Issue Number 23 - January 2, 2003

Bush plans more gifts for rich
Rangel raises draft issue
Brazil-Venezuela solidarity






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It was not the kind of picture the Bush crowd likes to see. There was South African President Thabo Mbeki, yukking it up with Cuba's Fidel Castro, standing near Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, all celebrating the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva - "Lula" - leader of Brazil's Workers Party.

Off to the side, U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick conveyed by his lowly diplomatic presence the Bush administration's disdain for the whole affair. No matter. 175 million people in a country the size of the continental United States, including the largest African-descended population outside of Nigeria, were definitively ending the dark days begun in 1964, when the U.S. supported a military coup that crushed Brazilian democracy for 21 years. Various conservative parties held Brazil in Washington's orbit from 1985 until Lula's decisive victory, in October.

President Chavez felt secure enough to leave Venezuela for the inaugural festivities, a sign of confidence that his government can ride out the rebellion of the nation's white oligarchy, oil company executives, and some sectors of organized labor. Chavez enjoys the fervent support of Venezuela's poor, non-white majority, who foiled a U.S.-supported coup against him in April. Washington has made its desire for a "regime change" clear ever since, but found itself, not Chavez, isolated in the Organization of American States, which affirmed its support for the constitutional order in Venezuela.

Brazil did better than that. At the urging of incoming President da Silva, the Brazilian government sent a tanker of gasoline to relieve shortages caused by the "strike." Chavez proposed that he, da Silva and Castro form an "axis of goodwill" - an obvious dig at Bush's "axis of evil" rhetoric.

New Years Day is also of great significance to Fidel Castro. On January 1, 1959, the guerilla leader stepped onto a second floor balcony in Santiago, in the heart of Cuba's largely Black Oriente Province, to proclaim the triumph of the revolution. 44 years later, Castro is a star at the inauguration of a working class president of Latin America's economic powerhouse and most populous country, flanked by another President who is a hero to the poor of the Western Hemisphere's biggest oil producer, bantering with the leader of Black Africa's industrial giant whose African National Congress enjoyed close ties with Cuba during the long struggle against white rule.

No, this is not the picture that George Bush wanted to see.

Draft discourages war

Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel's New Year's Eve statement on a revived draft is certain to start the argument rolling, after three decades of a volunteer Army. We thought it best to publish Rep. Rangel's Op/Ed article in full, so that we can all begin the conversation on the same page:

President Bush and his administration have declared a war against terrorism that may soon involve sending thousands of American troops into combat in Iraq. I voted against the Congressional resolution giving the president authority to carry out this war -- an engagement that would dwarf our military efforts to find Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

But as a combat veteran of the Korean conflict, I believe that if we are going to send our children to war, the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice. Throughout much of our history, Americans have been asked to shoulder the burden of war equally.

That's why I will ask Congress next week to consider and support legislation I will introduce to resume the military draft.

Carrying out the administration's policy toward Iraq will require long-term sacrifices by the American people, particularly those who have sons and daughters in the military. Yet the Congress that voted overwhelmingly to allow the use of force in Iraq includes only one member who has a child in the enlisted ranks of the military -- just a few more have children who are officers.

I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve -- and to be placed in harm's way -- there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.

Service in our nation's armed forces is no longer a common experience. A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent.

We need to return to the tradition of the citizen soldier -- with alternative national service required for those who cannot serve because of physical limitations or reasons of conscience.

There is no doubt that going to war against Iraq will severely strain military resources already burdened by a growing number of obligations. There are daunting challenges facing the 1.4 million men and women in active military service and those in our National Guard and Reserve. The Pentagon has said that up to 250,000 troops may be mobilized for the invasion of Iraq. An additional 265,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve, roughly as many as were called up during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, may also be activated.

Already, we have long-term troop commitments in Europe and the Pacific, with an estimated 116,000 troops in Europe, 90,000 in the Pacific (nearly 40,000 in Japan and 38,000 in Korea) and additional troop commitments to operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere. There are also military trainers in countries across the world, including the Philippines, Colombia and Yemen.

We can expect the evolving global war on terrorism to drain our military resources even more, stretching them to the limit.

The administration has yet to address the question of whether our military is of sufficient strength and size to meet present and future commitments. Those who would lead us into war have the obligation to support an all-out mobilization of Americans for the war effort, including mandatory national service that asks something of us all.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), New York Times, December 31, 2002

Obscene numbers

White House budget chief Mitchell Daniels Jr. predicts war with Iraq will cost the U.S. treasury between $50 and $60 billion, far less than the $100 to $200 billion reluctantly accepted by his former colleague, Lawrence Lindsey, and nowhere near the long-term, worst-case scenario forecast by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: $1.9 trillion over ten years.

The White House would prefer to say nothing about war costs, but must present a budget to the new Congress on February 3. When the Washington Post first circulated the $100 - $200 billion figure, December 1, an unidentified White House spokesperson called the matter "premature" since "President Bush has not decided on the use of military force." Former chief economic advisor Lindsey also avoided the issue at first, finally going along with the Washington Post number shortly before he was fired.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences study's high-range figure of almost $2 trillion dollars factors in an oil crisis-induced U.S. economic recession. The Academy's rock bottom estimate for a short, sweet, non-disruptive war is $99 billion.

The 1991 Gulf War cost $61 billion, but the U.S. convinced its allies to cough up all but $7 billion of that. This time around, the U.S. will be on its own, finance-wise. ($61 billion in 1991 dollars equals about $80 billion in today's money.)

In our December 5 commentary, "Rule of the Pirates: The $200 billion payday," we attempted to bring some perspective to all those zeros. Using the same approach, the Bush men's bargain basement, $50 - $60 billion war equals every federal dime spent on education in 1999 - 2000 ($55 billion), or the value of all U.S. agricultural exports to the world in fiscal 2000 ($50.9 billion).

The Academy of Sciences' cheapest war would consume both yearly federal education spending and annual U.S. crop exports. The Academy's most pessimistic projection eats up the entire U.S. budget for a year.

Now consider this: Senate Democrats propose spending $4.8 billion to extend emergency unemployment benefits. Republicans in the House offer only $1 billion. The entire federal unemployment insurance trust fund contains about $24 billion - less than half the cost of the cheap Iraqi war projected by the White House.

Obscenity can be expressed in numbers.

The insatiable rich

Conventional thinking - which is usually just a bunch of lies and banalities repeated over and over - credits 9-11 for George Bush's ascension to near-absolute dominance over the congress and the media. This is a misperception fostered by corporate media, who confuse the date they started snapping salutes and goose-stepping on cue, with more substantial measurements of dominance such as, Who gets the loot?

George Bush seized and parceled out the U.S. treasury, plus the incomes of future American governments, during his first four months in office. In May 2001, by lopsided majorities, Congress passed a "compromise," $1.35 trillion tax cut that shifted societal burdens from the rich to everyone else, incrementally, for the next 11 years. Not since the Confederates overran the Union Army at the First Battle of Bull Run had the undeserving rich won such a stunning victory on U.S. soil.

However, too much is never enough for the class George Bush belongs to and serves. Like their deal-making but socially useless President, the Powers That Have spend their lives maneuvering numbers from one column to another. Legions of accountants are employed in the quest for a more perfect advantage, an all-consuming obsession that the rich truly believe is the highest expression of human civilization. When accounting trickery fails to yield sufficient dividends, the rich order up new legislation - and immediately begin to conspire against the replacement regulations written by their own political servants.

The millionaire one percent of households got 40 percent of the tax breaks. Put another way, Bush's actual constituency (the one percent) received as big a break as the bottom 80 percent of Americans, combined. Superficial observers kept calling Bush a buffoon, but the jerk had a right to smirk. He had emptied the national vault and was busy dispensing the spoils to his crew. That is what political supremacy is all about. George Bush was already King of the Mountain when the World Trade Center came tumbling down.

Nobody bitches like the rich - who must be crazy, since they feel perpetually abused by people with absolutely no power to hurt them. The Hard Right spent its years in the wilderness - pre-Reagan - claiming to be victimized by "double-taxation" through the levy on stock profits. In reality, the tax codes contain so many loopholes that rich coupon clippers pay only a fraction of what they are assessed. Conventional wisdom maintained that the public would never tolerate repeal of the tax on stock dividends.

King Bush can repeal it. And he would like to, having railed against such injustices to his class ever since he stopped drinking. The problem is, Bush has been so fantastically successful in stomping his way through a Congress of jellyfish, that there is very little left to steal. The cost of eliminating all taxes on corporate dividends is estimated at $300 billion over ten years which, under the present general tax framework, would leave no room for the raft of other tax breaks Bush has promised to his friends. What is a mega-crook to do?

On the assumption that half a theft is better than none, the White House is studying a 50 percent cut in the stock dividends tax. Nearly all of the boon will go to the very wealthiest Americans. The only justification offered by the administration is that fast-growing companies like Microsoft are making out like bandits under the present structure, and so it is time for the other bandits to catch up.

In office less than two years, Bush has pushed the envelop to its extremes. As a thief, beholden to a piratical class of thieves, he has no choice but to find new pockets to pick. A consensus has been reached within the administration and among rightwing think tanks, that dramatic tax hikes must be imposed on middle and lower income groups to make up the revenues once paid by the rich. As we discussed in the December 19 Briefs, the Bush men are preparing to unleash a propaganda campaign to explain to working people why the FICA payroll deduction is not really a tax, and that additional, real taxes are necessary. The millionaire talking heads and newsreaders of corporate media will interpret this Orwellian Newspeak for the masses, so that they will comprehend the new arrangement, and be still.

Things fall apart

The current crisis can only be understood in the context of Bush's breathtaking revenue diversions, past and planned. It is a crime-in-progress. Bodies are dropping all over the place.

Although the corporate circles Bush travels in need no excuse for withholding any benefit to average people, his revenue giveaways have eliminated even the option of throwing the little man a bone. If his own constituency is to feast, the rest must be put on short rations or none at all. The states are compelled to do the same, as Bush's Washington sheds layer after layer of responsibility for the general welfare.

Thus, Bush was willing to be perceived as Scrooge when 800,000 people lost their unemployment benefits during the Christmas holidays, with 95,000 more cut adrift each week, thereafter. (Most unemployed persons never receive benefits - only 40 percent got a check in 2000, according to the Department of Labor.) There will be no more than token relief for the jobless in the next Congress; Bush's lawmakers will see to it, not because they are evil (does it matter?) but because the tax and spending regime they have put in place cannot accommodate substantial relief for the jobless. Thanks to two years of Bush, it has come to that.

Certainly, Republican leadership will not lift a finger to aid the minority and less-skilled workers most affected by the economic spiral. However, most of the 8.5 million people officially out of work are white, and the GOP cannot see its way clear to help them, either. The current crisis is general and structural. Bush built the latest additions to those structures, and he will not disassemble them.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman provides excellent near-term economic analysis - so good, one wonders how he slipped through the corporate filter. Krugman encapsulates the "desperate plight of the states."

New estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that state governments are facing their worst fiscal crisis since the 1930's. Since Washington shows no interest in helping, states will be forced into desperate expedients. Taxes, mainly taxes that fall most heavily on the poor and the middle class, will go up. Spending on education and, especially, health care will be slashed, with the heaviest toll falling on struggling low-wage workers and their children. (Leave no child behind!)

According to the Center, "The budget deficits now looming over state governments will likely reach $60 billion to $85 billion in state fiscal year 2004 and constitute the largest state budget gaps in half a century." One million people in 11 states are expected to lose their health insurance.

No living governor has seen such an unraveling of basic state functions, and no state has been spared. In a December 29 overview, the Los Angeles Times reported:

As governors prepare to release their budgets next month for the upcoming fiscal year, many find themselves needing to cut the equivalent of an entire year's spending on prisons, welfare and transportation combined. And that's after 18 months of frantic cost-cutting to bring the 2001 and 2002 budgets in line.

Corporations were also in deep trouble, last year. A record 186 public firms with $368 billion in assets sought protection in 2002, including five of the ten costliest bankruptcies in history. Accounting scandals figured in all but one of the five biggest failures.

The credit card lobby has mounted a major push for legislation that would make it far more difficult for ordinary folks to escape debt through bankruptcy. The entering congressional class of 2003 will have to strain to understand Joe Public's problem. Of the 63 House and Senate freshmen, 27 are millionaires.

Smiling faces make happy talk and call it news. The corporation triumphs over civil society, pretending to be a citizen. But it cannot tell the truth, even to save itself.

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