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Kevin Zeese

Kevin Zeese is an attorney. He directs the anti-war group Come Home America and serves on the steering committee of the Bradley Manning Support Network

August 8th, 2011 4:55 PM

Time to Stand Up to a Government That Does Not Represent Our Views

If the Government Represented the Peoples Wishes the Country Would be on the Right Track

Elections no longer work. Lobbying no longer works. Email and telephone campaigns no longer work. Symbolic protests no longer work.  Americans need to get organized and mobilized to demand what we want.

The occupation begins on October 6, 2011 when thousands of Americans enter Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC and refuse to leave.  We are calling the occupation Stop the Machine: Create a New World.  The new world we seek is already supported by super-majorities of the American people.  A large majority of Americans consistently support the following agenda:

- Tax the rich and corporations
- End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending
- Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and improved Medicare for all
- End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
- Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation
- Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
- Get money out of politics

The government, dominated by elite economic interests, is going in the opposite direction from what the people want.  The American people’s agenda is our agenda.

We are occupying Freedom Plaza to shift power from concentrated corporate power to the people.  October2011.org’s agenda is an evidence-based one, not based on polling.  However, polling shows the American people support transformative change. These polling results show the people know how to save the country but the government is too corrupt to do what is necessary. 

These solutions are part of transformative we begin to describe in “Fifteen Core Issues the Country Must Face.”  Each of these 15 issues will have a detailed policy description linked to it once participants discuss them on the October2011.org website.  You can join the discussion by signing up with the October2011.org movement.

Tax the rich and corporations

How government funds itself adequately to meet the needs of the people of the United States is one of the key budget questions not being adequately addressed in Washington.  Americans know there are significant disparities of wealth, between small numbers of extremely wealthy Americans and the rest of us – the 99% who do not have extreme wealth.  The 400 wealthiest Americans have wealth equal to 150 million Americans. This richest 400, whose average income was $270.5 million, paid a tax rate of 18%; yet someone who earns $60,000 finds themselves in the 25% tax bracket.  It was not always this way; in 1955 the top 400 paid 51.2% of their total income in tax. In the past there was many more tax brackets, with top incomes taxed as high as 91% in the late 1950s.

The American people support taxing wealthy Americans more than they are currently taxed.  A 2011 ABC/Washington Post survey finds 72% of the country supports increasing taxes on those earning more than 250,000. McClatchy News reports that U.S. voters by a margin of 2-to-1 support raising taxes on incomes above $250,000, with 64% in favor and 33% opposed. These are not the first polls to show a strong majority of Americans favor raising taxes on the rich. Polls have been showing that since before the 2010 election.  Here’s one from September, 2010.  Here’s one from December.  Here’s one from January. And here’s another.  

Regarding the lack of corporate taxes in the recent debt ceiling deal, 60% of U.S. voters disapproved of the fact that the deal did not include tax hikes for businesses or wealthy Americans compared to 40% who approved of that outcome. A Quinnipiac University poll indicates that two-thirds of the public say an agreement to raise the debt limit should include tax hikes for wealthy Americans and corporations.

Americans know where the money is, realize wealth has been funneled to the top because of federal policies and they want to see the wealthy taxed more heavily. No doubt if the income tax were truly progressive so those earning $1 million, $10 million or $100 million paid even more there would be even broader support.

End the Wars, Bring the Troops Home, Cut Military Spending

Military spending is one of the most propagandized areas of policy in the United States.  Some media, like NBC (along with MSNBC and related outlets) are owned by a major military contractor, General Electric, and they have fired on air personalities, like Phil Donohue, because they were critical of war.  The Pentagon has a massive multi-hundred million dollar military propaganda budget that gets information into the media and does a great deal to control media coverage by having retired military officers as the primary commentators on the air. Rarely is opposition to war included in the media or before Congress.  Before every war there is a massive propaganda effort to support the war effort resulting in a spike of war support followed six months or so later with disenchantment and opposition to the war.  All of this is re-enforced by events on Veterans Day and Memorial Day that herald the U.S. military more than mourn the loss of lives in war.  Americans almost never hear discussed on the air the reality that we are the largest empire in world history – a massive empire that is a secret to most Americans.  This makes public opinion hard to measure, but even in this environment the military budget is not popular with Americans.

The Pentagon has a very effective propaganda program to protect its budget, so polls find Americans greatly underestimate how much we spend. According to a Rasmussen poll, only 25% of voters believe the United States should always spend at least three times as much on defense as any other nation. Forty percent (40%) do not think the country needs to spend this much, while 35% are not sure. Interestingly, if the government was to actually spend only three times as much as any other nation, it would result in a significant cut in military spending since in fact, the U.S. spends as much as the whole world combined on weapons and war. Earlier polling showed that just 58% recognize that the United States spends more on defense than any other nation in the world.  I could not find any corporate media outlet that asked Americans if the U.S. should spend as much as the whole world combined on the military.

The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland did a detailed examination of public opinion on military spending that was published in 2005.  They provided Americans with the overall federal budget and asked them to modify it.  They report: “Defense spending received the deepest cut, being cut on average 31%—equivalent to $133.8 billion—with 65% of respondents cutting. The second largest area to be cut was the supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan, which suffered an average cut of $29.6 billion or 35%, with two out of three respondents cutting.” Further “clear majorities favored increases (education 57%, job training 67%, medical research 57%, veteran’s benefits 63%), though only 43% of respondents favored increases for housing.”

In the recent deficit debate, polls show a majority of Americans preferred cutting military spending to reduce the federal deficit rather than taking money from public retirement and health programs.  A Reuters/Ipsos poll released in March 2011 found 51% of Americans support reducing “defense” spending, and only 28% want to cut Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor and only 18% back cuts in Social Security. A July 2011 Rasmussen poll found that a plurality of Americans believe the United States can make major cuts in military spending without sacrificing security and nearly 80% said the U.S. spends too much protecting allies.

A January 2011 CNN poll found that more than six in ten Americans oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan, according to a new national poll. A February 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll found Americans favored more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan by 75% to 25%.

The majority of Americans, regardless of their political party affiliations, do not approve of the U.S. war in Libya, a CBS News poll from June 2011 shows that six out of 10 Americans believe the US should not be involved in the war on Libya.

Regarding Iraq Angus Reid Public Opinion reports in 2011 that half of Americans (52%) believe their government made a mistake in launching military action against Iraq in 2003. Large majorities of respondents in the U.S. (63%) and Britain (70%) believe that the Iraq War negatively affected the position and image of their respective countries in the world.

Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security, expand and improve Medicare for all

In this section we spend a lot of time on polls showing the U.S. public supports – by large majorities over many years – a single payer health care system, improved Medicare for all.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, President Obama and the Democratic Party leadership kept single payer out of the discussion of health care reform. The corporate media, with the help of the wealth-funded Tea Party (which includes many Americans who are legitimately angry at the way the economy treats them, but which has also been manipulated by wealthy business donors), has put out the false impression that the people trust the market to handle health care when the opposite is true. Corrupted non-profits, under the name Health Care for America Now (who not coincidentally took a name very similar to the long-term single payer advocacy group, Health Care Now), supported re-enforcement of the insurance industry under ObamaCare thanks to massive funding from Democratic Party donors.  All of this added up to a major misinformation campaign to mislead the country. Over the next two years, the Democrats plan to run on the Obama health reform as if it were a real reform when in reality it is an entrenchment of the status quo, especially health insurance domination.  Polls show the people know better than the elites on the critically important issue of health care.

In fact, Americans very much support the social safety net that they do have – Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and unemployment insurance.  And, if a real debate were allowed, with accurate information on how social and economic safety nets work, what they cost and how they build the economy, there would very likely be broad support for a much stronger social safety net.

A Pew Research Center survey concludes Americans “decisively support” protecting Social Security and Medicare. The survey conducted nationwide June 15 to 19, 2011 finds huge majorities (between 77% and 87%) say each of the programs has been “good for the country.”  While large majorities of Americans do not favor cuts to these programs, large majorities also say the three programs need “major” rather than minor changes or should be “completely rebuilt” to make them even stronger.  Polls from around the country show deep support for Social Security and a desire to see the program strengthened.  The most popular solution to Social Security is to raise the income cap so the wealthy pay Social Security taxes on all their income.  This has the support of 67% of the public and is opposed by only 30% of Americans.

The Pew findings are consistent with other polls, McClatchy News reports Americans clearly don’t want the government to cut Medicare, the government health program for the elderly, or Medicaid, the program for the poor. Voters oppose cuts to those programs by 80%-18%. Even among conservatives, only 29% supported cuts, and 68% opposed them.

Since at least 1987, polls have shown the majority of the public favor a single-payer system, improved Medicare for all, when a New York Times/CBS Poll showed 78% of people are in favor of such a system.  Since then nearly a decade of polling shows Americans consistently support a single payer health care system, improved Medicare for all. 

-       A Washington Post poll in 2003 found support for such a system at 62% to 33%, with 78% opposed to the current insurance-based system because of its costs (the costs have grown greatly since 2003). 

-       In 2005 a Harris poll found 75% support a universal health care system, while only 17% opposed.  A February 2007 New York Times/CBS News poll found 64% of Americans believed government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans, only 27% thought this was not the responsibility of the federal government.  Further, 76% thought it was more important to provide access to health care for all Americans than to maintain tax cuts. Indeed, 60% of Americans were willing to pay more taxes for guaranteed health care. And, 81% were dissatisfied with the current system of insurance dominated health care.

-       This is consistent with a 2007 CNN poll, where 64% agreed that government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if it required higher taxes.  A Catholic Healthcare West poll, also in 2007, found even higher support with 72% agreeing the time has come for universal healthcare in America, and 63% believed we need universal healthcare in America, even if it means increasing taxes. In December 2007 an AP/Yahoo poll found 65% of Americans favoring a universal health insurance program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers.

-       Polls in 2008 made similar findings. An April 2008 Quinnipiac Poll found that 65% believe the government has a responsibility to provide adequate health care to all Americans.  Even better than a poll, in Massachusetts, “....local ballot initiatives supporting single payer and opposing individual mandates passed by landslide margins in all ten legislative districts where they appeared. With almost all precincts tallied, roughly 73 percent of 181,000 voters in the ten districts voted YES....”

-       In 2009 a New York Times/CBS poll found Americans support the government providing health insurance with 59% saying the government should provide national health insurance and 49% who say such insurance should cover all medical problems.  A Grove Insight Poll found 59% of Americans favored a Medicare for all system over a private insurance model. And, a Kaiser poll found 58% Americans favored “getting their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for all?”

-       In 2010, votes took place in Massachusetts and 62% of voters supported a single payer system. The ballots spanned 80 different cities and towns. Five of the districts backing single payer reform voted for Scott Brown in the special senate election, which was largely seen as a referendum on national health reform, showing that the goal of improved and expanded Medicare for All is supported by a diverse range of communities across the state.

Physicians also consistently show high levels of support for a single payer system. A 2008 poll by the Annals of Internal Medicine of physicians nationally found that “59% ‘support government legislation to establish national health insurance,’ while 32% oppose it and 9% are neutral.” A 2007 poll found “Of 390 physicians, 64% favored a single-payer system, 25% Health Savings Accounts, and 12% managed care. The majority of physicians (86%) also agreed that it is the responsibility of society, through the government, to ensure that everyone has access to good medical care.” A 2007 poll of New Hampshire doctors found two-thirds of New Hampshire physicians, including 81% of primary care clinicians, indicated they “would favor a simplified payer system in which public funds, collected through taxes, were used to pay directly for services to meet the basic healthcare needs of all citizens.”

Americans also see other aspects of the economic safety net to be important.  In December 2010, CNN found 76% of Americans favor an “An extension of unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs”

End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests

Even though it is not often discussed in the corporate media, Americans are well aware of corporate welfare or crony capitalism, i.e. tax breaks and give-aways to well-connected business interests that donate to political campaigns.  One of the last corporate media efforts to total the cost of corporate welfare was TIME Magazine in 1998 which estimated $150 billion annually, acknowledging it was difficult to measure. Estimates for annual corporate welfare total in the hundreds of billions.  Of course, the Wall Street bailout was in the trillions of dollars, and that was a classic example – perhaps better, a classic abuse – of corporate welfare.

The public gets particularly angry about corporate welfare when they see corporations profiting and taking taxpayer dollars.  The current focus in this regard is on the oil industry.  A 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted by Hart/McInturff, an overwhelming majority of Americans – 74% – support “eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries” in order to “reduce the current federal budget deficit” By a 73%  to 20%  margin in a March 2011 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll found voters favor eliminating the $5 billion in subsidies and tax loopholes for oil companies each year, with 57%  strongly favoring this proposal.

Another area where the public has recently shown opposition to corporate welfare is the nuclear industry.  This is an industry that ONLY exists because the federal government will underwrite loans to it and provide insurance for it.  Private investors will not invest in nuclear – the most expensive energy source, very slow to come on line and one which has enormous risks – without the federal government being involved.  A March 2011 WSJ/NBC poll found that the most popular potential spending cuts were subsidies to build new nuclear plants, with 57%  support.

Protect worker rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages

During the recent debt ceiling debate by a ratio of more than two to one, Americans said that creating jobs should be a higher priority than spending cuts, according to a NY Times/CBS News poll.  A June 2011 Gallup poll shows the public by 60% to 38% favors government spending to create jobs and stimulate the government. A March 2011 WSJ/NBC poll found that by a 56% to 40% margin Americans said Washington’s top priority should be job creation.  This is consistent with a January 2011 NY Times/CBS poll that also ranked creating jobs as the top priority for the economy – four times as many ranked jobs as the top priority than deficits.

A December 2009 Bloomberg poll showed Americans favored job creation as a top priority. Two-thirds of Americans surveyed backed additional spending on infrastructure and six of 10 support more spending on alternative energy to stimulate job growth. A tax credit for businesses that hire new workers also gains backing from 7 of 10 Americans.

The National Employment Law Project reported on July 21st 2011 public opinion findings that show that raising the minimum wage has significant bipartisan support across the country. Polls show that even in the current economy voter’s support raising the minimum wage by a three-to-one margin. Polls in states like Illinois and Maryland also show that voters believe raising the minimum wage will help the economy rather than hurt it.

A 2010 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 67% favored increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour. Even a majority of Republicans – 51% favor the higher minimum wage. The federal minimum wage rose in 2009 to $7.25, which amounts to about $15,000 a year.

This is not new, the public has consistently supported raising the minimum raise, a 1996 report indicates: “The American public supports increasing the minimum wage by a solid margin. Nearly every survey finds overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage. For example, a national poll conducted in January 1995 for the Los Angeles Times found that 72% of Americans backed an increase in the wage, confirming a December 1994 Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey that found raising the minimum wage is favored by 75%.”

A USA Today/Gallup survey released in February 2011 indicates that 61% of the public would oppose a move in their state to pass a bill that would take away some of the collective bargaining rights of union government workers. Further, 53% of Americans would also oppose a move to reduce pay and benefits the state provides for government workers to reduce the budget deficit. A Bloomberg poll released in March 2011 shows that 64% of Americans believe that public employees should have the right to collectively bargain over wages. Overwhelmingly, Americans have a positive opinion of public sector workers, with 72% saying they have a very favorable or mostly favorable view of public employees. A Walls Street Journal/NY Times poll, also from March, found 77% think unionized state and municipal employees should have the same rights as those union members who work for private companies and 62% supported collective bargaining for public workers.

Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation

The American public recognizes that the future is clean energy.  There is clear opposition to dependence on foreign oil – which is the way the corporate interests like to limit the question. In fact, Americans want to go further and see the development of a new clean energy society.  Again, if the media reported accurately on the potential to achieve a carbon-free/nuclear-free energy future there would be even greater support, but already there are large majorities who support this transition. Further, if corporate welfare were ended and taxpayer support for the new energy economy treated tax payers as investors who shared in the profits of the new economy, support would greatly increase because wealth created by all of us, would be shared by all of us. 

For decades Americans have expressed concern about environmental degradation, especially concern about the quality of our water and our air. Unfortunately, while it has been pointed out by analysts that polling underestimates Americans concerns about environmental degradation the corporate media continues to ask questions in ways that seem designed to minimize concern.  An area of particular challenge is climate change, where the media covers the issue as if there is real debate in the scientific community, when in fact among scientists who work in climate-related fields there is virtually no debate.  Again, the corporate media seems intent on misleading the public.

In May 2010, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Life Sciences Department polled Americans on the environment. When asked to evaluate a series of environmental and energy issues as potential problems for the country, the most widespread concern is pollution. Eight?in?ten adults say pollution of the country’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs is a major problem, 16% say it is a minor problem and just 3% say this is not a problem. Air pollution is seen as a major problem by 74% of adults; a similar percentage, 73%, says the same about overreliance on energy from oil and gas. Even in the heavily propagandized and often misreported issue of climate change, 54% say it is a major problem. Americans in the survey (49% to 37%) inaccurately believed that there was real division in the scientific community about climate change, but even so a large plurality, 48% thought it was proven, to 29% who thought it was unproven, 16% thought it was natural. The 48% plurality believed climate change was a proven fact caused by human behavior of cars and industry and a majority, 51%, believed not enough was being done to combat it. Polling on climate change has been all over the map as major campaigns to confuse the public have been pushed by carbon-based energy corporations through the corporate media and scientists funded to produce the results the industry wants.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz unveiled a poll on January 21, 2010, that found 57% of Americans agreed with the statement: It doesn't matter if there is or isn't climate change. It is still in America's best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean, reliable, efficient and safe. They point out this is the latest in a long line of polls that show Americans want clean energy.

In October, 2007, Civil Society Institute released the results of a poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation which found: “75% of Americans – including 65% of Republicans, 83% of Democrats and 76% of Independents – would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy – such as wind and solar – and improved home energy-efficiency standards.” And, when mountain top removal for acquiring coal was described, 61% of voters said they opposed it, compared to 16% who said they favored it and 23% who were unsure.

A Washington Post ABC News 2008 found that 84% of Americans wanted Barack Obama to require electricity companies to increase the use of renewable energy sources; 55% wanted the new President to tackle the issue immediately upon taking office in January 2008.

A February 2011 USA Today/Gallup poll found Americans favor an energy bill that provides incentives for using alternative energy with 83% of Americans supporting clean energy financial support and only 15% opposing. Similarly, a July 2011 Rasmussen Poll found that 63% believe investing in renewable energy sources is a better long-term investment for America than investing in fossil fuels. 

Even in the midst of a collapsing economy and rising energy prices, the Pew Research Center found that when asked: “Right now, which ONE of the following do you think should be the more important priority for U.S. energy policy: keeping energy prices low or protecting the environment?” 56% favored protecting the environment, while 37% favored keeping energy prices low.  This is consistent with polls over the last five years which have shown support for protecting the environment over keeping energy prices low.

Get money out of politics

As President Obama crisscrosses the country seeking to raise a billion dollars for the most expensive re-election campaign in history, it is important to remember that in 2000 nearly three-fourths of the voters said Texas Gov. George W. Bush's $70 million fund-raising tally was “excessive and a sign of what's wrong with politics today.”

For a very long time Americans have perceived government corrupted by the financing of campaigns.  In 2001, an ABC News poll found nearly all Americans, 93% think politicians do special favors for their campaign contributors; 80% think it happens “often.” The poll also found eight in 10 called it a problem; 62% a “big” problem with more than two-thirds thinking special favors for contributors tend to be unethical and 42% thinking they tend to be illegal. Of course, campaign finance is now so unrestricted that it can fairly be described as legal bribery.

A decade later another polling form summarized their findings saying:

“Ratings for everyone in Washington are low and voters are deeply pessimistic about the direction the country is heading. Driving those sentiments is the belief that special interests are still running the show and that voters’ voices are being drowned out by those who help fund politicians’ campaigns.”

This February 2010 poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that a by 62% to 31% Americans favor legislation to set up a publicly-financed campaign system. Fifty percent of Republicans support the proposal compared to 40 percent who oppose it. And, the people see the country going in the wrong direction regarding special interest dollars influence over government with 56% saying Obama has not done enough to reduce the influence of special interests and 51% saying the influence of special interests has increased since Obama took office.

The recent Citizens United decision which opened the door to unlimited electoral spending by corporations and individuals has increased and broadened opposition among the American public. In February 2010, ABC News reported:

“ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that 80%  of Americans likewise oppose the ruling, including 65% who ‘strongly’ oppose it, an unusually high intensity of sentiment.

“Seventy-two percent, moreover, support the idea of a legislative workaround to try to reinstate the limits the court lifted.

“The bipartisan nature of these views is striking in these largely partisan times. The court’s ruling is opposed, respectively, by 76, 81 and 85% of Republicans, independents and Democrats; and by 73, 85 and 86% of conservatives, moderates and liberals. Majorities in all these groups, ranging from 58 to 73%, not only oppose the ruling but feel strongly about it.”

If the government represented the views of the American people on these seven issues, the nation would be headed in a very different direction. The country would probably not be in a recession, it would cut the deficit by ending the current wars, along with significant cuts in basic military spending, increases in taxes on the wealthy and corporations, as well as ending corporate welfare.  The priorities of the government would be protecting and strengthening the social safety net, improved Medicare for all replacing ObamaCare; there would also be a major focus on job creation, raising wages and protecting worker rights to collectively bargain; and investment in a transition to a clean, energy economy would be a high priority.  The corruption of government through the legalized bribery of campaign donations would be ended as campaigns would be publicly financed and money taken out of politics.

The people are able to govern themselves better than our elected representatives.  It is time to shift the power to the people.  Join us and sign up at http://october2011.org  and together we can put human needs before corporate profit.

Kevin Zeese is on the steering committee of October2011.org and co-director of It’s Our Economy.

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