Platform - A Green New Deal

  • Jobs – A Community Hiring Hall to insure a fair share of city-funded jobs for inner city residents
  • Fully-Funded Schools and City Services through progressive tax reforms that tax the rich
  • Youth Jobs and Recreation Programs to cut crime and violence
  • Lower Utility Rates for residents and businesses through a city-owned Public Power utility
  • Community-Owned Businesses – planned, financed, and advised by a Municipal Development Bank
  • Transportation Justice - Better bus service and bike and pedestrian paths for the 4th District
  • Constituent Services – Responsiveness, Office Hours, Neighborhood Meetings
  • Municipal Broadband (Cable TV, Internet, Phone) for more channels and better technology at lower rates
  • Housing and Neighborhood Development – Urban renewal, not urban removal: development without displacement and gentrification
  • A Green Economy for a Sustainable Syracuse

Jobs – A Stronger Living Wage Ordinance with a Community Hiring Hall

The unemployment crisis is at the root of poverty in the 4th District. The employment rate for black males in their prime working years, 25-54, is only 40 to 60 percent in several census tracts in the 4th District, according to the US Census. In 2005, according to a US Census survey, Syracuse had the 3rd highest poverty rate – and the highest black poverty rate – of the 100 largest US cities.

The quickest way to get more 4th District residents living wage jobs is to insure they are getting their fair share of jobs with the city and city contractors. We must demand direct public job creation funded by the state and federal governments. But in the meantime, we can quickly help city residents by insuring they get their fair share of jobs with city departments and city contractors.

Blacks and other minorities are only getting one-third to one-half of their proportionate share of jobs with city contractors, according to data collected and reported by the Onondaga County Human Rights Commission. The city is not enforcing or monitoring the Equal Employment Opportunity Program authorized in City Ordinance 302 in 1973.

What Syracuse needs is reformed Living Wage Ordinance that incorporates the Equal Employment Opportunity Program and takes affirmative action to achieve that goal through a Community Hiring Hall. Here are the elements we need to put into a stronger Living Wage Ordinance:

Enforcement and Expansion of Living Wage Coverage

Enforce the existing Living Wage Ordinance. Expand it to cover all workers with the city and its contractors. Seek to cover all workers in the city through a citywide minimum wage, as Santa Fe, New Mexico has done. Attach to the new Living Wage Ordinance minority and city resident hiring goals for all jobs with the city and city contractors and a Community Hiring Hall to help reach those goals.

Employment Goals for City Residents

People of color and city residents don’t get their fair share of jobs with the city and city contractors. The city has no program to increase city resident and minority employment in city departments and with city contractors, except for the police and fire departments where the goal has been 8 percent since the 1970s due to court orders. The city’s minority population is approaching 50 percent. The strengthened Living Wage Ordinance should include a positive program of affirmative action to increase city residents and people of color in jobs with the city and its contractors.

Community Hiring Hall

The strengthened Living Wage Law should require city departments and contractors to hire qualified workers from a Community Hiring Hall if they cannot meet minority and city resident employment goals. The Community Hiring Hall will provide job counseling, placement, training, and support services to help people qualify, get into, and stay in training programs and jobs.

Green Job Corps and Green Tech Training Center

The Community Hiring Hall should be at the center of building a partnership among unions, community organizations, contractors, manufacturers, educational institutions, and the city to provide a skilled workforce for green tech sectors. The overall goal is to create unionized green jobs in both the private sector and in public works to restore Onondaga Creek and retrofit our energy, transportation, housing, water, sewage, and waste-recycling infrastructure for economic and ecological sustainability in an era of rising energy costs and global warming. A Green Tech Training Center and Green Job Corps coordinated through the Community Hiring Hall should be developed with programs aimed at recruiting especially at-risk youth and ex-offenders who have few other job prospects.

Fully-Funded Schools & City Services through Progressive Tax Reforms

The city faces bankruptcy, a state control board of bankers appointed by Governor Cuomo, and a drastic escalation of austerity policies. The austerity has already hit – for example, the school district staff was cut by 450 this year – but it could get much worse.

The city has had a recurring structural deficit of $10-15 million a year for years. The city is running out of one-year solutions, including special state aid and drawing down the fund balance. For the 2010-11 budget, the city is using $13 million of its $33 million fund balance to stay afloat. The fund balance is down from $63 million in 2007-08. Syracuse is a year or two away from bankruptcy and a state control board of bankers appointed by Cuomo like Buffalo and Nassau Co. – unless the city fights for and wins progressive tax reforms at the state and local level. The state Comptroller can recommend a fiscal control board when the Syracuse fund balance falls below $10 million.

Progressive taxation simply means that low income people pay taxes at the lowest rate, middle income people at a moderate rate, and high income people at a higher rate.

Common Council has been silent about the state's cuts in city aid and refusal to tax the rich. The top 1 percent in New York State now receive 35% of income, up from 10% in 1980. But their tax rates hafve been lowered repeatedly since 1980.

Even on extending the state's millionaire's tax, which the city councils of every other of the Big Five city memorialized the state government to support, the Common Council was silent.

With austerity politics ruling the bipartisan consensus at the state and federal level and thus little prospect of increased federal and state aid (which accounted for 27.9% of the city budget and 53.5% of the combined city and school budget), the future holds deep cuts in the schools and city services and an assault on the city employee's wages, pensions, and health care.

It is time for the city to speak up for itself to state and federal governments for progressive tax reforms and revenue sharing. Among the state reforms Common Council should memorialize and lobby the state government for are:

State Revenue Sharing

Stop writing exemptions to Section 54 of the State Finance Law into every annual budget. Section 54 requires the state to share 8% of its revenues with municipal government. The state has been sharing about 2%. The state is supposed to fund its mandates with revenue sharing, but has failed year after year to do so. It is time to demand the state fulfill its revenue sharing promise.

Stock Transfer Tax

The state has collected between $12 and $16 billion in recent years, but rebated it all back to the traders. Just keeping this money would have more than bridged the $10 billion fiscal gap the state faced in 2011.

Progressive State Income Tax

If the state would go back to the 1973 income tax structure, with 14 brackets instead of 5 and graduated up into the high income brackets, the state would cut taxes for the bottom 90% and still take in $8 billion more dollars in revenue.

The city is limited in its taxing capacity but not helpless. Since the city is the host to so many nonprofit and government employer who don't pay property taxes, the city could seek an agreement with Onondaga County to sharing property tax revenues equitably countywide as six counties do in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolis. But probably the most politically feasible alternative in the short term is:

Progressive City Income and Commuter Tax

62,000 commuters – who have most of the middle and upper income jobs at four levels of government, the three big hospitals, and Syracuse University/SUNY ESF – use city services: police, fire, roads, water, sewers, trash disposal, parks, and others. But they don't pay taxes to support these services. Most of their employers are not-profits who don't pay property taxes. And most of these employers are in the 4th District.

It is time to levy small progressive income tax on ourselves – including on the incomes of commuters to city jobs – to ease the city's fiscal crisis.

A local income and commuter tax would need state enabling legislation. But most of the leverage we have as a city is at the state level, where progressive taxes and revenue sharing could resolve the fiscal crises of many New York cities, towns, and counties.

Leverage on the federal government is far more limited. But its role in cutting city funding, from the Community Development Block Grant to transportation and education funneled through the state, should be part of any understanding of the sources of the city's fiscal crisis.

Realistically, however, the federal government offers no prospect of relief. The debt ceiling agreement bakes austerity into the cake at least until after the 2012 federal elections. Further big cuts are possible, especially with the new 5-year transportation bill, where the Republicans want to cut it in half and the Democrats have a record of surrendering (“bipartisan compromise”) to Republican demands.

Too many politicians and corporate think tanks are pitting the public against the public employees, blaming the cuts in school and public service spending on “excessive” public employee wages, health care, and pensions. The only alternative is to unite the public and public employees around progressive tax reforms and against the austerity policies emanating from city hall and the state and federal governments.


Crime Prevention through Youth Jobs and Recreation

Youth jobs and recreation programs are proven to reduce youth crime and violence. We must demand more federal funding of summer youth jobs. We should open and staff schools and parks nights, weekends, and summers. We should have youth workers who reach out to alienated youth and bring them into the jobs and recreational and educational programs.

Stop the "War on Drugs" and Mass Incarceration

Redirect the money the city spends on enforcing drug laws to harm reduction and prevention efforts. Treat drug abuse as a health problem, not a criminal problem.

Strengthen the Citizen Review Board

End the neglect and failure to appoint board members. Strengthen the power and independence of the Citizen Review Board by giving it subpoena powers and the right to initiate legal action without the approval of the city’s lawyers. Put police cooperation with Citizen Review Board hearings into the next police union contract. Fund the investigator needed to make the Citizen Review Board effective.

Fully-Funded Public Defenders

Too many 4th District residents are going to court without adequate legal defense and going to jail and prison on plea bargains they would not have agreed to if they had strong legal counsel. The patchwork of private and public support for public defenders has failed miserably, denying the accuses a fair trial and their lawyers timely and adequate compensation. The Common Council memorialized the state government in 2009 in a resolution supporting a “fully state-funded, statewide public defender system headed by an independent public defense commission...to guarantee the right to counsel in New York State.” We must keep pressing for fully-funded public defenders.

The Right to a Trial by a Jury of Peers

Under state law, towns may draw juries from town jury pools. But cities must draw jury pools from the surrounding county. We believe defendants in Syracuse should have the same right as defendants in towns to a jury of their peers. Common Council should work with state legislators to get this law changed.

Community Enterprise

What a city requires is slow, patient work by excellent government and many small investors.
~ Andres Duany, "new urbanism" city planner

If we are going to have meaningful economic development, we are going to have to do it ourselves. The Big Boss is not coming back. No big corporation or developer is going to rescue Syracuse no matter how many tax breaks we give them. The Enterprise Zones, Empowerment Zones, and Empire Zones have been tried for decades and failed to halt the exodus of jobs, industries, and people. Destiny USA looks bust.

Nor is Uncle Sam going to save us. He is squandering resources on wars and bank bailouts, not rebuilding our cities. Nor is the state. They, too are cutting taxes on the rich and public services for the rest of us.

If Syracuse is going to develop the businesses it needs, it needs a much more direct, pro-active way of developing them than trying to lure businesses here with tax breaks, which cost Syracuse $2 billion over a recent five-year period, according to Forbes magazine. The people of Syracuse are ready to invest their money and labor in this community. What’s missing is "excellent government."

The city of Syracuse needs institutions that promote community ownership in order to raise up the whole community, not absentee ownership that siphons profits out of our community to distant corporate headquarters. That means public ownership of the power and broadband utilities and a Municipal Development Bank with a business planning department to help city residents, old and new, build the community-owned businesses the city needs.

A Municipal Development Bank for Community-Owned Businesses

Redirect corporate welfare (tax breaks, grants, etc.) for absentee owners into public investment in community-owned enterprises:

  • worker and consumer cooperatives
  • resident owner-operated businesses
  • corporations where voting shares are restricted to city residents (like the Green Bay Packers).

A Municipal Development Bank should be established to help plan, finance, develop, and advise community-owned enterprises.

The city would deposit its money in the city-owned bank, as could residents, businesses, and unions. The Bank of North Dakota has made money for that small state every year since it was established in 1919. Today, North Dakota has the lowest unemployment of any state and the only state that has not had to cut spending since the Great Recession hit in 2008. It's public bank is a big reason why.

Neighborhood Grocery Stores and Business Districts</p>

A high early priority for the Municipal Development Bank should be the development of co-op grocery stores. For decades, the city has tried to attract one downtown. Meanwhile, the South Side, Southwest, and other neighborhoods have lost their last groceries. It’s time to develop a network of community-owned groceries in our neighborhoods.

Another high priority for the Municipal Development Bank should be revitalizing neighborhood business districts, which are essential to creating walkable communities and local jobs for our people. We need to be able to get our everyday needs met in our own neighborhoods.

We don't need national chains sucking money out of our communities. We need businesses in our neighborhoods that are owned by people in our neighborhoods, so the money spent locally multiplies its positive impact as it circulates in the community and so that wealth created is anchored to our communities by community ownership.

Public Power for Affordable, Green Energy

Syracusans pay four times more for electricity to National Grid than the people in Solvay and Skaneatales pay to their city-owned power utilities. Replace National Grid with a public power utility to cut energy costs, restore responsive customer service, and build city-owned clean, renewable energy sources. (For more information, see www.cnypublicpower.net)

Public Power's lower electric rates will be a boon for economic development, especially sorely needed manufacturing where electricity costs are a major factor in manufacturer's location decisions.

Municipal Broadband (Cable TV, Internet, Phone)

Hundreds of US cities have municipal ownership of their broadband utilities and their customers pay 30% less on average for cable TV, internet, and phone. Now is the time to municipalize our broadband utility for (1) lower fees, (2) community control of available channels (from Democracy Now to the NFL Network), (3) quality Public Access, Education, and Government (PEG) programming, (4) universal access to high-speed internet, and (5) up-to-date public access video and web-based media creation centers. Every Syracuse should have first-class, affordable access to internet, cable, and phone communications. The Syracuse economy needs first-rate affordable broadband to progress. The profits now exported to Time-Warner can stay in the community for our own benefit through municipal cable. (For more information, see http://syracusebroadband.org.)

Municipal broadband will not have a monopoly. City residents will still be able to choose other providers, including Time-Warner’s Cable. The franchise agreement with Time-Warner is up for renewal, but the new agreement should turn its public access programming over to a community controlled non-profit, like many communities such as Ithaca have done. Time-Warner has failed to keep its public access equipment up to date, has moved what little public access programming remains from the basic tier to the wilderness of channel 98, and has vetoed timely and full showing of quality programming like the public affairs program, Democracy Now. The franchise renewal is two years overdue, being extended automatically every few months by the state's Public Service Commission. It is time for the city to audit the previous franchise agreement and aggressively negotiate with the help of a qualified consultant with the PSC and Time-Warner to forge a new and improved franchise agreement.

Transportation Justice

More than 50% of South Side workers use the bus or walk to work. A significant portion of East Siders also use public transportation given all the students living in the university neighborhoods. 4th District residents probably use public transportation more than any other section of the city or county.

Convenient and affordable public transit is key to the quality of life in the 4th District. Yet state and federal funding cuts, already made with more proposed, have already caused cuts in bus routes and fare increases. Howie Hawkins will make improving public transportation, as well as safe and convenient bike and pedestrian travel, a top priority.

Better Bus Service

Bus shelters with electronic schedules and reports on the next bus arrival should be built a t every bus stop.

Service should be more frequent and routes better networking, instead of centered around the downtown exchange like spokes on a wheel.

All this means fighting to make public transportation funding to higher priority in the state and federal budgets.

Appoint Bus Riders and Advocates to the Regional Transportation Board

The city of Syracuse has two unfilled board positions on the Board of the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority. This is inexcusable. The positions should be filed by bus riders and advocates.

Complete Streets for Safe Bike and Pedestrian Travel

To their credit, both the city and the county are taking “Complete Streets” initiatives. Let's make sure the 4th District and the South Side, which is too often left out, get their fair share of complete streets renovations.

Complete streets are mean to be streets that safely accommodate bike and pedestrian travel as well as automobiles.

We should also explore expanding options for bike and pedestrian travel with auto-free “greenways” dedicated to bike and pedestrian travel. We should encourage the construction of these greenways from the suburbs into the city, as some European cities have done, which will reduce traffic and pollution from commuters to the 4th District.

A Car-Free Redevelopment of the Interstate 81 Corridor

What will replace the elevated section of Interstate 81, which cuts through the heart of the 4th District? The option that the regional transportation authority with the backing of the local establishment seems to favor – a boulevard – would retain the transportation emphasis on autos, with stop and go traffic increasing the air pollution, which is already the highest in the region under I-81.

A car-free alternative, with a central park surrounded by mixed-use, mixed-income development, compact and green, should be considered. Such a development could make the Downtown the place to be in Central New York, providing life to a downtown that is silent after 5 pm.

Community Service

Prompt Response to Constituent Calls

If elected as 4th District Councilor, Howie Hawkins pledges to respond to constituent calls within 24 hours to find out what the concern is and see what he can do to help. Whether it is a pothole, a drug house down the street, the promised bike lane that didn’t happen, a problem with codes or DPW, or a pending vote before the Common Council, the first responsibility of a District Councilor is to be responsive to the district’s residents and their concerns.

Office Hours in the Neighborhood

If elected, Howie Hawkins will keep his campaign office at 2617 South Salina Street open and schedule regular office hours where district residents can come in and talk to their District Councilor about neighborhood or citywide issues and concerns.

Neighborhood Assemblies

If elected, Howie Hawkins will organize regular meetings in each of the eight or so neighborhoods of the 4th District where neighborhood residents can discuss issues and organize to realize community goals.

Urban Renewal, Not Urban Removal:
Development Without Displacement and Gentrification

Development should raise up low-income people, not remove them through rising property values that price people with limited incomes out of their neighborhoods. Protect existing residents through Inclusionary Zoning and Community Benefit Agreements that require developers to build affordable housing and through Community Land Trusts that enable neighborhoods as a whole to benefit from rising land values.

These policies are particularly needed in the 4th District in the Downtown, Gateway, and Old 15th Ward neighborhoods, where low and moderate income housing in these neighborhoods is disappearing with the closure or conversion of the Kennedy Square apartment complex and the Presidential Plaza towers. The only exception to this trend is the new Justice Center jail, the only low-income public housing built in Syracuse in decades, where hundreds of mostly low-income people fill the jail to capacity. We must fight to insure low-to-moderate income people help shape redevelopment in these neighborhoods that is coming with Syracuse University’s Connective Corridor and the take down of the elevated sections of Interstates 81 and 690.

A Green Economy for a Sustainable Syracuse

Sustainable Syracuse

Everybody is a "green" now. Every politician and every party in Syracuse now pays homage to "sustainable development" and a "green economy."

The Green Party welcomes this development. But there is more to greening Syracuse than relying renewable energy and green buildings.

There is also the question, not yet answered by the establishment parties, of empowering people so they can choose sustainability against the vested interests that benefit from unsustainable practices that enhance to profit of big business and the patronage power of government bureaucracies. We need new government and business structures of political and economic democracy that empower people to institute sustainable practices.

Between catastrophic climate change and the peaking of oil production, we can no longer take our supplies of food and energy for granted. We should no longer plan on securing food from the other side of the continent and fuel from the other side of the world. Global transportation networks and supply and production chains will become more and more expensive due to climate change and rising oil prices in the coming years.

We need to start now to develop regional food and energy self-reliance, as well as a sustainable base of ecologically sustainable and diverse manufacturing. When Syracuse was more of a manufacturing center, Syracuse was at its peak of prosperity. The high value-added nature of manufacturing creates wealth and serves as the foundation for the service, retail, and government sectors. We need to produce much of our material wealth in our city and region in sustainable agriculture and industry, with sustainable agricultural feedstocks supplying the raw materials for ecological manufacturing.

As the Green Party’s mayoral candidate in 2005, Howie Hawkins presented the Greens’ a vision for a Sustainable Syracuse (see www.syracusegreens.org/election2005/sustainablecuse.html). The Greens have proposed many ideas for discussion for a Sustainable Syracuse, which they are updating on links at www.syracusegreens.org. These include:

  • A Garden City urban agricultural corridor north-south along that Onondaga Creek corridor on the South Side and Valley.
  • An eco-industrial corridor east-west along the old Erie Canal route for clean manufacturing that builds upon the region’s existing strengths in processing agricultural products and environmental services.
  • Redig the Erie Canal from the Inner Harbor through downtown and the city to the East to bring an east-west water corridor to be enjoyed across the city.
  • Greenways for bikes and pedestrians networking the city, free from auto traffic.
  • Pedestrian walkways in downtown and neighborhood business districts.
  • Rebuilding a light rail system for Syracuse, perhaps an overhead, on-demand Personal Rapid Transit on elevated rails above the streets and greenways.
  • A central park for the city at the core of mixed-use development when the elevated portions of Interstates 81 and 690 are taken down.
  • If the Carousel Mall/Destiny USA project goes bankrupt, consider conversion by the city or a cooperative private developer to a mixed-use community, with apartments for seniors and families in the vacant mall expansion, a community center, a grocery store, a mass transit link to downtown, etc.
  • Take the time to develop the Inner Harbor the right way, as a mixed-use "new urbanism" sustainable community according to the original Andres Duany proposal still displayed in a conceptual drawing at the Inner Harbor.

These are ideas for discussion. The most important component of the Sustainable Syracuse vision is a democratic process that empowers the people of Syracuse to choose sustainability. Ecological and economic sustainability obviously requires renewable sources of energy and materials and viable businesses that can meet their expenses over the long term. Sustainability principles often also call for social equity or environmental justice so that everyone enjoys the fruits of a new green economy. But what is often missed is the democracy that gives us the power to choose sustainability over the profit and power interests of the powerful outside forces of big business and central government bureaucracies.

That is why we call for Neighborhood Planning and a strengthened Department of Planning and Sustainability, as well as the democratic Community Enterprises already discussed, so we can make our own decisions about sustainable development.

Neighborhood Planning

The most important feature of the Sustainable Syracuse vision is not the particular projects we suggest, but empowering the people of Syracuse to make the decisions on the particulars. Empowering the people to make these decisions requires Neighborhood Assemblies in each of the city's real neighborhoods where residents can debate, decide, and instruct representatives on reviewing and updating the citywide Comprehensive Plan and determining their own Neighborhood Plans.

Strengthen the Department of Planning and Sustainability

The city needs its own planning capacity if it going to do more than just react to developers’ proposals. It needs to do real urban and community design, not just administer zoning rules. It should be staffed with urban and community designers, architects, and engineers – and artists who can put design ideas in graphic form for the Neighborhood Assemblies and city officials to evaluate. The department should also recruit and facilitate the involvement of professors and students from area’s universities in providing this expertise. The City Planning Department would not make planning decisions. Its role would be to provide expert consultation to the democratic planning process based in the Neighborhood Assemblies and to the evaluation of developers' proposals by the assemblies and city officials.

Syracuse for Peace, Freedom, and the Environment

Syracuse needs to speak up for itself if we are ever to a reasonable urban policy out of the federal government that will enable us to meet our real needs.

For example, why didn't Syracuse vote for the resolution at the 2010 National Conference of Mayors to stop the wars, cut the military budget, and use the savings to fund local needs– and why was Common Council silent about it?

The federal government is wasting our tax money on war and militarism, bailouts for rich bankers, and restrictions on our rights and freedoms. Meanwhile, it is failing to address people’s basic needs, the global climate crisis, and the energy crisis due to the peaking of oil production. It is time for the Common Council to join many other cities in resolutions calling on our federal representatives to stop the wars, cut the military budget, fund our domestic needs, restore our constitutional rights and civil liberties, and guarantee universal health care.

Stop the Wars and Bring the Troops Home

The US military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya are wars for oil and gas pipelines (Jason Leopold, "Eager to Tap Iraq's Oil Reserves, Industry Execs Suggested Invasion," July 3, 2009, http://www.truthout.org/070309J?n; Pepe Escobar, "Pipelineistan Goes Af-Pak," May 12, 2009, www.tomdispatch.com/post/175071).

A global military empire of over 800 bases in over 100 foreign countries is undermining our republic – financially for obvious reasons, politically as rights are sacrificed for secrecy and security, and strategically as US military occupations of other countries naturally generate hostility toward the occupiers.

The US is engaged in covert military operations all over the planet. The US Special Operations Command now conducts 70 secret mission on average every day. They are operating in 120 other countries. (Nick Turse, "Our Commando War in 120 Countries: Uncovering the Military's Secret Operations In the Obama Era"

These wars are undermining, not protecting, the security of the American people. Impoverished villagers in these countries pose no threat to the US as long as we leave them alone in their own countries. We should buy their oil and gas on the world market, not try to steal it from them at much greater expense.

Police work, not wars of occupation, is how to catch and bring terrorists to justice, as the military think tanks know full well (Rand Corporation, "How Terrorist Groups End: Implications for Countering al Qa'ida," July 28, 2008, http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9351/index1.html)

Cut the Military Budget and Invest the Peace Dividend in Schools, Jobs, Housing, Green Energy, & Ending Poverty

From 2001 to 2009, Syracuse taxpayers have paid over $364 million in income taxes for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and over $2.2 billion for US military spending to operate a global military empire of over 250,000 troops in over 700 overseas military bases. Those federal income taxes paid by Syracusans averaged for those last 8 years about $45 million per year for the wars and about $275 million per year for total US military spending. Compare that to the city budget for FY 2010/2011: $278 million for city operations and $354 million for the city schools.

The military budgets planned for the next eight years amount to more than $5 trillion, a higher level of military spending than any time since World War II – higher than any year of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, or the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (see Winslow Wheeler, "How Obama Will Outspend Reagan on Defense," June 17, 2009, www.counterpunch.org/wheeler06172009.html).

Restore Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties

The regime changed in Washington, but the violations of our constitutional rights and civil liberties continue. We are seeing more secrecy, less transparency and an expansion of "state secrets" privileges. It is becoming obvious that the Obama administration is using secrecy to hide the war crimes and civil rights crimes of Bush administration officials, including some current Bush administration carryovers to the Obama administration. The cover-up makes the current administration complicit in the crimes of the previous administration.

The Secret Evidence Act (1996), the Patriot Acts (2001, 2006), the Homeland Security Act (2002), and the Military Commissions Act (2006) are all still in force. The violations of constitutional rights, civil liberties, and international war crime treaties continue: warrantless email and phone surveillance, secret detention, indefinite detention, arrests without charges and no access to lawyers or habeas corpus, secret "evidence," torture, military tribunals for civilians, and "extraordinary rendition" to the CIA’s global network of secret torture centers.

A Single-Payer, Community-Based Universal Health Service

We need a Universal Health Service funded by progressive taxes and paying the salaries and operating budgets of health care providers to deliver all medically necessary services to every US resident.

Progressive taxes can fund a Universal Health Service at significantly less cost than what both families and businesses now pay in taxes, insurance premiums, and out-of-pocket expenses. This reform would also provide huge relief to municipal, county, and state budgets by eliminating their health care costs.

The predatory economic dynamic of our profit-oriented health care system is cannibalizing the rest of the economy. Health care spending now accounts for 17 percent of GDP and has grown at three times the rate of inflation for the last decade. Since 1999, employment-based health insurance premiums have increased 120 percent, compared to cumulative inflation of 44 percent and cumulative wage growth of 29 percent during the same period. Administrative overhead and profits account for 31 percent of spending in private health insurance sector, compared to the 3.6 percent overhead for Medicare.

The US spends twice as much per person on health care as any other country in the world, but ranks 37th in health care outcomes, according to the World Health Organization.

Over 50 million people are now uninsured and tens of millions more are underinsured. 62 percent of personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills and 68 percent of these people had health insurance.

The health care system is not delivering the medical care it should and it is bankrupting our country.

We need to make health care a public service, not a profit-maximizing business. We need fundamental reform of both the payment system and the delivery system.

On the payment side, we need a single public payer through a Universal Health Service. The administrative efficiencies of such a system would save $400 billion a year, enabling the system to insure every US resident with a comprehensive set of benefits covering all medically necessary services, including:

  • Primary care
  • Inpatient care
  • Outpatient care
  • Emergency care
  • Prescription drugs
  • Durable medical equipment
  • Long term care
  • Mental health services
  • Dentistry
  • Eye care
  • Chiropractic
  • Substance abuse treatment

Patients would have their choice of physicians, providers, hospitals, clinics, and practices. Patients would pay no co-pays or deductibles. The Universal Health Service would pay health care providers’ salaries and operating budgets. The $400 billion savings from reduced administration, bulk purchasing, and coordination among providers will allow coverage for all Americans.

On the delivery side, we need to replace the fee-for-service system with salaried staff. The piecework system of fee-for-service builds in incentives for providers to maximize patients and procedures in order to maximize income under any system, single payer or multi payer, non-profit or especially for-profit. Without replacing fee-for-service with salaries, we will not contain costs in the long run. That is why we need a Universal Health Service (not just universal health insurance) where physicians and other staff work for a salary. Under the fees-for-service system, specialties and volume bring in the most income, while primary care and time with patients are neglected.

The Universal Health Service would do more than provide universal "coverage," an insurance term meaning simply that health care costs would be "covered" for every U.S. resident. It goes beyond this by ensuring that not only that health services would be paid for, but also that they would be available where and when users need them. Through funding of community and regional health services in all parts of the country, on a per capita basis, it would ensure that services were available to every resident.

Salaried physicians and other staff would work in non-profit, multi-specialty group practices. The Universal Health Service would only fund services provided by publicly owned salaried group practices, on the model of the British Universal Health Service, or by non-profit organizations with salaried staff like the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

A decentralized federation of local health boards elected by health care consumers and workers would govern the Universal Health Service. The local boards would send representatives to state and national boards where state and national budgets and policies would be developed. This structure provides a community-based system – controlled from the bottom up by those who use the system and those who work in it. The system has a budget, not an open-ended fee-for-service guarantee. The Universal Health Service would get a certain amount of money each year for each community in the country on per capita basis, plus some special needs funding. But the decisions on what services to provide and who should provide them are made locally by the people who live in the localities and by the people who work in the system, by the providers.

Legislation embodying these principles has been introduced in Congress every year since 1973. The current bill is HR 3000, the United States Universal Health Service Act.