Occupy Wall St. third anniversary is this month, and it’s not going away until we get our country back.

We Are the 99%: The Focus of Our Rage (part two)

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

fight_the_systemAt the conclusion of the first half of this essay last week, the topic was free health care. Not that I wish to demand a handout from anyone or anything, it’s just that good health through preventative medicine is a basic human right for everyone, not just for those who can afford the insurance premiums and the medical debt that is sure to come after one’s wellness is restored. The question remains then: How does the US catch up with the rest of the developed world when it comes to universal health care? Every developed country in the world has free health care for its citizens – the US is the only exception. Also, how do we do this within the framework of the existing US health care system(s) in order to conserve on start-up costs and minimize overhead? The plan I proposed back in 2012, in a book I self-published (“The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”), is simple: Take all currently available medical care in all its forms and put it under one umbrella, so to speak. Merge Medicare, Medicaid, government health insurance for civilian employees at the state and federal levels, the military and Congress’ (including the President’s) health care plans, plus the entire Veterans Administration hospital system into an enhanced Medicare program (private insurance excepted) so that no one is left out. Next, streamline the new Medicare health care system by eliminating any and all duplicate departments, and make it an on-line, Internet-based and paperless system utilizing leading edge information technology in order to lower operating costs and cut way down on paperwork. And third, once this new on-line system gets rolled out and becomes available to everyone, we’ll simply eliminate Medicaid so that all persons will have unconditional access to the same level of care, from the President down to the dishwasher at your favorite restaurant. And now, before I move on, let me point out another equally big advantage to having a universal health care system such as this.

Having the government take over the administration of health care for the entire country is a solution that is long overdue. Don’t worry about what might happen to the existing insurance industry, it isn’t going anywhere and I will explain why in the next paragraph. Allowing a proposed universal health care system to work in this manner (and so-called ‘Obamacare’ comes up way short of what’s needed) would take the burden of providing health insurance for its employees off the backs of businesses, substantially enhancing the profit margins of all US companies both great and small. This will give the American economy – together with US businesses – a far greater financial shot in the arm than any government tax cut could ever hope to. In the process, making US medical care into a series of nonprofit entities will bring American health and wellness up to 21st century speed with comparatively nominal operating costs.

So what happens to the existing insurance industry? These very companies will be the ones who will administer this new digitized health care system. They will do so by way of a competitive bidding process to ensure that costs are kept under control, effectively farming out the day-to-day operations of the health care program. The companies with the lowest bids will get the contracts, which will be brought up for renewal periodically – say, every 3 years. Running the new universal health care system this way will ensure that only the best insurance companies will be administering the program, and that the remaining marginal or substandard insurance companies be ultimately either forced to improve or go out of business.

The fourth and final main thing I want to write a couple of paragraphs about is that of economic inequality, or what I called in my first book “enforced inequality”. Class warfare has been declared by the top 1% against the rest of us, meaning the 99% who are losing our jobs, our homes, our cars, our savings and eventually our health as the enforced liquidation of the US middle and working classes continues. What is needed is a peaceful and orderly redistribution of wealth that is done in a non-violent manner. So how do we accomplish this without starting a brawl? I have a couple of ideas, but the first step for America would be to enact an all-new tax system, abolishing the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. This proposed new tax system will be a 2-tiered system, with the national sales tax – or consumption tax – set at 9% (excluding groceries, fuel, utilities, wholesale goods, raw materials, and all government entities). Why 9%, you ask? Well, according to some data that I obtained from the IRS, as well as from the alternative news media, the average personal income tax rate in 2013 was roughly 18%, so I am proposing cutting that rate in half.

The second part of this proposed new tax system will be what I call an “excess wealth tax” for the mega-rich on Wall St. and elsewhere, and for any financial transactions that are over a certain limit. For individuals, there would be no income tax on their first $1 million in earnings, but anything above that gets taxed at a rate of 50%. So, a wealthy household or individual who made $25 million last year would pay no tax on the first $1 million, but they would pay $12 million on the remaining $24 million. For businesses, the proposed consumption tax rate is even more generous, with the first $700 million in earnings tax free, and a tax rate of one-third on anything over and above that. So, a company that made $1 billion dollars in profits the previous tax year would pay no tax on the first $700 million, but they would pay $100 million on the remaining $300 million, and so on. On the other hand, a multinational corporation that had $300 billion in gross proceeds in a given year would also pay a rate of one third, so their tax rate would be $100 billion. As a result, all itemized deductions would come to an end, greatly simplifying the process. Ditto for the estate tax and capital gains tax, both of which would be replaced by this proposed Excess Wealth tax. The alternative minimum tax and self-employment tax would also be eliminated, replaced by the national sales tax. And the motivation under the current unfair system to stash trillions in profits in overseas bank accounts would become a moot point, generating still more revenue while cutting the tax rate as it stands today. (update: there is a bill circulating in Congress as I write this that would make such shady financial shenanigans illegal – outcome TBD.)

Under this plan, there is ample incentive for the rich and big business to get enthused about these ideas. First, the necessity of providing group health care would go away for US businesses (due to my proposed Medicare-for-all system), followed by the repeal of the federal income tax. All the money being spent on income taxes and group insurance could be put back into these businesses, making them more competitive and better funded than ever before. In fact, I would estimate that such a move by the federal government would go a long way toward making America very competitive in the global economy because the costs associated with operating a business will drop so drastically due to the elimination of these two primary expenses. And second, the “excess wealth tax” that I just proposed would still provide sufficient funding for costly government institutions like the military and the space program, not to mention the cost of public reeducation and the public works projects I mentioned previously. Finally, this proposed excess wealth tax would go a long way toward making room for a higher minimum wage a reality as a legal and orderly means of wealth redistribution in the US. Even if raising the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour (not $10.10 an hour, Mr. President, that is woefully inadequate) does not get passed into law (at least for now), the repeal of the income tax will still give every American worker an average 18% pay raise immediately (not counting the benefits of repealing corporate income taxes). Now that’s what I call genuine economic stimulus!!

Another way to peacefully redistribute wealth is by converting unwanted or surplus housing and commercial or office structures into residences, live-work-play developments, green or urban garden space, or new worker-owned businesses such as cooperatives. One of the things that can and should be done with my proposed national public works program is to get rid of all the empty, boarded-up houses that have been abandoned to foreclosure and neglect. Put all the homeless and jobless to work remodeling this otherwise worthless real estate. There are millions of unemployed construction workers who would love to get a chance to do something like this, so why not let them (especially if they have families)? And when they are finished rebuilding them, let them live in them and so revitalize America. Reward them by turning them into homeowners. This is how we can end unemployment and homelessness while turning around the US foreclosure crisis. We can do the same with health care and with higher education. Make them both available to everyone unconditionally as a way to enforce economic equality and social parity. This is how we can redistribute American wealth in a peaceful and nonviolent manner, and in so doing set a good example for our kids and grand-kids. The days of making good health care and higher education available for only those who can afford it must come to an end. That is unfair, discriminatory, it is a social injustice and therefore a civil rights violation of the worst magnitude. To tell anyone that they are ineligible to receive either good health care or quality education because they can’t pay the tab should be a crime.

In closing, everybody deserves to have an income and a livelihood. It is cruel and mean-spirited to tell anyone that they are no longer needed nor wanted, or that they are overqualified, or that they can’t be hired because there is allegedly no money to pay them while corporate America sits on trillions of dollars in excess cash, much of it overseas. If unemployment is brought to an end using the methods and ideas that I have written about, poverty, hunger and crime will be very nearly brought to an end as well – not in a matter of decades, but rather just a few short years, or the time that it takes them to finish their (free) education. We already have the means to do this, so it would be irresponsible and immoral for us not to act. However, some will say, “I’ve been looking for a job for years and I haven’t found anything.” I have found this to be particularly true among older workers, minorities and people of color. Having experienced this myself in the recent past as a worker in his late 50’s, I know exactly what these people are going through. To call these situations stressful would be a gross understatement.

Brothers and sisters, friends and followers, if you are experiencing this now, this is not your fault. Your government, together with some of this country’s most well-known institutions such as the US public school system, the 1%-‘ers and the Wall Street multinational corporations and their bankers, have let you down. All the jobs that could be outsourced overseas have already been sent away, never to return. The ones that couldn’t be outsourced were mostly downsized out of existence, ending millions of careers prematurely. It is for these reasons that we are now protesting in the streets and occupying America in New York, Boston, Washington, DC and Atlanta, and Ferguson, Mo., among others. Because the truth of the matter is that since these jobs aren’t coming back, we as a country should be making new ones, and this should have started decades ago. America has a lot of catching up to do in the area of job creation. The good news is that there are new industries currently being born that can replace all those lost jobs that I wrote about with room to spare. Green industries like solar power, windmill power generators, the construction of a low-voltage national electrical grid and of fusion reactors, not to mention biotechnology, stem cell research, nanotechnology, robotics, seashore desalination plants for an endless supply of clean water, and a greatly expanded and revitalized space industry, all are the new growth industries of the 21st century.

Seriously, people! We first landed on the moon in 1969, took our last trip there in 1972, after which our country’s “leadership” mysteriously gave up and quit. This was alleged at the time to be due to insufficient funding, but if the US hadn’t been involved with the war in Vietnam, America could easily have afforded to continue NASA’s Apollo program. The immoral and strategically questionable occupations or wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today are preventing our country from returning to space in much the same way as Vietnam did. It’s all a matter of the proper allocation of resources. So when do we start a grassroots campaign to stop the wars overseas so we can fund our needs at home? How much longer are we going to delay? How about starting today?

Once that serious matter is taken care of, the next step will be for us to decide how to allocate all the money the country will save by ending the wars overseas and bringing our troops home. All right, check this out. We are supposed to be in the space business already! Hello! Instead, we debate among ourselves whether or not women should have abortions, or whether gay marriage is acceptable or not. Speaking as an independent Internet preacher of the more radical kind, if we are serious about wanting to lead good lives and to be productive contributors towards the common good, then we need to be creating jobs and helping to rebuild people’s lives. We need to be helping people regain their sustenance and self-sufficiency. I also am appalled that the mainstream church is so against abortion while being in favor of the death penalty and of waging war, a contradiction if ever there was one. I am equally appalled at the mainstream denominations for their condemnation of gay marriage while the divorce rates for evangelicals are about the same as for the secular world. Again, these are glaring contradictions to their faith, to say the least.

OK, so let’s do something constructive in Jesus’ name. Here’s one way we can fix our public schools and accelerate the start-up of all these new 21st century businesses, all at the same time. First, government and business should get together and find a way to give large grants to these fledgling companies that are already started up in one form or another. They need start-up capital, and they’re not going to find it at the bank branch down the street. Government can and must step in. Our only alternative is to become a second-rate country, a has-been of military and economic power. The other thing that needs to be done is to start training future astronauts now. Update public school curriculum, and put it on-line. Turn the public schools into an Internet-based system that is paperless and that doesn’t need to buy expensive textbooks every year (save the trees!). Then, start teaching the kids skills that they will need for a technology-based world and a digital workplace, with an emphasis on science and math. Start teaching them to be astronauts when they’re 12 years old, because by the time they graduate from college there will be thousands of astronauts needed, not just a select lucky few like today. Allow me to tell you why in just one paragraph.

At the peak of the US space shuttle program, NASA was launching about three missions per year. Having witnessed – over the last couple of years – the ongoing privatization of space by unmanned cargo shipments to the International Space Station, I can tell you that by the end of this decade there will be about three launches per week instead of per year. Ten years after that in 2030 there could easily be more than 3 launches per day, and so on. The time to begin getting ready for our space-faring future is now. Train our children by making the space sciences a part of their curriculum, and then do the same with the adults. Retrain everybody who can’t find work, or who needs a career change, and pick up the tab just like the GI Bill that was passed by Congress after the end of World War 2. Performing this service for America’s workforce will literally lift them all up to the next level and make it much more competitive. I have heard people complain over and over again that “we can’t compete” with some dude in China who does the same job we do for $2.00 a day. What America needs is new careers to replace those that have been eliminated. We not only have the capacity to do this already, we are way behind and America has a lot of catching up to do. But we are Americans. Our skills and work habits are second to none, and the same goes for US institutions of higher learning. We can and will succeed if only we will unite together in this effort. Let’s all get started today!

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