Number 23 - January 2, 2003
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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
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.
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
No, this is not
the picture that George Bush wanted to see.
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:
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
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.
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
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
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
be expressed in numbers.
- 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.
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
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.
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."
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:
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.
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