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Nurses seek financial transaction tax

San Francisco Chronicle OpEd, 7/18/11

By: Deborah Burger
Monday, July 18, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle

Is tone deaf the new norm in Washington?

Republicans insist on cuts to the bone in basic services while rejecting even modest revenue increases. The president floats proposals to increase the eligibility age for Medicare 65 to 67 along with reductions in Social Security.

So who is looking out for the tens of millions of Americans struggling to keep afloat in the worst economic crisis in decades?

People like Sue Cannon, who works in a San Francisco hospital. "I am a registered nurse with a good paying job, but I'm worried," Cannon recently wrote to National Nurses United.

"My adult daughter has had health problems for the past eight years and health insurance hassles and denials for care for most of the time. All the costs became overwhelming to her and she finally had to file for bankruptcy.

"My adult son graduated from UCLA four years ago. He has not been able to find a full-time job. We help him out with living costs. He'd like to go to graduate school but it seems scary and ridiculous to have to pay $80,000 for two to three years at a good university."

In recent weeks, we have been flooded with similar messages. Nurses are seeing disturbing declines in health and living standards among our patients and our own families - the result of low wages or lost jobs, lack of health coverage or skyrocketing out-of-pocket health costs, home foreclosures and hunger.

As a nation, we can no longer claim to lead the world. A shocking study released in mid-June by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that life expectancies, relative to other developed nations, fell in more than 80 percent of U.S. counties from 2000 to 2007. As a society, we must question our national priorities, and the allocation of our resources, especially when we see recent reports like this, from Northeastern University economists.

From June 2009, when the official recovery began, through the end of last year, corporate profits captured 88 percent of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for barely 1 percent of growth.

It's time to stop the endless demands for more cuts that will only exacerbate the pain in our communities. "I believe our nation is just as rich today as it was in the '70s and '80s, but we've lost our compass," writes Cannon. "I'm tired of seeing the wealth that we all worked to create line the coffers of Wall Street bankers and the top 1 percent."

America's nurses have an alternative. We propose a sales tax on major Wall Street speculation, the major transactions on dividends, credit default swaps, stocks, bonds, futures.

A bill to institute a modest financial transaction tax soon will be introduced. It would not apply to ordinary consumer activity, such as use of ATMs or debit cards, but could produce hundreds of billions of dollars available for creating jobs, and funding our critical needs in education, health care and housing.

More than a dozen other nations have such a tax, and the European Union may soon adopt it as well. Let's not be left behind again.

Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and a co-president of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United.

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