The fact that the vested interests in the United States are able to rely on a well-oiled propaganda system, in which the media dutifully play their appointed role, is perhaps nowhere clearer today than in the case of Social Security privatization. From the standpoint of the establishment the truth simply will not do. If the truth were presented on Social Security, that is, if there were a responsible and independent press hammering away at the truth, against the obscene manipulation of the facts by the establishment, there would be no Social Security “crisis” and no substantial public support for even partial privatization. The idea of the failure of Social Security is a classic case of propaganda by the elite aimed at manipulating the minds of the people.
How effective this propaganda has been can be seen from the fact that despite an economic slowdown and a fall in the stock market, polls indicate that a majority of the population now supports the partial privatization of Social Security, with 70 percent of those under age twenty-five backing partial privatization. More individuals polled indicated that the current economic slowdown has increased their support for privatization, than indicated the opposite (Business Week, August 13, 2001, p. 41).
This follows a steady drumbeat of gross distortions by corporations, financial markets, right-wing think tanks such as the Cato Institute, and the Bush administration, with the more or less open acquiescence of the media. On the one hand, it is suggested (falsely) that Social Security is on its last legs, and will collapse in fifteen years. The public is thus being scared into believing that Social Security will fall disastrously short of what is needed before most of today’s workers will have an opportunity to collect their retirement benefits. On the other hand, workers are being told (also falsely) that part of the payroll taxes designated for Social Security can be diverted to private accounts (the most commonly suggested figure is a diversion of 2 percentage points—or 16 percent—of Social Security payroll taxes) without any Social Security benefit cuts or increases in payroll taxes. As economist Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times (August 8, 2001), “the privatizers know what they want, and they will say anything—no matter how untrue—in order to get it.” It goes without saying that a majority of the population would not support partial privatization of Social Security if they were accurately informed about how solid the present system is, or how shaky (and diminished) their retirement benefits will be under a partial privatization scheme. (See the Editors, “Social Security, the Stock Market, and the Elections,” MR, October 2000.)
What is needed, of course, is a mass movement demanding that the government keep the faith that Social Security is a workers’ right—not to be toyed with, not to be diminished—only to be extended to meet the genuine needs of the population.
Kathy Boudin, a good friend of ours, is in a women’s maximum security prison, the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, in New York State. She was sentenced to “twenty years to life” for her participation in a politically motivated offense in October 1981. Kathy was unarmed, and hurt no one herself. But her comrades, the black revolutionaries who that day in New York’s Rockland County engaged in a gun battle with police, left two of the cops dead.
In August, Kathy, now fifty-eight years old, came before the New York State Parole Board seeking her freedom. She expressed her sincere regret for the suffering that came of that day’s gunplay, twenty years ago. And in the last twenty years Kathy has built a record of achievement few anywhere could approach. She initiated a program for prisoners with AIDS that has become a model throughout the vast U.S. prison gulag. She organized adult education classes for her fellow prisoners, and documented the lessons learned for the benefit of others in a major article in the Harvard Educational Review. She organized a program for mothers in prison to fulfill their parental roles in spite of their incarceration. This program too has become a national model. She wrote a handbook to help mothers in prison deal with the laws that govern “foster parenting.” She won a prize from PEN, the international writers association, for her poetry. And from her prison cell she helped raise her son, only fourteen months old when she was locked up, to be the accomplished college junior he is today, a child of whom any parent would be proud.
None of this mattered a whit to the Parole Board, notwithstanding that her sentence was far more severe than she would have had for a similar offense in any other country in the world, Afghanistan alone excepted. They acknowledged Kathy’s achievements, but denied her release solely on the basis of the “seriousness of the offense” that took place in 1981. This result was U.S. right-wing politics, pure and simple. New York’s Governor Pataki made his position against her release clear to his appointees on the Board. Rockland Police in uniform staged demonstrations, and (also in uniform) gathered signatures against her release. Murdoch’s New York Post spewed barely literate hatred against her day after day. Kathy was, in effect, re-sentenced by the police.
But, amazingly in light of the obvious dangers in a place where the police have everything their own way, a vigorous articulate citizens movement on behalf of Kathy’s release came into being right in Rockland County. Kathy again goes before the Parole Board in two years, and these brave and good people have committed themselves to keep up the fight for Kathy until she’s released. So will we. If you would like to write a word of support and solace to Kathy, the address is Kathy Boudin, No. 84G-0171, Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, PO Box 1000, Bedford Hills, New York, 10507.
MR coeditor John Bellamy Foster will participate in a book party/panel organized by the Brecht Forum/New York Marxist School and co-sponsored by Monthly Review Press to be held on Sunday, October 14 at 2:00 P.M. at 122 West 27th Street, 10th floor, in New York. The forum will discuss István Mészáros’s bold new study Socialism or Barbarism along with his earlier monumental work Beyond Capital (both published by Monthly Review Press). Other participants in the panel will include Irving Kurki, project coordinator of the Beyond Capital Education Project in the Boston area and Liz Mestres, director of the Brecht Forum. For more information contact the Brecht Forum at (212) 242-4201.
We are grieved to inform you that Richard Cloward died on Monday, August 20, in New York. He was seventy-four. Richard was one of the leaders of the welfare rights movement in the United States and a sociologist at Columbia. He was best known for a powerful series of books that he wrote together with his wife Frances Fox Piven, a professor of political science at the City University of New York, on issues related to the poor, including Regulating the Poor (1971), Poor Peoples’ Movements (1977), The New Class War (1982), and Why Americans Don’t Vote (1998). We are planning to run a piece about Richard and his contribution to mobilizing the struggle for the poor in a future issue. He was a good friend of MR and an MR author. We will miss him.
The events of September 11 are still unfolding as this issue goes to press. The November and December issues of Monthly Review will analyze them and their consequences.
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