HEAL AMERICA. TAX WALL STREET: As the most recent, sobering jobs report showed, the United States needs a jobs program, now. Unfortunately, President Obama does not have a Congress that will cooperate to implement one; he has a Congress that says the United States is broke.
That’s a lie. The country can fund wars of whim and back bailouts and tax breaks for billionaires. There is money. It’s just misallocated. The demand for a jobs program must be coupled with demands for better budgeting and new sources of revenue. To this end, on September 1 the activist union National Nurses United (NNU) took a bold new campaign to the offices of sixty-one members of Congress, calling it the National Day of Action to Tax Wall Street. Legislators were asked to sign a pledge to “support a Wall Street transaction tax that will raise sufficient revenue to make Wall Street pay for the devastation it has caused on Main Street.”
NNU co-president Deborah Burger says a tax on Wall Street trading of stocks, derivatives, currencies, credit default swaps and futures—the same speculative financial tools behind the recession—could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for “desperately needed” programs. That’s not just idealism talking. It’s practical economics.
Writing for the New York Times, University of Massachusetts economics professor and MacArthur Fellow Nancy Folbre praised the Tax Wall Street campaign. “Purchases of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments in the United States go untaxed but for a tiny fee (less than a half-cent) on stock trades that helps finance the Securities and Exchange Commission,” she wrote. “In Britain, by contrast, a 0.5 percent tax on stock transactions raises about $40 billion a year. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany recently announced plans to introduce a similar tax in the 27 nations of the European Community…. Our current tax policies favor speculative investment in financial instruments over productive investments in human capabilities. This imbalance helps explain why nurses unions in the United States have been particularly outspoken advocates of a financial transactions tax. As they put it: ‘Heal America. Tax Wall Street.’” JOHN NICHOLS
A WIN AGAINST MEGABANKS: In a victory for community and labor activists, the Federal Reserve announced in late August that it would extend the public comment period on the proposed acquisition by Capital One of the online bank ING Direct by fifty-one days; the merger would create the fifth-largest bank in America. The Fed also scheduled a series of public hearings across the country that activists hope to use as a forum to expose the bad practices of megabanks—in particular, the notorious subprime credit card lender Capital One.
“Make no mistake about it, this was purely driven by advocates pushing for a slowdown of a normally quick and dirty process for approving these mergers,” says National Community Reinvestment Coalition president and CEO John Taylor, who is helping lead a coalition of more than 200 community, faith and labor groups opposed to the merger. “It’s a real victory because anytime you can lift up the veil of secrecy, you can stop bad things from happening.”
Capital One received more than $3.5 billion in bailout funds, yet it has refused to lend to qualified low-income borrowers, requiring them to show credit scores that are higher than the minimum qualifying scores mandated by the Federal Housing Administration. Activists say this has disproportionately affected people of color. They also say that Capital One encourages small businesses to use high-interest credit cards instead of giving them loans.
“Capital One’s model of business is to basically turn people upside down and shake them,” says Taylor. “We shouldn’t reward [the banks] by letting them expand more to become a megabank that we will be forced to bail out once again.” MIKE ELK
THE NATION, UNCENSORED: In September 2010 Jafar Saidi contacted The Nation to say that after experiencing “interruptions and inordinate delays” with his subscription, he learned that the magazine had been placed on the “Publication Denial” list at the State Correctional Institute in Somerset, Pennsylvania, where he is incarcerated. At first it was unclear why his subscription was being denied—was The Nation being confused with the Nation of Islam (an occasional misperception)? Did Republicans lurk in the mailroom? Or was The Nation simply backlogged on a list of publications waiting to be reviewed, as one SCI-Somerset document suggested?
For a year, Saidi, a paying subscriber, filed grievances and appeals with the prison, all of which were denied. A letter from The Nation to superintendent Gerald Rozum explained that the magazine has no ties to the Nation of Islam and “we do not support inflammatory racist content.” Back and forth the letters went: Saidi would write to say which Nation issues had been denied, attaching copies of the notices of denial. One appeal was dismissed as “frivolous.” The February 14 issue contained “writings that advocate violence, insurrection or guerrilla warfare against the government or any of its facilities”; the March 28 issue had “writings which advocate, assist or are evidence of criminal activity or facility misconduct”; and the April 18 issue was denied for its “racially inflammatory material.”
In June, The Nation contacted John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, who upheld the decision, citing “racially inflammatory” content that may “pose a threat to the inmates, staff, or facility security.” A string of e-mails followed between The Nation, the DOC and KeyPoint Government Solutions, an independent agency that investigates facility security, among other things. At KeyPoint’s prodding, the DOC re-examined its findings; Wetzel agreed that SCI-Somerset was “way over the top” in its denial; and in a final letter dated July 29, Rozum reversed the denial.
In a letter of appreciation, Saidi wrote, “I have always found The Nation full of insight into the powerful political and social forces driving this country, and I eagerly anticipate each weekly issue.” Almost one year later, he can finally read the content he paid for, and the inmates at SCI-Somerset will now be able to read consecutive issues of The Nation for the first time since 2009. KATELYN BELYUS