Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract

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9781567511062: Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract
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A WARNING FROM AN UPPITY CRIP. Marta Russell exposes the neoliberal drive to shrink social services with the Reinventing Government mantra. "We are dangerously close to a Jerry Lewis democracy where middlemen beggars and corporate CEOs getting huge paychecks may replace entitlements with charity," reveals Russell in her devastating analysis of the "reform" of the social safety net.

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About the Author:

Marta Russell is a writer/producer whose investigative reporting earned her a 1994 Golden Mike Award for the best documentary from the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California.

Disabled from birth, Russell began writing when her disability progressed and she had to navigate the disability policy netherworld to survive. She has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times, Z Magazine and the San Diego Union Tribune. She has a seventeen-year-old daughter and lives in Los Angeles.

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INTRODUCTION
Wisdom comes by disillusionment.-George Santayana

In one of his better moments, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The care of human life and happiness, and not destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government." That is the social contract a government has with its people...in a democracy, with all the people. Yet anti-government forces attacking "big bad government" would have us believe that government is unworkable when it is vital, as the Constitution calls for, to "promote the general welfare." Hypocritically, those same forces tolerate a "big" government that perpetuates an ostentatious military-industrial complex and a deep-pocket corporate welfare system of subsidies and tax loopholes, but would have us believe that social programs that support "the care of human life and happiness" are no longer "sustainable."

The social contract encompasses a wide arena. It includes hard-won popular entitlements serving the entire citizenry like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and it includes the promise of freedom from discrimination as directed by our civil rights laws. It includes democratic gains made at the voting booth and the right for labor to bargain with capital. But the social contract, which has never been fully fleshed out (for example, we lack universal health care in America), has only somewhat curbed the power of capital.

The immediate environs in which I find myself writing this book is one of extreme corporate domination, where "the people" are conformed into corporate identities: consumers, clients, target populations, or potential consumers. Any significant difference between Republicans and Democrats is certainly elusive. Former President Bush's New World Order is revealed to be a McNew-World-Order while President Clinton proudly eats Big Macs in public-a walking advertisement for it.

The spoken word rarely means what it says, so we live in a world in need of constant decoding. Deciphering "kindler, gentler nation," one finds that in practice "kinder, gentler" means leaner, meaner "tough love," where Social Security offices in the Midwest beef up security forces in anticipation of hostile reaction to welfare cuts, and lethal weapons are unabashedly our number one profit-making export. "Devolution" translates into undoing our national standards on welfare and health care; welfare "reform" means undoing entitlements; "balancing the budget" means redistributing wealth upwards, more corporate welfare, and tax cuts for the rich; "downsizing" means massive firings, increased job insecurity, and record corporate profits; and HMO "managed care" means managed-for-profit, lucky-if-you-survive-it care.

Not even the planet is free of the ill effects of current trends. No-vision short-term business profiteers are stripping the earth of its finite resources. The idea that we can have infinite growth on this finite planet is preposterous, yet corporate plunder is still viewed as the right to live the American dream; no one is immune from the consequences.

Most people are in deep economic pain in this country regardless of what the business pages and Washington politicians say. That is the nonpolitical truth. At the heart of the ills of our times is an economic oppression that is not only pervasive, but planned. The austerity forces, intent on undoing the social contract, are globalized; people are experiencing similar pain all over the world. The power of global capital via the corporate state is busily rolling back the rights of workers, and the right of citizens to access the benefits of common government, and in the process threatens democracy itself. Many more than those who recognize the faceless enemy are affected.

Americans seem to have lost sight of the fact that policies are social decisions and that these decisions can result in the de-valuation and even loss of human life. I am often asked why I write so much about disability. Other topics are far more "sellable"(that is certainly true). But the past years have made it insidiously apparent that the plight of disabled people, like canaries released into the coal mines to detect whether there was enough oxygen in the air to survive, is a barometer for the "progress" or lack of it in our over-capitalized civilization. Disability and disability policy-past, present and future-is a tool for all to rate our present socio/economic order.

Part One, The Nature of Oppression, explores how concepts of "normalcy" can be used for social control, to demean and de-value. It covers the extermination of "lives not worth living" in Nazi Germany, underscoring the connection between capitalism and social Darwinism. In our brave-new-world genetic future that maps "defects" and marks those carrying "bad" genes, asks Chapter 4, who won't be tainted as "disabled"? Who is "safe" from discrimination... or worse?

Part Two, The Mechanics of Oppression, details how social policies, which are social decisions, underlie economic oppression. It exposes the vested interests that have shaped social policy and the resulting institutional bias. Since work, the ability to do it or not, is central to the capitalist/labor paradigm, this section questions the wisdom of using work as the measure of human worth. It analyzes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the age of public relations politics: what the movement hoped the ADA to do, what it may or may not be able to achieve in an era of corporate downsizing, shrinking wages, and growing inequalities. In a broad context, this section poses whether civil rights, alone, can create the economic equality we seek.

Part Three, Ending the Social Contract, outlines the immediate threat where whole categories of people are being severed from entitlements. It explores the relationship between deficit reduction and paring disabled people from the rolls ($720 million to Social Security designated for such purposes). Chapter 12-the tie-it-all-together chapter-explains what Mother Teresa and corporate America have in common. It unmasks the GOP "revolutionaries' " real intent behind the "efficiency" rhetoric, by detailing the dangers of devolving federal public programs to the states, busts the myth that charity is a realistic substitute for entitlements, and proposes that military and corporate welfare be cut instead of social services.

The last two chapters ask, what does excessive "free market" ideology bring into our lives? What are the consequences when corporations control government policies-not the people-and the economy is raised to highest esteem?

The danger is that all may fall victim to the austerity forces if we do not recognize their existence and take direct action to stop them, as people in France, Canada, Spain, Italy, and Belgium have organized in protest over attempts to roll back the social contract in their countries. Collective action is vital to obtaining individual security. I outline some guides for social reorganization, but as we all know, any road map for change must be backed up by solid support from people with whom we share the democracy. The greatest challenge is organizing beyond our separate identities to achieve worthy universal goals like full employment, universal health care, and livable incomes.

During the French resistance to Hitler, Camus recognized the importance of becoming neither victim nor executioner, and this is unequivocally the challenge of our times, witnessed by genocide in Bosnia, the Middle East, East Timor, to name a few-that we all may survive without becoming oppressors or killers, that we may find the solutions that will arrest the callous and inequitable current path. We the people, including people with disabilities, must change the economic paradigms which greatly benefit the few, marginally benefit some, but leave others to some twisted, capitalist, social Darwinist end.

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