their wages fall, and so consumption drops. With investors taking money overseas for new plants and production, the only thing to prime the economic pump is government services. When these get cut, the economy swoons.

State budget cuts are creating similar impacts here. When we lay off teachers, we are taking away their disposable income, and their consumption drops off. Not only are our children worse off in crowded classrooms, the local economy suffers another blow.

So what is it about the federal debt? In 1946 the federal debt equaled more than 120 percent of the gross domestic product. But, you say, we just fought the Second World War. And indeed we did, piling up huge deficits, and then proceeding to incredible economic growth for the next 30 years. That debt didn’t create a barrier for growth, it enabled us to grow.

Today our debt is about 92 percent of the gross domestic product, one quarter less than what it was in 1946. We can live with that. In fact, we can’t live very well without it. Increased government spending on services to the public (think education and health care, Social Security and Medicare), and increased investment in infrastructure (trains that actually go places quickly and on time, buildings for a new WSU campus in Everett) are the expenditures that will put our economy back on its feet. These expenditures deliver the things we should expect and demand in a democracy, like good teachers, good education, good transportation and good health care, while backing up consumer spending so that Main Street businesses will prosper.

The Republicans created this fake problem and the president catered to them. Every other Congress has signed off on a bill to increase the debt ceiling when this was needed, including six times between 1996 and 2006 when the Republican-controlled Congress added more than $4 trillion to the debt ceiling.

This Congress doesn’t need to cut government services as a quid pro quo to lifting the debt ceiling. That would just put our economy into reverse. The patriotic act would be to simply increase the debt ceiling. Then they can get back to the business of actually providing the services Americans need to get our economy back on its feet.

Reprinted with permission from HeraldNet.com.
John Burbank is executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute. His email address is john@eoionline.org.

Lip-service investments in higher ed

Two weeks ago, Gov. Chris Gregoire convened a press conference with
corporate leaders from Microsoft and Boeing. They were celebrating a
breakthrough in higher education.

It was a breakthrough, all right — like 60,000 high school graduates
walking out onto thin ice and breaking through. The troika offered a
life ring for 1,000, through “Opportunity Scholarships.” The other
59,000? Let them swim … or sink.

Let’s consider what really happened to public higher education this
year. The Legislature cut out almost a fifth of funding for higher
education: $617.5 million. It raised tuition at the University of
Washington by 35 percent in two years, and by 25 percent at community

Boeing and Microsoft? Gregoire was praising them because they
committed $5 million a year each, totaling 1.62 percent of the
shortfall. That contribution wasn’t free — the state, that is the
taxpayers, had to make a down payment of $5 million, moving money out of
public services and into a corporate-controlled nonprofit. And our
state will have to do that year in and year out in order to get the
corporate crumbs.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Legislature did not touch these
companies’ tax loopholes. Each year Microsoft gets to keep at least $26
million in sales tax deferrals and exemptions and business tax credits.
That money should go to fund public education. Instead, it pads
Microsoft’s profits, which stood at $19 billion last year. Microsoft’s
$5 million contribution — three one-hundredths of a percent of its
profit — is the equivalent of earning $50,000 and giving away $15.

If Microsoft was really interested in our state’s students, the
company would stop hiding its revenue by claiming its software sales are
conducted in a license and operations office in Reno, Nev. This little
sleight of hand has enabled the company to avoid paying more than $750
million in state taxes over the past decade and a half. Now Microsoft is
pushing the federal government to lower corporate taxes to 5.25 percent
on money they have been stashing overseas. That is $29 billion which
Microsoft has secreted away in other countries, hiding from taxation and
simultaneously withholding investment from job creation and research
and development that could be done in the United States.

What does Microsoft get for its $5 million contribution? A deduction
from its federal taxes. The company’s insistence of the development of a
whole new duplicative nonprofit administrative system, apart from the
state. And the right to determine which students get the assistance,
depending on their choice of courses. If students decide to focus on
areas of study that Microsoft deems important, then they may get some
help. If not, they won’t. Those who get assistance and do not complete
the “eligible education program” (for example, if they switch from
computer science to a liberal arts major, like history) may be forced to
pay back their grants. Their student loan indebtedness only grows
through this program. It is a mockery of opportunity.

And then there is the little problem that the UW just announced
tuition increases of 20 percent. So even with this new financial aid,
students next year will still have to come up with another additional
$1,000 on top of this year’s tuition of $8,700 just to take classes.

Boeing’s $5 million contribution represents fifteen one-hundredths of
a percent of their corporate profits. Recently the company announced
that it expects to receive a net tax refund of $137 million from state
and local governments for 2010. That same year, Boeing paid three-tenths
of a percent in federal taxes on its pre-tax profit of $4.5 billion.
They are skipping away from our state with $3 billion in tax credits
over 20 years, building a new 787 facility in South Carolina. Plus they
have shown the efficiency of corporate global outsourcing, with overruns
on the 787 now exceeding $12 billion.

But they want to appear loyal to higher education in Washington. And that $5 million gives them good cover.

Here is a better idea for good corporate citizenship: Pay your taxes.
You don’t even need to wait for the Legislature to act. You can just
get out your checkbook. Microsoft and Boeing should both start with $100
million a year. That still leaves them benefitting from tax favoritism.
It would give our children a bit of a tuition break, so they can
actually attend classes in our public community colleges and

That’s what we want, isn’t it? An educated, not a debt-ridden, workforce?

Originally published in the Everett Herald

How the federal government backstops our economy

My son Owen and I just drove across half the country. He has a summer job in St. Paul, Minn., and we are giving him our 10-year-old car. Hence, a road trip!

Driving along I-90 and I-94 for 1,800 miles gives you time to reflect on our nation’s transportation system. Did it just spring up, thanks to the invisible hand of a free market economy? Obviously not. Economics doesn’t work that way. The ability to realize a profit is too far removed, and the inefficiencies and inequities of limiting access and building duplicative parallel highways are much too great. That is why much of our economy is based on “public goods.” These are things, like roads and schools, which benefit a vast multitude of Americans. Think of K-12 public education, or our highways.

The interstate highway system was initiated by a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower. It resulted in a tremendous network of highways to move freight and people across states, regions and the entire country. It wasn’t cheap. Federal costs were about $119 billion, with the states contributing about $11 billion. It would have been impossible to finance and construct in the private sector. The benefits accrue to travelers, like my son and me, and especially to private freight companies, as one would suspect by just counting the number of tractor trailers we passed on Lookout Pass.

This is the beginning of the summer highway construction period, so we spent some time on two-lane interstates while the westbound lanes were getting repaved. At the end of each repaving project, a sign identified who paid for the repaving. The typical stretch might have $7 million of federal money, $200,000 of state money, and no local money. That means that the federal government is injecting a lot of money into local economies, money that creates local jobs and local purchases, buoying the private economy.

We stopped at an abandoned open pit mine in Butte, Mont. Looking down into the water that is slowly filling the pit, my son commented that it seemed a strange brew. Then we read that the water contains high levels of arsenic, copper, iron, and other more exotic and toxic chemicals. It is so toxic that waterfowl staying over six hours are likely to end up dead.

Who is monitoring the toxicity of this water? The federal government, through the Environmental Protection Agency. Who will clean up the water before it overflows? The federal government, through the EPA. There are a lot of jobs in that work, in a city being abandoned by BP, the corporate purchaser of most of Butte’s mines.

Arriving in St. Paul, Owen started work. But two of his housemates are jobless, putting in volunteer hours and hoping that the retail sector picks up so they can make some money. How do we create jobs? Giving tax breaks to businesses or the wealthy doesn’t help. What does? My son’s summer job is through the National Science Foundation — that is, courtesy of the federal government. With his wages, he can go to the local food store, buy some running shoes, and get his bicycle fixed at the local bike shop. Translation: federal grant = wages = local purchases = local jobs, not to mention the value of his research.

That little equation confounds the (mis)perception that all we need to do to increase employment is to lower federal spending. The truth is the opposite: In a stagnating, high unemployment economy, we need to increase federal spending to enable local purchases that support local economies. One of the reasons for the recent uptick in unemployment is the cutbacks in state and local public jobs. Reduced public budgets = reduced public services = reduced public sector jobs = reduced income for those unemployed workers = reduced local purchases = fewer jobs in the private sector.

The current fad among politicians is to demonize government, especially the federal government. In truth, the federal government is the backstop to the entire economy. Whether through National Science Foundation grants, highway repaving funds, EPA clean-up work, or simply the delivery of Social Security checks month after month, and the payment of Medicare bills, that federal government is there for us. Let’s not starve public spending for an ideology. That will only cripple our market economy, as we know it.

Originally published at HeraldNet.

Workers give, business gets in Legislature

You’d be hard pressed to find a better example of “kick-’em when they’re down” politics this year than the workers’ compensation legislation rushed through Olympia on Monday. By the governor’s own estimate, the bill will take about $1 billion that injured workers would have received over the next five years and give it to their employers instead.

Washington was the first state in the nation to create a workers compensation program. Legislators acted at the behest of businesses that feared being sued by injured workers or by their survivors if they were killed in industrial accidents.

This was the bargain: Workers gave up the right to sue their employers for workplace injuries. In exchange, employers participated in a compensation program to give workers some measure of dignity after sustaining injuries and illnesses at their workplaces. It’s why no workers or their survivors sued Tesoro after the petroleum refinery explosion killed seven workers. Workers forfeited that right 100 years ago.

One of the good things about Washington’s workers comp system is that it keeps private insurance companies out. They can’t profit from injured workers, because we have a state system. As a result, costs to employers are among the bottom third for states, while benefits for workers are ranked third best in the country. Voters like it that way. Last November, the people drubbed Initiative 1082 (60 percent voted “no”), which would have given our workers’ comp system over to private insurers.
But these benefits are hardly generous. For example, if you are married with one child, make $50,000 a year and are permanently disabled from an on-the-job injury, you will receive $33,500 annually — not exactly big money. If your foot is cut off in an industrial accident, you will receive one-time compensation of $18,900. If you lose a leg “above the knee with short thigh stump” you will receive $54,000. If you are killed on the job, and your kids are grown up, your spouse will receive 60 percent of your wages. If you have a dependent child, your spouse will receive 62 percent.

After the explosion at the Tesoro refinery, the state levied a fine of $2.39 million for 39 willful violations of workplace safety and health regulations. That’s $341,428.57 for the life of each worker. Of course, Tesoro has appealed the fine. Tesoro’s profits in the first three months of this year? $107 million.

You might think that Olympia would decide it was time to treat injured workers with a little more respect and a little more compensation. But led by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Legislature decreased benefits for injured workers. Sure, the debate was around workers’ comp “reform.” That’s how you make anything look good — you call it reform.

But look at what the bill actually does, and you’ll see that it simply transfers money from workers who are injured on the job to their employers. What a deal! You get hurt, and some of the money that used to let you live with some dignity goes to the company where you were injured.

Other than the governor’s own $1 billion estimate, it’s hard to get a precise figure on how much money is being transferred from workers to employers — because unlike every other bill with financial impacts, this one did not even get a fiscal note. One immediate result is that injured workers will not get any cost-of-living adjustment this year that was previously due them.

Who helped the governor with this gift to business? Republicans, of course, but hey, they are just being honest about what they believe in and who pays for their elections. Democrats helped out, too.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, was a leader in this effort. He squeaked by in the last election, coming in with a little less than 51 percent of the vote. In his district, Initiative 1082 was handily defeated. Who is Hobbs listening to? Not the constituents in his district.

How about Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes, where Tesoro’s refinery is located? His district defeated I-1082 by a 60 percent margin. His gift to his constituents? Take money from injured workers and give it to businesses.

A handful of legislators actually stood up for injured workers — Everett’s Sen. Nick Harper, San Juan County’s Kevin Ranker and Bothell’s Rosemary McAuliffe among them. In Snohomish County, Reps. Marko Liias, Luis Moscoso, Mary Helen Roberts, Mike Sells and Derek Stanford all voted to protect injured workers. They knew this was no “reform.” They understand that in a democracy the Legislature is supposed to advance the quality of life of the people who elect their representatives. On Monday that American ideal was sacrificed in backroom corporate deal-making with the governor and her friends.

Originally published at HeraldNet

Time to grow with money that is owed

The era of 9/11 may have been brought to a close last week with the killing of Osama bin Laden. President Obama spoke of bringing to justice bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. He praised the sacrifice of the firefighters and police who lost their lives on that fateful day.

Perhaps we can now orient ourselves to new national constants. For while we were preoccupied with Afghanistan and Iraq and bin Laden, let alone Facebook and America’s Top Models, our economy has turned a river of wealth that used to support the middle class into a gated spigot for the wealthy and a trickle of illusions for the many.

In 1979, the income of the average family in our state was $62,316. In 2009, typical income was $60,392. That’s a $2,000 annual loss of income. With a high school education you earned about $15 an hour in 1999 in our state. By 2009, that wage dropped to $14.75.

During that time, private employers dropped health coverage for one-eighth of all workers in our state, and the proportion of people without health insurance increased by 14 percent. If you are private sector employee you now have a better than fifty-fifty chance of not being covered in any retirement savings plan.

You are also much more likely to be out of a job. Unemployment exceeds 10 percent and has been above 10 percent since the 2009 collapse. It is double what it was a decade ago. That is not only pushing a lot of families into poverty and household uncertainty, it is creating a generation of young people whose opportunities have been closed off and whose ambitions have been sidelined.

This is no way to run a country, or an economy.

While we were invading Iraq and tracking down Osama, we leased out our economy to the already wealthy by giving them huge tax breaks. We pretended that finance capital needed no regulations. We went on a spree of private debt, assuming that ever-increasing housing values would let us to live off the bubble.

All this was enabled and endorsed by the “smartest” policy makers and economists of our country, with Harvard pedigrees and Wall Street incomes. They made out well, as did their cronies at the top of the elites. The top one percent of American families saw their annual incomes rise by $500,000 between 1997 and 2007; the top one-tenth of one percent enjoyed a $3 million increase in annual income; and the top one-hundredth of one percent made off with $18 million extra a year.

This wasn’t a win-win situation. While the income of the wealthy zoomed, public policy and private power pushed down compensation for everyone else, undermined the middle class, and defunded public services we used to depend on, such as high quality education.

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of America’s economic activity. So if you are a miser with people’s wages, then you are throttling down the nation’s economic engine, especially when the housing bubble bursts.

Is there hope on the horizon? Not if we allow the enablers of Wall Street to call the shots, whether that be in Washington D.C. or Olympia. But we can put the decade of 9/11 and the pursuit of Osama bin Laden behind us, by rebuilding our country, yes, at Ground Zero, and more importantly, across this land.

It is time for us to refund public education, reduce class size, renew community colleges and higher education. It is time for us to expand health coverage through programs like Basic Health. It is time to create jobs, not with tax breaks to business with no accountability, but by investing public money in new mass transit, extending light rail from Seattle to Everett, in new schools, and building out the campus of a WSU branch at Everett.

Yes, all this takes money. Not your money, but the money left on the table in every legislative session: special tax breaks for the same banks that got us into this mess, and the wealthiest corporations that ride far above the misery of this recession. We should also tax the billions of added income for the very wealthy — money not earned by labor, but enjoyed in luxury.

This rebuilding of our state will take some backbone. And it won’t come from the power elites or their enablers like Mr. Eyman. We can’t wait for a Superman. We will have to figure it out ourselves. That’s called democracy!

Originally published at http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20110511/OPINION04/705119957/-1/OPINION.

Money needed to rescue Basic Health is out there

Last November, Steve Ballmer, the 33rd wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $33 billion, sold off $2 billion in stock to “diversify his holdings and to help with tax planning.” So much for job creation. This month Paul Allen, with $14 billion in wealth, bought a refurbished Russian MIG fighter jet. And Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, whose net worth is $12.3 billion, refuses, in any state where he can get away with it, to collect sales taxes on Amazon sales, further starving state governments from revenue for middle class services (and giving him a big advantage over bookstores on Main Street!).

What do these guys have in common? They are among the wealthiest people in the world, and they want their wealth only for themselves. So they all pitched in with six figure contributions to defeat Initiative 1098 last year, which would have taxed their income above $400,000. Not a lot, but why give up anything when you are at the pinnacle?

Here’s why: That 1098 money would have funded Basic Health, which is about to run out of money. What would Paul Allen, Steve Balmer and Jeff Bezos say to the woman who just wrote me about her situation?

“This can truly be a life or death issue for some of us. I was diagnosed with a very early-stage melanoma just two weeks ago, and now need to be seen by the dermatologist every couple of months, and also have other medical issues. My husband has had abnormal PSA tests in the past that we need to monitor.

“We feel very lucky to be on Basic Health. I don’t know what will happen to us if it ends…”

Mr. Allen, Mr. Ballmer and Mr. Bezos: We can’t make you fund public services. But your hearts might lead you there. Why don’t you simply give $100 million for Basic Health? That’s about seventeen one-hundredths of your combined wealth — small change for the health of the citizens of our state. You are not broke. And we don’t need to be.

(Excerpted with permission of the author from Money needed to rescue Basic Health is out there)

Economic Opportunity Institute