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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/7/10

Re: The Cuts That Will Leave Nothing Behind

Message Robert Richardson
The cuts that will leave nothing behind - by Lee Sustar
September 3, 2010

It seems to me that there is a substantial element of truth in this article. If so, then the consequences are daunting because, as the article correctly points out, all this simply shifts the costs of social service and support systems to other sectors of the economy, and the big winners doubtless will be the privatized criminal justice system (i.e., jails) and the military (to which so many youths with no viable options will turn). Oh, and of course the street gangs.
What the conservative Republicans (and others of their stripe) don't seem to realize is that these people simply will not go away, and that illegal immigration probably is unstoppable, and that it is much more intelligent (and vastly cheaper) to install a system that helps people move into the mainstream than to burden society by expanding the jails and the police forces. But if there is no mainstream workforce that can employ and sustain this substantial (and growing) number of people, then we have a deep and pervasive structural problem in our society. The same logic, BTW, applies to a workable system of preventive health care.....

Once, a long time ago, I had a mini-epiphany in which I suddenly had a vision of what it must be like to be a young black man in a ghetto or barrio, with virtually no real chance of getting out. I felt the anger, the desperation and the hopelessness of that situation. From that perspective I almost understood (remember, I am an old white guy) why these young persons join street gangs, or sell nickel bags of crack on the streets. And the establishment continues to cut back, or eliminates, almost all viable options. These options do take time to work.It is not a simply binary system, in which some young guy says "No" or "OK - I'll quit the Crips and get my GED and go to a community college. Gee, thanks!" The anger and disaffection grow, the availability of weapons grows, and the attitude "What the hell, I've got nothing to lose" grows.

Remember that despite millions and millions of dollars spent, metropolitan (and now rural) police forces have barely been able to control street gangs - - on the street and in the prisons. The best they can do is try to contain them. But the gangs have been fragmented and fighting turf wars. That has prevented them from coalescing into a really fearsome destructive urban force. I hope that, as these cuts in needed social services become felt, there does not arise a malevolent Caesar Chavez who can bring together disparate gang elements in, for example, the greater Los Angeles area. What I really fear in the event of a major LA earthquake is not the earthquake itself, but the consequences of the police forces being overwhelmed by the crisis, and the armed gangs roaming the streets unchecked. In the past that is what the National Guard has been called in for, but we seem to be dissipating our National Guard and its equipment, squandering it in endless, unwinnable wars.

So these establishment savants, who gave the country away to the banks and the insurance companies, absolutely guarantee that society will have to deal with the social, medical and law enforcement consequences of their budget cuts. In the past, the common wisdom was that the police and politicians tolerated so-called "red light" districts, and areas where street gangs held control (e.g., "Hell's Kitchen" in NYC) so long as they stayed in one area and only killed each other. Out of sight, out of mind. But, as we have learned in fighting the Taliban, even poor, skinny kids in sandals and robes can use laptops, can communicate with each other, can detonate IEDs, and generally prove that we have no option on intelligence or the ability to improvise. We should have learned that in Viet Nam,. but of course we didn't....

So, too, with our angry, disenfranchised people.
I surely am not saying that all so-called welfare programs are working, or useful, or even intelligently conceived and competently administered.. I am saying that sweeping the ground clean is not an intelligent survival option for our society. Despite the wonderful intellectual constructs promulgated by those who are educated and affluent, and who make our laws, and who speak politely to each other of budget deficits across polished mahogany conference tables, there is a growing, grinding, anger and hopeless desperation that simply cannot be suppressed indefinitely. If you live in a comfortable, articulate world of logic and analysis it is difficult to understand, on a gut level, how intelligent young people can become sociopaths simply because they have looked at their intolerable situation, looked at their future, and correctly recognized that there is no way out.

As this situation worsens, I fear (realistically, unfortunately) that we can have situations that will make the Watts riots seem like peaceful protests in the park. Why should these angry, profoundly disaffected and marginalized people, give a damn if they burn down their landlords' buildings? Sure, they will be homeless, but that is nothing compared to the satisfaction of striking back. But the establishment just doesn't get it - - just as it didn't get it when it believed that Hitler could be controlled.

Remember that the NRA and the firearms lobby have been sowing the wind for decades, but the people who will reap the whirlwind are the ordinary citizens caught in the crossfire, our society, and the police. And there will be sanctimonious hand-wringing and bitter reciprocal accusations, but the rending of our society will be real, deep, and possibly irreparable. Many people will die, and some will make a lot of money rearming the police.
It has been said, in response to my concern about gang members and other frustrated, angry young people receiving military combat training (because joining the military is their only viable option and there is no draft to act as a leavening agent), that it does not release a lot of combat-trained, angry youths into society. That the military training actually helps these persons find themselves and become productive, responsible citizens. I am sure that does happen, perhaps many, many times. But the success stories are not what I am concerned about. If you have 5000 trained guys being discharged, and only 100 go back into their hopeless civilian lives and become radicalized (if they weren't already) then you have a very worrisome cadre of serious trouble.

After 1918 it was not so threatening, and the available war surplus was Springfield bolt-action rifles and a scattering of Colt .45s. Automatic weapons were prohibited by law, and the AK-47 was not even a blip on the horizon (Kalashnikov was born in 1919). Now the world (that is, the civilian world) has become a very volatile and scary place. Not so much in the U.S. now, but wait.... it will spread.

You know, in the Middle Ages ordinary peasants were lucky just to survive the night and make it through to the following day. The weapons technology was primitive, but it did suffice. Then, as now, ordinary citizens survived more through good luck than good management. They kept their heads down and tried very hard not to be noticed - - by anyone. Then the American colonies tried the Great Experiment, and it was wonderful. The U.S. was (at least for white European Christians) the Promised Land. And that was vastly better than what had gone before, when white European Christians were slaughtering each other in the Thirty Years' War, or in Napoleon's horrific excursions.
But now we gradually have been building a potentially unstable, explosive social structure. Bit by bit, year by year, the gulf between ethnic groups, between rich and poor, between Christians, Muslims and Jews, has been widening. What the Republicans (apologies to the "enlightened" Republicans) are clueless about is the danger of trying to cap a magma chamber of anger and discontent merely by passing laws and discussing budget cuts in legislative chambers. They tried that before, until Roosevelt saved the country from anarchy to the undying enmity of corporate interests.
It is not certain that, absenting the enormous economic boost created by WWII, the nation we had in 1929-1939 would have grown into the one we now have. Not merely the economic and military power we now wield, but the social structure probably would have been quite different. Until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor we were by no stretch of the imagination a nation with a unified purpose, a unified sense of self, or any idea of our place in the world. Just as the Civil War gave us a new sense of identity (at terrible cost) so WWII gave us a sense of America's role in world affairs (also at terrible cost). Pearl Harbor proved to be the Great Unifying Event, as Hitler and the Nazis never were.
It is interesting to note that many of the pre-WWII isolationists were people who had lost sons in the war, and who really believed that it had gone on so long because the industrialists profited so greatly from it. And that was in a technologically simple conflict - they still had Zouave cavalry, in full 19th-century regalia, charging machine-gun emplacements. Or, at least they had them briefly.....

Remember how many millions of tons of war materiel were moved by American railroads, for example, and how many billions of rounds of ammunition were expended. All wars bring great profits to those who arm the armies - - WWI and WWII really did profit corporations beyond their wildest dreams, because nobody ever bombed the mainland U.S. (Of course, next time it might be different.) But all those millions of tons of shipping sunk by the Nazi U-boats had to be replaced. A win-win for corporations, and a lose-lose for the merchant seamen.
Corporate profits from the Korean "Police action" and from Vietnam were enormous - - as are the profits from the Iraq war and from the Afghanistan conflict, although you never hear anything about it (nor do you hear much about casualties). I don't mean to sound cynical, but if you are an arms manufacturer, a prolonged period of peace does nothing much for your bottom line.

So there was an honest groundswell of isolationism in the American people. Not the Nazi-loving America-Firsters like Lindbergh,or the German-American Bund (which rallied in Madison Square Garden, complete with swastikas and Nazi uniforms, and had paramilitary training camps in New Jersey). Yes, I do understand that we really had to fight Hitler - - God knows I understand that. And this time the isolationists got it wrong - we really had to defeat Hitler and Japan.

Ooops - - please forgive the digression. My point, obscured by my irritation, is that there really is plenty (read: PLENTY) of money around, but much of it is locked up in corporate coffers and Swiss accounts. For decades of Bush economics (and Reagan and even the sainted Clinton), enormous amounts of money have been transferred, irreversibly, from the public to the private sectors. As it always has been, except that in the past it was to church coffers and to the royal treasuries).

I am not preaching socialism, giving to the poor, Ah Woe!. I simply am saying that the absolutely unbridled greed that still controls Washington.and resulted in obscene corporate tax breaks, incentives, bailouts and regulatory indulgences, removed from the national treasury a great deal of money that now is needed to keep our society functioning. Nobody is going to give anything back (yes, Bill Gates does, but I am speaking of legislative integrity, which we do not have). So as the social programs are cut, and drug prices continue to rise, and benefits continue to fall, and even essential social services like fire and police are diminished, the rich get richer, without accountability, the Congress aids and abets them, and the great magma chamber of civil discontent continues to grow.

Please understand that everything is not logical, and that a sweeping unrest can gather momentum with horrifying speed. With the ease of communication, it can spread like wildfire in dry brush. There already is more than enough frustration and bitterness - - all it will take is more of these proposed budget cuts, the elimination of needed services, a really hot summer, and the proliferation of weapons in our society.


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Bob Richardson is a retired electrical engineer and information specialist. He lives in New England.
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