Protect the 99% Right Now!
by Susan C. Strong
Because Occupy Wall Street has refocused America's attention on growing economic inequality, many on the Left are talking about broad reform programs, in hopes that Occupy will embody them somehow. Thinking big is important and necessary. But we also need to keep a sharp eye out for ways to counter immediate new harm to the 99%. For example, in December Congress must decide whether or not to extend unemployment benefits and continue the payroll tax cut in 2012.
We all need to push Congress to do the right thing about both of these measures, in whatever ways we can think up. If either or both of these common sense steps fail, economic hardship and inequality for all of the 99% will sharply increase in the new year. If extended, both measures will put continued funding into the hands of those who will spend every cent of it. That would provide the only kind of economic stimulus that has ever created jobs: demand. Increasing demand this way has a multiplier effect. When some people spend, others get paid, and then they spend too. An "austerity" strategy has never produced economic growth, and it never will, because it's impossible. It's the 99% who spend most of what they get who create the jobs. If they don't have money, they can't spend it, others can't earn it and spend in turn, and none of them can pay taxes.
Of course the Republicans will try to take hostage the bills I speak of here. They are already demanding new cuts in the federal work force, and an extended pay freeze for federal workers, in exchange for any vote to extend unemployment benefits. These are choices that will throw the most people out of work and cut the buying power of the rest. As for extending the payroll tax cut, they may kidnap it in order to get the expiring Bush tax cuts for the wealthy renewed. We know that whatever they might try to do about these measures will send our economy into a greater downward spiral. They hope they can blame it on President Obama, and get their man, whoever it is, into the White House. But they know perfectly well that the rich are not creating jobs in America these days, and that regular consumer demand is what creates jobs. It's a well-documented fact that wealthy American individuals and corporations are sitting on huge cash reserves, waiting until consumer "confidence" and demand ramp up again, before they invest in new job creation. Republicans are well aware that they are lying about rich "job creators." Their behavior is nothing but deliberate economic sabotage. They just keep it up in order to increase the already outrageously unfair political power of the 1%. We must make a very public fuss that calls them out about it.
Of course, we have some very reasonable Pentagon nuclear spending cuts we like. For example, how about cutting some really unnecessary, stupid, and dangerous Pentagon nuclear spending that exposes everyone to unnecessary risk and makes the U.S. look like the biggest hypocrite on the planet, to say nothing of giving license to others to do the same ? Cuts in our nuclear arsenal are possible and would actually make everyone in the world safer. For example, there's Senator Tom Coburn's idea (R, OK) of cutting the number of our strategic nuclear warheads currently deployed, (79 billion in savings). Then there's stopping modernization of the B61 tactical nuclear bombs in Europe (1.6 billion in savings), and dumping the new plutonium storage facility being built near an earthquake fault in New Mexico (2.6 billion). Those savings should more than cover any new unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts in 2012, I'd say. Because the Udall Amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill has just failed, and the President threatens to veto the bill, there may still be time to make these kinds of changes. If the Republicans aren't willing to look seriously at these cuts, they can't be really serious about the deficit. They are faking that too.
Fortunately for us all, the original effects of Occupy Wall Street have continued to have power, despite the onset of winter and evictions from increasingly problematic public camps. Occupy's evolution to the next phase of organizing is already underway. National debate remains firmly based on the 1% -99% split. The demand for more economic equality has sunk the debt and deficit decoy the Republicans have been hiding behind for so long. The charge of criminal fiscal irresponsibility in high places is sticking. The 1% stole our dream and threw us out of our own houses and jobs. They must be made accountable, and they must make amends. The first steps they should take are seeing to it that unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut get extended, with no hostage taking allowed. We the 99% must demand that they do the right thing about it right now.
Susan C. Strong is the Founder and Executive Director of The Metaphor Project (http://www.metaphorproject.org), and author of our forthcoming new book, Move Our Message: How To Get America's Ear (January, 2012). The Metaphor Project has been helping progressives mainstream their messages since 1997. To see the footnotes for this piece, please visit our website and click the link for this article on the home page.