Texas Tragedy Reminder of a Job for Robin Hood

By: NNU Executive Director, RoseAnn DeMoro

In a year of ghastly stories from the economic implosions on Main Street, this one might have been the worst.

A Texas woman who was blocked from receiving food stamps for five months for the most bureaucratic of reasons, inadequate paper work, shot her own children and herself in despair after a seven-hour standoff in a Laredo, Texas state services offices December 6.

The mom had applied for food stamps in July, facing denial after denial, delay after delay.

Sadly, it's far from the only story of a family destroyed by economic calamity in recent months. In August, a woman -- not someone on welfare, but a professional -- was reported to have shot and killed her 13-year-old son and herself in Kensington, Md.

A note found on the scene contained the chilling words, "Debt is bleeding me. Strangled by debt." She was particularly anguished with the high tuition costs for school for her special needs son.

Can we do something at long last about the economic plight ripping black holes through the social fabric of our society and destroying families from coast to coast.

While a shooting understandably garners headlines, there are far more cases like the story of a Denver woman whose 9-year son died when he was denied Medicaid he needed for life saving medications for asthma, despite her repeated calls.

If millions of Americans are living lives of quiet desperation it is up to the rest of us to make sure they do not suffer in silence.

The lack of compassion for the poor is a national disgrace, especially as the economic nightmare places more families every day in poverty. Today, tens of millions of Americans are one paycheck or one illness from being the poor. Enough already. We need Robin Hood!

Months ago National Nurses United began speaking out, and campaigning for a Main Street Contract for the American People, premised on the basics that should be the foundation of the American dream -- especially jobs with dignity, healthcare for all not based on ability to pay, and full funding for quality public education.

NNU also has a program of how to pay for much of it, a tax on Wall Street. It's not unique to the U.S., part of what makes this idea so universal and resonant. There's a global campaign for what the British call a Robin Hood tax, as portrayed in this stellar video featuring great British actor Bill Nighy.

Our proposal is a small tax of 50 cents on every $100 of trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other financial transactions that could raise up to $350 billion every year. That revenue alone could fund 9 million new jobs, fund the food plans of 24 million families of four for a year, or lift 3.8 million female headed households out of poverty for over nine years.

Why do we need Robin Hood, in Britain and the rest of the developed world? On the same day of the bloodshed in Laredo, a new report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development documented the highest level of income inequality in more than three decades in the 34 developed countries it tracks.

Overall average incomes of the richest tenth were nine times the bottom tenth; the U.S. ratio was 14-1.

The original Robin Hood was fed up with income inequality and took direct action to re-balance the priorities.

Now, he has more than a merry band dancing around in the woods on his side.

Supporters of the Robin Hood tax include not just nurses, but also the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury from England, the former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, the conservative leaders of France and Germany, Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and a long list of prominent economists, including the former chief economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz. And, many international labor, non-governmental, environmental, and consumer groups.

Enactment of a Robin Hood tax will be too late to help the families in Laredo and Kensington, Md., but for millions of other families falling through the cracks, a Robin Hood tax could be a vital lifeline.
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