Poverty Is Not an Accident

Poverty Is Not an Accident
Nelson Mandela

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Feeling the draft?

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Anya Kamenetz: 'Feeling a draft? Poor kids of color fight the Pentagon'
Date: Thursday, January 27 @ 10:14:15 EST
Topic: The MilitaryBy Anya Kamenetz, Village Voice

Chris Dugan, 27, signed up for his future hitch in the marines while still in high school. "I wanted to be hard and serve my country," he says. "My grandfather was a marine." Dugan was lucky enough to serve in peacetime, from 1995 to 1999. Included was a short stint as a recruiter for high schoolers like himself, patriotic working-class kids without a lot of options to pay for college, get job training, or find work. "These recruiters psychoanalyze you and pitch you a story," he says. "They have a quota, and if that quota isn't met, it's their ass. They'll do whatever they can to get you in."

But now Chris is out—far out. He's a master's student at Hunter College and a member of the International Socialist Organization and the Campus Antiwar Network. And he's a counter-recruiter, part of a growing grassroots national movement to keep kids like him out of Iraq.The No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, included a little-seen provision stipulating that all public high schools provide a list of students' names, addresses, and other personal information to military recruiters. Douglas Smith, a spokesperson for the Army Reserve Command, says this provision is simply a matter of convenience. "It saves the recruiters a lot of research time figuring out how to get in contact with the students."But by the accounts of teachers, students, and parents, the officers in the pressed uniforms and shiny shoes are using those data to get more aggressive, particularly at poor and largely minority schools.

At schools like Bronx Community College, they set up tables three or four days a week; at many high schools, they far outnumber college or other job recruiters. They call kids at home, show up at their front doors, and even threaten them, anything to get the kids to boot camp.Activists report that one kid who signed up for delayed entry was told that backing out, which is legally allowed, would be desertion in a time of war, meaning he could be hunted down and shot. (Smith, the army spokesperson, said a recruit could be considered AWOL—less serious than desertion—only after going through all physicals and other screenings, and then failing to show up for basic training.)

On January 15 and 16, a coalition of local peace and student groups met in Manhattan to brainstorm ways to reach kids with the facts, starting with their right not to give up their personal info. "Schools are obligated to inform both parents and students of their right to opt out," said Amy of Youth Activists-Youth Allies (Ya-Ya), which helped organize the weekend counter-recruitment workshop. "Different schools and districts are doing a different quality of job with that"—ranging from letters sent home to each student to a small classified ad in the local paper.

Ya-Ya has been meeting with high school officials, convincing them that giving recruiters "equal access" does not mean giving them free access to roam the halls and pull kids out of class. The group's teenage members hand out flyers at area public schools about the dangers of signing up for an eight-year hitch. One of them is headlined "What Recruiters Don't Want You to Know." Others talk about institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia in the military, and false economic promises.

The army brags that it recently raised its top G.I. Bill award for college to $70,000. What the service doesn't tell you is that 43 percent of veterans see none of this money. You must contribute $100 of your own paycheck each month for the first year in order to qualify. Speaking of checks, for an army PFC in 2005, the pay is $14,822 a year. Combat pay, for those in Iraq, is another $225 a month, more if you have kids at home.

Many of the counter-recruiters, not just the socialists, see their issue as one of economic justice. "Who does the military target?" asks Peter, a 17-year-old student at the specialized Urban Academy Laboratory public high school and a member of Ya-Ya. "Young men of color like me. People from the ghetto with no way out except the military. For me personally, this is about raising social awareness.

"With the pressure of Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows what other looming commitments, the army is adding 1,000 recruiters to its staff this year, and the National Guard, which missed its fiscal year 2004 goal of 56,000 new enlistees by nearly 10 percent, is adding 700 more. The question on everyone's mind is what will happen when shiny Hummers, free T-shirts, cajoling, and bullying aren't enough.

A Quaker woman at the workshop offered a how-to on conscientious objection—no church affiliation required."Students at Hunter have a vested interest in this issue," Chris Dugan says. "We start out by asking them, 'Are you under 27? If there's a draft, you could go.' "Copyright 2005 Village Voice Media, Inc.
Reprinted from The Village Voice:

night terrors

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They're not exactly dreams. I'll be sound asleep when I'll have an overwhelming sense of danger. I'll wake in fighting mode, ready to scream. I'm often kicking and hitting when I wake up.

I had a real sense of loneliness as Ma got ready to go into work last night. I didn't want to be alone; I dreaded it. I couldn't say why. I was on the verge of tears. I wanted to say, "don't leave me!" I felt silly, immature and irresponsible. I didn't say anything to her.

After she left, I curled up in bed to watch TV. Taz is so lonely and insecure, I thought it would be better to be in there with her and the cats, who also miss me very much. And several of my cats are irritable anyway, because I found the "leaks" in my kennel and covered them with old chicken wire patches. They haven't found a new way out yet and often wander the back of the house and back yard, looking forelorn. So, I thought I should comfort them.

Besides, it meant I wouldn't have to turn on the heater in the living room and waste the gas. My bedroom has a heater.

I made it to almost half of "The West Wing." It's a favorite show of mine. Or, at least, it was, until this very disjointed season. The writing is now too impressed with itself. The story lines are more soap opera now than political commentary. I've been losing interest.

Well, the fake tension between Donna and Josh was getting on my nerves. All I could see was young people, scurrying around frantically, saying precocious things that were hard to follow.

I turned off the TV at about eight thirty and went to sleep.

I heard Ma coming in. The dog barked and scampered.

But I couldn't get out of bed. I felt paralyzed. I thought, "what if it's not Ma? What if it's a burglar?" But I couldn't care enough to get up. I think it's maybe what dying feels like: the body can't move and the brain keeps trying to be alive.

Ma came in and sat on the side of the bed. I think I was supposed to get up, take my vitamins and asprin, join her in the living room.

At about midnight, I woke. The lava lamp on Ma's side of the bed was still on, shining in my eyes. She wasn't there.

I had to pee, anyway. So, I clumsily got up. We share a bathroom with connecting doors from each of our bedrooms. I opened hers. She was sitting in the living room, watching tv.

She followed me in, asking lots of questions about my health, pain, etc. I was too punchy to answer much.

Eventually, she came in to bed.

It woke me up and I wanted to talk. I told her about my experiences with that stalker. I told her about how abusive and indifferent the cops were, how nobody believed me, how nobody would help me.

I'm angry about the court date. I wish it HAD been over today. The judge is just another indifferent man, a paper pusher. He won't believe me, either.

The police did everything but hold me down, so that bastard COULD rape me. I escaped, but it's temporary. Now, the judge will finish the job the cops & stalker started. I'll be punished for being a woman, poor and independent.

The stalker laws ONLY apply to upper middle class women who are the property of men. They don't apply to me.

I fear fines; how will I ever pay Ma back, and how will she pay off her debts? I fear jail time: it just means a lot more work for Ma. Ma gets punished, not me.

I'll beg to have the charges dismissed at the hearing. Otherwise, I'll plead innocent and go through the circus of being publicly defended.

Most of my evidence and witnesses are gone now, after five years. Cops never took reports, even when I stood in the church parking lot, covered in blood, with a torn dress, crying.

So, I'm having night terrors. This is, of course, bringing it all back.

I couldn't afford to feel anything at the time, so I repressed it. Five years later, all the terror is coming to the surface.

My memory's very bad right now. I'm pretty confused and dazed.

Ma has been tremendously supportive and understanding. She's my champion; I've never seen her more indignant, more nurturing, more encouraging than now.

I owe her a lot.

Whatever happens, no matter HOW long they string this crap out to torture me, it'll be over someday. They'll get their "licks" in and move on to the next powerless soul who can't defend herself against them.

For five years, I've dodged cops, lived in slums that don't check police records, been refused jobs, been threatened with extortion by landlords and cops, been afraid to assert my rights because I've had this warrant. For three years, of course, I didn't KNOW I had a warrant out.

Once this crap is over, if it ever is, I won't have to be so uncharacteristically timid. I can walk back into a certain place, where a certain person wiped her feet on me like I was nothing and humiliated me publicly and tell her and her supervisors EXACTLY what I think of her cruelty, incompetence and ego. And she WON'T be able to call the cops to get me arrested!

I tried four times to clear this warrant mysef. But the demand of three hundred, thirty dollars' cash bond forbid me from even seeing the judge.

Ma thinks I was worthy of the investment, even though it complicated her life. Someone believes in me. Someone believes me. Finally.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

wrong date

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Well, I triple and quadruple checked the summons to appear. I could NOT find a DATE on the summons. To make sure we were going on the right date, I finally found the metro court phone number (not in the blue, gov't. pages, but the white pages of the phone book).

I don't appear until NEXT Wed. Yes, I FINALLY found it on the summons, but in the most cock-eyed, out-of-the-way place possible. It wasn't any where NEAR the day of week, time, room number and judge's name info.

So, I cried.

All this work to prepare. Ma took a day off work. She'll have a hard time juggling her schedule to be there next week.

It even threatened to cause a "bounce" in my bank acc't., as I was thinking we'd get the bond money back today.

I ordered a product called an "Easy Seat" off eBay. It's for my scooter. It's 2 platforms for the pelvis. It has no saddle horn, like regular bike seats. These horns cause me much pain, as my genitals are mutilated. Now, I just stand up to ride the scooter. The other day, I drove 25 mi, standing. The scooter has no suspension or shocks. Every bump is like being hit on the bottom of the foot with a hammer. It even makes the bike helmet Ma gave me hit me hard against the forehead. After 25 miles, my ankles, heels, knees, hips, back, neck, shoulders and head hurt pretty bad.

Ma's car needs a piston rod bearing. I'm planning to tear the car apart, take out the engine, open it and fix things. I'll clean it and replace all hoses, gaskets, etc., too, while I'm at it. Of course, it'll take me months to get it all done. We'll rent a cradle snatcher and I'll pull the engine out and place it on blocks, under a tarp, so I can work on it.

We won't have a car until I either: fix the old one or sell enough radio to buy a new one.

The good news about the court date is I'll be able to bail poor ol' Porkchop out of jail the day before. That's when his quarantine ends. Poor guy.

Taz misses him something awful. She's all insecure and needy now.

I'm feeling pretty bad. I'm achey. It's hard to catch my breath. I'm sick to the stomach. It's all the same symptoms I had when I had the first heart attack, while Ma was out of town. I haven't told her, though. She's got enough with her job, my warrant, Porky, the car...blah blah...

But I'm weak and it scares me. My legs, especially, are numb, tingling, hard to control.

It's a cold day. I've spent it all in the house with Ma. She just now got dressed and went in to work. She probably won't be back until after ten pm. I worry about her out there in the weather, in the dark, on that bicycle. But she loves it. She really does. It's her thing. Watching her on her bike, as I ride along on my scooter, I see how graceful and powerful she is on it. She's much more at ease on the bike than on foot. But this town if full of people who drive drunk and aggressively.

So, I don't get any answers for another week yet. I've waited this long.

I feel no shame or embarrassment about this. I was STALKED. The bastard STOLE my dogs, and one's tags. THAT's why the citation, which I didn't get because I ended up homeless. And that's why the citation went to failure to appear warrant.

I was BEATEN and nearly raped when I was supposed to appear in court. I was homeless within a week.

I'm having some delayed stress stuff. Normally, I would have SEEN the court date, even IF it was way on the other side of the paper, several lines above the rest of the info.

And I wouldn't have taken chances like that with my bank acc't., either.

But I can't afford genital reconstructive surgery. I can only afford a new bike seat that doesn't hurt me so bad. And I need it soon.

I'm sad and tired and weak.

But I'm very well loved, and that counts for more than anything. She's been very nice to me since this happened. She's been more affectionate and attentive than ever. And she was always very caring.

So, the rest of the day, unfortunately, is a matter of "doing time," waiting to feel better, waiting for warmer weather.

I've started on the garden. I've worked more on my chicken coop.

But today is cold and gloomy. I can't go out there very long.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

good idea

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Ma and I were talking last night about how the penal system creates multi-generational victimization, specifically of the poor.

I began describing my own ancestry. African American escaped slaves, Cherokees escaping the Trail of Tears and poor whites who escaped endentured servitude and debtors' prisons in Great Britain.

She suggested I write about it. Immediately, I realized I could write a multi-generational, historical novel, based on my own family. I've studied enough social history to know WHAT to research for each generation, even if I don't know a whole lot about specifics and details. As Ma pointed out, I know my family's mythology: the stories of relatives and the like. It adds believability because the stories are specific events, involving specific people.

My entire family is a history of working very hard to remain "off the grid" and out of the System.

The more I tell her about the corruption and abuse of the so-called "justice" system, the more indignant Ma becomes. She's had no exposure to the realities of being poor. And it occurs to me that this is probably true for the majority of book readers, too.

Ma also pointed out that previous novelists have created social change with their writings. It wasn't until someone wrote, in a mass medium, that the general population realized the extent of people's suffering and began to demand legislative changes.

Ma's worried that I'll be given jail time as part of my sentence. I explained it would be OK, as it would give me first-hand research for the story. I can write in the joint. There's a library, too. I may have access to internet on a limited basis, for all I know.

I expect, though, that I won't be locked up. The jails are totally overcrowded. Violent criminals are being released, all the time.

I expect I'll get community service and possibly a fine. I'll work hard to prevent a fine; I'm borrowing from Ma for this and she's paying off large debts. It'll take me forever to pay her back. So, a fine would only punish Ma, not me.

I can do community service at the community radio station.

Cops I've dealt with during the past, 5 years of my warrant have shown little interest in locking me up for such a petty misdemeanor. I think the ONLY reason I was taken into custody THIS time is that Porky bit someone. If I hadn't commited any offense, I'd have been released again and admonished again to "take care of it."

Of course, without Ma's help and economic priviledge, there's no WAY I could ever have come up with a $330.oo cash bond to satisfy the courts. That's why I've never taken care of it in the past.

And, living alone, I couldn't risk being locked up. Who'd take care of my animals and my property while I was gone?

I wrote Ma a detailed email, while she sat here and watched me last night. I gave her specific details on the operations of the house and all my user names, passwords and PIN numbers. So, she knows how to care for the plants and animals and how to operate my hinky washing machine and stuff now.

She's taking tomorrow morning off. She's going to court with me. I'm supposed to be there at 1:30pm. We'll walk, or take the trolley.

I'm taking nothing with me except my ID. If I'm locked up, I don't want to have to worry about any property.

Any money a prisoner has on them is applied to fines and to purchases at the commisary. For example, prisoners are issued: orange "scrub" type shirts and pants and rubber shower shoes, plus white tee shirts. But prisoners cannot use the exercise yard in shower shoes. And prisoners can't have shoes brought in from outside. All prisoners who want to use the exercise yard MUST BUY shoes from the commisary! It's all a McJail, concessions stand.

So, I won't be in the exercise yard, because I plan to boycott the commisary. They'll issue me bed linens, towels, the clothing I mentioned and basic toiletries.

The less I have, the less likely I can be coerced by other prisoners into making purchases for them, in exchange for their protection.

Nope, if I go to jail, I plan to just write, think and do research for this project.

If he demands jail time, I'll request they wait 'til Feb. 15, so I can complete the Homelessness Marathon broadcast.

If not, I have friends who will take up the slack. They've already been given instructions on how to carry out the broadcast.

I'm most worried about Porkchop, of course. If I'm locked up, how will Porky be freed, as I'm the legal owner? He gets out Feb. 1.

But, I'll figure it all out, somehow.

Today, I'm patching the parts of my cat/chicken structure with bits of chicken wire I found in someone's trash. I'll finish what laundry is out there, too.

It's a rainy, damp dark day. But, even as I write this, I see the sun coming through the clouds. So I shouldn't, I hope, freeze my butt off out there in an hour or so.

Taz is miserable without Porky to chew on and boss around.

I worry for Porky's sanity in that hell hole. I worry for his health, too. I heard a news report of an epidemic of parvo virus at our animal shelters. Porky was placed in a poop-smeared kennel in the transport van by animal control.

They could kill him with neglect.

And he's so nervous and traumatized, I don't know how he'll handle all the other dogs, yelling and acting out. It could drive him crazy and MAKE him violent!

I've told Ma that, when we bring him home, we should plan to be as quiet as possible for a week or so. No vacuum cleaners, circular saws, hammers.... nothing loud and startling. Except Taz, of course. I suspect she'll be very good medicine for him, anyway.

So, I'm going to have a snack now and then go out and cat proof my kennel.

There's no sense getting upset, worrying or stressing over my court appearance tomorrow. Whatever happens happens and I'm ready for it. I just hope I've prepared Ma enough so she can handle it if I'm locked up.

Beaten by a stalker, robbed, almost raped and now it's ME who might face jail time for it!


Monday, January 24, 2005

the green 18 miles

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Ma and I took the dogs for a walk Saturday. In addition to Porky, we now have Taz: beagle/cocker mix, female, puppy.

We needed some things from the pharmacy & I needed to deposit $ in the ATM.

We took Ma's bicycle cart: aluminum frame, twin "stroller," ripstop nylon body. We planned to bring home purchases in it. Additionally, it has a tight-fitting, snap-down lid. I put Porky in it while I can't attend him, so he can't bite people or be disturbed.

There's a minimall near us, with a Mexican grocery. I wanted to stop and look. Ma said she'd watch the dogs while I went in, so we didnt' have to hassle with putting them in and locking the trailer.

I had Oaxaca cheese and crema. I was looking at Mexican candies, just getting ready to make my purchases and leave.

A woman from the "religious supplies" store came in and said, "someone in here own two dogs?"

I replied.

"Well, the big one just bit someone."

I set my selections on the register counter and left.

Ma was shaken. Porkchop was peacefully lying on the sidewalk. Taz was wagging and sniffing.

A woman stood on the sidewalk. She said Porky bit her daughter. I had images of a mutilated, little girl.

The woman was worried about her daughter's jeans, said they were her only pair and that she didn't have money to replace them.

I gave her my name and phone number and asked for her address, so I could send her money to replace the pants.

Soon, the "girl" came out of the religious store. She was about 17. She was crying hysterically, carrying a cell phone.

I apologized profusely and asked to see the bite.

A small tear, in the frayed seam of her worn and filthy jeans, at the thigh. A couple of punctures in the denim, from Porky's teeth. Two small, pink marks on the girl's thigh. There was no blood, no bruising. Porky nipped her as she passed by.

She was crazy emotional; I didn't even try to talk to her after apologizing. She handed her mom the cell phone.

As her mom called 911, I prepared Ma. I said I'd be going to jail; they'd surely bring me in on the warrant for this. I said (based on misinformation from an animal control officer) Porky would be destroyed.

I removed my ID from my wallet. I put my things in the cart, including a scarf I was wearing.

I took Porky off their mutual leash and attached Taz, alone, to the cart.

I held Porky on short leash and instructed Ma to leave, with Taz, and wait to hear from me. She walked off as the police cars arrived. They didnt' even notice her and Taz.

I patiently perched on a concrete block. Porky lay peacefully at my feet in the shade.

The police would look over from time to time, obviously wondering why I was now in trouble. The paramedics examined the girl's "wound." The women left. The paramedics suggested a hospital exam. If the woman wants a civil suit, I suppose they'll go, but I doubt it.

They couldn't afford decent pants for the girl. But they drove away in a gas guzzling SUV.

Porkchop hates the smell of drugs and alcohol. The only times he's become aggressive with humans in the past is when he's smelled mind-altering chemicals on people.

I wonder....

When animal control arrived, I lead Porky to the van. I explained to the officers that he'd think they were heros and best friends, because they gave him a ride. He loves riding in vehicles.

They told me I could sign over ownership to them. He must be quarantined for 10 days (in case of rabies). After that, he'd be released to me.

But, if I were no longer owner, no charges would be filed against me for the "bite." I wouldn't have to pay boarding fees.

The dog laws will change soon. Then, if Porky bit a 3rd time, I'd go to prison.

I almost signed him over, so they could euthenize him after quarantine. But I couldn't decide, so I didn't.

They left with Pork, peacefully smelling his new kennel.

A police officer asked me to turn around for handcuffs. I explained that I'm disabled and would need help getting into the cruiser with hands behind my back. So, he cuffed me in front.

The cruiser has a molded plastic, back seat. I held onto the door handle for dear life. There ARE seatbelts in the back, but I was not able to put one on.

We drove down Central. The officer made personal calls and text messages on his cell phone, eyes not on the road.

We chatted about the new westside jail. It's 18 miles from town. Cops hate driving so far. He'd picked me up within walking distance of the old jail; it would have taken 5 minutes to get there. As it was, it took over half an hour.

I was processed, booked and searched. The new jail looks like a Walmart super store or a mall. It's in the middle of scrub land. There's nothing out there but jackrabbits and the dump. And dead bodies and other refuse, dumped in the mesas.

I was lead into what looked like a clinic waiting room. One tv babbled "educational" films into the room. A huge area, like a nurses' station, housed the office equipment and corrections officers.

There were free phones in the walls. There were unisex bathrooms with windows in the doors. Men on the left; women on the right in molded plastic chairs.

It was sterile. It was hell: the eternal waiting room.

I called Ma. Three hundred, thirty dollars' cash bond only, to be paid at the Metro Court window, 4th and Lomas. She waited out doors, in the dark, for hours until the clerk stopped fussing with papers to take Ma's money.

I called a friend; I gave him Ma's cell phone number. Ma's car isn't running. She'd talked about riding her bike up and calling a cab to bring us down. It would have cost a fortune.

I could wait for a "shuttle" ride back down to the old jail, 1/2 block from where Ma paid the fine (all within walking distance of our house). But the don't run them regularly. Ma would have had to stand in the cold and dark, outside the court house, for up to eight hours, to sign a waiver (taking responsibility for my release) so I could leave their custody.

I sat in the waiting area. I exercised my legs (the chairs are bad on my circulation. I couldn't put my feet up on any furniture. I couldn't lay down in a cell.)

I was "arrested" at about three in the afternoon. They finally released me to Ma about ten that night. I'd have been out hours earlier, but that metro clerk had to spin on her thumbs. The MINUTE they took Ma's money, I was moved to the "release" part of the facility! By the time I was processed out, Ma was signing the waiver and our friend was waiting in the parking lot!

I asked Ma to bring me: a jacket, cigarettes, a lighter, a soda pop and some food.

But there's no soap in the bathrooms. I had to squat over the commode to pee, covering myself with my (thank gawd) long skirt as passersby...male and female...looked in. I hadn't washed my hands in all that time.

So, I couldn't eat. And I didnt' want to hang up our friend by making him wait for me to smoke. So, I just got in and we drove back down.

I said I'd sign over Porky. I warned Ma there'd be a delayed reaction, once we got home. I spent my whole time in jail thinking about ANYTHING else besides how I'd let Porky down.

Ma thought it was her fault. But I kept saying: I should have TRAINED her how to guard Porky from people. He's MY responsibility.

Well, when we got home, I tried to eat. I sobbed over how I'd failed Porky. He bites because he's been SO badly abused. He bites to PROTECT those he loves from those who smell dangerous. Now, for being loyal and loving, for being abused and damaged, he had to die?

When Ma saw the depth of my feeling, she said that, if I was willing to go through the hassles and legal issues of still owning Porky, she'd support me.

It'll cost a lot of money to save him. I could be civilly prosecuted. I could go to jail.

But we'll see. I have to call Animal Control this morning to find out the details.

I go to court on the warrant on Wed. Ma wants to come.

I'll write more about that, later.

But, without Ma, I could NEVER have come up with $330 on cash, just to see a judge and clear the warrant.

After all this is over, I wont' have to be so scared of cops all the time. I'll be able to get a driver's license, too. It'll be easier to get work without a warrant.

I'll write more later.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Homelessness Marathon

You are reading http://livinginthehood.blogspot.com


Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Transexual, Bisexual, Pansexual?

We want to hear from you!

Join us for a live discussion.

February 14, 2005

(hour still to be determined)

KUNMfm Albuquerque (http://kunm.org) will host a one-hour broadcast during the Homelessness Marathon. Our local focus will be about the issues facing the Queer community who are homeless.

Participants have the options of remaining anonymous. We can even digitally alter your voice, so you can't be recognized.

We want to hear your experiences, not cause further victimization. Your voice matters. Your experience is important. This is an opportunity to tell a national audience what life is like as a homeless person who is maginalized as a result of your sexuality, gender and orientation.

(505) 842-8175 Albuquerque or 1-877-718-0691


The URL for this flier is


Please feel free to print, distribute and post this flier anywhere!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


You are reading http://livinginthehood.blogspot.com

It's a good thing, methinks, that I know how to pick trash and work the food banks. Could be a necessary skill in short order.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: 'Ken Lay would love Social Security privatization'
Date: Tuesday, January 04 @ 09:47:23 EST
Topic: Economic Policy
By Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation

A New Year's Day story in the Washington Post reported that President Bush's allies in corporate trade associations, the financial and securities industries and Fortune 500 companies are raising millions of dollars for an election-style campaign to convince Americans--and skeptical lawmakers--that social security is in crisis, and that the proper remedy is to establish private social security accounts.

Bush's privatization scheme--he calls it his #1 domestic priority--has clear winners and losers. The winners: the financial industry which is lusting after the hundreds of billions in fees and commissions it stands to earn if it can hold Social Security funds in individual accounts. The losers: tens of millions of retirees and surviving spouses and children, plus some ten million disabled workers and their families, who will lose the dignity of a guaranteed income and the financial security that the system currently provides.

Bush's scam is clear: sell out to Wall Street and destroy America's most successful social insurance and anti-poverty program. (Social Security is the difference between a decent life and poverty for half of all Americans over 65.)

In the coming months, we're going to hear a lot of flimflam about how social security is in crisis and privatization is, as Bush has said, a "plan for the people." Don't believe a word of it.

Check out the expert testimony of America's most eminent economists (including Nobel laureates) who gathered at the end of 2004 to rigorously debunk the Administration's fear-mongering.

"In reality," as Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research Dean Baker wrote in the pages of The Nation last month, "For more than two decades, [the Right has]spread stories about the baby boomers bankrupting the system and multi-trillion debts left to our children and grandchildren. In reality, the program can pay all scheduled benefits long past the boomers' retirement. According to the Social Security trustees report, it can pay full benefits through the year 2042 with no changes whatsoever. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office puts the date at 2052. And even after those dates, Social Security will always be able to pay a higher benefit (adjusted for inflation) that what retirees receive today. Those scary multi-trillion dollar debts translate into a deficit equal to 0.7 percent of future income--presented in very precise form in the Social Security trustees report for those who care to look."

If you need more evidence that privatizing Social Security is a lousy idea, think back to the Enron scandal .
Remember what we learned: Greedy Enron executives sold stock for millions while the company was still riding high and then gave themselves big bonuses as bankruptcy loomed. Meanwhile, they lied to employees and stockholders about the company's finances and then didn't allow workers to bail out of 401(k) retirement plans that held Enron stock. Thousands of people not only lost their jobs but their lifetime savings.

After Enron's collapse, the largest corporate bankruptcy in US history, you'd have to be pretty dense to fall for the Bush Administration's callous scheme to encourage workers to take risks with their pension and retirement benefits.

Bush and his cronies have worked hard to ignore the lessons of Enron--continuing to fight against serious regulation of corporate misbehaviour and abuses. Don't let them ignore Enron's lessons when it comes to replacing a successful government guaranteed program for a greed-ridden privatization scam.

Maybe we need a new slogan: Ken Lay would love social security privatization.

Copyright 2005 The Nation

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