News from USA

Wednesday 1 August 2012, by Robert Paris

California’s Budget – More Attacks on Workers and the Poor

The latest budget signed by Governor Brown is an outrage. The nearly $16 billion budget deficit has once again been paid for by huge cuts to workers and the poor.

For years, the state government, whether Democrats or Republicans, have been cutting taxes to corporations and the super rich while millions of workers have lost their jobs and had their homes reclaimed by banks. And so, as California brings in less revenue from income taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes, the state protects the rich, creates a budget shortage, and then makes us pay for it.

Have any of largest companies in the world headquartered here in California been forced to pay to cover any of this? Wells Fargo or Google or Intel or Hewlett-Packard or Apple – have they had to pay any more over the years? And the oil companies, making record profits year after year, have they ever had to pay an extra dime? Or have any of the billionaires or multi-millionaires here been forced to pay to for this? Never! Corporations and the rich have been protected every step of the way.

The only ones who have had to pay for this crisis have been working families and the poor. We’ve paid through cuts to education, health care, our wages, our retirements, through losing our houses, losing our savings, and through having the assistance we rely on slashed away. And once again California has gone after the poorest in the state.

CALWORKS, financial assistance for low-income families, has been cut in half. Weekly benefits will now only last 24 months instead of 48. This is a huge blow to the unemployed in California who are out of work for an average of 37 months at a time. This means many families could now have no assistance at all for years.

Over $1 billion has been cut from Medi-Cal, the state health insurance for the poor. Most of this cut will come from kicking about 1.4 million poor families and seniors off of Medi-Cal and onto private plans with extremely reduced coverage. This also includes eliminating the Healthy Families program, which means 880,000 of the state’s poorest children will only be able to rely on Medi-Cal with its extremely reduced services.

Other cuts include $240 million from child care services, $90 million from In Home Health Services, which provides care for the disabled and the elderly, and $402 million from 182,000 state workers, which is about a 5 percent pay cut.

In addition to these huge cuts, Governor Brown has already agreed to massive cuts to education if his tax bill doesn’t pass in November. These cuts would be devastating – $5.5 billion from K-12 schools and community colleges, and $500 million from California’s universities.

Many people in California are starting to feel they must vote for the November tax bill. This plan would raise the sales tax from 7.25 to 7.5 percent, which would be the highest in the entire country. And it would mean workers pay about $2.5 billion more every year to the state. This tax initiative would also raise income taxes between one and three percent on people earning $500,000 or more. Not only is this a tiny increase, but with all of the past tax breaks handed out to the rich, it’s not even an increase at all.

It’s understandable that many people feel forced to vote for this bill when huge cuts are promised if they don’t. It’s like blackmail – vote yes or get cut. But whether this bill passes or not – this fight is not over. Even if it passes, the amount of money raised will do nothing to restore the decades of past cuts. Either way, the state is not through making workers pay for this crisis. The corporations and their politicians want to take a lot more from us.

It’s going to take more than five minutes in a ballot box to fight against these cuts. It’s going to take workers up and down the state organizing together in massive numbers to show our force. These are our lives, our families, our futures, and these attacks can’t keep going on without a fight!

In This System We Have Democracy, Except When it Really Matters

Everywhere you look today, from the national level down to our cities and our workplaces, all of the decisions that impact our lives are being made behind our backs, over our heads, and without our agreement. From the decisions made by the Supreme Court about health care, to the massive attack on pensions and benefits for workers, we are on the receiving end of someone else’s decisions. And it’s not easy to see who is making these decisions – the big banks and corporations, and the politicians who serve them.

Look at the decision which was just made by the Supreme Court regarding the Affordable Health Care. First we should remember that this bill was written for the Obama administration with the help of the big pharmaceutical and health care companies. This bill provides certain protections and expanded coverage for people. But it guarantees the big health care companies’ profits by mandating that everyone must purchase insurance from them.

In the last months we have seen this bill taken to the Supreme Court. This court, a group of nine judges, sat and made a decision which impacts every single person in the whole country. Who gave them the right to do this? They weren’t elected. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life by whichever president happens to be in power when they are chosen. And here these people are deciding the fate of millions.

What did they decide? They decided that the bill would remain as law, and that people would have to buy insurance or face penalties. But they also decided that the part of the bill that expands Medicaid coverage was unconstitutional because it threatened the rights of state governments.

And we all know what that means. State governments are slashing budgets, and forcing people to pay for this economic crisis. Just look at California. Every year since 2008 we have seen drastic cuts to education, social services, and attacks on state workers. This year we are faced with an election. What decisions about the budget are we allowed to make? This November will we be able to vote to raise taxes on the corporations who profit from the wealth of this state?

No, Jerry Brown’s tax proposal is set up so that we have a choice between taxing ourselves with additional sales tax, or losing a huge amount of funding for schools and social services. A token amount will be taken from individuals who make over $250,000 per year, but companies who operate in California will keep making huge profits.

If we could actually decide on the questions that matter would we allow what is happening to Stockton? Stockton has gone bankrupt due to the economic collapse. But who is made to pay for this bankruptcy? City workers who are living on pensions. People who worked hard all their lives are being told – Now you have to pay for your own health care. Libraries are being closed. Roads aren’t being fixed. In other words the citizens of Stockton are being forced, against their will, to pay.

There is nothing democratic about how this system runs. From the federal government down to the details of our lives, we are being forced to pay for a crisis we didn’t create. The only choices we are given are false choices. It’s about time we started to say enough is enough. No one should be forced to suffer consequences that they didn’t choose themselves. We did not choose to create this crisis, and we shouldn’t be forced to pay.

Aurora: Another Tragedy Of A Violent Society

Another terrible mass shooting has taken place in the US. This time, a 24-year-old man allegedly opened fire into a crowded movie theater showing The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, killing at least 12 people and wounding 59. This is a horrific tragedy for the families and friends of all the victims, and the whole town of Aurora. That this massacre happened in a movie theater, with children and families, can only create the feeling that nothing is safe in this violent society we live in.

The major news media, along with politicians, have already declared that this massacre only reflects the senseless actions of a lunatic and had nothing to do with the society and world we live in. They speak as if this tragedy happened in a vacuum, and they would like us to believe that nothing like it has ever occurred before. But the sad truth is that violence like this is far from uncommon.

Just two weeks ago, eight young people were shot dead in Oakland, CA, only one week after five others were shot directly in front of a movie theater in Jack London Square. Of course this violence is not unique to Oakland. All across the country in the poorest cities, young people, who can’t help but feel as if society has failed them and thrown them away, are killing each other. And who can forget Columbine High School in Colorado (less than 30 miles from Aurora), where 12 students and one teacher were gunned down by fellow students in 1999? Unfortunately, the list goes on and on.

Tragic acts of violence are part of everyday life in this society. How many stories have there been about hysterical adults, who after losing their jobs or their homes, shot themselves and murdered their families? Or the 18 US veterans who commit suicide every day – so many that now more soldiers have died from suicide than combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is this violence really a mystery in a country with one of the most violent militaries in history? The US military has destroyed the lives of millions of people living in Iraq and Afghanistan, even bombing entire villages, weddings, funerals. This is a military that regularly carries out torture and assassination. Or what about the Americans who sit behind computer screens, far away from the faces of the innocent people they daily drop bombs on through drone aircrafts? Is all this violence really that different from what happened in Aurora?

Recognizing the violent nature of this society does not in any way diminish the unbearable tragedy of what happened in Colorado – it can never justify this, nor is it a diagnosis of why the gunman did this. But it is important to see that there is no escaping the impact of the violence of our society – it shows up all around the world, and it will keep showing up here in the US too.

Hopefully this massacre will bring more people to question the causes of all this violence in society. What is pushing so many young people to gun each other down in the streets? What reason could there be to kill millions of innocent people in war? What could drive a young man to open fire on helpless people in a movie theater?

In the case of this shooting, it is far too soon to say. But we do know that the society we live in creates enormous separation between everyone. Every day we all walk by people who are homeless. We ride public transportation and never even talk to each other. We can live in the same place for years without even knowing our neighbors. We are all isolated from each other, on our own, or in our little family unit, struggling to survive, trying to cope.

And add to this isolation the constant stress and pressure we’re under just to make ends meet. Usually this pressure shows up in some form of self-abuse, depression, drug use, alcoholism, or even suicide. But sometimes this pressure explodes into these violent attacks on innocent people.

There is no question that someone who massacres helpless people while they innocently watch a movie is sick. But can they be any sicker than the society they were brought up in?

Seven Dead in Seven Days – Casualties of a Hopeless Society

In Oakland during the last few weeks there have been a string of violent incidents. Seven people were killed within seven days’ time. This is the worst string of violent incidents in five years. With a body count like that, it makes you wonder which is safer – the streets of Oakland or the streets of Baghdad. Either way it is clear – a war is happening in the United States, and this war has its own casualties.

Many of the victims were young people who had their whole future ahead of them. The youngest victim, 15-year old Hadari Askari, was shot in an East Oakland housing complex. Tommy Lacy III, only 18 years old, was killed in West Oakland. Another victim was a 19-year old girl killed early in the morning on Macarthur Boulevard. And another victim, Joel Pervoe, Jr. was just 20 years old.

The media is quick to point out the links between the youth of the victims and their violent deaths. It is true, violence claims the lives of too many young people. But they are not the only victims. Another incident in the last weeks involved two men, aged 67 and 70 who got into an argument which resulted in a violent outburst and one death.

Overall, the Bay Area has seen an increase in violence over the past few years. This year alone there have been 63 people killed in Oakland. That is the same number that were killed in 2011, and we can be sure the number will climb higher.

If there’s one thing that links all of these killings, it is who the victims are not – none of them are wealthy. They lived in Oakland, Richmond or Hayward. None of them lived in upscale neighborhoods in the hills. Poor and working class people, both old and young, are the ones who are suffering this wave of violence.

Is it any surprise that we have seen the level of violence in this society increase during the last few years? Since the economic crisis of 2008, we have seen wave after wave of layoffs, home foreclosures, and families struggling to survive. And at the same time we have seen budget cuts to schools and social programs which provide food, health care, and other vital necessities to poor families. People feel hopeless, and with hopelessness comes violence.

You only need to look at the news headlines to understand why people feel hopeless. Last week San Bernadino announced that the city is filing for bankruptcy. And San Bernadino is the third city in California to file for bankruptcy in the last two weeks, along with Stockton and Mammoth Lake.

What happens when a city declares bankruptcy? The first thing it does is put in place severe cuts to any workers in the city. San Bernadino has reduced the city workforce by 20 percent, and workers have been forced to take ten million dollars in concessions in their union contracts.

Of course the result of these cuts is drastic reduction in services, from fire fighters to school teachers. City streets and public parks will fall into disrepair. Children will be crammed together into bigger and bigger classes with fewer teachers. This is on top of the state budget cuts which decrease state-level funding for schools and social programs. The overall picture is horrible, and offers little hope.

And this is no natural disaster. Why are these cities bankrupt? Because of an economic crisis engineered by the big banks and corporations. During the last decade many city governments invested public funds in the banks and financial firms that promised to deliver big profits on investments. With the economic crisis, these funds have disappeared. On top of this, city governments rely on property taxes. With the crash in housing prices, city governments receive far less money. The federal government has bailed out the banks with $13 trillion. Has any of that money gone to replace the missing city funds? No. The banks have taken the money and run.

The real cure for our cities, and our society is to put a stop to the hopelessness and the lack of opportunities being created by the crisis of this system. Without hope, it is no wonder that people fall into despair and the level of violence in this society increases. But we can’t wait for a change to happen. We’ve seen the options if we wait and see. Year after year it gets worse, whether the Democrats or Republicans are in office. If we are looking for hope it will only come from us, organizing together to change this hopeless situation.

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