Fair Share and Business as Usual
We are members of and contributors to SPC. In the March 2009 Peace Newsletter, SPC  endorsed “Fair Share Tax Reform,” which seeks to raise income tax on NY residents earning over $250K. We feel that SPC’s endorsement of this proposal is ill-advised.

We believe in steeply progressive income tax (or better yet, a wealth tax) and no special treatment of capital gains. We were labor union members until being laid off in the 1982 recession. We support collective bargaining, single-payer universal health insurance and  free public education through university level. The organizations which are pushing “Fair Share Tax Reform” are primarily health- and public-sector unions which are not really concerned with distribution of wealth, but rather seek to maintain the status quo with dysfunctional state government spending.

Modern labor unions have abandoned the basic elements of class struggle and economic justice; one only needs to look at the collapse of private sector union membership to confirm that the vast majority of working people do not recognize the need or value of union membership. This was not the case 50 years ago. In decades past, union members and organizers fought valiantly for economic justice, while today employer “legalities” send them running. Many union executives have never worked in their industries and have law degrees or MBA’s. Obviously, unions need some serious self-reflection and renewed militancy.

The primary motivation of “Fair Share Tax Reform” is to continue “business as usual” for New York State government. Fair Share Tax Reform is not transformative of state government in any way. Rather it is just more special interests seeking to maintain the status quo.

Those pushing this proposal apparently have not yet noticed that we are on the precipice of “the greater depression.” Remember, about 20% of NY State tax revenue was tied to Wall Street. Are we so naïve to think that in 2010 or 2012, Wall Street will be back to contributing anything even close to that number? The quick-fix from an income tax increase will help close the state budget deficit in 2009, but the gap will be even larger in 2010 and the state revenue problem will continue to get worse.

Raising taxes in NY State does nothing to fix the structural inequities in the tax system or address the billions in waste in the state budget. Consider how much is spent on prisons, the paramilitary state police, corporate welfare (e.g., “Empire Zones” for big box stores), unnecessary highway boondoggles, corruption and “member items”. Health care is important for all of us, but how much is wasted on needless bureaucracy? Fair Share Tax Reform does NOTHING to change these imbalances and provide the basis for equitable distribution of wealth.

Just like the federal government, a huge percentage of state expenditures is pure, unadulterated waste. New York residents pay combined local, state and federal taxes that approach European rates and when you add in private health insurance, day care, elder care and other benefits Europeans and Canadians enjoy, our out-of-pocket costs are higher. Does anyone think we have the economic security of a European-style social democracy?

Ultimately, changes like “Fair Share Tax Reform” or Barack Obama are not real change.  Rahm Emanuel says “Never waste a good crisis.” NY State and the federal government are not wasting it; they are bailing out fat cats and bankers and dumping the tab on taxpayers, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Unions should organize mass protests at this blatant economic injustice instead of promoting business as usual.

–Gregg & Susan Spindler
Cazenovia, NY

Evaluating President Obama
Editorial Note: The election of President Barack Obama presents an important challenge to those of us working for peace and social justice. The Peace Council recognizes the importance of acting within the current social and political context. There is diversity of opinion among our members about what this means. We welcome continued dialogue about how we move forward as a movement over the coming years.
–Andy Mager

The February newsletter has much helpful information, but it saddened me to read that people think that President Obama has done a good job choosing a cabinet. [The actual quote was “Mr. Obama appears to have taken great care to put together his cabinet”  –Rev. Kevin J. Agee.] The reality is the president has two cabinets: one confirmed by Congress and a private cabinet called “advisors.” Because we really don’t get all aspects of the news, citizens don’t know the background of cabinet members and/or advisors. Here are examples of people in the cabinet who should never have been appointed.

1. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has as much diplomatic skill as John Bolton.   Last month in China she never mentioned human rights–only money, which is the bottom line of our country’s foreign policy.  She is ready to blow Iran to smithereens. She does not always tell the truth: anyone who has ever been under sniper-fire or shock and awe bombing never forgets. 

2. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama continue to use extraordinary rendition (Orwellian newspeak for outsourced torture in hidden prisons overseas). Holder approves of draconian drug laws for nonviolent prisoners.

3. Defense (read War) Secretary Gates and the President use more newspeak in telling us that troops will be home by August 2010, except for up to 50,000 troops who will remain. They will not be combat troops, but “trainers.” All soldiers are combat soldiers; the first thing soldiers learn is how to use a gun and even high school ROTC students use wooden guns to train. 

      Iraq is an occupied country just as is Gaza and the West Bank, now occupied for 60 years. Ask any Palestinian who took his house key with him in 1948, never to be able to return. The situation in Iraq is not better there as the President tells us. (See Dahr Jamail’s articles–March PNL.)

4. The tax cheats, among them  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

5. The torturers: John Brennan (see Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side) and Gen. Dennis Blair who gave the ok to Indonesians to masssacre people in churches in East Timor (see Alan Nairn’s articles on Indonesian crimes supported by the US). Dennis Blair is chief intelligence advisor to President Obama.

Many people whom I admire voted for Barack Obama with the understanding that there would be much work post- election; agitating, educating, organizing and communicating with President Obama to let him know we will not be satisfied with four years of continuing foreign policies which began in the Clinton administration, worsened under George W. Bush and which are being followed for the most part by the current administration.

I recommend that readers take time to read or listen to Martin Luther King Jr’s prescient Riverside Church speech  “Beyond Vietnam.”

–Cynthia Banas