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-=[ Corporate Welfare Queens
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.”
-- Ronald Reagan during his 1976 presidential campaign
And she was black... he should have added, since studies show that the perceived face of poverty is black and female. Reagan never named a particular woman because the woman never existed. contrary to the conservative spin, there never was an army of young, amoral, crack-addicted black mothers driving Cadillacs while giving birth to litters to super-predator cop killers.
Reagan specialized in the use of the outrageous anecdotes that were usually false. Yet the media so sensationalized his stories that these falsehoods were used to frame any public debate about poverty. Make no mistake: the new and improved racism is couched in the conservative language of individualism and boot-strapping. Because his “examples” of welfare queens relied on existing stereotypes of welfare cheats and resonated with news stories about welfare fraud, they did indeed gain real footing within the public discourse on poverty.
However, the real story should have been about a different kind of welfare queen. A Welfare Queen that actually existed, most likely drove higher end gas-guzzlers and wore three-piece suits: the Corporate Welfare Queen.
Even at its height, “welfare” as perceived by the public was probably about 1% of the federal budget. Corporate Welfare, government programs that provide special benefits to specific industries or corporations, have always been far more generous than anything ever given to the poor. Poverty, in case you haven’t received the memo, is a sin in these times of KKKorporate KKKristianity. If you’re poor, it’s because you lack morals, drive, intelligence, or any kind of civic responsibility. KKKorporate KKKristianity postulates you’re poor because you’re not a real KKKristian. After all, didn’t rich people pull themselves out of the muck?
Well, maybe we should rethink that last part. Many of the largest companies have been on the welfare dole, including Wal-Mart, General Motors, Boeing, Archer Daniels Midland, and the notorious Enron. And all this was before the latest capitalist collapse -- I mean! -- “economic downturn” that has resulted in $ trillions being given away to failed CEOs.
The ultra conservative Cato Institute estimated that the federal government spent a total of $96.6 billion on corporate welfare in the fiscal year 2002. State and local governments also hand out money to businesses. Here in
Large businesses often bargain with (or more correctly extort) communities, demanding major tax breaks, free or reduced-price land, or infrastructure assistance in return for the promise of creating jobs. One recent study showed that Wal-Mart has received more than $1 billion in subsidies. Yet Wal-Mart often destroys almost as many jobs as it creates, driving smaller, more community-based retailers out of business.
However, the bulk of the real welfare money is distributed through entities that usually have the word “complex” as a descriptor. By far, the largest welfare program for rich people is known as defense spending, or the military/ industrial complex. As a nation, we spend more on defense than the next ten nations combined. I can’t tell you know how much we give away, because much of this money isn’t reported; but if we take just one program as an example, The Star Wars program, we can get a sense of how easily we give away our hard-earned money. Initially an idea that sprouted out of Reagan’s diseased-damaged brain, The Star Wars program has spent $100 of billions for an anti-missile program that has yet to hit a target! Yes, you heard that right: decades and $100 of billions for a program that cannot hit a target.
In addition, let’s not forget the $100 hammers and screwdrivers or the fact that I haven’t even addressed the latest round of welfare for the rich, otherwise known as “bailout.”
Which brings me to the second half of my post: a particularly vicious welfare program known as the prison/ industrial complex. Note that our government finds it fit to help to rich people. However, when it comes to the middle class, poor, and working poor, you’re on your own.
In our Amerikkka, the rich get welfare and the poor get to go to prison. I would argue that the sources of crime are well known (e.g. poverty, prisons, guns, drugs) but, in contrast to our approach to the rich, little is done to reduce the causes. In fact, I would submit the criminal justice system has a stake in its own failures (The Pyrrhic Defeat Theory). The Incarceration Nation has replaced the vision of a Great society. Plus, it’s an extremely profitable business traded on the stock market.
And yet, we lead the free world in addiction, crime, and violence. Furthermore, sociologists have confirmed that incarceration as a social policy reaches a threshold where it actually begins to increases crime and makes vulnerable communities less safe.
We need to ask some important questions: Who defines crime? How is the public image of crime created? How is crime not defined? What is the image we have of criminals? Why do white collar crooks get so little in comparison to the damage they do to society, and why is white collar crime rarely reported?
Blacks make up no more than 13% of all drug abusers but 74% of those in prison for drugs. There’s no way you can do the math and justify that number. Discrimination occurs at all phases of the criminal justice system from arrest to imprisonment. The race of the victim and the race of the defendant are significantly related to use of the death penalty.
I will state that people who cannot see a better way to curb crime, other than to lockup millions, lack more than imagination -- they lack intelligence. Crime and disorder, which flow from hopeless poverty, unloved children, and drug abuse, can’t be solved by building prisons, mandatory sentencing minimums, or hiring more police.
From an empirical standpoint, what will work has been known for decades. It’s not the knowledge that’s lacking, it’s the civic will. We know what works:
- End poverty
- Letting the punishment fit the criminal harm
- Legalize or decriminalize drugs
- Create correctional programs that promote responsibility and prepare human beings to reenter society
- Gun control
- Limit discretion of police, prosecutors, and judges
- Implement the right to equal counsel.
- Explore a vision of a society with a more just distribution of wealth.
We ignore this at our own risk. This affects you, whether you know it or not, because where do you think they get the money to build and maintain prisons? From your child’s school.
The issue here is equally simple: do we want to create a society based on teaching our children, or locking some of them up?