MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2001
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.