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Pennsylvania-style homeland security

Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, has been given the job by President Bush of protecting the nation’s homeland security. As he and Attorney General John Ashcroft start using the nation’s new policing laws to fight terrorism, it’s important that people be made aware of Ridge’s record on crime and punishment — because it’s controversial and suggests what we’re likely to see in the future.

Tom Ridge was an aggressive law-and-order governor from the start. He was elected in 1993 on a campaign stressing fighting crime. He sought and won new anti-crime laws early on, though some were ruled unconstitutional. During his two terms, Ridge pursued a get-tough agenda using all the police-related branches of state government. He’s had little patience for critics, from death penalty opponents to civil libertarians.

Ridge, a Vietnam veteran, Harvard-trained lawyer and former congressman, was first elected Governor in a campaign that used political ads modeled on the Willie Horton ads by then-candidate George Bush’s supporters in 1988. The ads were controversial because in Congress, he was seen as a moderate, a pro-choice Republican with an independent streak.

But his first gubernatorial campaign focused on criminal justice reform. He capitalized on the tragic case of Reginald McFadden, a commuted murderer who went on a killing spree in New York shortly after his release. His Democratic opponent, former Lt. Gov. Mark Single, voted for McFadden’s release while on the state Pardons Board — hence the Horton-style ads.

Ridge also made juvenile justice a theme of his campaign. He urged that all juveniles, not just those accused of murder, be tried as adults and do adult time in adult prisons.

After his well-financed campaign was successful and he became governor, he began his first term with a special legislative session focusing entirely on crime. A flurry of bills were enacted, including a “Megan’s Law” bill, a “three-strikes” bill, and a bill revising the Pardons Board. He stepped up the war on drugs, limited parole releases, and imposed fees on prisoners for medical services and drug testing. The Megan’s Law and three strikes law were later declared unconstitutional as placing the burden of proof inappropriately on the defendants.

Ridge also presided over the first state execution since 1960. Three so-called volunteers — inmates who had given up their appeals — were executed, and he signed dozens of death warrants. Ridge implemented many new policies in the prison system, focusing on drug and alcohol interdiction. Drug-testing, ion-scanning machines, DNA testing, and prison shakedowns became commonplace.

After a Pennsylvania parolee, Bobby “Mudman” Simon, murdered a police officer in New Jersey, he [Ridge] led a crackdown on parole. He reversed a three-to-one ratio of granting parole to a three-to-one ratio against granting it. After the anticipated spike in prison population, policies were eased almost back to pre-Mudman levels. During his last years, prison populations actually fell for the first time in almost 20 years.

While some of Ridge’s initiatives were declared unconstitutional or had debatable results, his impact on juvenile justice is significant. Ridge wanted juveniles treated like adult offenders, and as a result Pennsylvania has opened its first adult prison comprised largely of juveniles.

Tom Ridge’s treatment of political protesters is also noteworthy. State police treated death penalty opponents very harshly during the governor’s conference in State College in 2000. Similarly, state police used questionable surveillance tactics, including pre-emptive strikes against protest headquarters during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 2000. City prosecutors failed to sustain most of the almost 500 criminal charges in subsequent court proceedings that resulted from the convention demonstrations.

Ridge’s use of a Malden Institute report to justify the raid on the R2K [Republican Convention 2000] protesters was particularly troubling. This ultra-right wing think tank used innuendo, lies, and rumor in its propaganda-filled manifesto, suggesting that the global protest movement was funded by rubles smuggled out of the former Soviet Union. The raid, prior to the actual protest, raised many troubling legal questions, most notably prior restraint of First Amendment rights.

In summary, Ridge governed from the middle of the political road, but maintained a strong law-and-order stance. Publicly, he told people what they wanted to hear. Privately Ridge tempered many of his goals. But in fighting crime he had extended the edge of the legal envelope — and then pushed it.

The stakes in U.S. homeland security are much higher than anything Ridge faced as governor of Pennsylvania. Congress has passed new laws giving Ridge untested new power. His record should serve as a caution to anyone who cares about privacy rights, civil liberties, and the conduct of the criminal justice system.

Angus Love
is an attorney with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and has been a longtime advocate for improved prison conditions in the state. This article appeared at TomPaine.com on October 16, 2001.

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Collateral damage: Neo-liberalism, October 17, 2001

Even as they were planning military action in Afghanistan, U.S. leaders were struggling with the contradictions of capitalism. One can almost hear them sighing, ah, if only we could bomb the recession!

Capitalism is an amazingly dynamic system, but it has some flaws. We’re seeing one of them as millions of people in the United States and around the world lose their jobs as a result of global recession.

In orthodox economic theory, the market automatically assigns human and material resources to meet human needs. Unfortunately, the history of capitalism indicates otherwise. Capitalism’s amazing growth spurts have been punctuated by recessions, depressions, and long periods of stagnation. While every such period has its own specific causes, underlying them all is the fact that in a capitalist system production is conducted not to meet human needs but to make profit for private enterprises. No matter how great the unmet needs, people will be laid off and production facilities closed down when conditions make them unprofitable.

Over the centuries, capitalist societies developed a wide range of non-market structures that reduced the gyrations of boom and bust. Nineteenth-century banking crises led to the development of central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserve Board to control money and credit. The Great Depression led to the use of low interest rates and government budget deficits to “prime the pump” of stagnating economies — generally known as “Keynesian” policies after their famous advocate, the British economist John Maynard Keynes. Even minimum wage laws and trade unions were seen by progressive economists as non-market means to correct the downward spiral of capitalist crises.

While conservatives regularly attacked Keynesian policies, in practice they generally turned to them when economies went south. Back in the recession of the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon, a life-long conservative Republican, astonished many when he declared himself a Keynesian. He cut interest rates, let Federal budget deficits soar, and imposed wage and price controls. But the notorious “stagflation” — a continuation of inflation even in times of recession — intensified. Long-term profits fell steeply worldwide.

Enter neo-liberalism, aka the global free market. Economists, corporate leaders, pundits, and politicians joined in a soaring chorus demanding a return to their imagined Victorian capitalism of world markets unrestricted by social legislation or government regulation. They called this fast-forward to the past “globalization.”

Now, faced with the prospect of a global recession, the whole pack suddenly turns back to Keynes’s classic formula for economic stimulus. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan cuts interest rates to their lowest levels in 40 years. Greenspan and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin meet with leaders of Congress and agree on a target of $100 billion in deficit spending. President Bush, no doubt hoping to preempt Democratic exploitation of “another Bush recession,” chimes in with tax cuts for the non-wealthy (as well as the wealthy), extended unemployment compensation, and payments for impacted state governments. Sometimes the cost of sticking to your principles is just too high. Sic transit gloria neoliberalism.

While the forces of global recession have been gathering at least since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, their growth was masked by the bubble economy in the United States. But that was punctured well before the September 11 attacks. The atmosphere of national crisis that followed September 11 allowed U.S. political elites to switch from neoliberalism to Keynsianism with a speed that would otherwise have been unimaginable.

There’s a problem: In the era of globalization, traditional Keynesian stimulus has proved to be of limited value. Governments abandoned Keynesianism in the 1970s largely because in the global economy its policies produced paradoxical effects: Stimulus to the national economy generated imports instead of jobs. The same is even more likely to be true today. The economic stimulus measures being pursued so far are likely to have a trivial effect in the face of a global downturn.

Recession causes vast suffering to people who lose their jobs. It also intensifies competition among workers, driving down wages and conditions. In a global economy, it does this globally. Workers around the world are being told that only those who accept lowest wages and social protections will keep their jobs. (Increasingly, China is setting the standard to which others must conform if they wish to retain jobs and investment.) Recession intensifies the race to the bottom.

The end of capitalism’s period of manic expansion and the coming of global recession creates a new context for the efforts of workers and social movements in the United States and worldwide. In the past, periods of economic downturn have had contradictory effects, promoting both social reaction and social progress. While it is far too early to predict the effects of today’s global recession, it is by no means too early to begin trying to discuss constructive responses from social and labor movements and the left.

While the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the U.S. retaliatory attacks have left the movement against corporate-sponsored globalization understandably stunned, the emerging global recession makes the need for such a movement — and its potential for worldwide popular support — greater than ever. But the next phase of its development is less likely to start from a renewal of large protests at elite international gatherings than from grassroots resistance to a recession-intensified race to the bottom.

While “the era of ‘big government is over’ is over,” the new turn toward Keynesianism is not necessarily progressive. For decades, the United States used Cold War military spending to “prime the pump.” Bush busted the deficit with spending for the “War on Terrorism” — and for Star Wars weapons in space.

But elites embrace of Keynesianism reframes public debate. The issue ceases to be whether government should intervene in the economy, and becomes in what way and in whose interest it should do so. Indeed, Keynesianism, in spite of its benefits for the orderly management of capitalism, is ideologically dangerous for elites precisely because it poses such questions. We can begin posing such questions today:

◊ In a neo-liberal conception, government should tax business and the wealthy as little as possible so they will invest and accumulate wealth that then will “trickle down” to the rest of society. But now President Bush proposes a tax cut for low-income people who were neglected in his previous tax cut, partially on the grounds that they are most likely to spend the money the fastest, thus expanding demand. If so, shouldn’t we address the broader issues of the maldistribution of income in the United States and worldwide? Underlying the emerging global recession is the redistribution of income from poor to rich that has marked the era of globalization. One reason for global recession is that most working people around the world are paid to little to purchase what they produce. Shouldn’t we apply Bush’s logic to the whole global distribution of wealth and income?

◊ In a neo-liberal conception, social welfare is a tax on enterprise that should be eliminated, leaving individuals to provide for themselves through their individual labor and effort. But now President Bush and Congress are preparing to extend unemployment benefits. If that’s ok, then isn’t time we started talking about rebuilding welfare, health insurance, and the rest of the social safety net?

◊ In a neo-liberal conception, countries that run deficits in their budgets and pile up foreign debts should be forced to raise interest rates, balance their budgets, and impose austerity on their people. But now the United States, the world’s largest debtor with the world’s largest trade deficit, is deliberately slashing interest rates and expanding budget deficits in order to stimulate its economy and create employment. Why shouldn’t Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, and other countries around the world be allowed to do the same? And if the IMF, on U.S. prompting, can provide debt relief to Pakistan, despite its failure to meet its economic commitments, because it helps the “war on terrorism,” why can’t the international community do the same for poor countries around the world whose people are starving by the millions due to structural adjustment austerity programs?

◊ In a neo-liberal conception, the development of industry should be left to the wisdom of the market. Nothing is more anathema than the idea that the government should “pick winners and losers.” Now the U.S. government is providing tens of billions of dollars for the airline industry. Not only that; it is establishing a government board, headed by until-now ultra-freemarketeer Alan Greenspan, with the power to decide which airlines it will subsidize and which ones it will force to merge. (Officials piously chanted that the board will not pick winners and losers). If the government can do that to keep airlines from going bankrupt, why shouldn’t it establish public boards with a few tens of billion dollars to save workers jobs, or to fund community-based investments, or to rebuild the economy on a low-carbon basis to reduce global warming, or to develop and supply technology to provide solar energy and safe water to people around the world?

And one more thing. Maybe there is a way to bomb the recession. With the approach of winter, unemployed Americans are threatening to swamp soup kitchens and food pantries. Now that U.S. leaders have decided it’s ok for Afghanistan, maybe we should beg them to begin bombing the United States with food as well.

Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello are co-authors, with Brendan Smith, of “Globalization from Below” and the producers of the video documentary “Global Village or Global Pillage?”. This commentary was sent to sustainer donors of Z/ZNet.