"Radio Free Maine," the creation of Roger Leisner, provides tapes and other materials from activists and dissidents whose views are rarely heard within the mainstream press. In my own research and teaching on the subject of crime and criminal justice I continually confront the almost total lack of good critical analysis within the mainstream press on this pressing social problem. The tapes I will be reviewing below do not, at first glance, seem to be related to my subject matter. Believe me they do, and they provide for me a clear example of how important it is, in our approach to the problem of crime, to go beyond the "normal academic disciplines" in order to more fully understand the problem but also to do something constructive about it. In fact, the topics to be discussed below clearly relate to the crime problem, as I will make very clear.
Personally, I get a great deal of enjoyment listening to these tapes while driving in my car, to and from my work (which, given the traffic problems in Las Vegas, takes me about 45 minutes each way) and on long trips I often make to California (4 hours each way, which means I have to take along several of Roger's tapes!). I hope that the reader will get as much enjoyment from these tapes as I do.
Two tapes by Noam Chomsky will be reviewed here. Chomsky hardly needs an introduction, since he is perhaps the foremost critic of the media and domestic and foreign policy. So I will not bother to review his background. I will say this much, however: in my lifetime (covering just over 50 years) I have never heard nor read someone who puts national and world conditions and trends in such a clear and convincing perspective better than Chomsky does. His attack on the rulers, particularly corporations and politicians is unrelenting, as is his support for the average citizen, who, as he clearly shows, is being constantly manipulated by a media with far too much power. And they seemed to be determined to destroy what little remains of our "democracy." I find in my own work on crime and justice that his perspective helps me understand why we have so much crime and why our response to this problem only makes things worse. I have listened to these tapes on more than one occasion, and each time I learn something. In the near future I will review other tapes, such as speeches given by Howard Zinn and Francis Fox Piven.
Tape 1 - Noam Chomsky, "Third World Conditions at Home: Nobody to Blame, But Ourselves" (speech given at Western Washington University, March 4, 1996).
Tape 2 - Noam Chomsky, "From Containment to Rollback: Will Civilization Die?" (speech given at the university of New Brunswick, April 2, 1996)
Both of these speeches address some of the issues facing American citizens today, following the incredible increase in the gap between the rich and the poor during the past 15 years. The term "Third World Conditions At Home" appropriately summarizes the effects of the redistribution of the wealth in this society, the corporate "downsizing," with the corresponding layoffs, while, with the help of the "Gingrich Republican Army," corporate profits are just "dazzling" and, as reported in Business Week, "never before have so many goodies been showered so enthusiastically on America's entrepreneurs." Yet despite all the corporate profits (up by more than 50% in recent years), they still want more! They are having a problem about what to do with all the cash they have at their disposal! (The city of New York claims it is broke! But the poor are finally "free" to leave the city if they want!) Meanwhile, the number of poor people continues to increase (although not specifically mentioned by Chomsky in these speeches, it should be noted that the percentage of all children who are now living in poverty stands at about 22 and that about one-half of all black children are living in poverty, ranking the United States first in the world in this statistic!).
Chomsky's phrase "from containment to rollback" is borrowed from the terminology of the Cold War which ordained that the United States is free to go "beyond the containment of the threat to market democracies" to the "enlargement of their reach." Chomsky argues that during the past 25 years the ruling class has moved from the "containment of the threat of democracy and human rights to rollback of the despised social contract." In other words, let profits soar and remain in the hands of a few and destroy any form of democracy among the "rabble" or, as one historian put it, the "great beast," that is, the general public. Let's "rollback" all the gains labor has made and insert a sort of "tough love" program for the American people, especially the poor.
And how was this done? Well, one of the most common methods of increasing corporate profits, Chomsky tells us, is through a gigantic "subsidy" program. Such a program, which is often referred to as "security" (as in "protecting America's interest from attacks by foreign countries"), is rather simple. Our tax dollars end up supporting corporations via such government departments as the Pentagon, Department of Commerce, the Agricultural Department, etc. This is why, for instance, Lockheed (located ironically in Cobb County, Georgia, home of Newt Gingrich) got back on its feet (Chomsky points out that this county ranks first in the amount of federal subsidies [read "welfare handouts"] given to all the counties in the country). In fact, his county leads all other counties in the country in the amount of subsidies. Modern American capitalists do not really support the so-called "free enterprise" system. Rather they support the notion of "corporate welfare for the rich, free enterprise for everyone else." In effect, we pay corporations to help advertise their products (especially overseas), to run experiments on new products, to get started in the building of new products (e.g., the space program, the Aviation industry, such as Lockheed, McDonnel-Douglas, Boeing), etc. But, unfortunately, we don't receive any of the benefits!
Ironically, as Chomsky relates in this talk, the public is overwhelmingly against such corporate greed. One survey found that an incredible 95% of the public believes that corporations should sacrifice some of their profits for workers and communities. The public also overwhelmingly support more spending on social programs, especially for those most vulnerable and the majority believe that so-called "tax cuts" will benefit mostly "those who don't need it," namely the rich. Also, the majority (around 80%) say that the present economic system is "inherently unfair."
As in many of his speeches and his writings, Chomsky constantly places the current situation in historical perspective as he notes, for instance, that early in the history of American capitalism it was realized that the so-called "free market" system (which, if I may insert my own view, really means that those with the most property and capital are "free" to exploit whomever they want and the majority are "free" to take their labor elsewhere if they want to) would make it impossible to achieve the kind of profits capitalists wanted and so instead they needed the state to intervene on their behalf. This was certainly not the system that some of the founders had in mind, such as Thomas Jefferson who, later in his life, warned us about the rise of a "single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporatons," which would enable the few to be "riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry," and would eventually destroy real democracy. Similarly, such leading thinkers as Alexis de Tocqueville and Adam Smith asserted that "equality of condition" was more important that "equality of opportunity" and saw the dangers of "a permanent inequality of conditions" and an actual end to true democracy if "the manufacturing aristocracy" should become established. Later in the 19th century it was recognized that common belief that the competitive system, or the "Devil take the hindmost system," is the last and the most perfect system to be seen in the world. But it became a system that tried repeatedly to control labor and extract the maximum amount of profit, with an attitude of "gaining wealth, forgetting all but self." The U.S. became a society dominated by big business. It was described aptly by John Dewey who wrote that "government [or politics] is but the shadow cast upon society by big business" and to attack the government (the shadow) is to miss the real source of the problems, namely, big business. And, as Chomsky points out, recent anger at the government (e.g., from right wing so-called "militias" and the "angry white males" like Timothy McVeigh) is really displaced anger.
This "perfect" and "Devil take the hindmost" system has resulted in huge corporate profits in recent years. As Chomsky notes, the recent growth in profits have been described by Business Week with such terms as "dazzling," "stunning," "spectacular," etc. Significantly, among the leading profit makers were Kelly and Manpower, Inc., both of which can report "sales" (which are really sales of people rather than material goods). This is significant because it represents a recent trend in "corporate downsizing" where they hire temporary and/or part-time workers, so that the companies do not have to pay any benefits. The result of such "dazzling" profits is not any sort of "trickle down" effect, but rather worsening conditions for the average worker: real wages have been going down, while the distribution of wealth gets more and more unequal. For instance, the top 1% of all Americans now receive almost half of all income (an increase from the late 1970s) and they control about 60% of all wealth (also an increase from the late 1970s), while the share of the bottom half of the population gets smaller (the bottom 40% got only 12.5% of the national income in 1994).
And how does the average citizen react to all of this? They certainly don't like what has been happening. As Chomsky notes, what was missing from the spring, 1996 elections were the voters! They stayed away in droves. And what was also missing early on was Phil Gramm, the leading presidential standard-bearer for the "Contract with America." It turns out that the voters, when presented with the details of this alleged "contract" overwhelmingly rejected it. It also turns out that the so-called "support" was in reality only the support of the "slogans" used to promote the contract. What was also missing was any mention of the "budget deficit," which was theoretically among the top priorities of the people. It turns out that it was a top priority of big business, not the people, as it was the number one problem with only 5% of the American people, ranked alongside homelessness! But since it was ranked number one with big business, it was expressed as "Americans want a balanced budget."
I cannot begin to adequately summarize both of these speeches. I have tried to highlight some of the major points raised, for there is much more and I urge the reader to purchase these and other tapes. But one point needs to be underscored - and this is a point that is made in most of Chomsky's speeches and writings, namely, that we need to understand the incredibly powerful propaganda system (and the powerful corporate-controlled media that funnels such propaganda our way) which, on a daily basis, reinforces the myth that this is the "best of all possible worlds" and that this is the perfect economic system. While it does this it masks where the real power lies and convinces most Americans that what determines economic events are "market forces" or the so-called "blind hand of the market." Chomsky ends his talk on "From Rollback to Containment" with the following comment: "There is no reason now than there has ever been to believe that we are constrained by mysterious and unknown social laws, not simply decisions made within institutions that are subject to human will." The "mysterious force" of the "free market" turns out to be a system owned and manipulated by a small number of men (emphasis should be on "White males").
One last comment is in order. I said at the beginning that I, as a criminologist who studies crime and our reaction to it, that I find some of Chomsky's works valuable in my own work. A recent example will illustrate this. A special bond issue was part of the primary elections here in Las Vegas (we had elections for local and state offices, in addition to Congressional and the Senate seats). This was the so-called "Public Safety Bond" which asked the voters to approve the expenditure of almost $200 million dollars for a new jail and the expansion of the existing adult and juvenile court systems. A vigorous campaign was waged in support of the bond and behind the support was one of the most prestigious and powerful advertising agencies in the state of Nevada (who donated much of their advertising without cost) and by a group of citizens (calling themselves "Citizens for Public Safety") representing some powerful private interests (including local hotels and casinos - an industry that in effect runs the state). Also, the leading figure of this group is in line to run for Governor next year. The campaign included ads on both radio and TV and played to people's fears with gross distortions and misleading statements about crime, even though in reality the overall crime rate has decreased since the early 1980s. I attempted to give an opposing viewpoint through an article sent to three local newspapers. None of the three printed my views. In fact, there were no opposing views expressed in the press (both television and newspapers) until a couple of days before the election, when one newspaper ("borrowing" some of my own ideas) came out against the bond. The voters approved the bond by a 2-1 margin. The key point here is that crime policies are shaped by the same powerful forces that shape other domestic issues. And, as I have learned recently, there is a fast growing and powerful "Crime Control Industry" in this country, reaping huge profits for many businesses (e.g., contractors, mortgage and insurance companies, bailbondsmen, private security firms, providers of services to jails and prisons, etc.). And this industry has been and continues to focus on controlling, not the real criminals in this society, but mostly the "surplus labor population," especially minorities. Chomsky's analysis helps explain what happened here in Las Vegas. Perhaps the reader can closely examine crime policies in his or her own area from the same perspective. You will be enlightened.