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Jobs with Justice Commentary on June 26 America Speaks Town Hall

The JwJ Economic Crisis committee believes that people going to the Town Hall should go with eyes open. But even more, we are concerned that the Town Hall is one tactic in creating a new narrative that the corporate and governmental elites are writing in this time of economic crisis. This offensive creates the fear of soaring future debt and sets the overwhelming economic priority of balancing the budget.
From the JwJ Website:

You will likely be hearing about a nation-wide Town Hall on June 26th that will be held in 20 cities simultaneously, Portland included. We (the JwJ Economic Crisis Committee) were suspicious when in the invitation to the America Speaks Town Hall we were told that we'd have to make "tough choices" to balance the budget. We immediately thought that it was going to be tough on us and thought, "They are probably going to try to tamper with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."

The JwJ Economic Crisis committee believes that people going to the Town Hall should go with eyes open. But even more, we are concerned that the Town Hall is one tactic in creating a new narrative that the corporate and governmental elites are writing in this time of economic crisis. This offensive creates the fear of soaring future debt and sets the overwhelming economic priority of balancing the budget.

By one stroke, they get three goodies: They plant in people's minds the idea that the critical cause of economic problems is the growing deficit, not what we have already experienced: three to four decades of intensified corporate domination with privatization, corporate trade, export of jobs, squeezing of the working class on wages, union busting, speed up and layoffs, increased racism, financialization of the economy and more. Secondly, deficit fear is being used to squelch even minor jobs programs in Congress, let alone a massive public jobs program. A number of Congress people are even crying "deficit" when it comes to extending unemployment benefits! This excuse to not create jobs will continue to cause suffering and will further erode workers' power.

Thirdly, the corporate and governmental elites are pushing for cuts to Social Security and other entitlements to "balance the budget." In the Town Hall materials, there are a number of options for cutting Social Security - even though the Social Security system is totally solvent. It is good that one option listed would make Social Security solvent for many more years, and that is raising the limit on taxable earnings. (See reference below for information on how Social Security is solvent. ) However, why is Social Security even a topic at a town hall on balancing the federal budget? Social Security uses NO money from the federal budget. It is a stand alone system.

We need to build stronger coalitions to re-write this narrative!

Although the America Speaks Town Hall promises an open, democratic, diverse conversation about problems that affect all of us, the set-up seems to be quite different. The America Speaks Town Hall is not a broad national conversation about the economic crisis and about how to deal with an economy that is seriously not working for the majority of us. It is not an open conversation about what should be national budget priorities. It is a pointed discussion that fans the flames of fear about soaring debt and the need to balance the budget
Participants will be asked to decide if and how to make the cuts. From the Town Hall workbook: "Your challenge (in this Town Hall) is to focus on the year 2025 when the annual deficit of 9% of GNP will be $2.46 trillion and choose spending or revenue options or both to reduce it by $1.2 trillion." The "data" from this national discussion will go to President Obama's Commission on the Deficit. The whole idea that balancing the budget is a pressing, critical problem certainly seems to be hype.

What we need now is just the opposite of crying "deficit." We need government spending on jobs creation. Fifteen million unemployed people and nine million underemployed people need jobs and their spending and taxes will lower the deficit! Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Public Policy Research, says, "In spite of the deficit hawks' whining, history and financial markets tell us that the deficit and debt levels that we are currently seeing are not a serious problem. The current projections show that even ten years out on our current course the ratio of debt to GDP will be just over 90 percent. The ratio of debt to GDP was over 110 percent after World War II. Instead of impoverishing the children of that era, the three decades following World War II saw the most rapid increase in living standards in the country's history"

These are links to good articles by Dean Baker showing how the "Deficit Crisis" is being hyped.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-baker/the-budget-deficit-crisis_b_453872.html
 link to www.cepr.net

We believe that for most of us far more pressing are the needs for a massive jobs program, a truly tight safety net, and steps to stop and reverse climate change. Let's have a national conversation about this! But who gets to frame the conversation? It looks like the framing and assumptions have been front loaded into a Town Hall program that will in large part determine how participants will "vote". If that's the case, it would not truly be a transparent, democratic process.

Given the framing, assumptions and options in the workbook guiding the Town Hall discussion, it will be an uphill battle to bring up the budget priorities common people need. We would like to see huge reduction in military and war spending; we'd like to stop ballooning health care costs by winning Medicare for All, or single payer; we'd like to see a massive federal jobs program and the building of an economy that reverses and stops climate change. Even though some of these are presented as options, the Town Hall materials make assumptions that make it highly unlikely that these ideas will come up and be counted.

Some examples of assumptions and framing in the options workbook:

On Medicare and Medicaid: The workbook assumes that we will simply not get fundamental health care reform (e.g. single payer or other big reforms) that will force significant cuts in health care costs. So, the workbook goes on to say that the options Town Hall participants will vote on are for "achieving savings through changes within the system ".
These include cuts and/or privatization of Medicare (for people over 65) and Medicaid (for poor people.) They are building into the assumptions that we will NOT get single payer. So, most people at the Town Hall won't vote for single payer, even though many would if they had it as an option. Thus, we are fed the assumption that health care costs will just keep going up and up and all we can do is cut government spending for health care.

The military budget The Town Hall materials present
the military budget as a necessary feature of our life without which we wouldn't have peace. The framing on P. 28 of the Town Hall workbook starts out like this, "The United States is by far the world's predominant military power. It plays the lead role in maintaining global peace, ensuring commerce on the world's waterways, protecting our allies, and confronting our adversaries when necessary. It leads an international alliance system of some 70 countries. It also will likely face a host of challenges in the coming years, which include possible conflicts in several parts of the world." With assumptions such as these and without facts and perspectives that challenge these common rose colored views of defense spending, many people at town halls around the country on June 26th will be less likely to "vote" to cut defense to balance the budget.

The Town Hall materials also seriously minimize the amount of the federal budget that goes to defense spending. The Town Hall guide says, " Over the last half-century, defense spending has fallen as a share of the budget more or less gradually from nearly 50% to today's 19%.."

To get defense spending down to 19% of the federal budget, you have to be pretty tricky. For one, you have to include Social Security in the federal budget! But it is NOT part of the budget. It is not part of income tax collection. It is a separate system of withholding in which one generation of workers provides for the previous generation. All the government does here is hold onto the funds and transfers the funds. Lyndon Johnson began including Social Security in the federal budget to hide the true costs of the Vietnam War. When you take Social Security out of the budget as it should be, the percentage of the budget devoted to the military goes up. The War Resister's League says that the 19.2% should be 36% and they have another category for past military spending that includes veteran's benefits and interest on the debt having to do with military spending that comes to 18% of the budget. There is a lot to look at here.

Nothing was presented in the Town Hall workbook about the astronomical increase in military spending in most of the period since World War II. This seems to be a huge omission. We've included below some links to information about the military budget from Marty Hart-Landsberg's blog on economics. He is a Lewis and Clark Economics professor and is on the Workers' Rights Board. This information essentially says that the non-military part of the budget has stayed roughly the same percentage of GNP for 40 years. What has changed is the hugely increased military budget. Marty points out that even if you remove the current war spending, the 2010 military budget is higher than in Reagan years or in the years of the Vietnam War. Why aren't these perspectives part of a nation-wide town hall?

What foundations are funding this Town Hall and what are their priorities?

- The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. GOP conservative and Wall St. billionaire Peter G. Peterson has demonized Social Security for decades and has, according to the Nation magazine, "spread some $12 million among economists and think tanks to sell his case." Dean Baker reports that Peterson has created curricula for high schools creating fear that Social Security is using up its money. Peter G. Peterson, former Secretary of Commerce under Richard Nixon, has been going around the county having town hall meetings with Warren Buffett, Alan Greenspan, Paul Volker and Robert Rubin. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is clearly a right wing foundation.

We haven't done tons of research on the Kellogg Foundation. Although they may fund some good things, we're very suspicious of them because they financially and politically support "Excellent Schools Detroit", a powerful move to create new charter schools in place of most of Detroit's public schools.  link to www.macsb.org


- The Kellogg Foundation is also one of the three major philanthropic organizations working with the Mayor of Detroit that is pouring money into both home demolition efforts and shifts to industrialized farming.  link to www.democracynow.org

- The MacArthur foundation: On their web page, this is the first sentence: "The massive government economic stimulus package approved in February 2009 added to the mountain of debt that threatens America's future. Aimed at relieving the financial crisis and recession, the plan more than tripled the deficit from what it was just two years earlier. But the aging of the baby boomers, increasing entitlement costs, and an arcane federal budget process were already jeopardizing the nation's fiscal well-being. Increased life expectancy will result in a growing number of retirees relative to the number of workers to support them. And the costs of entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will consume a larger share of the federal budget. Yet the American public scarcely understands the tax and spending measures in the federal budget at a time when the deficit is expected to exceed $1 trillion annually for at least the next several years."

This sounds like the premise of the Town Hall and appears to focus on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as being the main "deficit culprits." For more info,  link to www.macfound.org

Again, we suggest that folks who go to the Town Hall go with their eyes open. Additionally, we should all work on changing the narrative of fear of deficits into a narrative that looks squarely at the 30 plus years of corporate domination and focuses on the need to win more resources and power for working people!

For more information on Social Security's solvency, see Reports from the Economic Front, March 31, 2010

For more information on military spending, see Reports from the Economic Front, March 16, 2010 and December 5, 2009.

Reports from the Economic Front: