Why #4MoreYears Should Be #OccupyWallStreet's Top Goal

I have been asked why I haven't written praiseworthy articles about the Occupy Wall Street movement in this country. It's certainly a phenomenon that seems to have captured a lot of minds and attention, and focused their grievances on the financial sector that brought our country to the verge of calamity. So in that sense, protesting them is a good thing, and that's what the OWS people are doing, right? Yes, and that's a good thing. I, however, am someone more interested in solutions - to be specific, public policy solutions. I'm all for making the lives of bankers difficult, but I am more for making the tricks they used to ruin our economy impossible in the future.

OWS' website sports the "We Are the 99 Percent" blog, where people participating in this movement are telling their stories. So I decided to take a look and see how their grievances have been addressed (or not addressed) by President Obama, given OWS' aversion to the president and his party in general too. Usually, I wouldn't give away the conclusion before presenting the case, but in this case it is pretty clear: people seem to be unaware of the things that a Democratic administration has done to address their specific issues, and equally ambivalent about what the Republican party has done to make their lives worse.

Let's look at a few of these. (All images taken from OWS/We are the 99 percent.)

This is a great example of expressing grievances without acknowledging solutions. This man is 25, on his parents' insurance, and so if he were a year older, he would not be able to have that. But what made it possible for him to be on his parents' health insurance plan right now? Oh, right. Obamacare. And President Obama's health reform will ensure that by 2014, he is eligible for Medicaid even as a single adult, if his income remains low, or for another plan through his state's exchange with subsidies and at an affordable rate.  There is no apparent knowledge of that fact here - let alone any willingness to acknowledge it. Before making the blanket statement statement that "our health care system is irreparably damaged", perhaps one ought to look at what has been done to repair it.

Here is another heartbreaking health care story:

Whose heart wouldn't go out to a daughter's cry for her mother - a mom who raised her kids and lost her battle to a disease, thanks to our broken health care system? It reminds me of someone else who saw his mom die struggling and fighting with her insurance company while suffering from an incurable disease. This mom's name was Ann Stanley Dunham, the single mom who raised a man named Barack Obama. And her son made a pledge - that if he had the chance, he would make sure no one again has to go through what his mom had to go through. To answer this daughter's cry cannot be just to demonstrate. It has to be to act, to legislate. What would happen to this person's mom if she were able to get insurance through health reform under president Obama?

It truly is sad to see a veteran - who has given our country so much - be in such dire stress. But once again, let's see where leadership on this is coming from. President Obama signed into law last year the Veterans Benefits Act, which:
  1. Increased Insurance Limits. Totally disabled veterans now can receive an additional $10,000 ($30,000 total) of supplemental insurance. Additionally, Service Members Group Life Insurance coverage is extended to last until two years from a totally disabled veteran's date of separation from active duty. The bill also allows for a $25,000 increase every five years for Veterans Group Life Insurance Coverage beginning on the one-year anniversary of his or her eligibility date. This is available to veterans under age 60. Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance program limits are also being increased to $150,000 or $200,000 after Jan. 1, 2012.
  2. Burial and Cemetery Benefits. Under the new law, $700 is available for burial and funeral expenses incurred by veterans who die in a VA hospital or are interred in a VA cemetery.
  3. General Benefits. Disabled veterans and members of the Armed Forces who have severe burn injuries are now authorized for vehicles and adaptive equipment assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Automobile assistance also increases from $11,000 to $18,000. Additionally, the number of veterans eligible for independent assisted living services increases to 2,700.
  4. Enhanced Employment Opportunities. The recently expired VA work-study program is now being extended, and the list of the types of jobs that are included the program is also growing. The expansion will now let veterans complete their work-study programs in congressional offices, state veteran agencies, or any program that is a joint venture between the VA and a post-secondary institution. One of the main educational benefits for veterans comes in the form of increased job opportunities in the energy sector. Energy employers now can be reimbursed for on-the-job training of veteran employees.
  5. Prevention of Homeless Veterans. The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program was reinstated through the 2011 fiscal year, with an additional $1 million being allocated to services for homeless female veterans and veterans with children.
  6. Veteran Education Benefits. The bill calls for establishment of a list of organizations that provide scholarships to veterans, called the Pat Tillman Veteran's Scholarship Initiative. Once complete, veterans will be able to find a list of schools that offer scholarships to veterans on the VA's website. The Veterans' Advisory Committee on Education is also being extended.
Earlier in 2010, Obama and the Democratic Congress expanded health care benefits significantly:
Obama said the legislation, called the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, expands mental health and counseling services to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including National Guardsmen and reservists.

It also allows the Veterans Administration to use hospitals outside the VA network to treat more returning soldiers suffering from brain injuries, eliminates co-payments for "catastrophically disabled" veterans, increases housing and transportation assistance for veterans living far from hospitals in rural areas, and expands health care services for women veterans, including maternity care for newborns.
President Obama's current American Jobs Act that Republicans in Congress are refusing to even debate has incentives for employers to hire veterans, AND it makes changes to the law so that the skills and experiences one gains as part of our military will count for employers in the private sector, precisely addressing grievances of this gentlemen. In the absence of Congressional action, the President has even gone the executive order route to help veterans as much as he can right now. President Obama and his administration's focus on caring for our veterans has been second to none, and if we want our country to continue down a path where we support our troops not just when they go off to war but also when they return, there really is only one option in 2012.

Once again, one cannot help but empathize with the plight of those who have done everything right, but were dealt the cruel hand of time by the excesses and greed on Wall Street. They are right to take that anger out on Wall Street. But once again, the focus on the problem without any focus on the solution is what I think is hurting what could be a mass movement to achieve change in a magnitude unimaginable. Take the above protester, for example. If her complaint is that she is paying the government twice the total amount of her loan, it stands to reason that her loans are all Department of Education loans. For people like her in the future, the president signed these reforms into law:
Students who borrow money starting in July 2014 will be allowed to cap repayments at 10 percent of income above a basic living allowance, instead of 15 percent. Moreover, if they keep up payments, their balances will be forgiven after 20 years instead of 25 years — or after 10 years if they are in public service, like teaching, nursing or serving in the military.
But that won't help her! Actually, President Obama has taken steps just last month that would apply these same reforms to current payees.
The accelerated “pay as you earn” program, which Obama will authorize through executive order, could benefit up to 1.6 million borrowers and reduce their payments by as much as a couple hundred dollars a month, administration officials said. All remaining debt on the federal loans would be forgiven after 20 years — five years earlier than under current law.

In addition, some borrowers who have more than one federal student loan will be allowed to consolidate their debt, in some cases reducing their interest rates by up to half a percentage point, officials said. Obama formally announced the program at the University of Colorado’s downtown Denver campus.
You want a government that is on the corner of students and hard working young people? You want a system reformed where hard work is rewarded above trust fund babies? Then you better start figuring out not just how to re-elect the President but to give him all the help he needs in Congress.

And that's why it matters that people who are so rightly angry at Wall Street and a society that seems to be embracing wealth over work not stop at mere demonstrating; that they get engaged in civic action - that they get engaged in elections. Corporate money will try to buy the 2012 election, and a thousand demonstrations won't be able to stop it. But 10 million extra votes just might be.

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