Congress hits easy scapegoat

Hold the applause on welfare "reform."

Welfare is perhaps the least popular vestige of the New Deal, and the best thing that can be said of its revamping is that taxpayers demanded it. But if the old system encourages dependence, as critics contend, the replacement - to which overriding majorities in Congress and the President finally agreed - appears mean-spirited and underfunded for its stated goal of transferring the jobless from welfare to work.

Clinton in 1994 had proposed to put many welfare recipients to work, but that plan earmarked $2 billion for training, child care, health care and other transition programs. Instead, according to the Urban Institute, as reported in the New York Times, the new law will cut the budget for major assistance programs by $15 billion annually (roughly one-fifth) when it is fully put into effect in 2002. Transition costs are left up to the states.

Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, a liberal New York Democrat who recognizes the need to reform welfare, nevertheless denounced the moves to strictly limit benefits as "welfare repeal" and "a social risk no sane person would take." His warnings went unheeded in the bipartisan stampede to crack down on welfare recipients before the election.

Who benefits from welfare reform?

· Rich people for whom Congress can use the savings to help pay for the long-awaited cut in the capital gains tax. They also will enjoy less inflation because of all those poor folks competing for the same limited number of jobs.

· Employers, particularly in service industries, who will have more people applying for jobs, which will put a damper on wages and drive down production costs.

· Republicans, who will get credit from the middle class for cracking down on welfare, while the poor folks resent the Democrats for caving in.

Also expect law enforcement and private security firms to see an increase in business as those who cannot find jobs, because the Federal Reserve Board won't let unemployment get below 5%, figure out that the only rational alternative is crime.

Who stands to lose from welfare reform?

· Blue-collar workers who, after they get "downsized" by their current employers, will be competing with former welfare moms for jobs.

· Retailers in low-income neighborhoods, particularly grocers, whose customers will have less disposable income.

· Kids whose benefits will be cut off because their folks cannot (or will not) find a job.

· Immigrants who will be ineligible for welfare benefits, even if they are in this country legally.

· States, counties and municipalities that will have the responsibility of taking care of those welfare needs the feds walk away from.

· Churches, upon which the burden will fall to take care of those the state and local governments can't or won't help.

· Middle-class people with consciences, who will feel pressure to increase their charitable giving to make up for the skinflints.

Before its members decamped for the August recess, Congress passed some good bills to expand access to health insurance, raise the minimum wage with tax cuts designed to help small businesses and updated drinking water rules. This after catering to big business in revamping telecommunications regulations and farm programs earlier in the year.

When it returns in September, Congress will have opportunity for further mischief when it takes up final action on immigration "reform," revamps housing programs and drafts a new set of draconian measures to counter terrorism.

The anti-terrorism bill threatens further erosion of privacy and civil liberties as Clinton pushes to give the FBI more leeway in wiretapping and other tools to combat potential terrorists as well as compile dossiers. God help us, Newt Gingrich may be the best hope for reason in that fight.

Stake a Socialist

If you want to help raise some hell this election season, send a few bucks to the Socialist Party USA to support Mary Cal Hollis' campaign for President. Hollis, a 44-year-old special education teacher from Boulder, Colo., hopes to raise $5,000 from at least 20 different states in this election year. Not only would that net the Socialist Party $100,000, but it would qualify the Socialists for matching federal funds. A hundred thousand might be a paltry sum in the world of high-dollar politics, but it would be a boon to the frugal Socialists and you'd have the added satisfaction of driving right-wingers nuts at the thought of their tax pennies going toward Socialist propaganda! (The party already has raised $30,000.)

Hollis, who recently made a campaign swing through Austin, joked that her entire campaign budget wouldn't get Clinton, Dole or even Ross Perot very far; she drives most places in her un-air-conditioned compact car. Once, she said, when the campaign sprang for an airline ticket, she missed a connection and had to spend the night on the floor of DFW Airport - and the Socialist candidate gets no Secret Service agents to watch her baggage. She saves money by staying with friends and fellow Socialists on the road, meeting some "really wonderful people" along the way.

And she has had success in getting radio and local press coverage. "It's been a real education for me and a chance to educate other people," she said, as she details the Socialist platform. Among other things, it calls for universal health care, a living wage for workers, equal access to public education, workers rights in a global economy, a safe environment, corporate accountability, an end to privatization and a sustainable economy, including aid for family farms and agricultural cooperatives.

Hollis started out with the Democratic Socialists of America, which is aligned with the Democratic Party. Later she joined the Socialist Party, which pursues its own electoral goals (and is not to be confused with the more militant and Marxist Socialist Workers Party). She worked in the Socialist Party office in New York for seven weeks in 1995. She made enough of an impression that when the party met in convention last October in Cambridge, Mass., a friend nominated her for president. She was back in Colorado and the last she had heard they were going to put her up for vice president; they didn't tell her about the switch for four days. She joked that the first word she got of her nomination was from "capitalists wanting to sell me banners."

In addition to raising money, she hopes to get the party onto ballots, with a target of 15-20 states for this election. In states such as Texas, where restrictive laws are designed to keep parties off the ballot, she will register as a write-in candidate so that votes for her will be counted.

She also hopes to get various groups on the Left working together, just as groups on the Right have joined forces. "There's an old saying that when the Left forms a firing squad, they stand in a circle," she said. "All the left groups realize that we need a coalition. We just haven't found a vehicle yet."

Hollis, who also is a member of the Green Party, professes to admire Ralph Nader, who has allowed the Green Party to run him as President. "I admire his attempts to shake up the Democratic Party and his criticism of corporate welfare and accountability," she said. "What's unfortunate about it is he's not running an active campaign."

As summer comes to a close, Hollis was prepared to get back to her full-time job at a Boulder middle school. Her running mate, Boston author Eric Chester, is expected to take up the campaign duties after recovering from a car wreck.

"I wish I had more time to spend on the campaign," she said, "but I have to make a living."

For more information on the Socialist Party USA, call 212-691-0776 or write "Hollis/Chester 1996," 516 W. 25th St. #404, New York, NY 10001.

Buy locally or not at all

A group in Vancouver, Canada, is sponsoring a 24-hour moratorium on consumer spending in the fifth annual Buy Nothing Day on Sept. 24. "Buy Nothing Day is a completely grassroots movement. Its only goal is to remind the consumer that he or she has the power to direct the actions of the marketplace, and our tools are largely word of mouth and good intentions," the sponsors state. This year Buy Nothing Day has a web site featuring information on the event.

While we support the idea, we propose that "Buy Nothing Day" be followed by "Buy Independent Week" Sept. 25 through Oct. 3, during which time consumers should not patronize businesses that are owned by corporate chains. No Wal-marts, K-marts or Targets. Drop your Gannett or Knight-Ridder newspapers, at least for a week, or until they settle their year-old strike in Detroit. Find a locally owned grocery, a mom-and-pop shoe store, an old-fashioned hardware store where you can buy one nail if you only need one nail. Support them before they become extinct. And of course renew your subscription to the Progressive Populist.

-- Jim Cullen

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