(en)MEDIA CRITIQUE (Issue No. 1)

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 21:46:08 +0000 (GMT)

Date: Tue, 10 Dec 96 11:22:12 CST
From: MARK ADKINS <emerald@aztec.asu.edu>
Subject: MEDIA CRITIQUE (Issue No. 1)

Issue No. 1 12-9-96

This is MEDIA CRITIQUE -- an irregularly appearing commentary on selected
misinformation, propaganda, and double-standards as they come to my
attention through various media outlets.

* * *

The "Not-So" Great Society:

The proliferation of well-funded conservative foundations, think tanks,
and talk-radio programs has resulted in a barrage of misinformation and
propaganda, which appears regularly on the Op-Ed pages of America's
newspapers. This results in the creation of conservative myths, which,
barraging editors, journalists, and the general public, end up becoming
popular myths through sheer, unbalanced repetition.

One such myth claims that "since 1960, we have spent more than
$5 trillion on means-tested welfare, with the result that poverty has
become an institutionalized way of life depriving most recipients of
any pride or self-respect...the Great Society has a 35 year record,
unsullied by success." (Arizona Republic, 11-30-96)

This is grossly inaccurate on both counts. First, the only way to get
anywhere near this absurdly inflated figure of $5 trillion, is to
include Medicaid, veterans' pensions, college loans, and many other
means-tested programs which are not usually regarded as "welfare".

Second, the record of the Great Society programs is one of broad
success. According to Census Bureau statistics, in 1960, the poverty
rate for seniors was 35.2 percent. By 1992 (latest figures I have)
this had dropped to 12.9 percent. In other words, before the Great
Society programs, more than a third of all seniors were below the
poverty line; now, only about one in eight are.

The record for children is similar. In 1960, 26.9 percent of children
were living below the poverty line. This dropped to a low of about
16 percent in 1979, before climbing sharply during the 1980s to a
range of 20 to 22 percent, remaining at this high rate (about 22
percent) through 1992. Though the rate is still better than it was
before the Great Society programs, poor children have suffered a serious
reversal of fortune since solid economic liberalism was replaced first
by conservatism and then by a neo-liberalism scarcely distinguishable
from it in the sphere of budgetary priorities. Unlike seniors, who
developed a powerful lobby on their behalf, poor children belonged to
poor families whose programs were easy targets for the ax of fiscal

Individuals in female headed families also benefited from the Great
Society programs. In 1960 the poverty rate for these families was
48.9 percent. By 1992 this had dropped to 38.5 percent. The
lowest point came in 1979, when it dipped to 34.9 percent before
being savaged by the Reagan administration, which cared more about
building bombs and fancy military hardware than about the poor.
Things are not much improved, as the Pentagon continues to be funded
at Cold War levels and the President Clinton signs congressional
appropriations bills giving the Pentagon about $11 billion more per
year than even it requests.

The real lesson then, is that the Great Society programs worked, as
long as they received adequate funding. If we had valued people's
welfare more than we did fighting a war in Vietnam and in later military
buildups, and had *properly* funded these programs, the results would
have been even more impressive. As it is, we are moving from the merely
inadequate funding of the 1980s and early 1990s, to the shamefully
underfunded programs of the late 1990s, further exacerbated by the shift
from federal guarantees of minimum standards to no guarantees at all from
individual states, who must now compete with one another in a race to the
bottom, to avoid becoming welfare magnets for the growing impoverished
from less beneficent states.

Despite the states' rights propaganda, the federal government requires
states to kick individuals off their welfare rolls after two years and
forces lifetime limits: but the government does not provide jobs as the
employer of last resort when these jobs simply don't exist. General
unemployment is already lower than it has been for many years. Even
though two-thirds of current welfare recipients spend less than two years
on welfare, the remaining third is concentrated in urban slums, where
more than 50 percent of both black and white residents are below the
poverty line, and unemployment averages 15 to 25 percent, with the worst
areas exceeding a jobless rate of 50 percent. Despite conservative
propaganda about lazy poor people, the main reason the unemployment
rates are so high there is that the jobs do not exist in these
neighborhoods. Manufacturing jobs left the central cities for cheap
labor markets in Mexico or overseas, and even service jobs are scarce
in areas where the largest employer may be the sole supermarket in the
neighborhood, and even small employers are scarce relative to the
needs of the population. President Clinton's token job training programs
are unlikely to have significant impact, and employers are unlikely to
hire applicants identified as welfare hard-cases, regardless of the
inadequate subsidy carrots offered.

A visionary president might more genuinely reform welfare as we know
it by replacing unconditional cash transfers with a realistic work
requirement, under which community service jobs are provided to all
who remain on the welfare rolls after the expiration period. But
Bill Clinton is no visionary: he's just another neo-liberal political
hack whose constituents don't include the easily victimized lower class.
He could fund such a program by cutting the until now sacrosanct
military budget back to reasonable levels; by raising corporate
taxes to their 1950s levels; by making rich people pay the same rates
for capital gains as working people do for earned income; by raising
the income tax for wealthy individuals to what it was in the late
1960s; by taking the taxable earnings cap off Social Security payroll;
and by closing the innumerable tax subsidies for corporations, including
but by no means limited to those listed in the "tax expenditures" section
of the federal budget. If this were done, he would not only have enough
money for a joint federal/state/local jobs program, but could balance
the budget and fix Medicare and Social Security.

The reason why neither Bill Clinton nor anybody else you have heard
of is proposing these things -- right or wrong they at least should
be an option on the political menu -- is that this country's political
system is hopelessly weighted toward the people who fund major political
candidates: the corporations and wealthy individuals who would stand
to lose plenty and gain nothing personally under such changes. Their
lock on campaign finance allows them in effect to "vet" candidates, so
that relatively few even get on the map, much less into office. Those
who do are such a minority that they are easily isolated and ignored.
The media is partially to blame for its toadying attitude toward the
power brokers (public and private), resulting in its failure to seek
out and publicize contrary perspectives. The media claims that its
job is to "follow newsmakers," not to serve the public by providing
a balanced variety of views.

Mark Adkins (emerald@aztec.asu.edu)