A WIN FOR OCCUPY WALL STREET: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is one of those self-described progressives who are good on social issues (marriage equality) but not so good on economic fairness. Having received substantial support from the business community, when it came time to propose a budget he insisted on letting the state’s “millionaire’s tax” expire—a $5 billion windfall for the top 2 percent of state taxpayers.
But on December 6 the New York Post—which once ran the headline Read Andrew’s Lips repeatedly to hold him to his “no new taxes” plan—was in a rage, calling Cuomo a “rate-fink” for his recent decision to partially re-establish the millionaire’s tax. Cuomo has cited the state’s worsening fiscal situation as the reason for his change of heart. But the deeper, more interesting explanation is Occupy Wall Street. As Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party (WFP) wrote recently, the Occupy movement changed the national conversation “from austerity to inequality.” And this new tax deal, which will improve the lives of many working and poor people, is a result of that changed conversation.
After Cuomo delivered his tax cut to the wealthy—and balanced the budget with massive cuts in spending to programs for the young, the poor and the nonpowerful—the economy remained stagnant. As the state’s major unions joined with the WFP, Citizen Action and scores of other organizations to launch a seemingly farfetched campaign to revive the millionaire’s tax before it even expired (on New Year’s Eve), they caught the hugest of breaks: a hardy band of young people showed up in Zuccotti Park, and didn’t leave.
A march to the homes of billionaires on Park Avenue. Actions at banks. A camp in the capital with a banner reading Welcome to Albany, Home of Governor One Percent. With one aspirational eye on national politics, Governor Cuomo couldn’t allow the nickname to stick. He had to act, forced into motion this time by the left. The tax deal passed on December 7.
Chalk one up for the Spirit of Occupy. Other governors and members of Congress ought to start paying attention. KATRINA vanden HEUVEL
PUNISHING MUSLIM PRISONERS: This past summer, the Justice Department published its semiannual report disclosing allegations by US prisoners of civil liberties and civil rights violations, revealing that 1,065 complaints were filed in the first half of 2011 and that 155 of those “required further review” by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Office of the Inspector General. At the root of every complaint was an anti-Islam bias. (The report, a formality established by the Patriot Act, focuses on Muslim inmate abuses, passing off other prisoner complaints to different government agencies.) Inmates reported being sexually and verbally assaulted by guards for their Muslim faith; being sent to lockdown on trumped-up charges; and being prohibited from praying, publicly or privately.
The complaints from federal facilities parallel conditions in state prisons. In late November, new reports of discrimination against Muslim prisoners were uncovered in Vermont, at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. According to an article in the Burlington Free Press, Muslim prisoners were being denied the right to gather for Friday night Jum’ah services under unsupported suspicions that they were planning to use the time to organize a gang. Prison officials claimed that some of these people are “last-minute converts” or “5 percenters,” a faction of the predominantly African-American Nation of Islam. Neither of these groups is a gang. And during Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan, when adherents fast from dawn to sunset, one prison staffer wrote in an e-mail to an officer, “Why do we continue to struggle with the Ramadan mess every August 1st?” It comes as no surprise that the Muslim prisoners complained of cold food and unfair treatment from officers throughout that month. The Vermont Department of Corrections claims to have resolved the issues, but Muslim prisoners say the discrimination persists.
Beyond US soil, President Obama, who in a 2009 speech vowed “to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” broke his promise to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay by 2010. January 11 will mark the ten-year anniversary of its first detainees, and there are no signs it will close. In Afghanistan the Defense Department has cleared the release of numerous prisoners at Bagram, yet they continue to languish there. Even as Bagram and Guantánamo have become symbols of American injustice abroad, it is time to confront those injustices happening in our own backyard. COLLIER MEYERSON
JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: The socially conscious shopper can get a helping yuletide hand from the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS) and its 2011 Holiday Shopping Guide, available online (caps.ationbuilder.com/holiday_shopping_guide). In this project, spurred by the Citizens United ruling, CAPS ranked companies according to their public disclosure and transparency in political contributions.
“I hope that this causes the kind of debate that says, Here are companies that are actually pro-democracy; here are companies that have something to hide,” said CAPS founder Bill de Blasio on The Dylan Ratigan Show. “You don’t have to buy their stock; you don’t have to buy their products. Your elected officials should be tough on them.”
Those enjoying seasonal festivities by eating out can consult the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United Diners’ Guide 2012 (rocunited.org/dinersguide/). The extensive listing rates restaurants from Buffalo Wild Wings to Nobu based on how they treat their workers, including tipped and nontipped wages, and whether they provide paid sick days. This winter (and beyond), avoid Olive Garden, and steer clear of Costco. ALEXANDRA TEMPUS
BOYCOTT LOWE’S: As long as we’re discussing bigotry and corporate malfeasance, now would be a good time to stop going to Lowe’s for your home improvement needs. The company recently pulled its advertising from the TLC reality show All-American Muslim, calling it “a lightning rod” for daring to depict ordinary Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan. Thousands have signed a petition in protest. Visit signon.org to add your name.