"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Public Policy’

Overcriminalization Begets Stop & Frisk-Gate: New York’s Police Union Worked With the NYPD To Illegally Set Arrest And Summons Quotas

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

https://electedface.com/images/Artical_Images/6%20stop%20and%20frisk.jpgOldspeak: “Behold! The fruits of Prison Industrial Complex Overcriminalization! Specific targeting of communities of color for “Law Enforcement”, like suspicion-less stop and frisks, bogus arrests and baseless summonses to meet “performance goals”.  All while the police union denies it’s even happening. At a time when crime in NYC is at record lows, police are still being pressured to make more arrests and issue more summonses, mostly to people who’ve done nothing wrong.   Not meeting “activity goals” = bad cop. This opens them up to various forms of retaliation and punishment. Why?  The Prison Industrial Complex needs fuel to keep stay in business, grow larger and larger with profits. That fuel must be extracted at all costs.  Poor people of color are its fuel.  It is why more black men are in prison now, than were slaves in 1865. It’s why black and brown people are overrepresented in the U.S. prison system.  It’s why brown people are being stopped, seized, detained and deported at historic rates. It is why America accounts for 5% of world population, but close to 25% of the worlds prison population and imprisons more people than any nation on earth. Law enforcement and mass incarceration is big business in America. And rank and file officers sadly are stuck in the middle.  Being encouraged by superiors to make bogus stops, arrests and summons at the end of their shifts to collect overtime, thus engaging in fraud to meet “activity goals” and make more money. Being forced to act unlawfully and untruthfully to keep ‘the numbers game’ going.  You can bet that this practice is not particular to New York. This revelation should provide powerful grounds for stopping NYPD’s racist and illegal Stop and Frisk policy.”

Related Stories:

AUDIO: New York’s Police Union Worked With the NYPD to Set Arrest and Summons Quotas.

Stopped-and-Frisked: ‘For Being a Fucking Mutt’ [VIDEO]

The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy

By Ross Tuttle @ The Nation:

Audio obtained by The Nation confirms an instance of New York City’s police union cooperating with the NYPD in setting arrest quotas for the department’s officers. According to some officers and critics of quotas, the practice has played a direct role in increasing the number of stop-and-frisk encounters since Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to office. Patrolmen who spoke to The Nation explained that the pressure from superiors to meet quota goals has caused some officers to seek out or even manufacture arrests to avoid department retaliation.

The audio could be included as evidence in the landmark federal class action lawsuit Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., which opened yesterday in US District Court for New York’s Southern District and which was brought forward by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The audio, recorded in 2009 by officer Adhyl Polanco, is part of a series of recordings originally released to the media that year, and a selection first aired on WABC-TV in 2010. But WABC-TV used only a small portion of the recordings, and did not air the union representative’s explosive admission.

“I spoke to the CO [commanding officer] for about an hour-and-a-half,” the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association delegate says in the audio recording, captured at a Bronx precinct roll call meeting. “twenty-and-one. Twenty-and-one is what the union is backing up…. They spoke to the [Union] trustees. And that’s what they want, they want 20-and-1.”

“Twenty-and-one means twenty summonses and one arrest a month,” says a veteran NYPD officer who listened to the recording, and who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity. Summonses can range from parking violations, to moving violations, to criminal court summonses for infractions such as open container or public urination.

“It’s a quota, and they [the Union] agreed to it,” says the officer. “It’s crazy.”

“Many officers feel pressure to meet their numbers to get the rewards that their commanding officer is giving out,” says John Eterno, a former police captain and co-author of The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation. But if an officer’s union delegate is also pushing the numbers, “this puts inordinate pressure on officers, getting it from the top down and getting it from the union.”

The plaintiffs in the Floyd case allege that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy results in unconstitutional stops based on racial-profiling. The department’s emphasis on bringing in arrest and summons numbers has caused officers to carry out suspicion-less stops in communities of color.

As Polanco explained in court today, his superiors would often push him to carry out this specific number of summons and arrest stops per month:  “20-and-1, they were very clear, it’s non-negotiable, you’re gonna do it, or you’re gonna become a Pizza Hut delivery man.”

“There’s always been some pressure to get arrests and summonses,” says Eterno. “But now it’s become the overwhelming management style of the department. It has become a numbers game. They have lost the ability to see that communities are dissatisfied with this type of policing, especially minority communities. They are the ones being overly burdened for doing the same sorts of things that kids in middle-class neighborhoods are doing—only they’re getting records because officers have to make these arrests.”

When asked for comment, Al O’Leary, a spokesperson for the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, said: “The PBA has been consistently and firmly opposed to quotas for police activities including arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisks. These are all effective tools for maintaining order when they are left to the discretion of individual police officers but become problematic when officers are forced to meet quotas. This union has sought and obtained changes to state law making quotas for all police activities illegal. We have sued and forced an individual commanding officer to stop the use of illegal quotas and will continue to be vigilant and vocal in our opposition to police activity quotas.”

* * *

Physical evidence has periodically surfaced of the existence of numerical arrest targets for NYPD officers, though arrest and summons quotas for police have been illegal in New York State since 2010. Precinct commanders defend their right to set productivity goals for their staff—but what the department defines as productivity goals can have the force of quotas when officers are subject to retaliation for not meeting them.

Cops who have spoken to The Nation say that retaliation can take many forms, including denied overtime; change of squads and days off that can disrupt family obligations like taking children to school or daycare; transfers to boroughs far from home in order to increase their commute and the amount they’ll have to pay in tolls; and low evaluation scores.

Officers even reported being forced to carry out unwarranted stops to fulfill the summons and arrest numbers. In a second recording obtained by The Nation, a captain addressing a roll call in the same Bronx precinct illustrated how such retaliation plays out.

“When the chief came in…[he] said: ‘you know what, you really can’t reduce crime much more, the guys are doing a great job,’” the captain can be heard saying in the rough audio. “[He] said that we can…get some of our people who aren’t chipping in to go to some locations [where we are] having problems, and give them [the area’s residents] the business…”

The recording continues: “That’s all we’re asking you to do, that’s all, that’s all. And if we do that, everyone chips in, it’s fine. It’s really nonnegotiable. ’Cause if you don’t do it now, I’m gonna have you work with the boss to make sure it happens.”

“If you don’t meet the quota, they will find [activity] for you,” another veteran officer explained to The Nation. “The sergeant will put you in his car and drive you around until whatever he sees he will stop and tell you to make an arrest or write a summons, even if you didn’t observe what he said it was.”

Sometimes these are legitimate stops, but other times, they’re bogus: “The sergeant told me to write two minorities for blocking pedestrian traffic,” the anonymous officer said, “but they were not blocking pedestrian traffic.”

The pressure for numbers, say cops, is unrelenting, and it’s leading to high anxiety and low morale. And that the union, an organization that is supposed to have officers’ interests at heart, is involved in the setting of quotas is mystifying, says one cop.

It’s all the more problematic given the union’s very vocal and public stance against quotas, such as in their ad campaign, “Don’t Blame The Cop,” which tries to engender sympathy for the officers who are pressured to write tickets and arrest motorists. “Blame NYPD management,” it says.

This development also signals to officers that there is one fewer place they can go to register their concern about departmental policy and practice. “I feel foolish for having gone to my [union] delegate with my complaints,” says one officer who has been unsettled by the continued pressure to meet quotas.

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Adhyl Polanco, the officer who recorded the audio and first brought it to the attention of the press, has since had charges brought against him by the department for writing false reports—the same false reports he pointed out to the department’s Internal Affairs office as evidence of the quota system. Polanco maintains these and other charges against him and other officers who have spoken out are evidence that the department is retaliating against him and others for blowing the whistle.

The NYPD has just surpassed 5 million stop-and-frisks during the Bloomberg era. Most stops have been of people of color, and the overwhelming majority were found innocent of any wrongdoing, according to the department’s own statistics. And though the number of stops may have gone down recently—as pressure on the department and increased awareness of the policy has officers and supervisors thinking twice about how they employ the practice—the existence of quotas ensures that New Yorkers will continue to be harassed unnecessarily by the NYPD.

“The way I think about it,” says a patrolman, “is, say a fireman is told by a supervisor, we need you to put out fifteen fires this month. And if you don’t put out fifteen fires you’re gonna get penalized for it. So if he doesn’t find fifteen fires to put out, is that his fault? It’s not. But the fireman might even go out there and start setting fires, causing fires, just so he’s not penalized or looks bad…. And that’s kind of what the police officers are doing.”

What are the plaintiffs in the Floyd v. City of New York case fighting against? Watch the exclusive video of a stop-and-frisk encounter gone wrong.

Editor’s note: This piece has been edited since publication to reflect the response of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Voices in the above video have been altered to protect the identities of the officers interviewed.

Corporations And The Richest Americans Viscerally Oppose Common Good

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

http://www.thedawgpound.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/the_rich_vs_the_poor.jpg

Oldspeak: “The  New Spirit of the Age: Gain Wealth, Forgetting All But Self.” No efforts have  been spared… to drive this spirit into people’s heads. People must come  to believe that suffering and deprivation result from the failure of individuals, not  the reigning socioeconomic system. There are huge industries devoted to this  task. About one-sixth of the entire US economy is devoted to what’s called “marketing,”  which is mostly propaganda. Advertising is described by analysts and the business  literature as a process of fabricating wants – a campaign to drive people to the  superficial things in life, like fashionable consumption, so that they will remain  passive and obedient.

The schools are also a target. As I mentioned, public mass education was a major  achievement, in which the US was a pioneer. But it had complex characteristics,  rooted in the sharp class conflicts of the day. One goal was to induce farmers  to give up their independence and submit themselves to industrial discipline and  accept what they regarded as wage slavery. That did not pass without notice.  Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders of his day were calling for  popular education. He concluded that their motivation was fear. The country was  filling up with millions of voters and the Masters realized that one had to therefore  “educate them, to keep them from (our) throats.”
 
In other words: educate them  the “right way” — to be obediently passive and accept their fate as right and just,  conforming to the New Spirit of the Age. Keep their perspectives narrow, their  understanding limited, discourage free and independent thought, instill docility and  obedience to keep them from the Masters’ throats.
 
This common theme from 150 years ago is inhuman and savage. It also meets  with resistance. And there have been victories. There were many in the struggles  of the 1930s, carried further in the 1960s. But systems of power never walk  away politely. They prepare a new assault. This has in fact been happening since  the early 1970s, based on major changes in the design of the economic system. – Noam Chomsky. Wage Stagnation, wealth concentration, union busting, “trade liberalization”, globalization, financialization, deindustrialization, deregulation, denial & criminalization of civil liberties,  villianization of communism and other non-capitalist/free-market economic ideologies, these are all part of the power structures’ assault on representative democracy. The key to the success of the assault is education. Dr. Chomsky elucidates a little know history of public education systems, when understood, make very clear that today’s school privatizers and monetizers are yesterdays architects of the current incarnation of  the public education system. Everything is a version of something else. The goal again is to acclimate people to common good free, free market driven, individual responsibility dominated, “keep their perspectives narrow, their  understanding limited, discourage free and independent thought, instill docility and  obedience to keep them from the Masters’ throats.”  The difference now is the one education is not necessarily compulsory for poor, working and middle class citizens. Parents are provided with a range of private choices in education for their child. Public Education will be market education. People will be forced to compete for quality well-rounded education. Austerity and conformity is being dressed up as ‘free choice’.  Check out the brilliant video below:

Related Video:
Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Education Paridigms
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

By Noam Chomsky @Alter Net:

The following is Part I of the transcript of a recent speech delivered by Noam Chomsky in February. AlterNet will publish Part II on Sunday, March 10.

Whether public education contributes to the Common Good depends, of course, on what kind of education it is, to whom it is available, and what we take to be the Common Good. There’s no need to tarry on the fact that these are highly contested  matters, have been throughout history, and continue to be so today.

One of the great achievements of American democracy has been the introduction of mass public education, from children to advanced research universities. And  in some respects that leadership position has been maintained. Unfortunately, not all. Public education is under serious attack, one component of the attack on any  rational and humane concept of the Common Good, sometimes in ways that are  not only shocking, but also spell disaster for the species.
All of this falls within the  general assault on the population in the past generation, the so-called “neoliberal era.” I’ll return to these matters, of great significance and import.
Sometimes the attacks on education and on the Common Good are very closely  linked. One current illustration is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” that is being proposed to legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative  Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the  needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth. This act mandates “balanced”  teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms.”
“Balanced teaching” is a code  phrase that refers to teaching climate change denial, to “balance” authentic climate  science – what you read in science journals. It is analogous to the “balanced  teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in  public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in  several states.
The ALEC legislation is based on a project of the Heartland Institute, a corporate-funded Institute dedicated to rejection of the scientific consensus on the  climate. The Institute project calls for a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12  Classrooms,” which aims to teach that there is “a major controversy over whether  or not humans are changing the weather.” Of course, all of this is dressed up in  rhetoric about teaching critical thinking, and so on. It is much like the current  assault on teaching children about evolution and science quite generally.
There is indeed a controversy: on one side, the overwhelming majority of  scientists, all of the world’s major National Academies of Science, the professional  science journals, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) : all agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human  component, and that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon,  maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process  will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with very severe effects on the   possibility of decent human survival.
It is rare to find such consensus on complex  scientific issues.
True, it is not unanimous. Media reports commonly present a controversy between  the overwhelming scientific consensus on one side, and skeptics on the other, including some quite respected scientists who caution that much is unknown –  which means that things might not be as bad as thought or they might be worse:  only the first alternative is brought up. Omitted from the contrived debate is a  much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who regard the  regular reports of the IPCC as much too conservative: the Climate Change group  at my own university, MIT, for example. And they have repeatedly been proven  correct, unfortunately. But they are scarcely part of the public debate, though very  prominent in the scientific literature.
The Heartland Institute and ALEC are part of a huge campaign by corporate  lobbies to try to sow doubt about the near-unanimous consensus of scientists that  human activities are having a major impact on global warming with truly ominous  implications. The campaign was openly announced, including the lobbying  organizations of the fossil fuel industry, the American Chamber of Commerce (the  main business lobby) and others. It has had an effect on public opinion, though  careful studies show that public opinion remains much closer to the scientific  consensus than policy is. That is undoubtedly why major sectors of the corporate  world are launching their attack on the educational system, to try to counter the  dangerous tendency of the public to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific  research.
You probably heard that at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting recently , Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that “We must stop being the stupid party…We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.” ALEC  and its corporate backers, in contrast, want the country to be “the stupid nation” –  which may encourage them to join the stupid party that Jindal warned about.
The major science journals give a sense of how surreal all of this is. Take Science, the major US scientific weekly. A few weeks ago it had three news items side by side. One reported that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US, continuing  a long trend. The second reported a new study by the US Global Climate Change  Research Program providing additional evidence for rapid climate change as the  result of human activities, and discussing likely severe impacts. The third reported  the new appointments to chair the committees on science policy chosen by the  House of Representatives, where a minority of voters elected a large majority of  Republicans thanks to the shredding of the political system.
In Pennsylvania, for  example, a considerably majority voted for Democrats but they won just over one-third of House seats. All three of the new chairs deny that humans contribute to climate  change, two deny that it is even taken place, one is a longtime advocate for the  fossil fuel industry. The same issue of the journal has a technical article with new  evidence that the irreversible tipping point may be ominously close.
For those whom Adam Smith called the “Masters of Mankind,” it is important  that we must become the stupid nation in the interests of their short-term gain,  damn the consequences. These are essential properties of contemporary market  fundamentalist doctrines. ALEC and its corporate sponsors understand the  importance of ensuring that public education train children to belong to the stupid  nation, and not be misled by science and rationality.
This is far from the only case of sharp divergence between public opinion and  public policy. That tells us a lot about the current state of American democracy,  and what that means for us and the world. The corporate assault on education and  independent thought, of which this is only one striking illustration, tells us a good deal more.
In climate policy, the US lags behind other countries. Quotes a current scientific  review: “109 countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable  power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast,  the United States has no adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the  national level to foster the use of renewable energy” or adopted other means  that are being pursued by countries that do have national policies. Some things are being done in the US, but sporadically, and with no organized national  commitment. That’s no slight problem for us, and for the world, in the light of  the great predominance of American power – declining to be sure as power is  diversified internationally, but still unchallenged.
There are other respects in which the concept of Common Good that has come  to dominate policy – but not opinion — in the US is diverging from the affluent  developed societies of the OECD, and many others. A recent OECD study  shows that the US ranks 27th  out of 31 countries in measures of social justice,  barely above Mexico. It ranks 21st in inequality, poverty, life expectancy, infant  mortality, maternity leave, environmental performance, 18th  in mental health and  19th in welfare of children. Also ranks toward the bottom in high-school dropout  rates and poor student performance in math.
Figures like these are signs of  very severe systemic disorders; particularly striking because the US is the richest country in the world, with incomparable advantages.
Another crucial case is healthcare. US costs are about twice the per capita  costs of comparable countries, and outcomes are relatively poor. Studied by  economist Dean Baker reveal that the deficit that obsesses the financial sector and  Washington, but not the more realistic public, would be eliminated if we had health care systems similar to other developed societies, hardly a utopian idea. The US  healthcare system deviates from others in that it is largely privatized and lightly  regulated, and – not surprisingly – is highly inefficient and costly. There is an  exception in the US healthcare system: the Veterans Administration, a government  system, much less costly.
Another partial exception is Medicare, a government-run system, hence with far lower administrative costs and other waste, but still  more costly than it should be because it has to work through the privatized system  and is trapped by the extraordinary political power of the pharmaceutical industry,  which prevents the government from negotiating drug prices so that they are far  higher than in other countries.
Current policy ideas include proposals to increase age eligibility to cut costs:  actually it increases costs (along with penalizing mostly working people) by  shifting from a relatively efficient system to a highly inefficient privatized one. But  the costs are transferred to individuals and away from collective action through  taxes. And the concept of the Common Good that is being relentlessly driven into  our heads demands that we focus on our own private gain, and suppress normal  human emotions of solidarity, mutual support and concern for others. That I think  is also an important part of what lies behind the assault on public education and  on Social Security that has been waged by sectors of corporate wealth for years,  on pretexts of cost that cannot be sustained, and against strong public opposition.
What lies behind these campaigns, I suspect, is that public education and Social S ecurity, like national healthcare, are based on the conception that we care for other people: we care that the disabled widow across town has food to eat, or  that the kids down the street have schooling (“why should I pay taxes for schools? I don’t have kids there”). And beyond that, that we care about the tens of millions are  dying every year because they cannot obtain medical care, or about dying infants,  and others who are vulnerable.
These conflicts go far back in American history. It’s particularly useful to look  back to the origins of the industrial revolution, in the mid-19th century, when the  country was undergoing enormous social changes as the population was being  driven into the industrial system, which working people bitterly condemned,  because it deprived them of their basic rights as free men and women – not the least  women, the so-called factory girls, who were leaving the farms to the mills.
It is worth reading the contributions in the press of the time by factory  girls, artisans from Boston, and others. It’s also important to note that working- class culture of the time was alive and flourishing. There’s a great book about  the topic by Jonathan Rose, called The Intellectual Life of the British Working Class. It’s a monumental study of the reading habits of the working class of the  day. He contrasts “the passionate pursuit of knowledge by proletarian autodidacts”  with the “pervasive philistinism of the British aristocracy.”
Pretty much the same  was true in the new working-class towns here, like eastern Massachusetts, where  an Irish blacksmith might hire a young boy to read the classics to him while he  was working. On the farms, the factory girls were reading the best contemporary  literature of the day, what we study as classics. They condemned the industrial  system for depriving them of their freedom and culture.
This went on for a long  time. I am old enough to remember the atmosphere of the 1930s. A large part of  my family came from the unemployed working-class. Many had barely gone to  school. But they participated in the high culture of the day. They would discuss  the latest Shakespeare plays, concerts of the Budapest String Quartet, different  varieties of psychoanalysis and every conceivable political movement. There was also a very lively workers’ education system with which leading scientists  and mathematicians were directly involved. A lot of this has been lost under the relentless assault of the Masters, but it can be recovered and it is not lost forever.
The labor press of the early industrial revolution took strong positions on many  issues that should have a resonance today. They took for granted that, as they  put it, those who work in the mills should own them. They condemned wage  labor, which to them was akin to slavery, the only difference being that it was  supposedly temporary.
This was such a popular view that it was even part of the  program of the Republican Party. It was also a main theme of the huge organized  labor movement that was taking shape, the Knights of Labor, which began to  establish links with the most important popular democratic party in the country’s  history, the Farmers Alliance, later called the Populist movement, which originated  with radical farmers in Texas and then spread through much of the country,  forming collective enterprises, banks and marketing cooperatives and much more,  movements that could have driven the country toward more authentic democracy  if they had not been destroyed, largely by violence – though, interestingly,  similar developments are underway today in the old Rust Belt and elsewhere, very  important for the future, I think.
The prime target of condemnation in the labor press was what they called “The  New Spirit of the Age: Gain Wealth, Forgetting All But Self.” No efforts have  been spared since then to drive this spirit into people’s heads. People must come  to believe that suffering and deprivation result from the failure of individuals, not  the reigning socioeconomic system. There are huge industries devoted to this  task. About one-sixth of the entire US economy is devoted to what’s called “marketing,”  which is mostly propaganda. Advertising is described by analysts and the business  literature as a process of fabricating wants – a campaign to drive people to the  superficial things in life, like fashionable consumption, so that they will remain  passive and obedient.
The schools are also a target. As I mentioned, public mass education was a major  achievement, in which the US was a pioneer. But it had complex characteristics,  rooted in the sharp class conflicts of the day. One goal was to induce farmers  to give up their independence and submit themselves to industrial discipline and  accept what they regarded as wage slavery. That did not pass without notice.  Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that political leaders of his day were calling for  popular education. He concluded that their motivation was fear. The country was  filling up with millions of voters and the Masters realized that one had to therefore  “educate them, to keep them from (our) throats.”
In other words: educate them  the “right way” — to be obediently passive and accept their fate as right and just,  conforming to the New Spirit of the Age. Keep their perspectives narrow, their  understanding limited, discourage free and independent thought, instill docility and  obedience to keep them from the Masters’ throats.
This common theme from 150 years ago is inhuman and savage. It also meets  with resistance. And there have been victories. There were many in the struggles  of the 1930s, carried further in the 1960s. But systems of power never walk  away politely. They prepare a new assault. This has in fact been happening since  the early 1970s, based on major changes in the design of the economic system.
Two crucial changes were financialization, with a huge explosion of speculative  financial flows, and deindustrialization. Production didn’t cease. It just began to  be offshored anywhere where you could get terrible working conditions and no  environmental constraints, with huge profits for the Masters. Within the US, that  set off a vicious cycle, leading to sharp concentration of wealth, which translates at  once to concentration of political power, increasingly in the financial sector. That  in turn leads to legislation that carries the vicious cycle forward, including sharp  tax reduction for the rich and deregulation, with repeated financial crises from  the ‘80s, each worse than the last. The current one is so far the worst of all. And  others are likely in what a director of the Bank of England calls a “doom loop.”
There are solutions, but they do not fit the needs of the Masters, for whom the  crises are no problem. They are bailed out by the Nanny State. Today corporate  profits are breaking new records and the financial managers who created the  current crisis are enjoying huge bonuses.  Meanwhile, for the large majority, wages and income have practically stagnated in  the last 30-odd years. By today, it has reached the point that 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 180 million Americans.
In parallel, the cost of elections has skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper  into the pockets of those with the money, corporations and the super-rich. Political representatives become even more beholden to those who paid for their victories.  One consequence is that by now, the poorest 70% have literally no influence over  policy. As you move up the income/wealth ladder influence increases, and at the  very top, a tiny percent, the Masters get what they want.

Copyright Noam Chomsky, 2013

Dangerous Pedagogy In The Age Of Casino Capitalism & Religious Fundamentalism

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Oldspeak:The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures… it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education.” -Henry A. Giroux   When education is utterly commodified and privatized, democracy dies; corporatocracy rules. “Ignorance Is Strength.” “Freedom Is Slavery.”Profit Is Paramount.”

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

All over the world, the forces of neoliberalism are on the march, dismantling the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making and market freedoms as the essence of democracy while diminishing civil liberties as part of the alleged “war” against terrorism. Secure in its dystopian vision that there are no alternatives to a market society, free-market fundamentalism eliminates issues of contingency, struggle and social agency by celebrating the inevitability of economic laws in which the ethical ideal of intervening in the world gives way to the idea that we “have no choice but to adapt both our hopes and our abilities to the new global market.”[1] Coupled with an ever-expanding culture of fear, market freedoms seem securely grounded in a defense of national security and the institutions of finance capital. Under such circumstances, a neoliberal model now bears down on American society, threatening to turn it into an authoritarian state. The script is now familiar: there is no such thing as the common good; market values become the template for shaping all aspects of society; the free, possessive individual has no obligations to anything other than his or her self-interest; profit-making is the essence of democracy; the government, and particularly the welfare state, is the arch-enemy of freedom; private interests trump public values; consumerism is the essence of citizenship; privatization is the essence of freedom; law and order is the new language for mobilizing shared fears rather than shared responsibilities;  war is the new organizing principle for organizing society and the economy; theocracy now becomes the legitimating code for punishing women, young people, the elderly, and those groups marginalized by class, race and ethnicity when religious moralism is needed to shore up the war against all social order.[2]

Given this current crisis, educators need a new political and pedagogical language for addressing the changing contexts and issues facing a world in which capital draws upon an unprecedented convergence of resources – financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military and technological – to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control. If educators and others are to counter global capitalism’s increased ability to separate the traditional nation-state-based space of politics from the transnational reach of power, it is crucial to develop educational approaches that reject a collapse of the distinction between market liberties and civil liberties, a market economy and a market society. This suggests developing forms of critical pedagogy capable of challenging neoliberalism and other anti-democratic traditions, such as the emerging religious fundamentalism in the United States, while resurrecting a radical democratic project that provides the basis for imagining a life beyond the “dream world” of capitalism.  Under such circumstances, education becomes more than testing, an obsession with accountability schemes, zero-tolerance policies and a site for simply training students for the workforce. At stake here is recognizing the power of education in creating the formative culture necessary to both challenge the various threats being mobilized against the very idea of justice and democracy while also fighting for those public spheres and formative cultures that offer alternative modes of identity, social relations and politics.

The search for a new politics and a new critical language that crosses a range of theoretical divides must reinvigorate the relationship between democracy, ethics, and political agency by expanding the meaning of the pedagogical as a political practice while at the same time making the political more pedagogical. In the first instance, it is crucial to recognize that pedagogy has less to do with the language of technique and methodology than it does with issues of politics and power. Pedagogy is a moral and political practice that is always implicated in power relations and must be understood as a cultural politics that offers both a particular version and vision of civic life, the future, and how we might construct representations of ourselves, others, and our physical and social environment. As Roger Simon observes:

As an introduction to, preparation for, and legitimation of particular forms of social life, education always presupposes a vision of the future. In this respect a curriculum and its supporting pedagogy are a version of our own dreams for ourselves, our children, and our communities. But such dreams are never neutral; they are always someone’s dreams and to the degree that they are implicated in organizing the future for others they always have a moral and political dimension. It is in this respect that any discussion of pedagogy must begin with a discussion of educational practice as a form of cultural politics, as a particular way in which a sense of identity, place, worth, and above all value is – informed by practices which organize knowledge and meaning.[3]

An oppositional cultural politics can take many forms, but given the current assault by neoliberalism on all aspects of democratic public life, it seems imperative that educators revitalize the struggles to create conditions in which learning would be linked to social change in a wide variety of social sites, and pedagogy would take on the task of regenerating both a renewed sense of social and political agency and a critical subversion of dominant power itself. Making the political more pedagogical rests on the assumption that education takes place a variety of sites outside of the school. Under such circumstances, agency becomes the site through which power is not transcended but reworked, replayed and restaged in productive ways. Central to my argument is the assumption that politics is not only about power, but also, as Cornelius Castoriadis points out, “has to do with political judgements and value choices,”[4] indicating that questions of civic education and critical pedagogy (learning how to become a skilled citizen) are central to the struggle over political agency and democracy. In this instance, critical pedagogy emphasizes critical reflexivity, bridging the gap between learning and everyday life, understanding the connection between power and knowledge, and extending democratic rights and identities by using the resources of history. However, among many educators and social theorists, there is a widespread refusal to recognize that this form of education is not only the foundation for expanding and enabling political agency, but also that it takes place across a wide variety of public spheres mediated through the very force of culture itself.

One of the central tasks of any viable critical pedagogy would be to make visible alternative models of radical democratic relations in a wide variety of sites. These spaces can make the pedagogical more political by raising fundamental questions such as: what is the relationship between social justice and the distribution of public resources and goods? What are the conditions, knowledge and skills that are a prerequisite for civic literacy, political agency and social change? What kinds of identities, desires and social relations are being produced and legitimated in diverse sites of teaching and learning? How might the latter prepare or undermine the ability of students to be self-reflective, exercise judgment, engage in critical dialogues, and assume some responsibility for addressing the challenges to democracy at a national and global level? At the very least, such a project involves understanding and critically engaging dominant public transcripts and values within a broader set of historical and institutional contexts. Making the political more pedagogical in this instance suggests producing modes of knowledge and social practices in a variety of sites that not only affirm oppositional thinking, dissent and cultural work, but also offer opportunities to mobilize instances of collective outrage and collective action. Such mobilization opposes glaring material inequities and the growing cynical belief that today’s culture of investment and finance makes it impossible to address many of the major social problems facing both the United States and the larger world. Most importantly, such work points to the link between civic education, critical pedagogy and modes of oppositional political agency that are pivotal to creating a politics that promotes democratic values, relations,  autonomy and social change. Hints of such a politics is already evident in the various approaches the Occupy movement has taken in reclaiming the discourse of democracy and in collectively challenging the values and practices of finance capital. Borrowing a line from Rachel Donadio, the Occupy movement protesters are raising questions about “what happens to democracy when banks become more powerful than political institutions?”[5] What kind of education does it take, both in and out of schools, to recognize the dissolution of democracy and the emergence of an authoritarian state?

In taking up these questions and the challenges they pose, critical pedagogy proposes that education is a form of political intervention in the world and is capable of creating the possibilities for social transformation. Rather than viewing teaching as technical practice, pedagogy, in the broadest critical sense, is premised on the assumption that learning is not about processing received knowledge, but actually transforming knowledge as part of a more expansive struggle for individual rights and social justice. This implies that any viable notion of pedagogy and resistance should illustrate how knowledge, values, desire and social relations are always implicated in relations of power, and how such an understanding can be used pedagogically and politically by students to further expand and deepen the imperatives of economic and political democracy. The fundamental challenge facing educators within the current age of neoliberalism, militarism and religious fundamentalism is to provide the conditions for students to address how knowledge is related to the power of both self-definition and social agency. In part, this means providing students with the skills, knowledge and authority they need to inquire and act upon what it means to live in a substantive democracy, to recognize anti-democratic forms of power, and to fight deeply rooted injustices in a society and world founded on systemic economic, racial and gendered inequalities.

The Responsibility of Teachers as Public Intellectuals

In the age of irresponsible privatization, it is difficult to recognize that educators and other cultural workers bear an enormous responsibility in opposing the current threat to the planet and everyday life by bringing democratic political culture back to life. While liberal democracy offers an important discourse around issues of “rights, freedoms, participation, self-rule, and citizenship,” it has been mediated historically through the “damaged and burdened tradition” of racial and gender exclusions, economic injustice and a formalistic, ritualized democracy, which substituted the swindle for the promise of democratic participation.[6] At the same time, liberal and republican traditions of Western democratic thought have given rise to forms of social and political criticism that at least contained a “referent” for addressing the deep gap between the promise of a radical democracy and the existing reality. With the rise of neoliberalism, referents for imagining even a weak democracy, or, for that matter, for understanding the tensions between capitalism and democracy, which animated political discourse for the first half of the 20th century, appear to be overwhelmed by market discourses, identities and practices, on the one hand, or a corrosive cynicism on the other. And, of course, at the present moment a kind of political lunacy that testifies to the rise of extremism in America. Democracy has now been reduced to a metaphor for the alleged “free” market and, in some cases, to the image of a theocratic state. It is not that a genuine democratic public space once existed in some ideal form and has now been corrupted by the values of the market, but that these democratic public spheres, even in limited forms, seem to no longer be animating concepts for making visible the contradiction and tension between the reality of existing democracy and the promise of a more fully realized, substantive democracy. Part of the challenge of linking critical pedagogy with the process of democratization suggests constructing new locations of struggle, vocabularies and subject positions that allow people in a wide variety of public spheres to become more than they are now, to question what it is they have become within existing institutional and social formations, and to give some thought to what it might mean to transform existing relations of subordination and oppression.

Critical Pedagogy as a Project of Intervention

If educators are to revitalize the language of civic education as part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world, they will have to consider grounding such a pedagogy in a defense of what I have called in the past, “educated hope.”[7] Such hope is built upon recognizing pedagogy as part of a broader attempt to revitalize the conditions for individual and social agency while simultaneously addressing critical pedagogy as a project informed by a democratic political vision while conscious of the diverse ways such a vision gets mediated in different contexts. Such a project also suggests recasting the relationship between the pedagogical and political as a project that is indeterminate, open to constant revision and constantly in dialogue with its own assumptions. The concept of the project in this sense speaks to the directive nature of pedagogy, the recognition that any pedagogical practice presupposes some notion of the future, prioritizes some forms of identification over others and upholds selective modes of social relations. At the same time, the normative nature of such a pedagogy does not offer guarantees as much as it recognizes that its own position is grounded in modes of authority, values and ethical considerations that must be constantly debated for the ways in which they both open up and close down democratic relations, values and identities. Central to both keeping any notion of critical pedagogy alive is the recognition that it must address real social needs, be imbued with a passion for democracy and provide the conditions for expanding democratic forms of political and social agency.

Critical Pedagogy as a Matter of Context, Ethics and Politics

In opposition to the increasingly dominant views of education and cultural politics, I want to argue for a transformative pedagogy rooted in the project of resurgent democracy, one that relentlessly questions the kinds of labor, practices and forms of production that are enacted in public and higher education. Such an analysis should be relational and contextual, as well as self-reflective and theoretically rigorous. By relational, I mean that the current crisis of schooling must be understood in relation to the broader assault that is being waged against all aspects of democratic public life. As Jeffrey Williams has recently pointed out, “the current restructuring of higher education is only one facet of the restructuring of civic life in the US whereby previously assured public entitlements such as healthcare, welfare, and social security have evaporated or been ‘privatized,’ so no solution can be separated from a larger vision of what it means to enfranchise citizens or our republic.”[8] But as important as such articulations are in understanding the challenges that public and higher education face in the current historical conjuncture, they do not go far enough. Any critical comprehension of those wider forces that shape public and higher education must also be supplemented by an attentiveness to the conditional nature of pedagogy itself. This suggests that pedagogy can never be treated as a fixed set of principles and practices that can be applied indiscriminately across a variety of pedagogical sites. Pedagogy is not some recipe that can be imposed on all classrooms. On the contrary, it must always be contextually defined, allowing it to respond specifically to the conditions, formations and problems that arise in various sites in which education takes place. Schools differ in their financing, quality of teachers, resources, histories and cultural capital. Recognizing this, educators can both address the meaning and purpose that schools might play in their relationship to the demands of the broader society while simultaneously being sensitive to the distinctive nature of the issues educators address within the shifting contexts in which they interact with a diverse body of students, texts and institutional formations.

Ethically, critical pedagogy requires an ongoing indictment “of those forms of truth-seeking which imagined themselves to be eternally and placelessly valid.” [9] Simply put, educators need to cast a critical eye on those forms of knowledge and social relations that define themselves through a conceptual purity and political innocence that not only clouds how they come into being, but also ignores that the alleged neutrality on which they stand is already grounded in ethico-political choices. Neutral, objective education is an oxymoron. It does not exist outside of relations of power, values and politics. Thomas Keenan rightly argues that ethics on the pedagogical front demands an openness to the other, a willingness to engage a “politics of possibility” through a continual critical engagement with texts, images events, and other registers of meaning as they are transformed into public pedagogies.[10] One consequence of linking pedagogy to the specificity of place is that it foregrounds the need for educators to rethink the cultural and political baggage they bring to each educational encounter; it also highlights the necessity of making educators ethically and politically accountable for the stories they produce, the claims they make upon public memory and the images of the future they deem legitimate. Pedagogy is never innocent, and if it is to be understood and problematized as a form of academic labor, educators must not only critically question and register their own subjective involvement in how and what they teach, they must also resist all calls to depoliticize pedagogy through appeals to either scientific objectivity or ideological dogmatism. Far from being disinterested or ideologically frozen, critical pedagogy is concerned about the articulation of knowledge to social effects and succeeds to the degree in which educators encourage critical reflection and moral and civic agency, rather than simply mold it. Crucial to the latter position is the necessity for critical educators to be attentive to the ethical dimensions of their own practice.

Critical Pedagogy and the Promise of Democratization

But as an act of intervention, critical pedagogy needs to be grounded in a project that not only problematizes its own location, mechanisms of transmission and effects, but also functions as part of a larger project to contest various forms of domination and to help students think more critically about how existing social, political and economic arrangements might be better suited to address the promise of a radical democracy as an anticipatory rather than messianic goal. The late Jacques Derrida suggested that the social function of intellectuals, as well as any viable notion of education, should be grounded in a vibrant politics which makes the promise of democracy a matter of concrete urgency. For Derrida, making visible a “democracy” which is to come, as opposed to that which presents itself in its name, provides a referent for both criticizing everywhere what parades as democracy – “the current state of all so-called democracy” – and for critically assessing the conditions and possibilities for democratic transformation.[11] Derrida sees the promise of democracy as the proper articulation of a political ethics and by implication suggests that when higher education is engaged and articulated through the project of democratic social transformation, it can function as a vital public sphere for critical learning, ethical deliberation and civic engagement. Moreover, the utopian dimension of pedagogy articulated through the project of radical democracy offers the possibility of resistance to the increasing depoliticization of the citizenry, provides a language to challenge the politics of accommodation that connects education to the logic of privatization, commodification, religious dogma, and instrumental knowledge. Such a pedagogy refuses to define the citizen as simply a consuming subject and actively opposes the view of teaching as market-driven practice and learning as a form of training. Utopianism in this sense is not an antidote to politics, a nostalgic yearning for a better time, or for some “inconceivably alternative future.” But, by contrast, it is an “attempt to find a bridge between the present and future in those forces within the present which are potentially able to transform it.”[12]

In opposition to dominant forms of education and pedagogy that simply reinvent the future in the interest of a present in which ethical principles are scorned and the essence of democracy is reduced to the imperatives of the bottom line, critical pedagogy must address the challenge of providing students with the competencies they need to cultivate the capacity for critical judgment, thoughtfully connect politics to social responsibility, and expand their own sense of agency in order to curb the excesses of dominant power, revitalize a sense of public commitment, and expand democratic relations. Animated by a sense of critique and possibility, critical pedagogy at its best attempts to provoke students to deliberate, resist and cultivate a range of capacities that enable them to move beyond the world they already know without insisting on a fixed set of meanings.

Against the current onslaught to privatize public schools and corporatize higher education, educators need to defend public and higher education as a resource vital to the democratic and civic life of the nation. Central to such a task is the challenge of academics, young people, the Occupy movement and labor unions to find ways to join together in broad-based social movements and oppose the transformation of the public schools and higher education into commercial spheres, to resist what Bill Readings has called a consumer-oriented corporation more concerned about accounting than accountability.[13] The crisis of public schooling and higher education – while having  different registers – needs to be analyzed in terms of wider configurations of economic, political and social forces that exacerbate tensions between those who value such institutions as public goods and those advocates of neoliberalism who see market culture as a master design for all human affairs. The threat corporate power poses can be seen in the ongoing attempts by neoliberals and other hypercapitalists to subject all forms of public life, including public and higher education, to the dictates of the market while simultaneously working to empty democracy itself of any vestige of ethical, political and social considerations. What educators must challenge is the attempt on the part of neoliberals to either define democracy exclusively as a liability, or to enervate its substantive ideals by reducing it to the imperatives and freedoms of the marketplace. This requires that educators consider the political and pedagogical importance of struggling over the meaning and definition of democracy and situate such a debate within an expansive notion of human rights, social provisions, civil liberties, equity and economic justice. What must be challenged at all costs is the increasingly dominant view, propagated by neoliberal gurus such as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, that selfishness is the supreme value in shaping human agency, profit-making is the most important practice in a democracy and accumulating material goods the essence of the good life.

Defending public and higher education as vital democratic spheres is necessary to develop and nourish the proper balance between public values and commercial power, between identities founded on democratic principles and identities steeped in forms of competitive, self-interested individualism that celebrate selfishness, profit-making and greed. Educators also must reconsider the critical roles they might take up within public and higher education so as to enable them to oppose those approaches to schooling that corporatize, privatize and bureaucratize the teaching process. A critical pedagogy should, in part, be premised on the assumption that educators vigorously resist any attempt on the part of liberals and conservatives to reduce their role in schools to either that of technicians or corporate pawns. Instead, educators might redefine their roles as engaged public intellectuals capable of teaching students the language of critique and possibility as a precondition for social agency. Such a redefinition of purpose, meaning and politics suggests that educators critically interrogate the fundamental link between knowledge and power, pedagogical practices and social consequences, and authority and civic responsibility. It also means eliminating those modes of corporate governance in the public schools and higher education that reduce teachers to the status of clerks, technicians, and, with respect to higher education, to a subaltern class of part-time workers, with little power, few benefits and excessive teaching loads.

By redefining the purpose and meaning of schooling as part of a broader attempt to struggle for a radical democratic social order, educators can begin to vigorously challenge a number of dominant assumptions and policies currently structuring public and higher education, including but not limited to: ongoing attempts by corporate culture to define educators as multinational operatives; escalating efforts by colleges and universities to deny students the loans, resources and public support they need to have access to a quality education; the mounting influence of corporate interests in pressuring universities to reward forms of scholarship that generate corporate profits; increasing attempts to deny women and students of color access to higher education through the reversal of affirmative action policies, the raising of tuition costs, and a growing emphasis on classroom pedagogies designed to create marketable products and active consumers. Rather than providing students with an opportunity to learn how to shape and govern public life, education is increasingly being vocationalized, reduced to a commodity that provides privileges for a few students  and low-skill industrial training for the rest, especially those who are marginalized by reason of their class and race. Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Santorum has recently argued that public education is a form of government intrusion and that higher education is simply irrelevant because it is doing the work of Satan by allowing leftist educators to indoctrinate students.[14] That such ideological and political idiocy passes as a legitimate discourse in a presidential race tells us something about the devalued state of public and higher education, not to mention how vulnerable it is to the most extreme authoritarian pressures and policies.

What has become clear in this current climate of religious fundamentalism and casino capitalism is that the corporatization of education functions so as to cancel out the democratic values,  impulses and practices of a civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market. Educators need a critical language to address these challenges to public and higher education. But they also need to join with other groups outside of the spheres of public and higher education in order to create a national movement that links the defense of noncommodified education with a broader struggle to deepen the imperatives of democratic public life. The quality of educational reform can, in part, be gauged by the caliber of public discourse concerning the role that education plays in furthering not the market-driven agenda of corporate interests, but the imperatives of critical agency, social justice and an operational democracy. In this capacity, educators need to develop a language of possibility for raising critical questions about the aim of schooling and about the purpose and meaning of what and how educators teach. In doing so, pedagogy draws attention to engaging classroom practice as a moral and political consideration animated by a fierce sense of commitment to expanding the range of individual capacities that enable students to become critical agents capable of linking knowledge, responsibility and democratic social transformation.

Approaching pedagogy as a critical and political practice suggests that educators refuse all attempts to reduce classroom teaching exclusively to matters of technique and method. In opposition to such approaches, educators can highlight the performative character of education as an act of intervention in the world – focusing on the work that pedagogy does as a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge and experiences are produced within particular sets of classroom relations. Within this perspective, critical pedagogy foregrounds the diverse conditions under which authority, knowledge, values and subject positions are produced and interact within unequal relations of power; it also problematizes the ideologically laden and often contradictory roles and social functions that educators assume within the classroom. Pedagogy in this view can also be reclaimed as a form of academic labor that bridges the gap between individual considerations and public concerns, affirms bonds of sociality and reciprocity, and interrogates the relationship between individual freedom and privatized notions of the good life and the social obligations and collective structures necessary to support a vibrant democracy.

Classroom Authority and Pedagogy as the Outcome of Struggles

The question of what educators teach is inseparable from what it means to locate oneself in public discourses and invest in public commitments. Implicit in this argument is the assumption that the responsibility of critical educators cannot be separated from the consequences of the subject positions they have been assigned, the knowledge they produce, the social relations they legitimate and the ideologies they disseminate to students. Educational work at its best represents a response to questions and issues posed by the tensions and contradictions of the broader society; it is an attempt to understand and intervene in specific problems that emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and actually live out in their lives and everyday existence. Teaching in this sense becomes performative and contextual, and it highlights considerations of power, politics and ethics fundamental to any form of teacher-student-text interaction.

It is crucial to reiterate that any pedagogy that is alive to its own democratic implications is always cautious of its need to resist totalizing certainties and answers. Refusing the pull of dogmatism, ideological purity and imperious authority, educators must at the same time grasp the complexity and contradictions that inform the conditions under which they produce and disseminate knowledge. Recognizing that pedagogy is the outgrowth of struggles that are historically specific, as are the problems that govern the questions and issues that guide what and how we teach, should not suggest that educators renounce their authority. On the contrary, it is precisely by recognizing that teaching is always an act of intervention inextricably mediated through particular forms of authority that teachers can offer students a variety of analytic tools, diverse historical traditions, and a wide-ranging knowledge of dominant and subaltern cultures and how they influence each other – for whatever use students wish to make of these tools and knowledge.  This is a far cry from suggesting that critical pedagogy define itself either within the grip of a self-righteous mode of authority or completely remove itself from any sense of commitment whatsoever. On the contrary, at stake here is the need to insist on modes of authority that are directive but not imperious, linking knowledge to power in the service of self-production, and encouraging students to go beyond the world they already know to expand their range of human possibilities.

Academics must deliberate, make decisions, and take positions, and, in doing so, recognize that authority “is the very condition for intellectual work” and pedagogical interventions.[15] Authority in this perspective in not simply on the side of oppression, but is used to intervene and shape the space of teaching and learning to provide students with a range of possibilities for challenging a society’s commonsense assumptions, and for analyzing the interface between its members’ own everyday lives and those broader social formations that bear down on them. Authority, at best, becomes both a referent for legitimating a commitment to a particular vision of pedagogy and a critical referent for a kind of auto-critique. It demands consideration of how authority functions within specific relations of power regarding its own promise to provide students with a public space where they can learn, debate and engage critical traditions in order to imagine otherwise and develop discourses that are crucial  for defending vital social institutions as a public good.

While pedagogy can be understood performatively as an event where many things can happen in the service of learning, it is crucial to stress the importance of democratic classroom relations that encourage dialogue, deliberation and the power of students to raise questions. Moreover, such relations don’t signal a retreat from teacher authority as much as they suggest using authority reflexively to provide the conditions for students to exercise intellectual rigor, theoretical competence and informed judgments. Thus, students can think critically about the knowledge they gain and what it means to act on such knowledge in order to expand their sense of agency as part of a broader project of increasing both “the scope of their freedoms” and “the operations of democracy.”[16] What students learn and how they learn should amplify what it means to experience democracy from a position of possibility, affirmation and critical engagement. In part, this suggests that educators develop pedagogical practices that open up the terrain of the political while simultaneously encouraging students to “think better about how arrangements might be otherwise.”[17]

At its best, critical pedagogy must be interdisciplinary,  contextual, engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and focus on how students can engage the imperatives of critical social citizenship. Education is not simply about the transmission of knowledge; it is about the producing of subjects, identities and desires – no small matter when recognizing what such a struggle suggests about preparing students for the future. Once again, critical pedagogy must be self-reflexive about its aims and practices, conscious of its ongoing project of democratic transformation, but openly committed to a politics that does not offer any guarantees. But refusing dogmatism does not suggest that educators descend into a laissez-faire pluralism or an appeal to methodologies designed to “teach the conflicts.” On the contrary, it suggests that, in order to make the pedagogical more political, educators afford students with diverse opportunities to understand and experience how politics, power, commitment and responsibility work on and through them both within and outside of schools. This, in turn, enables students to locate themselves, within an interrelated confluence of ideological and material forces, as critical agents who can both influence such forces and simultaneously be held responsible for their own views and actions. Within this perspective, relations between institutional forms and pedagogical practices are acknowledged as complex, open and contradictory – though always situated within unequal relations of power.[18]

To read more article by Henry A. Giroux and other writers in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Making the Pedagogical More Meaningful

Any analysis of critical pedagogy must stress the importance of addressing the role that affect and emotion play in the formation of individual identity and social agency. Any viable approach to critical pedagogy suggests taking seriously those maps of meaning, affective investments and sedimented desires that enable students to connect their own lives and everyday experiences to what they learn. Pedagogy in this sense becomes more than a mere transfer of received knowledge, an inscription of a unified and static identity, or a rigid methodology; it presupposes that students are moved by their passions and motivated, in part, by the affective investments they bring to the learning process. This suggests, as Paulo Freire points out, the need for a theory of pedagogy willing to develop a “critical comprehension of the value of sentiments, emotions, and desire as part of the learning process.”[19] Not only do students need to understand the ideological, economic and political interests that shape the nature of their educational experiences, they must also address the strong emotional investments they may bring to such beliefs. For Emory University professor Shoshana Felman, this suggests that educators take seriously the role of desire in both ignorance and learning. “Teaching,” she explains, “has to deal not so much with lack of knowledge as with resistances to knowledge. Ignorance, suggests Jacques Lacan, is a ‘passion.’ Inasmuch as traditional pedagogy postulated a desire for knowledge, an analytically informed pedagogy has to reckon with the passion for ignorance.”[20] Felman elaborates further on the productive nature of ignorance, arguing. “Ignorance is nothing other than a desire to ignore: its nature is less cognitive than performative … it is not a simple lack of information but the incapacity – or the refusal – to acknowledge one’s own implication in the information.”[21] If students are to move beyond the issue of understanding to an engagement with the deeper affective investments that make them complicitous with oppressive ideologies, they must be positioned to address and formulate strategies of transformation through which their individualized beliefs and affective investments can be articulated with broader public discourses that extend the imperatives of democratic public life. An unsettling pedagogy in this instance would engage student identities and resistances from unexpected vantage points and articulate how they connect to existing material relations of power. At stake here is not only a pedagogical practice that recalls how knowledge, identifications, and subject positions are produced, unfolded and remembered, but also how they become part of an ongoing process, more strategic, so to speak, of mediating and challenging existing relations of power.

Conclusion

In the current historical conjuncture, the concept of the social and the common good is being refigured and displaced as a constitutive category for making democracy operational and political agency the condition for social transformation. The notions of the social and the public are not being erased as much as they are being reconstructed under circumstances in which public forums for serious debate, including public education, are being eroded. Within the ongoing logic of neoliberalism, teaching and learning are removed from the discourse of democracy and civic culture – defined as a purely private affair. How else to explain Rick Santorum’s rants against higher education, the elites, and that old phantom, the liberal media.   Divorced from the imperatives of a democratic society, pedagogy is reduced to a matter of taste, individual choice, home schooling and job training. Pedagogy as a mode of witnessing, a public engagement in which students learn to be attentive and responsible to the memories and narratives of others, disappears within a corporate-driven notion of learning in which the logic of market devalues the opportunity for students to make connections with others through social relations which foster a mix of compassion, ethics and hope. The crisis of the social is further amplified by the withdrawal of the state as a guardian of the public trust and its growing lack of investment in those sectors of social life that promote the public good. With the Supreme Court ruling that now makes vouchers constitutional, a deeply conservative government once again will be given full reign to renege on the responsibility of government to provide every child with an education that affirms public life, embraces the need for critical citizens and supports the truism that political agency is central to the possibility of democratic life.

The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education. Within this context, the project(s) of critical pedagogy need to be taken up both within and outside of public and higher education. Pedagogy is not a practice that only takes place in schools; it is also a public mode of teaching, that is, a public pedagogical practice largely defined within a range of cultural apparatuses extending from television networks to print media to the Internet. As a central element of a broad-based cultural politics, critical pedagogy, in its various forms, when linked to the ongoing project of democratization, can provide opportunities for educators and other cultural workers to redefine and transform the connections among language, desire, meaning, everyday life, and material relations of power as part of a broader social movement to reclaim the promise and possibilities of a democratic public life. Pedagogy is dangerous not only because it provides the intellectual capacities and ethical norms for students to fight against poverty, ecological destruction and the dismantling of the social state, but also because it holds the potential for instilling in students a profound desire for a “real democracy based on relationships of equality and freedom.”[22] Given the current economic crisis, the growing authoritarian populism, the rise of religious dogmatism, the emergence of a failed state, and a politics largely controlled by the bankers and corporations, critical pedagogy becomes symptomatic of not only something precious that has been lost under a regime of casino capitalism, but also of a project and practice that needs to be reclaimed, reconfigured and made foundational to any viable notion of politics.

 

Endnotes
1. Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), p. 7
2.   For an excellent analysis of contemporary forms of neoliberalism, see Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011, pp. 705-728; see also David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).
3. Roger Simon, “Empowerment as a Pedagogy of Possibility,” Language Arts 64:4 (April 1987), p. 372.
4. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Institutions and Autonomy.” In Peter Osborne(Ed). “A Critical Sense” (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 8.
5.  Rachel Donadio, “The Failing State of Greece,” New York Times (February 26, 2012), p. 8.
6.  John Brenkman, “Extreme Criticism,” in Judith Butler, John Guillary, and Kendal Thomas, eds. “What’s Left of Theory” (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 123.
7. Henry A. Giroux, “Public Spaces, Private Lives: Democracy Beyond 9/11″ (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).
8. Jeffrey Williams, “Brave New University,” College English 61:6 (1999), p. 749.
9. Paul Gilroy, “Against Race” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 69.
10. For a brilliant discussion of the ethics and politics of deconstruction, see Thomas Keenan, “Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 2.
11. Jacques Derrida, “Intellectual Courage: An Interview,” Trans. Peter Krapp, “Culture Machine” Vol. 2 (2000), p. 9.
12. Terry Eagleton, “The Idea of Culture” (Malden, MA: Basil Blackwell, 2000), p.22.
13. Bill Readings, “The University in Ruins” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,     pp, 11, 18.
14.  Scott Jaschik, “Santorum’s Attack on Higher Education,” Inside Higher Education (February 27, 2012).
15. This expression comes from John Michael, “Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2.
16.  Cornel West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” in Russell Fergusen, Martha Geever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, eds. “Out There” (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), p. 35.
17. Jodi Dean, “The interface of Political Theory and Cultural Studies,” in Jodi Dean, ed. “Cultural Studies and Political Theory” (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 3.
18. Alan O’Shea, “A Special Relationship? Cultural Studies, Academia and Pedagogy,” Cultural Studies 12(4) 1998, pp. 513-527.
19. Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), p. 48.
20. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79. For an extensive analysis of the relationship between schooling, literacy, and desire, see Ursula A. Kelly, “Schooling Desire: Literacy, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy” (New York: Routledge, 1997); Sharon Todd, “Learning Desire: Perspectives on Pedagogy, Culture, and the Unsaid,” (New York: Routledge, 1997).
21. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79.
22. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire,” (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004),  p. 67

Propaganda and the Fear Factor(y)

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Oldspeak:In a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well-connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.” -Dr. Gary Allen Scott “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Video:

Noam Chomsky: Necessary Illusions – Thought Control in a Democratic Society Part 1 (1989)

 

By Dr. Gary Allen Scott @ Common Dreams:

Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures . . . they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.
George Gerbner (Former Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania)

It is the merest truism that thought-control is unnecessary in totalitarian societies. A one-party rule and the repression of freedoms render irrelevant what people think. But in a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.

As Robert Dahl has shown in his book How Democratic is the American Constitution?, our Constitution provides several mechanisms for insuring rule by a minority. One is the great disparity in the value of the suffrage. Voters in sparsely populated states, such as Wyoming, elect two senators that represent about 500,000 people. In California, the two senators represent some 35,000,000 people. This means that the weight of one’s vote in Wyoming is far greater (by 70 times!) than the weight of one’s vote in California. And in a Senate vote, the two Senators from Wyoming can negate the votes of California’s two Senators. Another such mechanism is the electoral college, which is another way in which losers can still win. The electoral college came into play most recently and most decisively in the 2000 presidential election. A third mechanism is the “first past the post”, or “winner take all” systems that afford no proportional share of votes to the second, third, or fourth place finisher in an election.

Notwithstanding these three mechanisms, the appearance of popular democracy must be preserved. So the rich and well connected must also still find ways to maintain the appearance of real democracy, even while they are greatly outnumbered by a factor of 50-60 to 1. Therefore, the ruling elite must find other ways of making up for being vastly outnumbered at the polls. This is why it is so important for such elites to shape the public mind. A recent example of this phenomenon occurred when the wealthiest Americans succeeded in repealing an “estate” or “inheritance tax” levied only on several thousand of the richest families in America by dubbing it a “death tax”, whose repeal generated popular support, in the wake of millions of dollars spent to shape public opinion. (This amazing feat is largely a result of the belief that every American has a chance to become rich, despite all the evidence to the contrary. As Bill Moyers said recently, “the surest way to become rich is to choose your parents well“. So even poor people supported the repeal in the fanciful belief that they might one day need this “tax relief”.)

Huge public opinion and marketing machines, along with the advertising industry provide commercial forms of propaganda. Their success flows from their ability to keep people self-indulgent, to keep people consuming, to keep them on the debt treadmill, and to keep them complacent, self-absorbed, and hedonistic.

If you haven’t read George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World  for a while, now is a good time to pick them up and re-read them. I submit that American society today seamlessly blends the self-satisfaction of Huxley’s Soma with Orwell’s ubiquitous telescreens and the thought-control they engender. When people are afraid, they need the Soma all the more: fear produces anxiety and hysteria; Soma provides the escapism. It is a powerful 1-2 punch. In the remainder of this essay, I shall attempt to offer some antidotes to what is ailing American society today.

Here are a few steps people might take to liberate themselves from fear and propaganda:

1. Turn off the television! 
Never forget this simple principle: The more television one watches, the more dangerous the world will seem to be. The author of the quote at the top of this article taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications for more than 30 years, and he believed that fearful people may even be lured to television precisely on account of their fear. Frightening images of house break-ins, car-jackings, murders, rapes, terrorists, viruses, natural disasters, and all manner of hysteria-producing hobgoblins have a seductive power to keep people watching and to keep people afraid, even paranoid.I remember when Fox launched its network with programs with titles like “When Good Dogs Go Bad” and “When Animals Attack”. Now they’ve refined their “fair and balanced” programs to feature human animals attacking, from Bill O’Reilly, to Chris Matthews to the steady stream of screamers who do not really engage in discussion or debate, but simply shout at one another and call each other names. Turn it off. There are other ways of keeping informed and the medium, to quote Marshall McLuhan, really is the message. In contrast to television, which McLuhan termed a “hot” medium, reading engages a different part of oneself, allowing critical thinking and analytic reasoning. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but that is exactly why images are able to continue to scare us, long after the initial impression has been made. Turn off the television and pick up a book, such as Gavin de Becker’s “Fear Less” or Ropeik and Gray’s book “Risk: A Practical Guide for Determining What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You”. Radio, too, supplies news and analysis without the frightening images. Listen to National Public Radio, Pacifica (especially “Democracy Now!”) and the BBC and the CBC online or on the radio.

2. Once one has taken this giant step, one may want to continue reading by digging into American history. I do not have in mind here the typical, sanitized history of the indoctrinating textbooks that present America as the shining city on a hill and its people as perpetually honorable innocents. I recommend instead some alternative histories that examine the underbelly of both our remote and recent past. I would recommend beginning with three books: WWII pilot and longtime Boston University professor, Howard Zinn’s “A Peoples History of the United States”; then go on to William S. Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?”; and finally, read M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival?”. It may be interesting to explore a particular question, such as: How does a country’s rulers mobilize people (over and over again) to lay down their lives for some cause or other, while the rich and powerful are asked to make little or no sacrifice at all. Heck, George W. Bush started a war in Iraq and then pushed through not one but two sets of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Such tax cuts when “the country is at war “(as he loves to say) is unprecedented in U.S. history. Indeed, one may come to learn that this same rich and powerful elite are making huge profits while poor, ‘average’ people are dying in droves. Think for a moment about the corporate mission of a Lockheed-Martin or any other manufacturer of weapons and weapons systems: Is it not clear that they make money on other people’s deaths? And is it not such powerful lobbies for the largest arms sellers in the world (the United States) who promote policies that would keep the country in perpetual war precisely because it is so good for their business?

3. Take a course in self-defense. 
I’m not talking about physical self-defense; I’m talking about intellectual self-defense, a self-defense course for the mind! Intellectual self-defense involves learning to think critically, to keep your eyes and ears open, and to flush those eyes and ears with a healthy dose of skepticism. If 100% or nearly 100% of media outlets are parroting the same line, saying the same thing about any issue, it is well to remember that even a small group of friends is likely to experience some disagreement on just about any issue, so why are all the pundits saying the same thing? Chances are, what you’re hearing is propaganda and spin.

4. Look beneath the surface.
Try to evaluate claims that people make. Learn to distinguish an assertion from an argument, a claim from proof, and learn to identify logical fallacies in what people say; then ask, Who benefits and who may be harmed? Dig into the matter and look for a reason, a warrant, a justification, and if you can’t find a convincing one, be skeptical. Don’t believe everything you hear. It will take much longer to be worn down by the constant repetition of the spin-meisters half-truths and outright falsehoods once one has turned off the television and cultivated a healthy skepticism. Most people are simply too trusting, and this stems from two main deficiencies: not knowing history (as Howard Zinn has recently argued) and failing to think critically or to be doggedly skeptical. (I note with great disappointment that neither of these qualities are possessed by the mainstream media in the U.S. today, as Tom Engelhardt has shown convincingly.) Let me offer a prime example to illustrate the point.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the American people were told over and over again (both explicitly and obliquely) that Iraq possessed chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. It was asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed not only the chemical weapons with which the U.S. supplied him during the 1980′s Iran-Iraq War (the same ones he used on the Kurds in 1991), but that he had also developed a nuclear program under ten years of sanctions and under a rigorous inspection regime that had found no evidence of such weapons. The American people were told that such a nuclear weapons program was “not an assertion” but a fact. The water was carried here principally by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell. Rice speculated about a ‘mushroom cloud’, a statement George W. Bush repeated publicly. Colin Powell helped out by putting on a dog-and-pony show at the U.N. Based on this hype, Iraq was deemed a ‘imminent threat’ to U.S. security.

Now, if one were skeptical, one might have pulled out a map and noticed that Iraq shares a border with six countries. One might then have deferred judgment to the people closest to this dangerous and imminent threat. So now one might have done a little digging on the Internet and found polls that showed that none of the populations of these six neighboring countries (who would be the closest targets if the allegations of WMD possession had been true) were in favor of the U.S. starting a war with Iraq. Nor were the European countries in favor of the U.S. attack, even though they were all much closer to Iraq than is the U.S. In fact, most countries (including Mexico and Canada) believed that the U.S. presented a greater threat to world security than either al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Only America and the United Kingdom were able to thoroughly dupe their citizenry.

That’s quite a feat, and it is an embarrassing testament to our collective irrationality and, therefore, our gullibility. But this is the way propaganda works. It relies upon simple slogans, however illogical they may be (such as, “We are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them at home.” Obviously, these two alternatives are not mutually exclusive! One may in fact have noticed that there seem now to be a whole lot more ‘terrorists’ than there were before the invasion of Iraq! Propaganda also relies on hatred and racism to promote its group-think. And there is little doubt that propaganda is a largely stealth weapon; it flies under the radar of reason and is usually not even identified as propaganda. Above all, it plays on our fears, because the more frightened people are, the more illogical their reasoning becomes.

Dr. Gary Alan Scott is an associate professor of philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland and he is currently the Director of Loyola’s International Study Abroad Program in Leuven, Belgium. He welcomes your comments or questions atgaryalanscott@yahoo.com.

New Census Data Shows 1 in 2 People In America Are Now Poor Or Low Income

In Uncategorized on December 15, 2011 at 9:35 am

 

Oldspeak:” It’s midnight in America. ‘Austerity Measures’ and ‘Structural Adjustment Programs‘  imposed across much of the 2nd and 3rd world have come home to roost in the 1st world. They’re beginning to bear bitter fruit. ”The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal.  Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too `rich’ to qualify’. If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years”-Sheldon Danziger This is going to much get worse. Look at Greece, and you’ll see the future of the U.S. People won’t be able to ignore reality for much longer. The banksters who’ve hi-jacked our republic won’t stop until there’s no one left to reduce to debt peonage. The question is how long are Americans gonna sit idly by and let it happen? “Freedom Is Slavery”

By The Associated Press:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The latest census data depict a middle class that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

“Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too `rich’ to qualify,” said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty.

“The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal,” he said. “If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years.”

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are sparring over legislation that would renew a Social Security payroll tax cut, part of a year-end political showdown over economic priorities that could also trim unemployment benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce entitlement spending.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

“There’s no doubt the recession has thrown a lot of people out of work and incomes have fallen,” Rector said. “As we come out of recession, it will be important that these programs promote self-sufficiency rather than dependence and encourage people to look for work.”

Mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it. Many middle-class Americans are dropping below the low-income threshold – roughly $45,000 for a family of four – because of pay cuts, a forced reduction of work hours or a spouse losing a job. Housing and child-care costs are consuming up to half of a family’s income.

States in the South and West had the highest shares of low-income families, including Arizona, New Mexico and South Carolina, which have scaled back or eliminated aid programs for the needy. By raw numbers, such families were most numerous in California and Texas, each with more than 1 million.

The struggling Americans include Zenobia Bechtol, 18, in Austin, Texas, who earns minimum wage as a part-time pizza delivery driver. Bechtol and her 7-month-old baby were recently evicted from their bedbug-infested apartment after her boyfriend, an electrician, lost his job in the sluggish economy.

After an 18-month job search, Bechtol’s boyfriend now works as a waiter and the family of three is temporarily living with her mother.

“We’re paying my mom $200 a month for rent, and after diapers and formula and gas for work, we barely have enough money to spend,” said Bechtol, a high school graduate who wants to go to college. “If it weren’t for food stamps and other government money for families who need help, we wouldn’t have been able to survive.”

About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That’s up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.

The new measure of poverty takes into account medical, commuting and other living costs. Doing that helped push the number of people below 200 percent of the poverty level up from 104 million, or 1 in 3 Americans, that was officially reported in September.

Broken down by age, children were most likely to be poor or low-income – about 57 percent – followed by seniors over 65. By race and ethnicity, Hispanics topped the list at 73 percent, followed by blacks, Asians and non-Hispanic whites.

Even by traditional measures, many working families are hurting.

Following the recession that began in late 2007, the share of working families who are low income has risen for three straight years to 31.2 percent, or 10.2 million. That proportion is the highest in at least a decade, up from 27 percent in 2002, according to a new analysis by the Working Poor Families Project and the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group based in Washington.

Among low-income families, about one-third were considered poor while the remainder – 6.9 million – earned income just above the poverty line. Many states phase out eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid, tax credit and other government aid programs for low-income Americans as they approach 200 percent of the poverty level.

The majority of low-income families – 62 percent – spent more than one-third of their earnings on housing, surpassing a common guideline for what is considered affordable. By some census surveys, child-care costs consume close to another one-fifth.

Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higher-income brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

A survey of 29 cities conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors being released Thursday points to a gloomy outlook for those on the lower end of the income scale.

Many mayors cited the challenges of meeting increased demands for food assistance, expressing particular concern about possible cuts to federal programs such as food stamps and WIC, which assists low-income pregnant women and mothers. Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger in cities, followed by poverty, low wages and high housing costs.

Across the 29 cities, about 27 percent of people needing emergency food aid did not receive it. Kansas City, Mo., Nashville, Tenn., Sacramento, Calif., and Trenton, N.J., were among the cities that pointed to increases in the cost of food and declining food donations, while Mayor Michael McGinn in Seattle cited an unexpected spike in food requests from immigrants and refugees, particularly from Somalia, Burma and Bhutan.

Among those requesting emergency food assistance, 51 percent were in families, 26 percent were employed, 19 percent were elderly and 11 percent were homeless.

“People who never thought they would need food are in need of help,” said Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Mo., who co-chairs a mayors’ task force on hunger and homelessness

Class Dismissed: How Television Frames The Working Class

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Oldspeak:Class Dismissed explores the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect with class, offering a more complex reading of television’s often one-dimensional representations. The video also links television portrayals to negative cultural attitudes and public policies that directly affect the lives of working class people. It examines the patterns inherent in TV’s disturbing depictions of working class people as either clowns or social deviants — stereotypical portrayals that reinforce the myth of meritocracy.’ A brilliant deconstruction of TVs transformation in its beginnings with accurate depictions of working class life, to its infiltration by powerful commercial interests who demanded sanitized, product placement filled depictions of middle class life. Where the working class are constantly aspiring to consume more and more. How It propagates deeply ingrained stereotypes & the subtle propaganda-filled myths of a ‘classless society’ where everyone has access to “The American Dream”. Class judgement abounds. Racism, sexism, bigotry, and societally generated downward pressures on people do not. Conformity and consumption in the prescribed ways are glamorized any deviation from prescribed ‘norms’ are demonized or worse ignored/not depicted.  Must see TV!

 

“They’re Going To Try To Panic The Population Into Acquiescing In A Democratic Party Sellout By Cutting Back Payments To The People, While Making Sure They Pay The Pentagon, Foreign Aid, And Wall Street”

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Bought and Paid For: Laughing all the way to the Bankers.

 

Oldspeak:”Only a crisis, real or perceived produces real change” -Milton Friedman.The rancorous debate over the debt belies a fundamental truth of our economy — that it is run for the few at the expense of the many, that our entire government has been turned into a machine which takes the wealth of a mass of Americans and accelerates it into the hands of the few.” -Dennis Kusinnich. What you are seeing is textbook disaster capitalism, which is the practice (by a government, regime etc) of taking advantage of a major disaster to adopt neo-liberal economic policies that the population would be less likely to accept under normal circumstances. We’ve seen this movie most recently after 9/11, when the country was gripped with fear of terrorism, the Bush Administration and U.S. Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, depriving Americans of their rights not to be spied on, searched and seized or  indefinitely detained without charge, and created the Department Of Homeland Security, which has morphed into a gargantuan surveillance and ‘security’ apparatus. Now they’re using fear of financial catastrophe ram through draconian cuts to social programs. All while continuing to enrich the wealthy, finance client states, and the military-industrial complex on the backs of the other 99% If anything, these budget talks make it clear to anyone paying attention, who U.S. Politicians’ most important constituents are, and they sure ain’t the American people. Sadly in Washington money talks, and Change You Can Believe In walks.

Debt Ceiling Charade A Move To The Right

By Washington’s Blog:
pointed out last year that Ronald Reagan’s budget director said that the tax cuts for the wealthy were “the biggest fiscal mistake in history”.

noted yesterday:

Plugging the major holes in our economy is more important than either cutting spending or raising taxes.

And stopping bailouts and giveaways for the top .1% of the richest elite (which weaken rather than strengthen the economy, as shown herehere and here) and slashing spending on unnecessary imperial wars (which reduce rather than increase our national security, as demonstrated here and here) is what the budgetreally needs.

As I wrote last year:

Why aren’t our government “leaders” talking about slashing the military-industrial complex, which is ruining our economy with unnecessary imperial adventures?

And why aren’t any of our leaders talking about stopping the permanent bailouts for the financial giants who got us into this mess? And see this.

And why aren’t they taking away the power to create credit from the private banking giants – which is costing our economy trillions of dollars (and is leading to a decrease in loans to the little guy) – and give it back to the states?

If we did these things, we wouldn’t have to raise taxes or cut core services to the American people.

pointed out the next month:

If there’s any shortfall, all we have to do is claw back the ill-gotten gains from the fraudsters working for the too big to fails whose unlawful actions got us into this mess in the first place. See thisthisthisthis and this.

Dennis Kucinich wrote in a post entitled “Debt Political Theater Diverts Attention While Americans’ Wealth is Stolen”:

The rancorous debate over the debt belies a fundamental truth of our economy — that it is run for the few at the expense of the many, that our entire government has been turned into a machine which takes the wealth of a mass of Americans and accelerates it into the hands of the few.

***

We have to realize what this country’s economy has become. Our monetary policy, through the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, privatized the money supply, gathers the wealth, puts it in the hands of the few while the Federal Reserve can create money out of nothing, give it to banks to park at the Fed while our small businesses are starving for capital.

Mark my words — Wall Street cashes in whether we have a default or not. And the same type of thinking that created billions in bailouts for Wall Street and more than $1 trillion in giveaways by the Federal Reserve today leaves 26 million Americans either underemployed or unemployed. And nine out of ten Americans over the age of 65 are facing cuts in their Social Security in order to pay for a debt which grew from tax cuts for the rich and for endless wars.

There is a massive transfer of wealth from the American people to the hands of a few and it’s going on right now as America’s eyes are misdirected to the political theater of these histrionic debt negotiations, threats to shut down the government, and willingness to make the most Americans pay dearly for debts they did not create.

These are symptoms of a government which has lost its way, and they are a challenge to the legitimacy of the two-party system.

And Michael Hudson – who is as far from a knee-jerk conservative as possible – hits the same theme with both barrels blazing:

[Interviewer]: So, what do you think? Good versus evil. We’re playing out the debt struggle and the debt ceiling issue. And if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we’ll be in the apocalypse. What do you make of it all?

HUDSON: I think it’s evil working with evil…. If you have to choose between paying Social Security and Wall Street, pay our clients, Wall Street.

***

What’s inefficient? Paying for people on Medicaid. Got to cut it. What’s inefficient? Medicare. Got to cut it. What’s inefficient? Paying Social Security. What is efficient? Giving $13 trillion to Wall Street for a bailout. Now, how on earth can the administration say, in the last three years we have given $13 trillion to Wall Street, but then, in between 2040 and 2075, we may lose $1 trillion, no money for the people?

***

It’s not about the debt ceiling. It’s about making an agreement now under an emergency conditions. You remember what Obama’s staff aide Rahm Emanuel said. He said a crisis is too important to waste. They’re using this crisis as a chance to ram through a financial policy, an anti-Medicare, anti-Medicaid, anti—selling out Social Security that they could never do under the normal course of things.***

They’re not going to cut back the war in Libya.

***

They’re going to have to decide what to cut back. So they’re going to cut back the bone and they’re going to keep the fat, basically. They’re going to say–they’re going to try to panic the population into acquiescing in a Democratic Party sellout by cutting back payments to the people–Social Security, Medicare–while making sure that they pay the Pentagon, they pay the foreign aid, they pay Wall Street.

[Interviewer]: Yeah. But what–I hear you. But what I’m–I’m saying, what could be an alternative policy? For example, don’t raise the debt ceiling. Number two, raise taxes on the wealthy. Number three, cut back military spending. I mean, there are ways to do this without having to borrow more money, aren’t there?

HUDSON: Of course.

***

Of course they could cut back the fat. Of course what they should do is change the tax system. Of course they should get rid of the Bush tax cuts. And the one good thing in President Obama’s speech two days ago was he used the term spending on tax cuts. So that’s not the same thing as raising taxes. He said just cut spending by cutting spending on tax cuts for the financial sector, for the speculators who count all of their income that they get, billions of income, as capital gains, taxed at 15 percent instead of normal income at 35 percent. Let’s get rid of the tax loopholes that favor Wall Street.

***

Mr. Obama has always known who has been contributing primarily to his political campaigns. We know where his loyalties lie now. And, basically, he promised change because that’s what people would vote for, and he delivered the change constituency to the campaign contributors…

The U.S. Will Not Balance It’s Budget On The Backs Of The Poor, Elderly, Disabled, And Working Families

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Oldspeak:“Oh how I wish Sen. Bernie Sanders was U.S President. He’s one of the few U.S. politicians speaking the truth and articulating the concerns of real people.  Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid did not create America’s debt crisis. Decades of wage stagnation, de-industrialization, job outsourcing, wildly irresponsible & illicit financial speculation, subsequent taxpayer bailouts of wall street, tax cuts for millionaires and corporations, multiple unpaid for and misguided wars and ever expanding military and surveillance budgets did. Why should poor, elderly, disabled and disenfranchised people be made to suffer for the folly of reckless, hedonistic, anti-democratic monied interests? #ChangeICan’tBelieveIn.”

By Senator Bernie Sanders @ Bernie Sanders’ Senate Web Site:

Mr. President, this is a pivotal moment in the history of our country.  In the coming days and weeks, decisions will be made about our national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American in this country for decades to come.

At a time when the richest people and the largest corporations in our country are doing phenomenally well, and, in many cases, have never had it so good, while the middle class is disappearing and poverty is increasing, it is absolutely imperative that a deficit reduction package not include the disastrous cuts in programs for working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor that the Republicans in Congress, dominated by the extreme right wing, are demanding.

In my view, the President of the United States of America needs to stand with the American people and say to the Republican leadership that enough is enough.  No, we will not balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor, who have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost homes, and lost pensions.  Yes, we will demand that millionaires and billionaires and the largest corporations in America contribute to deficit reduction as a matter of shared sacrifice.  Yes, we will reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon.  And, no we will not be blackmailed once again by the Republican leadership in Washington, who are threatening to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States government for the first time in our nation’s history unless they get everything they want.

Instead of yielding to the incessant, extreme Republican demands, as the President did during last December’s tax cut agreement and this year’s spending negotiations, the President has got to get out of the beltway and rally the American people who already believe that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice.

It is time for the President to stand with the millions who have lost their jobs, homes, and life savings, instead of the millionaires, who in many cases, have never had it so good.

Unless the American people by the millions tell the President not to yield one inch to Republican demands to destroy Medicare and Medicaid, while continuing to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and the powerful, I am afraid that is exactly what will happen.

So, I am asking the American people who may be listening today that if you believe that deficit reduction should be about shared sacrifice, if you believe that it is time for the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share, if you believe that we need to reduce unnecessary defense spending, and if you believe that the middle class has already sacrificed enough due to the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, the President needs to hear your voice, and he needs to hear it now.

Go to my website: sanders.senate.gov and send a letter to the President letting him know that enough is enough!  Shared sacrifice means that it’s time for the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations in America to pay their fair share and contribute to deficit reduction.

Mr. President, as you know, this country faces enormous challenges.

The reality is that the middle class in America today is collapsing and poverty is increasing.

When we talk about the economy, we have got to be aware that the official government statistics are often misleading.  For example, while the official unemployment rate is now 9.1%, that number does not include the large numbers of people who have given up looking for work and people who want to work full-time but are working part time.

And, when you take all of those factors into account, the real unemployment rate is nearly 16%.

Further Mr. President, what we also must understand is that tens of millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages.  The reality is that over the last 10 years, median family income has declined by over $2,500.

As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, which caused this terrible recession, millions more have lost their homes, their pensions, and their retirement savings.

Unless we reverse our current economic course our children will have, for the first time in modern American history, a lower standard of living than their parents.

Mr. President, we throw out a lot of numbers around here.  But, I think it is important to understand that behind every grim economic statistic are real Americans who cannot find a decent paying job, and are struggling to feed their families, put a roof over their heads or to just stay afloat.

Last year, I asked my constituents in Vermont to share their personal stories with me — explaining how the recession, which started more than three years ago, has impacted their lives.  In a matter of weeks, more than 400 Vermonters responded and I also heard from people throughout the country who are struggling through this terrible recession.

Their messages are clear. People are finding it hard to get jobs or are now working for lower wages than they used to earn.  Older workers have depleted their life savings and are worried about what will happen to them when they retire.  Young adults in their 20s and 30s are not earning enough to pay down college debt. People of all ages, all walks of life, from each corner of Vermont — have shared their stories with my office.

Let me just read a few of these letters:

The first is from a 51 year old woman from West Berlin, Vermont who wrote “Dear Mr. Sanders, Don’t really know what to say, I could cry.  My significant other was out of work for a year, now he works in another state.  I’ve been out of work since April.  Our mortgage company wants the house because we can’t make the payments.  I can’t find a job to save my soul that will pay enough to make a difference.  How bad does it have to get!  My mother went through the Great Depression and here we go again.  I figure that I’m going to lose everything soon!  I’m a well educated person who can’t see through the fog.”

A gentlemen in his mid-50′s from Orange County, Vermont wrote: “After being unemployed three times since 1999 due to global trade agreements, I now find myself managing a hazardous waste transfer facility that pays about 25% less than what I was making in 1999.  My wife’s children have moved back in, unemployed.  And we are saving very little for retirement.  If things don’t improve soon we will likely have to work until we die.  We consider ourselves lucky that we are employed.  Our children’s friends tend to show up around meal time.  They are skinny.  We feed them.  This is no recession, it’s a modern day depression.”

A woman in her late 40s from Westminster, Vermont wrote: “I am a single mom in Vermont, nearly 50.  I patch together a full time job making $12 an hour and various painting jobs and still can’t afford to get myself out of debt, or make necessary repairs on my home.  No other jobs in sight, I apply all the time to no avail.  Food and gas bills go up and up, but not my income.  I have no retirement at all, can’t afford to move, feeling stuck, tired, and hopeless.”

And a 26 year old young man from Barre, Vermont wrote: “In 2002, I received a scholarship to Saint Bonaventure University, the first in my family to attend college.  Upon graduation in 2006, I was admitted to the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State University, and graduated in 2009 with $150,000 of student debt.  In Western New York I could find nothing better than a $10 an hour position stuffing envelopes … I live in a small studio apartment in Barre without cable or internet … I have told my family I don’t want them to visit because I am ashamed of my surroundings … My family always told me that an education was the ticket to success, but all my education seems to have done in this landscape is make it impossible to pull myself out of debt and begin a successful career.”

Mr. President, just over the last two weeks, nearly 500 people from Vermont and throughout the U.S. have written me about their experiences with trying – often in vain – to find affordable dental care.  One wrote: “I can’t afford health insurance so dental work is definitely out. I agree [that] … we are so backward in this country, even though studies have linked bad dental care to heart problems and cancer.”

Mr. President, when the Republicans are talking about trillions of dollars in savage cuts this is what they are talking about.  They’re talking about throwing millions and millions of people off of Medicaid.  Let me tell you what that means.

Earlier this year Arizona passed budget cuts that took patients off its transplant list.  As a result people who were kicked off the list have died.  Not because they couldn’t find a donor but because the state decided it could no longer afford to pay for their transplants.  To make matters worse Arizona’s Governor has gone further, asking the federal government for a waiver to kick off another 250,000 from its Medicaid program.

They’re talking about making it impossible for working class families to send their kids to college.  They’re talking about cuts in nutrition programs which will increase the amount of hunger in America, which is already at an all time high.  According to a 2009 study, there are over 5 million seniors who face the threat of hunger, almost 3 million seniors who are at risk of going hungry, and almost 1 million seniors who do go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food.  The Republicans in Congress would make this situation much, much worse.

Mr. President, this is a lot of pain that the Republicans are tossing out while they want to protect their rich and powerful friends.  In my view, the president has got to stand tall, take the case to the American people, and hold the Republicans responsible if the debt ceiling is not raised and the repercussions of that.

That, Mr. President, is what’s going on in the real world. People fighting to keep their homes from falling into foreclosure; struggling with credit card debt; marriages have been postponed; lives have been derailed; and retirement savings have been raided to pay for college tuition, to keep their businesses afloat, or simply to keep gas in their car and pay their bills.  That is what is going on in the real world.

And, Mr. President, while the middle class disappears and poverty is increasing, there is another reality and that is that the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider.  The United States now has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.

Today, the top one percent earns over 20 percent of all income in this country, which is more than the bottom 50 percent earns.  Over a recent 25 year period, 80 percent of all new income went to the top one percent.  In terms of the distribution of wealth, as hard as it may be to believe, the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class continues to disappear.  That is what is going on in this country in the year 2011, and we have all got to understand that.

Mr. President, everybody knows this country faces a major deficit crisis and we have a national debt of over $14 trillion. What has not been widely discussed, however, is how we got into this situation in the first place. A huge deficit and huge national debt did not happen by accident. It did not happen overnight. It happened, in fact, as a result of a number of policy decisions made over the last decade and votes that were cast right here on the floor of the Senate and in the House.

Let’s never forget, as we talk about the deficit situation, that in January of 2001, when President Clinton left office, this country had an annual federal budget surplus of $236 billion with projected budget surpluses as far as the eye could see. That was when Clinton left office.

What has happened in the ensuing years? How did we go from huge projected surpluses into horrendous debt? The answer, frankly, is not complicated. The CBO has documented it. There was an interesting article on the front page of the Washington Post on April 30, talking about it as well. Here is what happened.

When we spend over $1 trillion on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and choose not to pay for those wars, we run up a deficit. When we provide over $700 billion in tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country and choose not to pay for those tax breaks, we run up a deficit. When we pass a Medicare Part D prescription drug program written by the drug companies and the insurance companies that does not allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices and ends up costing us far more than it should — $400 billion over a 10-year period — and we don’t pay for that, we run up the deficit.  When we double military spending since 1997, not including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we don’t pay for that, we drive up the deficit.

Further, Mr. President, the deficit was also driven up by the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, which caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Millions of Americans lost their jobs and revenue was significantly reduced as a result.

Mr. President, the end result of all of these unpaid-for policies and actions – year after year of the deficits I just described – is a staggering amount of debt.  When President Bush left office, President Obama inherited an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion with deficits as far as the eye could see, and the national debt more than doubled from when President Bush took office.

The reality is Mr. President, if we did not go to war in Iraq, if we did not pass huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, who didn’t need them, if we did not pass a prescription drug program with no cost control written by the drug and insurance companies, and if we did not deregulate Wall Street, we would not be in the fiscal mess that we find ourselves in today.  It really is that simple.

In other words, the only reason we have to increase our nation’s debt ceiling today is that we are forced to pay the bills that the Republican leadership in Congress and President Bush racked up.

Now, Mr. President, given the decline in the middle class, given the increase in poverty, and given the fact that the wealthy and large corporations have never had it so good, Americans may find it strange that the Republicans in Washington would use this opportunity to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition assistance, and other lifesaving programs, while pushing for even more tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations.

Unfortunately, it is not strange.  It is part of their ideology.  Republicans in Washington have never believed in Medicare, Medicaid, federal assistance in education, or providing any direct government assistance to those in need.  They have always believed that tax breaks for the wealthy and the powerful would somehow miraculously trickle down to every American, despite all history and evidence to the contrary.  So, in that sense, it is not strange at all that they would use the deficit crisis we are now in as an opportunity to balance the budget on the backs of working families, the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor, and work to dismantle every single successful government program that was ever created.

And, that’s exactly what the Ryan Republican budget that was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year – and supported by the vast majority Republicans here in the Senate just last month – would do.  Here are just a few examples:

The Republican budget passed by the House this year would end Medicare as we know it within 10 years.

The non-partisan CBO estimates that under the Ryan proposal, in 2022, a private health care plan for a 65-year-old equivalent to Medicare coverage would cost about $20,500, yet the Republican budget would provide a voucher for only $8,000 of those premiums.  Seniors would be on their own to pay the remaining $12,500 – a full 61% of the total.  How many of the 20 million near-elderly Americans who are now ages 50-54 will be able to afford that?  This approach would transfer control of Medicare to insurers and there would be no guaranteed benefits, essentially ending Medicare as we know it.

The Republican budget would force 4 million seniors in this country to pay $3,500 more, on average, for their prescription drugs by re-opening the Medicare Part D donut hole.

Under the Republican budget, nearly 2 million children would lose their health insurance over the next 5 years by cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance, the Republican budget would cut Medicaid by over $770 billion, causing millions of Americans to lose their health insurance and cutting nursing home assistance in half – threatening the long-term care of some 10 million senior citizens.

The Republican budget would completely repeal the Affordable Health Care Act preventing an estimated 34 million uninsured Americans from getting the health insurance they need.

At a time when the cost of a college education is becoming out of reach for millions of Americans, the Republican budget would slash college Pell grants by about 60% next year alone – reducing the maximum award from $5,550 to about $2,100.

At a time when over 40 million Americans don’t have enough money to feed themselves or their families, the Republican budget would kick up to 10 million Americans off Food Stamps, by slashing this program by more than $125 billion over the next decade.

At a time when our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, the Republican budget passed in the House and supported by all but a handful of Republicans here in the Senate would slash funding for our roads, bridges, rail lines, transit systems, and airports by nearly 40 percent next year alone.

Yet despite the fact that military spending has nearly tripled since 1997, the House Republican budget does nothing to reduce unnecessary defense spending.  In fact, defense spending would go up by $26 billion next year alone under the Republican plan.

Interestingly enough, at a time when the rich are becoming richer, when the effective tax rates for the wealthiest people, at 18 percent, are about the lowest on record, at a time when the wealthiest people have received hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks, at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high and major corporations making billions of dollars pay nothing in taxes, my Republican colleagues, in their approach toward deficit reduction, do not ask the wealthiest people or the largest corporations to contribute one penny more for deficit reduction.

In fact, the Republican budget would keep the good times rolling for those who are already doing phenomenally well – it provides over $1 trillion in tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires by permanently extending all of the Bush income tax cuts; reducing the estate tax for multi-millionaires and billionaires; and lowering the top individual and corporate income tax rate from 35 to 25 percent.

Mr. President, the Republican idea of moving toward a balanced budget is to go after the middle-class, working families, and low-income people, and to make sure the millionaires and billionaires and largest corporations in this country that are doing phenomenally well do not have to share in the sacrifices being made by everybody else. They will be protected.  The Republican approach to deficit reduction in Washington is the Robin Hood philosophy in reverse: taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

And it’s not as if it’s good for our economy.  Mark Zandi, the former economic advisor to John McCain when he was running for president, has estimated that the Republican budget plan will cost 1.7 million jobs by the year 2014, with 900,000 jobs lost next year alone.

The House Republican budget is breathtaking in its degree of cruelty.

But, don’t take my word for it.

In a letter to Congressional leaders after the House GOP plan was introduced, nearly 200 economists and health care experts wrote, “turning Medicare into a voucher program would undermine essential protections for millions of vulnerable people. It would extinguish the most promising approaches to curb costs and to improve the American medical care system.”

Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University, who was a key economic adviser to the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Health Organization, told MSNBC last April that the House Republican plan, “goes right out to destroy Medicaid within the next few years, slashing it drastically. And then on Medicare, it delays [cuts] for 10 years, and then [the House Republican plan] goes out to destroy it, to make sure that elderly people will not have a guaranteed access to health care. They will be getting some premium [support] but they`re going to have to put a lot of money out of pocket.”

Robert Greenstein, the President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said last April that the House Republican budget “proposes a dramatic reverse-Robin-Hood approach that gets the lion’s share of its budget cuts from programs for low-income Americans — the politically and economically weakest group in America and the politically safest group for Ryan to target— even as it bestows extremely large tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Taken together, its proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.”

Ezra Klein, a columnist at the Washington Post wrote last April that “the budget Ryan released is not courageous or serious or significant. It’s a joke, and a bad one.  For one thing, Ryan’s savings all come from cuts, and at least two-thirds of them come from programs serving the poor. The wealthy, meanwhile, would see their taxes lowered, and the Defense Department would escape unscathed. It is not courageous to attack the weak while supporting your party’s most inane and damaging fiscal orthodoxies. But the problem isn’t just that Ryan’s budget is morally questionable. It also wouldn’t work.”

Harold Meyerson, a columnist for the Washington Post wrote on April 5th that “If it does nothing else, the budget that the House Republicans unveiled provides the first real Republican program for the 21st century, and it is this: Repeal the 20th century … Ryan achieves the bulk of his savings through sharp reductions in projected spending on Medicare and Medicaid … Ryan’s budget would also reduce projected spending on discretionary domestic programs — education, transportation, food safety and the like — to well below levels of inflation … The cover under which Ryan and other Republicans operate is their concern for the deficit and national debt. But Ryan blows that cover by proposing to reduce the top income tax rate to just 25 percent. He imposes the burden for reducing our debt not on the bankers who forced our government to spend trillions averting a collapse but on seniors and the poor.”

Mr. Meyerson, concludes by saying this: “There’s talk that we have a president who’s a Democrat — the party that created the American social contract of the 20th century.  Initially, he focused on reshaping and extending that contract into the 21st.  Now that the Republicans want to repeal it all, he’s nowhere to be found. Has anybody seen him? Does he still exist?”

Mr. President, the deficit has been caused by unpaid-for wars, tax breaks for the rich, the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, the bailout of Wall Street, a declining economy, and less revenue coming in.  The Republican “solution” in Washington is to balance the budget on the backs of the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor, to cut back on environmental protection, to cut back on transportation, while providing even more tax breaks to the wealthy and well connected.  That is unacceptable and that is what we have got to stop.

Mr. President, it’s not just rich individuals who are making out like bandits.  As hard as it may be to believe, some of the largest, most profitable corporations in this country are not only avoiding paying any federal income taxes whatsoever, but they are actually receiving tax rebates from the IRS.  And, the Republican response to this reality is to provide even more tax breaks to these corporate freeloaders.  That may make sense to someone.  It does not make sense to me.

Earlier this year, my office published a top ten list of the worst corporate tax avoiders in this country.  I would like to take this opportunity to read this list.  These are just a few of the corporations that the Republicans want to protect, while they are trying to deny millions of Americans health insurance, a college education, and nutrition assistance.  Here are the top ten corporate freeloaders in America today:

1)      Exxon Mobil.  In 2009, Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits.  Not only did Exxon avoid paying any federal income taxes that year, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2)      Bank of America.  Last year, Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and just a couple of years ago received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3)      General Electric.  Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4)      Chevron.  In 2009, Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS after it made $10 billion in profits.

5)      Boeing.  Last year, Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS.

6)      Valero Energy.  Last year, Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7)      Goldman Sachs.  In 2008, Goldman Sachs paid only 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8)      Citigroup.  Last year, Citigroup made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes, even though it received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9)      ConocoPhillips.  ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction during those years.

10)    Carnival Cruise Lines.  Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

In other words, Mr. President, at a time when major corporations such as General Electric and ExxonMobil make billions of dollars in profit, and pay nothing in federal income taxes, the Republican plan is to provide them with even more tax breaks.

Mr. President, large corporations are sitting on a record-breaking $2 trillion in cash.  The problem is not that corporations are taxed too much.  The problem is that consumers don’t have enough money to buy their products and the Republican agenda would make that far worse.

Corporate tax revenue last year was down by 27% compared to 2000, even though corporate profits are up 60 percent over the last decade.

Large corporations and the wealthy are avoiding $100 billion in taxes every year by setting up offshore tax shelters in places like the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Bahamas.  Ending that anti-American shell game could raise $1 trillion over 10 years toward deficit reduction.

In 2005, 1 out of 4 large corporations paid no income taxes at all even though they collected $1.1 trillion in revenue.  The simple truth is that if we are going to reduce the deficit in a responsible way, we have got to make sure that profitable corporations pay their fair share.

Now, I understand that my Republican friends, and quite frankly some of my Democratic friends, will do everything they can to protect the wealthy and the powerful, even if it means destroying the lives of millions of Americans in the process.

But, what we need to understand, what the President needs to understand, is that poll after poll after poll shows that the Republican plan to make savage cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and education, while providing even more tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations, is way out of touch with what the American people want.

Let me just read to you a few of these polls.

According to a recent Boston Globe poll of likely voters in New Hampshire, perhaps the most anti-tax state in this country, 73% support raising taxes on people making over $250,000 a year; 78% oppose cutting Medicare; 71% oppose cutting Medicaid; and 76% oppose cutting Social Security.

Now, Mr. President, you may be saying to yourself well, that was just one poll, and it was only polling one state.  Clearly, that must have been an aberration.

Wrong.  National poll after national poll have almost mirrored what New Hampshire voters are saying.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found the following:

  • 81 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to impose a surtax on millionaires to reduce the deficit.
  • 74 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to eliminate tax credits for the oil and gas industry.
  • 68 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to phase out the Bush tax cuts for families earning over $250,000 a year.
  • 76 percent of the American people believe it is totally acceptable or mostly acceptable to eliminate funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says are not necessary.
  • 76 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Medicare to significantly reduce the budget deficit.
  • 77 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Social Security to significantly reduce the deficit.
  • 67 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Medicaid to significantly reduce the deficit.
  • 77 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut funding for K-12 education to significantly reduce the deficit.
  • 56 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut Head Start.
  • 59 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut college student loans.
  • And, 65 percent believe it is totally unacceptable or mostly unacceptable to cut heating assistance to low income families.

And, while the leaders of the Tea Party movement in Washington are fighting to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid and getting the vast majority of Republicans in Congress to follow their marching orders, 70% of those who identify themselves with the Tea Party outside of the beltway oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid to reduce the deficit, according to a recent McClatchy Poll.

Mr. President, here is the last poll I would like to highlight.  It was done by the Washington Post and ABC News, and here is what it says:

  • 72% of Americans support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 to reduce the national debt – including 91% of Democrats; 68% of Independents; and 54% of Republicans.

Yet, Mr. President, there does not seem to be one Republican in Washington, DC, who would support raising taxes on the wealthiest two percent of Americans – those earning over $250,000 a year to reduce the deficit.  Only in Washington is it considered a controversial idea to make the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share.

Instead of listening to millionaire and billionaire campaign contributors, it is time for our leaders in Washington to start listening to the overwhelming majority of Americans who want the wealthiest people in this country and the most profitable corporations in this country to contribute to deficit reduction.  It is time for shared sacrifice.  The middle class, the elderly, the sick, the children, and the poor have already sacrificed enough in terms of lost jobs, lost wages, lost pensions, and lost homes.  When are the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations going to be asked to pay their fair share?  If not now, when?

And, the fact of the matter is, Mr. President, that moving towards deficit reduction in a way that’s fair is not quite as complicated as the American people have been led to believe by the corporate media and right wing think tanks.

In fact, if you are not beholden to Wall Street, large corporations and wealthy campaign contributors, and you are not scared to death of the unlimited number of 30 second ads they may run against you, it is actually quite easy.

I know many people have different ideas about how we might move towards a balanced budget.  I am not saying that I have all of the answers.  But, let me just give a few examples of how we can reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion dollars over the next decade that asks the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share and does not unfairly harm ordinary Americans.

First, if we simply repealed the Bush tax breaks for the top two percent, we could raise at least $700 billion over the next decade.  The Republicans claim that repealing these tax breaks would increase unemployment.  They are wrong.  These tax breaks have been in place for over a decade and they have not led to a single net private sector job.  In fact, under the eight years of President Bush, the private sector lost over 600,000 jobs and the deficit exploded.  When President Clinton increased taxes on the top two percent, over 22 million jobs were created, and the revenue generated from this policy led to a $236 billion budget surplus.

Secondly, a 5.4 percent surtax on millionaires and billionaires would raise more than $383 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Tax Committee.  As I said earlier, a millionaire’s surtax has the support of 81 percent of the American people according to NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

Third, Mr. President, the U.S. government is actually rewarding companies that move U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas through loopholes in the tax code known as deferral and foreign source income.  This is unacceptable.  During the last decade, the U.S. lost about 30% of its manufacturing jobs and over 50,000 factories have been shut down.

If we ended the absurdity of providing tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas, the Joint Tax Committee has estimated that we could raise more than $582 billion in revenue over the next ten years.  Right now we have a tax policy that says that if you shut down a manufacturing plant in America, and move to China, the IRS will give you a tax break.  That may make sense to corporate CEOs.  It doesn’t make sense to me.

Fourth, Mr. President, if we ended tax breaks and subsidies for big oil and gas companies, we could reduce the deficit by more than $40 billion over the next ten years.  The five largest oil companies in the United States have earned about $1 trillion in profits over the past decade.  Meanwhile, in recent years, some of the very largest oil companies in America like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, as I pointed out earlier, have paid absolutely nothing in Federal income taxes. In fact, some of them have actually gotten a rebate from the IRS.  That has got to stop.

Fifth, Mr. President, if we prohibited abusive and illegal offshore tax shelters, we could reduce the deficit by up to $1 trillion over the next decade.  Each and every year, the United States loses an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues due to offshore tax abuses by the wealthy and large corporations.  The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Cayman Islands is now the “home” to more than 18,000 corporations.  That is wrong.  The wealthy and large corporations should not be allowed to avoid paying taxes by setting up tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas or other tax haven countries.

Sixth, Mr. President, if we established a Wall Street speculation fee of less than one percent on the sale and purchase of credit default swaps, derivatives, stock options and futures, we could reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade.  Both the economic crisis and the deficit crisis are a direct result of the greed and recklessness on Wall Street.  Establishing a speculation fee would reduce gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy, and significantly reduce the deficit without harming average Americans.

There are a number of precedents for this. The U.S had a similar Wall Street speculation fee from 1914 to 1966. The Revenue Act of 1914 levied a 0.2% tax on all sales or transfers of stock.  In 1932, Congress more than doubled that tax to help finance the government during the Great Depression. And today, England has a financial transaction tax of 0.25 percent, a penny on every $4 invested.

Number seven, Mr. President, if we taxed capital gains and dividends, the same way that we tax work, we could raise more than $730 billion over the next decade.  Warren Buffet has often said that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.  And, today the effective tax rate of the richest 400 Americans, who earn an average of more than $280 million each year, is just 18 percent, lower than most nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers pay.  The reason for this is that the wealthy obtain most of their income from capital gains and dividends, which is taxed at a much lower rate than work.  Right now, the top marginal income tax for working is 35%, but the tax rate on corporate dividends and capital gains is only 15%.  Taxing wealth and work at the same rate could raise more than $730 billion over a ten-year period – and it’s the right thing to do.

Number eight, if we established a progressive estate tax on inherited wealth of more than $3.5 million, we could raise more than $70 billion over 10 years.  Last year, I introduced the Responsible Estate Tax Act that would reduce the deficit in a fair way while ensuring that 99.7 percent of Americans who lose a loved one would never have to pay a dime in federal estate taxes.

Number nine, we have got to reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon, which now consumes over half of our discretionary budget.  Since 1997, our defense budget has virtually tripled going from $254 billion to $700 billion.

Defense experts such as Lawrence Korb, an Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, has estimated that we could achieve significant savings of around $100 billion a year at the Pentagon while still ensuring that the United States has the strongest and most powerful military in the world.

For example, as a result of four separate investigations that I requested, the GAO has found that the Pentagon has $36.9 billion in spare parts that it does not need and which are collecting dust in government warehouses.  We have got to do a much better job than that.

And, much of the huge spending at the Pentagon is devoted to spending money on Cold War weapons programs to fight a Soviet Union that no longer exists.  That has got to stop.

Further, we also must end the unnecessary War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan as soon as possible.  These wars have gone on long enough.  Reducing Pentagon spending by at least $900 billion over 10 years is something that we can and must do.

Number 10, if we required Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, we could save over $157 billion over 10 years.  As a result of the Medicare Part D prescription drug legislation signed into law under President George W. Bush, Medicare is prohibited from negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prices for seniors.  This is wrong.  Requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices could save the federal government and seniors over $15 billion a year.

Number 11, if we enacted a robust public option or a Medicare-for-all health insurance program, we would be able to save more than $68 billion over the next decade and provide affordable health insurance coverage for millions of Americans.

Number 12, Mr. President, as almost everyone knows, China is manipulating its currency, giving it an unfair trade advantage over the United States and destroying decent paying manufacturing jobs in the process.  If we imposed a currency manipulation fee on China and other low wage countries, the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that we could raise $500 billion over 10 years and create 1 million jobs in the process.

Finally, Mr. President, I think just about everyone agrees that there is waste, fraud, and abuse in every agency of the federal government.  Rooting out this waste, fraud, and abuse could save about $200 billion over the next 10 years.

Mr. President, if we did all of these things we could easily reduce the deficit by well over $4 trillion over the next decade, if not much more.  It would be done in a fair way, and it would not unnecessarily and needlessly ruin the lives of millions of Americans who are struggling desperately just to make ends meet.

Mr. President, the radical right wing agenda of more tax breaks for the wealthy paid for by the dismantling of Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition, and the environment may be popular in the country clubs and cocktail parties of the rich and powerful, but it is way out of touch with what the overwhelming majority of Americans want.

Mr. President, as you know, late last week, Congressman Eric Cantor, the Republican Majority Leader in the House and Senator Jon Kyl, the Republican Minority Whip in the House walked out of the budget negotiations being led by Vice President Joe Biden.

And, the reason they walked out was clear.  They were not willing to close one single loophole in the tax code that allows the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying taxes by stashing their money in the Cayman Islands.  They were unwilling to stop tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, or close tax loopholes that give billionaires like Warren Buffet the ability to pay lower effective tax rates than their secretaries.

There is apparently no end as to how far the Republican leadership will go in Washington to protect their wealthy campaign contributors, even if it means allowing the federal debt limit to expire and causing another depression.

My sincere hope is that the President will use this Republican walkout as an opportunity to rally the American people and make it clear that he will never support Republican demands to move toward a balanced budget solely on the backs of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor.

But, I don’t think that the President will do this unless the American people send him a message that enough is enough!  The American people have got to write to the President and tell him not to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable people in this country.  Do not decimate Medicare, Medicaid, Pell Grants, education, and the environment to pay for more tax breaks for the rich and powerful.  Stand up for the millions, who have seen their homes, jobs, and savings vanish, instead of the millionaires, who have never had it so good.

For those of you who are listening to this speech, if you believe that enough is enough, if you believe in shared sacrifice, if you believe that it is time for the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations to contribute to deficit reduction, go to my website: sanders.senate.gov.  At this website, you will find a letter to the White House that you can sign – let me read what it says:

“Dear Mr. President,

This is a pivotal moment in the history of our country. Decisions are being made about the national budget that will impact the lives of virtually every American for decades to come. As we address the issue of deficit reduction we must not ignore the painful economic reality of today – which is that the wealthiest people in our country and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing.  In fact, the United States today has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.

Everyone understands that over the long-term we have got to reduce the deficit – a deficit that was caused mainly by Wall Street greed, tax breaks for the rich, two wars, and a prescription drug program written by the drug and insurance companies. It is absolutely imperative, however, that as we go forward with deficit reduction we completely reject the Republican approach that demands savage cuts in desperately-needed programs for working families, the elderly, the sick, our children and the poor, while not asking the wealthiest among us to contribute one penny.

Mr. President, please listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people who believe that deficit reduction must be about shared sacrifice. The wealthiest Americans and the most profitable corporations in this country must pay their fair share.  At least 50 percent of any deficit reduction package must come from revenue raised by ending tax breaks for the wealthy and eliminating tax loopholes that benefit large, profitable corporations and Wall Street financial institutions.  A sensible deficit reduction package must also include significant cuts to unnecessary and wasteful Pentagon spending.

Please do not yield to outrageous Republican demands that would greatly increase suffering for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society.  Now is the time to stand with the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to survive economically, not with the millionaires and billionaires who have never had it so good.”

If you’re listening out there, and agree with what I am saying, but are wondering what you can do to make a difference, I would urge you to consider signing this letter.  Staying silent and doing nothing is not an option.  Your voice needs to be heard and you can make a difference.

Mr. President, we have seen this movie before.  The Republicans, led by their extreme right wing, have been successful in getting their way because of their refusal to compromise and their willingness to hold the good credit and economic security of the American people hostage.

In December, the Republican leadership was prepared to hold the middle class tax cuts and unemployment benefits hostage in order to extend the Bush tax breaks for the top two percent.  The Republicans won and as a result over $200 billion was added to the deficit over the next two years.

Specifically, the December tax cut agreement extended the Bush income tax rates for those earning more than $250,000; maintained lower tax rates on capital gains and dividends; and lowered the estate tax which only benefits the top 0.3 percent.

Let me remind, my colleagues who the biggest winners were from last December’s tax cut agreement.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, extending the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent has provided Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corporation, with an estimated $1.3 million tax break.

Tom Donohue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has urged American corporations to ship jobs overseas, will receive an estimated $215,000 tax break from this deal.

Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, whose bank received a bailout of over $160 billion from the Federal Reserve, will receive an estimated $1.1 million tax break from this deal.

Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, a bank that got more than $2.5 trillion in near zero interest loans from the Fed, will receive an estimated $785,000 tax break by extending the Bush tax cuts.

Ken Lewis, the former CEO of Bank of America, a bank that got nearly a trillion dollars in low interest loans from the Fed, will receive an estimated $713,000 tax break.

The CEO of Wells Fargo (John Stumpf), whose bank got a $25 billion bailout, will receive an $813,000 tax break from this deal.

The CEO of Morgan Stanley (John Mack), whose bank got more than $2 trillion in low interest loans from the Fed, will receive a $926,000 tax break from this agreement.

The CEO of Aetna (Ronald Williams) will receive a tax break worth $875,000.

The CEO of Cigna (David Cordani) will receive a $350,000 tax break.  And, on and on it goes.

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class disappears.  That is what is going on in this country today.

Then, Mr. President, In April, the Republicans in Congress were prepared to shut down the government, disrupt the economy, and deny paychecks to 800,000 federal workers if they couldn’t get their way in slashing programs for low and moderate income Americans.  As a result, the President and this Congress agreed to virtually everything the Republicans wanted by enacting a budget that slashed $78 billion from the President’s request.

Let me give you just a few examples of what kinds of cuts were included in this year’s spending agreement:

At a time when college education has become unaffordable for many, Pell grants are now being reduced by an estimated $35 billion over 10 years.

At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance, at a time when we have a crisis in access to primary care, and at a time when 45,000 Americans die each and every year because they delay seeking care they cannot afford, the 2011 spending agreement cut $600 million from community health centers and $3.5 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

At a time when we should be putting Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, federal funding for new high-speed rail projects was eliminated.  In other words, the rich get richer, while the needs of ordinary Americans are attacked.

And, today, the Republican Leadership has made it clear that, unless they get their way on implementing a significant part of the Ryan budget in 2012, they are prepared to vote against raising the debt ceiling.  If the debt ceiling is not extended, the United States will, for the first time in history, default on its debt and likely plunge the world’s financial markets into a major crisis.  Yet that is just what the Republican leadership and its members are threatening to do.  Shame on them.

Mr. President, in many ways, the Republicans in Washington have been acting like school yard bullies.  And, as we know, bullying is a serious problem in our schools.  Every educator worth his or her salt will tell you that when you’re dealing with a bully, you must not give into their tactics or tolerate their temper tantrums – you have to deal with them sternly and consistently.  You cannot allow them to win by dictating the rules of the game and trampling over everyone else if they don’t get their way.

Mr. President, we have a serious deficit problem that must be solved, no one would deny it.

But the problem is not that we spend too much on the needs of the elderly and have to slash Social Security; the problem is that we have provided hundreds of billions in tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need them and in many cases don’t want them.

The problem is not that we spend too much money on financial aid for college and have to slash Pell Grants.  The average college senior today is graduating with $24,000 in debt.  The problem is that each and every year, large corporations and the wealthiest in our society are avoiding $100 billion in federal taxes through tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and other places throughout the world.

The problem is not that we are spending too much on childcare.  Childcare is increasingly becoming out of reach for too many American families.  The problem is that about one out of four large and profitable corporations in this country do not pay any federal income taxes, and in many cases get a tax rebate from the IRS.

The problem is not that we spend too much money to reduce childhood poverty in this country.  We have the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world!  The problem is that when all is said and done we will have spent $3 trillion on the unnecessary and misguided Iraq War.

Mr. President, the problem is that this deficit was caused by actions voted for by nearly all of my Republican friends: the wars, tax breaks for the rich, Medicare Part D, and the Wall Street Bailout.  In the middle of a recession when the middle class and working families are already hurting, when poverty is increasing it is not only immoral, it is bad economics to balance the budget on working families and the most vulnerable people in this country.

When people are hurting, when they have lost their jobs, when their incomes are going down, you do not say to those people: We are throwing you off Medicaid. We are going to end Medicare as we know it, we are going to cut back on Federal aid to education so your kid cannot go to college. That is not what you say in a humane and fair society.

On the other hand, at the same time as the wealthiest people are becoming phenomenally wealthier, and when large corporations are making huge profits, and in many cases not paying any taxes at all, it is entirely appropriate – in fact, it is a moral imperative – to say to those people: Sorry, you are also American. You have got to participate in shared sacrifice. You have also got to help us reduce the deficit.

That is where we are right now. We are at a pivotal moment in the midst of a major debate, but it is not only on financial issues. It is very much a philosophical debate. It is a debate about which side you are on. Do you continue to give tax breaks to the very rich and make savage cuts for working families, for children, the elderly, the poor, the most vulnerable?

Mr. President, another thing that is rarely mentioned on the floor of the Senate is the $3 trillion Federal Reserve bailout, that was only fully made public after I inserted an amendment into the Dodd-Frank Act last year to require that it be made public.

As it turns out, while small business owners in the State of Vermont and throughout this country were being turned down for loans, not only did large financial institutions receive substantial help from the Fed, but also some of the largest corporations in this country also received help in terms of very low interest loans.

And, here is something we also learned: this bailout was not just about American banks and corporations but foreign banks and foreign corporations also received hundreds of billions of dollars from the Fed as well.

Then, on top of that, a number of the wealthiest individuals in this country also received a major bailout from the Fed. The “emergency response,” which is what the Fed described their action as during the Wall Street collapse, appears to any objective observer to have been the clearest case that I can imagine of socialism for the very rich and rugged free market individualism for everybody else.

In other words, if you are a huge financial institution, like Goldman Sachs, whose recklessness and greed caused this great recession, no problem. You get almost $800 bilion in near zero interest rate loans from the Fed.  If you are a major American corporation, such as General Electric or McDonald’s or Caterpillar or Harley-Davidson or Verizon, no problem. You received a major handout from the U.S. Government.

But if you are a senior citizen living in a nursing home paid for by Medicaid, well, guess what, you are on your own.

If you are an elderly person who cannot afford to heat their homes in the winter when the temperature is 20 below zero, tough luck.  We don’t have any money for you.  But, if you happen to be the state-owned Bank of Bavaria — not Pennsylvania, not California, but Bavaria — the Federal Reserve has enough money to loan you over $2.2 billion by purchasing your commercial paper.

The Fed said this bailout was necessary in order to prevent the world economy from going over a cliff.  But over 3 years after the start of the recession, millions of Americans remain unemployed and have lost their homes, their life savings, and their ability to send their kids to college.  Meanwhile, huge banks and large corporations have returned to making incredible profits and paying their executives record-breaking compensation packages, as if the financial crisis they started never occurred.

Mr. President, everyone understands that over the long-term we have got to reduce our record-breaking $14.2 trillion national debt.  But, we must reduce the deficit in a fair way and not balance the budget solely on the backs of the middle class, the sick, the elderly, the children and the poor.

That means we absolutely must tell the wealthy and large corporations that it is high time that they to pay their fair share in taxes.  And, that means that the President has got to stand tall and stand firm and let the American people know that if we do default on our debt obligations, if America and the world economy is plunged into a depression, it was because the Republicans refused to raise the taxes of the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations in this country by one red cent.

Shared sacrifice isn’t just good public policy, it is also what the American people want.  Overwhelming majorities of the American people believe that the best way to reduce the deficit is to end tax breaks for the wealthy, big oil, Wall Street, and that we must bring our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s about time that Washington listened to the American people.  Let’s reduce the deficit.  But, let’s do it in a fair and responsible way that requires shared sacrifice from the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations.

I thank the President and I yield the floor.

Trickle-Down Cruelty And The Politics Of Austerity

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm

In Philadelphia, budget cuts have led to fire departments closing on a daily rotating basis, delaying response time. (Photo: Sam Blackman)

Oldspeak:”Austerity porn functions within the current political climate to promote deficits in order to return the United States to the Gilded Age policies of the 1920s. What should be clear is that the politics of austerity is not about rethinking priorities to benefit the public good. Instead, it has become part of a discourse of shame, one that has little to do with using indignation to imagine a better world. On the contrary, shame is now used to wage a war on the poor rather than poverty, on young people rather than those economic and political forces that undermine their future and on those considered other rather than on the underlying structures and ideologies of various forms of state and individual racism.” Henry A. Giroux The fear-mongering being propagated 24-7 on your corporate news networks is designed to prepare the population for the in progress implementation of shock doctrine based “Austeriy Measures” and “Structural Adjustment Policies” which facilitate privatization of all things public to the great benefit of the Financial-Industrial Complex, and a complete full functioning corptalitarian state. For their invaluable help in selling the U.S. out from under its people, the corptalitarian elites, ensure continued control by spending untold millions  for their minions in politricks with (thanks to Citizens United vs. F.E.C.) reelection campaigns and other rarely disclosed perks and advantages.

 

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

There is a certain irony in the fact that the party of debt has now become a flock of austerity hawks. This is the same Republican Party that gave us two wars, an increase in military spending and whopping loss of tax revenues due to tax breaks for mega-rich corporations and the wealthy Americans. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman raises the question of what happened to the federal government budget surplus of 2000 and insists that the answer is, “three main things. First, there were the Bush tax cuts, which added roughly $2 trillion to the national debt over the last decade. Second, there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which added an additional $1.1 trillion or so. And third was the Great Recession, which led both to a collapse in revenue and to a sharp rise in spending on unemployment insurance and other safety-net programs.”(1) All told, President George W. Bush added $4 trillion to the national debt – and there was no debate about raising the debt ceiling at that time, which was raised seven times.(2) What is often missed in these discussions is that deficits have always been the objectives of hard right-wing Republicans and some equally conservative democrats who see them as an excuse for cutting social benefits and generating massive amounts of inequality that benefit the rich.(3) Michael Tomasky further legitimizes this claim with the charge that “the Republican Party cares nothing about the public debt. In fact, it wants more … It is the party of debt. It is the party of deficits. It is the party of recession. It is the party of unemployment. It is the party of inequality. And it is the party of middle-class stagnation and slippage…. They scream about crisis because what they desire is to use the crisis as an excuse to do things to this country that the hard right has wanted to do for 30 years.”(4) What Tomasky leaves out is that the current crop of right-wing Republicans controlling the shots in Washington and various states appear to revel in “a deep urge to inflict pain.”(5) How else to explain that during recent debt negotiations between leaders of both parties, the Republican leadership walked out as soon as the Democrats suggested the need to talk about not only cutting programs that benefit the poor, but also limiting tax breaks for corporate jets, hedge-fund managers, the obscenely wealthy and corporations.

According to the children of Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan, “free-market economics,” individual interests and needs trumped social needs; brilliant individuals were more qualified to run government and largely blossomed within institutions committed to making money; freedom was largely defined as freedom from regulation; and any government that passed policies to provide social protections, regulate corporations, or lessen inequality were either grossly authoritarian or unwise. In this scenario, especially under the administration of Ronald Reagan, government was declared the enemy and the market was turned into a form of casino capitalism as a series of policies were inaugurated in which there was a sustained assault on the working and middle classes through “the busting of unions, the export of millions of decent-paying jobs and the transfer of enormous wealth to the already rich. The tax rates for the wealthiest were slashed about in half. Greed was incentivized.”(6) Accordingly, the ideologues of casino capitalism believed that as the rich and corporations paid less taxes and inequality was left unchecked, society as a whole would benefit, wealth would trickle down. Of course, what has actually happened in the last decade with the unchecked, Wild West, Bush-type casino capitalism is that wages for workers have stagnated; the top 1 percent of the population has gotten fabulously wealthy; health care has deteriorated for the vast majority of the population; schools have been turned into test centers; the nation’s infrastructure has been allowed to rot; and, more recently, millions of people have lost their jobs, homes, and hope. Moreover, two-thirds of US corporations paid no taxes. For example, Bank of America has not paid any taxes for the last two years.(7) At the same time, increases in inequality in the United States dwarf the rest of the world, while increases in executive pay undercuts any claim we might have on democracy.

The working and middle classes have been condemned to a new form of neoliberal tyranny “in which there can be only one kind of value, market value; one kind of success, profit; one kind of existence, commodities; and one kind of social relationship, markets.”(8) The global recession has intensified the war on the American public, as professionals and politicians who make up a global business class now displace democracy with the call for austerity and, in doing so, produce a hidden order of politics in which the “demand for the people’s austerity hides processes of the uneven distribution of risk and vulnerability.”(9) Under the guise of austerity, politically motivated attacks are now being waged on young people, low-skilled workers, the poor, African-Americans and the elderly. On the other hand, austerity measures against the rich are almost nonexistent. Richard D. Wolff provides the details in looking at what he calls “some alternative ‘reasonable’ kinds of austerity.” He writes:

Serious efforts to collect income taxes from US-based multinational corporations, especially those who use internal pricing mechanisms to escape US taxation, would generate vast new federal revenues. The same applies to wealthy individuals. The US has no federal property tax on holdings of stocks, bonds and cash accounts (states and localities levy no such property taxes either). If the federal government levied a 1 per cent tax on assets between $100,000 to 499,000 and 1.5 per cent on assets above $500,000, that would raise much new federal revenue (everyone’s first $100,000 could be exempted just as the existing US income tax exempts the first few thousands of dollars of individual incomes). Exiting the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters would do likewise. Ending tax exemptions for super-rich private educational institutions (Harvard, Yale, etc.) and for religious institutions (church-goers would then need to pay the costs of their churches) would be among the many other such alternative “reasonable” austerity measures. Comparable alternatives apply – and are being struggled over – in other countries.(10)

One side effect of this blatant, if not corrupt mode of austerity is what I call the politics of trickle-down cruelty. This is evident in policies in which austerity-based cuts are used to reward corporations and billionaires with tax breaks, while simultaneously exploiting the budget crisis in order to eliminate protections provided by the welfare state. The resulting reductions in state spending have drastically cut many basic social services so as to endanger the lives of many young people and others at the margins of society structured in massive financial inequality. For example, in Philadelphia “fire departments have been closed on a daily rotating basis” delaying response time. One unfortunate and possibly preventable consequence occurred “when two children were pulled from a burning row home too little too late…. Mike Kane of the Philadelphia Firefighters Union Local 22 said there was no way to tell whether the children would have lived had the fire station been open, but if not for the brownouts, ‘maybe them kids would have had a shot.’”(11) In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that effectively denied health care to over 47,000 low-income children.(12) More recently, a 59-year-old man in Gastonia, North Carolina, robbed a bank for $1 so he could get health care in America. He handed the teller a note asking for only a dollar and medical attention. He sat in a chair in the bank waiting for the police to arrive. As he pointed out to the press, he had lost his job of 17 years as a Coca Cola deliveryman and ended up taking a part-time position in a convenience store. But the work was backbreaking, compounded by the fact that he had arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and a painful lump on his chest. With no health insurance, he decided that his best option was to rob a bank and get health care in prison.(13) We also hear about the return of debtors’ prisons, which were abolished in the US in the 19th century. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that “people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts” and that in some cases “people stay in jail until they raise minimum payment. In January [2010] a judge sentenced a Kenney, Ill., man to ‘indefinite incarceration’ until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard debt.”(14) Joy Uhlmeyer, a 57-year-old patient care advocate spent 16 hours in jail because she missed a court hearing over a credit card debt.(15) Surely, it is hard to miss the irony of putting someone in jail for not paying a small debt while, as Matt Taibbi has pointed out, law enforcement under the Obama regime has not convicted a “single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom – and industry wide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities – has ever been convicted.”(16) These financial crooks hid billions from investors and ripped off the American people so as to cause untold suffering and hardship. And, yet, law enforcement does not consider them liable for the crimes they committed, and the Obama administration rewards them with a weak regulatory laws and an open season on obscene bonuses. Such stories serve as flashpoints about a society. And as Zygmunt Bauman points out, even though they may tell us little about deeper causal connections, they “prod the imagination. And sound an alert. They appeal to the conscience as well as to survival instincts…. [They also show] that the ideal that one can ‘do it alone’ is a fatal mistake which defies the purpose of self-concern and self-care.”(17)

All of these examples point to the collateral damage invoked by a casino capitalism that now takes austerity as its clarion call to gut social protections and weaken the rights of labor and unions. Moreover, austerity in this instance is designed to reward the fabulously wealthy while imposing in some cases poverty, suffering and severe hardship on those marginalized by race, disability and class. For many people, these examples I have noted above suggest that the writing is on the wall regarding their future and the message is dark indeed. Complaints by right-wing politicians and conservative pundits about the growing federal deficit and their call for a harsh politics of austerity are both hypocritical and disingenuous. Hypocritical, given their support for massive tax breaks for the rich, and disingenuous, given their blatantly transparent goal of implementing a market-based agenda that imposes the burden of decreased government services and benefits on the backs of the poor, young people, the unemployed, the working class and middle-class individuals and families. As Wolff’s quote suggested above, in this transparent scenario, austerity measures apply to the poor, but not to the rich, who continue to thrive under polices that produce government bailouts, support deficit-producing wars, tax breaks for the wealthy and deregulation policies that benefit powerful corporations. The conservative and right-wing politicians and policy wonks calling for shared sacrifices made in the name of balancing budgets have no interest in promoting justice, equality and the public good. Their policies maximize self-interest, support a culture of organized irresponsibility, and expand the pathologies of inequality, military spending and poverty. Austerity porn functions within the current political climate to promote deficits in order to return the United States to the Gilded Age policies of the 1920s.(18)

This conservative assault is not just about the enactment of reactionary government policies, it is also about the proliferation of a culture of cruelty whose collateral damage is harsh and brutalizing, especially for young people, the unemployed, the elderly, the poor, and a number of other individuals and groups now bearing the burden of worst economic recession since the 1920s. Cruelty in this instance is not meant to simply reference the character flaws of the rich or to appeal to a form of left moralism, but to register the effects especially since the 1970s of how the institutions of capital, wealth and power merge not only to generate vast modes of inequality, but also to inflict immense amounts of pain and suffering upon the lives of the poor, working people, the middle class, the elderly, immigrants and young people.(19) What should be clear is that the politics of austerity is not about rethinking priorities to benefit the public good. Instead, it has become part of a discourse of shame, one that has little to do with using indignation to imagine a better world. On the contrary, shame is now used to wage a war on the poor rather than poverty, on young people rather than those economic and political forces that undermine their future and on those considered other rather than on the underlying structures and ideologies of various forms of state and individual racism.

As the welfare state is dismantled, it is being replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state, as social problems are increasingly criminalized and social protections are either eliminated or fatally weakened. The harsh values of this new social order can be seen in the increasing incarceration of young people, the modeling of public schools after prisons, harsh anti-immigration laws and state policies that bail out investment bankers but leave the middle and working classes in a state of poverty, despair and insecurity. For poor youth of color and adults, the prison-industrial complex is particularly lethal. Michelle Alexander has pointed out that there are more African-American men under the control of the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850 and that, because of the war on drugs, four out of five black youth in some communities can expect to be either in prison or “caught up in the criminal justice system at some point in their lives.”(20) In states such as Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, new immigration laws “make it impossible for people without papers to live without fear. They give new powers to local police untrained in immigration law. They force businesses to purge work forces and schools to check students’ immigration status. And they greatly increase the danger of unreasonable searches, false arrests, racial profiling, and other abuses, not just against immigrants, but anyone who may look like some officer’s idea of an illegal immigrant…. The laws also make it illegal to give a ride to the undocumented, so a son could land in jail for driving his mother to the supermarket, or a church volunteer for ferrying families to a soup kitchen.”(21) The Obama administration fares no better on punishing immigrants. In fact, its stance on immigration suggests something about its own misplaced priorities in that it refuses to prosecute Wall Street crooks and CIA thugs who tortured men, women and children in Iraq. And, yet, “it has used its criminal justice system and law enforcement apparatus to deport 393,000 people, at a cost of $5 billion.”(22) White-collar crooks produce global financial havoc because of their crooked deals and go scot-free while illegal immigrants looking for work that most Americans will not perform are put in jail.

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The trickle-down cruelty of the anti-tax, anti-public and anti-government extremists is on full display in Minnesota where Republicans have refused Gov. Mark Dayton’s call for a tax on “the 7,700 Minnesotans who make more than $1 million a year” in order to raise revenue to address the state’s budget deficit. Rather than tax the rich, Republican legislators have called for slashing “billions from … education, health care and safety programs” and, in order to get their way, have literally shut down state government.(23) The result is that 22,000 workers have been laid off, child care subsidies have dried up and essential services for the poor have been suspended, all so taxes on the rich will not be raised. The mean-spirited Gov. of New Jersey, Chris Christie, has followed the same playbook and has used his veto to eliminate $1.3 billion in spending, most of it for schools, Medicaid and aid to cities. But he also cut much smaller items favored by Democrats, like programs to help abused children and provide legal aid to the poor.

The culture of cruelty, illegal legalities and political illiteracy can also be seen in the practice of socialism for the rich. This is a practice in which government supports for the poor, unemployed, sick and elderly are derided because they either contribute to an increase in the growing deficit or they undermine the market-driven notion of individual responsibility. And yet, the same critics defend without irony government support for the ultra-wealthy, the bankers, the permanent war economy, or any number of subsidies for corporations as essential to the life of the nation, which is simply an argument that benefits the rich and powerful and legitimizes the deregulated Wild West of casino capitalism. As public services are eliminated, health insurance cut for over a million kids and teachers and public workers are laid off, corporate profits have soared and Wall Street executives are having a bonus year. The average worker in the United States made $39,000 in 2010 and got a 0.5 percent pay increase, which amounted to $40,100. According to The New York Times, “the median pay for top executives at 200 big companies last year was $10.8 million. That works out to a 23 percent gain from 2009.”(24)

The moral obscenity that characterizes such salaries becomes clear at a time when 14 million people are looking for work, millions are losing their homes and thousands of families are trying to survive on food stamps. How can any society that calls itself democratic and egalitarian justify salaries that are so grotesquely high that it is difficult to imagine how such wealth can be spent? For example, how can anyone justify paying CEOs such as Philippe P. Dauman, the head of Viacom, $85 million in 2010? Or for that matter, the $32.9 million paid to Michael White of DirecTV?(25) The hidden order of politics and culture of cruelty comes into play when it is revealed that Mark G. Parker, the CEO of Nike, got $13.1 million in 2010 and cut 1,750 jobs, while Peter L. Lynch, the CEO of Winn-Dixie, got $5.3 million and cut 2000 jobs. One of the worst offenders is Michael Duke, the CEO of Wal-Mart, who got $18.7 million in pay in 2010 while eliminating 13,000 jobs.(26) Even more alarming is that some of these bonuses paid to risk-taking bankers were paid for, in part, with taxpayer’s money. For example, Benjamin M. Friedman writing in The New York Review of Books claims that this is precisely what happened in the case of the bonuses paid to Citigroup’s executives. He writes:

Despite the destruction of so much of the stockholders’ value and notwithstanding the enormous taxpayer assistance, Citi’s management announced in the spring of 2009 that it was paying out $5.3 billion on bonuses for 2008, including payments of more than $5 million apiece to forty-four employees of the bank. Because of the $45 billion investment of AARP and TIP money, by 2009 the US government was Citigroups’s largest shareowner. Hence the issue these lavish bonuses raised was not merely a private firm’s right to set its employees’ compensation. What Citi’s management was giving away was, in significant part, the taxpayers’ money. Yet the Obama administration voiced no objection, at least not publicly.(27)

What is daunting about all of these figures beyond being partly subsidized by taxpayer money and the human costs in hardship and suffering is that executive pay raises not only deepen inequality in the United States, lay off workers in order to deepen the pockets of rich CEOs, but they also concentrate enormous amounts of political, economic and social power in the hands of a few individuals and corporations. In the end, such practices contribute to massive amounts of suffering on the part of millions of Americans; they corrupt politics and they undermine the promise of a viable democracy. Frank Rich expands this critique in arguing, “As good times roar back for corporate America, it’s bad enough that CEOs are collectively sitting on some $1.9 trillion? America’s total expenditure on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars over a decade has been $1.3 trillion. But what’s most galling is how many of these executives are sore winners, crying all the way to palm each while raking in record profits and paying some of the lowest tax rates over the past 50 years.”(28)

Of course, this form of economic Darwinism is not enforced simply through the use of a government in the hands of right-wing corporate extremists, a conservative Supreme Court or reliance upon the police and other repressive apparatuses; it is also endlessly reproduced through the cultural apparatuses of the new and old media, public and higher education, as well as through the thousands of messages and narratives we are exposed to daily in multiple commercial spheres. In this discourse, the economic order is either sanctioned by God or exists simply as an extension of nature. In other words, the tyranny and suffering that is produced through the neoliberal theater of cruelty is coded as unquestionable, as unmovable as an urban skyscraper. Long-term investments are now replaced by short-term gains and profits, while at the same time, compassion is viewed as a weakness and democratic public values are scorned because they subordinate market considerations to the common good. Morality in this instance becomes painless, stripped of any obligations to the other. As the language of privatization, deregulation and commodification replaces the discourse of the public good, all things public, including public schools, libraries and public services, are viewed either as a drain on the market or as a pathology. In addition, inequality in wealth and income expands, spreading like a toxin through everyday life, poisoning democracy and relegating more and more individuals to a growing army of disposable human waste.(29)
But there is more at stake than an increase in the hard currency of human suffering and the theater of trickle-down cruelty; there are also disturbing signs that US society is moving toward an authoritarian state largely controlled by corporations and a grotesquely irresponsible financial elite.(30) A market-driven society is not synonymous with democracy and the privileges of the rich and the corporate elite do more to crush democracy than uplift society as a whole. Any society that allows the market to constitute the axis and framing mechanisms for all social interactions has not just lost its sense of morality and responsibility; it is given up its claim on any vestige of a democratic future. Market fundamentalism along with its structure of extreme inequality and machinery of cruelty has proven to be a death sentence on democracy. The time has come to not only demystify the authoritarianism inherent in casino capitalism and the political and institutions that mimic its policies, practices and values, but to rethink not only what a real democracy might look like, but also what it will take to actually organize to make it happen.

Footnotes:

1. Paul Krugman, “The Unwisdom of Elites,” The New York Times, (May 8, 2011) p. A23, online here.

2. Paul Krugman, “To the Limit,” The New York Times (June 30, 2011), online here.

3. James Crotty, “High Deficits were the Objective of Right Economics,” The Real News, (May 10, 2011), online here.

4. Michael Tomasky, “Why The GOP Loves the Debt,” The Daily Beast (July 1, 2011), online here.

5. Paul Krugman, “The Urge to Purge,” New York Times (June 27, 2011), onlinehere.

6. Robert Parry, “If Ayn Rand and the Free Market fetishists were Right, We’d be Living in the Golden Age – Does This Look Like the Golden Age to You?” Alternet (June 28, 2011), online here.

7. Allison Kilkenny, “2/3 of US Corporations Pay Zero Federal Taxes,” AlterNet (March 27, 2011), online here.

8. Lawrence Grossberg, “Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America’s Future” (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2005), 264.

9. Gesa Helms, Marina Vishmidt and Lauren Berlant, “Affect and the Politics of Austerity: An Interview Exchange with Lauren Berlant,” Variant 39/40, Winter 2010, online here.

10. Richard D. Wolff, “Austerity: Why and for Whom?” In These Times, (July 15, 2010), online here.

11. Rania Khalek, “Death by Budget Cut: Why Conservatives and Some Dems Have Blood on Their Hands,” AlterNet (June 13, 2011), online here.

12. Ibid.

13. Diane Turbyfill, “Bank Robber Planned Crime and Punishment,” Gaston Gazette (June 16, 2011).

14. Chris Serres and Glenn Howatt, “In Jail for Being in Debt,” StarTribune.com (June 9, 2010), online here.

15. Ibid.

16. Matt Taibbi, “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” Rolling Stone (February 16, 2011). Online here.

17. Zygmunt Bauman, “Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age” (Cambridge, Polity Press, 20110), p. 39.

18. James Crotty, “High Deficits were the Objective of Right Economics,” The Real News, (May 10, 2011), online here.

19. This issue is taken up in great detail in Zygmunt Bauman, “Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities n a Global Age” (London: Polity Press, 2011).

20. Cited in Dick Price, “More Black Men Now in Prison System Then Were Enslaved,” LA Progressive, (March 31, 2011), online here. See also Michelle Alexander, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” (New York: New Press, 2010).

21. Editorial, “It Gets Even Worse,” The New York Times (July 3, 2011), p. A16.

22. Matt Taibbi, “Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail?” Rolling Stone (February 16, 2011), online here.

23. Editorial, “Antitax Extremism in Minnesota,” The New York Times (July 6, 2011), p. A18.

24. Pradnya Joshi, “We knew They Got Raises. But This?” The New York Times (July 2, 2011), p. BU1

25. Ibid.

26. Josh Harkinson, “10 CEOs Who Got Rich by Squeezing Workers,” MotherJones (May 12, 2011), online here.

27. Benjamin M. Friedman, “Cassandra Among the Banksters,” The New York Review of Books (June 23, 201), online here.

28. Frank Rich, “Obama’s Original Sin,” New York (July 3, 2011), online here.

29. On the pernicious effects of inequality in US society, see Tony Judt, “Ill Fares the Land” (New York: Penguin Press, 2010). Also see, Göran Therborn, “The Killing Fields of Inequality,” Open Democracy, April 6, 2009, online here.

30. There are too many books on this issue to cite. Some of the more notable are Sheldon S. Wolin, “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Henry A. Giroux, “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism” (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008); Chris Hedges, “Death of the Liberal Class” (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2010); and Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, “Winner-Take-All Politics” (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).

 

 

How Can The US Solve Its Problems When The Corporate Media Has Turned Into The National Enquirer?

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Oldspeak:”I call it “The Real World Effect”. Since the advent of the ‘reality’ show it seems that slowly people have become more concerned about scripted reality than actual reality. Obsession with celebrities’ and politicians’ sexual proclivities and “fabulous lives”. Poor and obese peoples path to redemption through hard work and beneficent rich persons. Anonymous persons rising to fame and fortune via televised dance and singing popularity contests. TV ready marriage minded singles finding “love” via an outlandish and demeaning relationship vetting process when the contestants ply their sexual and whatever other wares to vie for the attention of the desired man/woman.  Meanwhile, in actual reality civil liberties are eroded. Worldwide war is authorized. Access to information is censored and you’re surveiled. Your environment is being destroyed. Your children and food are being contaminated with toxins and poisons. And corporate media has very little if anything to say about these life altering realities. We can expect to continue to witness the downward spiral of the U.S. economically, morally, and socially until reality is focused on and dealt with in a meaningful & substantive way.

By Mark Karlin @ Truthout:

There is no escaping the salacious Anthony Weiner Internet scandal. Since the mainstream corporate media – for the most part – merged politics, news, entertainment, celebrity personalities and sensationalism, it’s been almost impossible to have an informed national discussion on public policy.

One Weiner “confessional” news conference is worth more in advertising revenue than a year of covering our wars that have spanned a decade.

A sizeable percentage of Americans are out of work and without a safety net, Medicare and Social Security are under siege, wars are being fought that receive only sporadic coverage and the disparity in income in America is at its widest point in memory. Yet, these and other pressing issues play a distant second fiddle to a Congressman engaged in sexual titillation over the web and on the phone – however creepy and inappropriate that may be.

The Weiner affair is just the latest example of what Chris Hedges calls “spectacle” coverage superseding the dissemination of news that informs and enlightens.

Weiner – as he noted in his news conference on June 6 – will have to answer to his wife, his constituents and Congress.

The news media that is increasingly evolving into a combination of the National Enquirer, People magazine and “American Idol” has to answer to history, as America descends into a tabloid future in which only the very rich will control the mass media “news” prism.

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