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Fed Up and Taking to the Streets, But What are the Demands?

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Headlined to H3 10/7/11

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From Tahrir to Wall Street


People across the globe are angry. Fed up with their corrupt and inept governments, people have taken to the streets. The furious protesters have come from all walks of life: students, workers and farmers, men and women, young and old, urban and rural, the working poor and the struggling middle class.

Undoubtedly, the Arab Spring has inspired people around the globe to take matters into their own hands. In essence, the masses have given up on their elected officials, whom they see as selling out to the multinational corporations and the super rich in their societies.

From Chile to Greece and from England to India, people are standing up, demanding their rights, and denouncing corrupt policies and systems that favor the haves and stick it to the have-nots.

There's been a global assault by unrestrained capitalism for the past four decades. From Chile and Argentina and other Latin American countries in the 1970s, to Poland, Russia, South Africa, and the Asian crisis in the 1990s, and from post-invasion Iraq to the tsunami-stricken countries in the past decade, neo-liberalism imposed its grand global agenda.

Its main emphasis was on privatization, deregulation, and massive cutbacks of state subsidies that benefit the poor and the middle class. This scheme was forced on numerous societies by international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), G-8 countries, and the multinationals, through support of military dictatorships, providing questionable massive debts, and sometimes even by direct military intervention.

Since the 2008 severe global recession, people have witnessed how mega-banks and multinational corporations were bailed out by compliant politicians with several trillion dollars of public money. In return, the multinationals and the super rich continue to bankroll the campaigns of these same politicians who voted for the huge bailouts or handed out massive business subsidies, while cutting down programs that help the middle class or aid the poor. Meanwhile, tens of millions of people were losing their jobs and made impoverished as a result.

In the United States, the richest country on earth, the numbers are staggering:

  • The top one percent of Americans own 42 percent of all wealth, while the richest 20 percent hold 87 percent of the country's wealth. Furthermore, the richest 11,000 American households have more income than the bottom 25 million households (over 75 million Americans.)
  • According to Forbes magazine, during eight years of the Bush administration, the 400 richest Americans, who now own more than the bottom 150 million Americans, increased their net worth by $700 billion.
  • In 1955, IRS records indicated that the 400 richest people in the country were each worth an average $12.6 million, adjusted for inflation. Today, the 400 richest increased their average wealth to $3.45 billion, an increase of 274 fold.
  • In 1955, the richest tier paid an average 51.2 percent of their income in taxes that included loopholes. Today the richest Americans pay less than 17.2 percent of their income in taxes, almost the same rate as declared by billionaire-investor Warren Buffet.
  • In 1955, the proportion of federal income from corporate taxes was 33 percent. Today it decreased to about 7.4 percent. In 2009, GE generated $10.3 billion in pre-tax income but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion. Big Oil giant Exxon Mobil, reported in 2009 a record $45.2 billion profit, but paid none of it to the IRS.
  • Meanwhile, 50 million Americans have no health insurance while 46.2 million (one in six, and 22 percent of all American children) live in poverty, the most in 52 years.
  • According to the latest labor statistics over 14 million Americans are jobless, while over 30 million are underemployed. Five million people have already given up looking for work after one year.

But if the Arabs' anger at the repression and corruption of their governments has led to the popular uprisings and protests throughout this year, will the greed and unholy alliance between unrestrained capitalism and the political class, produce mass protests across America?

If the answer is yes -- as witnessed by the nascent and growing Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and a dozen other cities -- then what are their demands?

Part of the success of the Arab Spring was the lack of central leadership that governments could crack down, as well as its mass appeal, especially among the youth. Similarly, the American protesters have so far lacked a central leadership that can be manipulated or coerced, but in fact the protests have grown and spread through the use of social media, especially among the young people.

In the streets of Cairo, Tunisia, Sana'a, Benghazi, and Hama, millions of demonstrators through unyielding determination and sustained efforts have had clear demands: the fall of the corrupt systems and the call to real democracy and self-determination.

But it is not clear what the American protest movement's objectives are beyond the general expression of anger of the 99 percent against the greed and indifference of the super rich and the multinationals in the country.

In short, the movement needs to articulate specific demands that will fundamentally alter the power structure in this country, not only by restraining unchecked capitalism but also by returning the decision-making powers back to the people. While some of these demands might be short-term, others should be long-term, so that decades of reckless policies are reversed and dangerous military adventures are rolled back.

As for such demands, here are a few suggestions:

1) Paying a fair share of taxes. The Bush-Obama free lunch for the super rich should be declared over. Moreover, to address social security insolvency, payroll taxes should be applied on all income over $250,000 with no cap. For the long term, the country must tax not only income, but also wealth over $10 million at perhaps one-half percent per year. This revenue could be split between local, state, and federal governments, if only to address the deterioration of the country's basic infrastructure. If a person is to enjoy the country's security and prosperity, one needs to contribute to that through a small surtax on that wealth.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.
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