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IRREGULAR TIMESThe Shopper: Calculating the Real Costs of Bush's War

Yesterday in the mail, my wife and I got a little paper called The Shopper. We get one of these every week, though we never asked for it and don't pay for a subscription to it. You see, this paper contains no real articles, not even a weather forecast. It's got one advertisement all written up to look like an article, but all it does is quote some phony expert as saying that some video called "Loony Toons Babies" is supposed to help young kids about the age of my two year-old son learn social skills. Well, I suppose it just might do that, if my son had to deal with social situations like negotiating with coyotes and road runners trying to kill each other in the Southwestern desert. It's true that they're not preparing my son for such situations at his day care.

There are some interesting bits and pieces in The Shopper, especially those ads that describe all the items being auctioned from the houses of people who have died. Every year, the pickings get a bit cheaper, but you never know when something like a nice old oak desk or a good canoe will turn up. The best ads, though, are the small ones that advertise all the little local dinners of one kind or another that organizations like the Elks or the Fire Department use to try to raise a bit of money. On any given Friday, you could get a pancake breakfast from the Historical Society, a Roast Beef lunch from the Lions Club and a Fish Fry at the library, all for around just $15.

It's not much, but The Shopper is what passes for news around here. You can get a pretty good idea of how things are going for people by scanning the little twelve dollar ads to see what they're selling, buying, and giving away. Yesterday, I saw the following little item:

FREE: 40 Live chickens and 10 ducks. Moving.

Wow. Just read that four or five times. I don't know if the meter is right, but this little ad seems like the ultimate poetic expression of this moment in American history. This is where most of America is at right now: 50 free birds, given away, because we're moving somewhere else and can't take care of them anymore.

This unintentional piece of ingenious free verse is one very personal version of what's going wrong with America. What I didn't notice at first, and what makes the advertisement so particularly sad, is that there's no phone number to call. The person who placed the ad, or maybe the newspaper, just forgot to put it in, so now, even though a few hard-earned dollars have been spent on the ad, no one will know who to call to take care of this little collection of poultry.

There's a gap in this little message from America, a gap between the people who really need just a little bit of help to keep going, and a gap between the people who have the resources to give. If you've been paying attention at all over the last couple years, it should be plain to you that ordinary Americans are having a really hard time of it right now. I'm talking about the kind of Americans who do rely on resources like backyard gardens and maybe a small yard of chickens. They don't maintain these basic resources as a lark, or as a way to entertain the kids, or, like some of our prominent politicians, as a way to keep up a folksy appearance that helps win elections. These people work the little pieces of land they've got because doing so keeps them alive. For many Americans, a small flock of birds and a single paycheck is what keeps them alive.

These kinds of Americans make their family budgets at the kitchen table. I know that's what my wife and I do. We sit down at the kitchen table, and what we have to talk about, though we don't enjoy doing it, is where we're going to have to make some sacrifices. You see, the way that the budgets of most American families work is that if they really decide that they want one thing, they know they're going to have to give something else up. If my wife and I really want to go out to see a movie and pay for a babysitter, we've got to make a sacrifice somewhere else in the budget. We can't just pull more money out of a trust fund or something like that, because we weren't born to rich families. So, if we really want that night out, we're going to have to spend less on groceries, or turn the heat down an extra degree or two at night. That's the way that most Americans live.

Which America Are You From?

We forget about it sometimes, but there's a very small group of Americans who have never known this kind of kitchen-table budgeting. They were born with money, and they make money by investing that money in things like stocks and bonds. Then, they just sit around and wait for their profits to come in. The years go by, and they sit and wait long enough, and even though they aren't doing anything but moving money from one pot to another, they become richer and richer and richer.

Folks, the man who currently calls himself the President of the United States, George W. Bush, is one of these people. He's got all kinds of investments all around, just sitting, making him and his family lots of money. In fact, his family has had this kind of money for three generations now. He's got a ranch, with horses and everything, that he pays other people to run for him so that when he goes on vacation, he can bring his powerful friends and have a photo-opportunity with cowboy boots on. Sure, he mostly went to school in Connecticut when he was a kid, but with this dude ranch of his, he can say he's a genuine Texan.

Look, I'm not saying that Mr. Bush ought to give up his part of the Bush family fortune. I'm not saying that he can't play around with his pet farm animals if he wants to. However, I think you can see that the life that George W. Bush is very different from the life that you and I and most other Americans have to lead. Mr. Bush has never had to make tough decisions with his wife about their budget, sitting around the dinner table. Mr. Bush has never had to turn down the heat a few extra degrees to save money in the dead of winter. Mr. Bush's physical survival has never depended on anything like whether he could get his hands on 40 chickens and 10 ducks to give him eggs and meat for the year. Mr. Bush has never had to worry about what he's going to do with a small number of farm animals because he had to move because he got laid off.

In Mr. Bush's world, people just buy what they want whenever they want it. Around here, we can't do that. We have to make tough decisions about what we have to buy just to get along, and ever since Mr. Bush got into office, just getting along has gotten a lot harder for us.

Special Government Benefits for the Idle Rich?

Now, when time are really tough, Americans look to their President to help put things right. So which America does Mr. Bush think of when he puts out his plan to help the American people? Looking at his plans for "economic recovery", we have to understand his background, and remember where he comes from himself.

George W. Bush's plan might help out some Americans, but it won't help out the guy who's looking to get his hands on a small flock of chickens to help feed his family, that's for sure. Bush likes to talk about his tax cuts an awful lot, but do you know what kind of tax cuts he wants to create?

You remember those people that Bush grew up with, the ones who don't really work, but just make money off of investments that their parents have made for them? Well, they're the people Bush wants to help with his tax cuts. Bush wants to make the money they make off of their trust fund investments in the stock market completely tax free.

Think about what this Bush plan means. Bush's plan for economic recovery is to allow the richest of the rich just sit around, doing no work, getting richer all the time from their investments in the stock market, and pay no taxes to help the federal government do its necessary work. At the same time, the ordinary people who have taken harsh pay cuts in the last couple years just in order to keep any job at all, the Americans who have to get up early in the morning to do the work that no one else wants to do, they get no tax cut at all under this plan. They have to keep on giving money from every paycheck, while the trust-fund kids like George W. Bush get to make tax free money without even working for it.

The Real Costs of Bush's War

George W. Bush's vision of America is restricted by his background as a child of the super rich in other ways as well. Just like ordinary families, the U.S. government has to make difficult decisions about which programs to sacrifice in order to give adequate funds to other programs that are more popular. Remember, though, that Bush isn't used to thinking in these terms. He grew up living in a family that could buy whatever it wanted whenever it wanted to, and that's how he's created his budgets. Bush has focused on all the big government programs he wanted, and left it up to other people to make the hard decisions about the sacrifices that will have to be made in order to get those big government programs funded.

Surely, the biggest big government program George W. Bush has ever had on his wish list is the war against Iraq. Now, there's a great deal of debate among reasonable Americans about whether this war is at all necessary. A lot of ordinary Americans have been speaking out, saying that they don't want the war. For now, let's put these political arguments aside. Economically speaking, the situation is this: George W. Bush wants his war, and he's hired some people to create a budget for the federal government that makes this war possible.

When the American people sit around their kitchen tables, listening to Bush talking about how he wants America to go to war, what are the basic pocketbook implications? It's just like going out to the movies: for most of us, if we do go out for an evening, it means that we have to go without something else. In terms of the ordinary American's budget, what kind of sacrifices is Bush asking us to make in order to make the war possible?

George W. Bush's war will certainly be expensive. Believe it or not, some of those missiles the American military is preparing to send flying into Iraqi cities cost a million dollars each. However, so far, Bush and his advisors have refused to tell the American people exactly how much the war will cost. Though estimates start in the hundreds of billions of dollars, we just won't know how much the war will cost until well after it's started. What we can look at is the latest budget that Bush has sent to Congress. What does this budget tell us about the kinds of basic sacrifices Americans will have to make in order to give Bush his war?

Well, first of all, schools will suffer. Although Bush has promised to provide more funding for public education, his budget breaks this promise. This takes place at the same time that his increasingly infamous "No Child Left Behind" forces state governments to spend more money on things like standardized tests and providing access to military recruiters. What's more, Bush's budgets have cut funding for literacy programs, cut funding for aid to poor rural schools, cut funding for preschool education for needy kids. At the same time that the Bush Administration is preparing multi-billion dollar grants to bribe foreign countries into letting us use their military bases, George W. Bush has slashed education funding here at home.

If we go to war, Americans will have to give up some of their trips to the doctor, and will have to take less of the medicines that they depend on now. Bush's budgets, which will only become more draconian if we invade Iraq and start spending money on our fighting over there, have cut funding for childrens' hospitals. Bush's budget plans also include plans to coerce elderly Americans into managed care situations which will restrict their access to doctors and to medications. What about the prescription drug coverage benefits that you've been hearing about? They've been scrapped, so that we can go to war.

Just to enable the military build up on the borders of Iraq, Bush is spending one billion dollars of taxpayers' money every day. Is Bush spending this kind of money to protect social security, so that Americans spent decades of their lives hard at work can afford a modest retirement? No. In fact, Bush's budget depends upon taking money from the social security "lock box" he promised Americans he'd create and spending that money instead on expensive military projects, like going to war against Iraq. I don't know what your family situation is, but my mother just turned 65, but she's not going to retire anytime soon. She's going to keep on working for years more so that she can create a secure retirement. Part of that secure retirement is social security, which she's still putting money into, after all these years. If Bush decides to invade Iraq, the ability of Americans like my mother to retire is put into jeopardy. No matter how old they are, and how many years they've contributed their tax money, many Americans will have to stay on the job.

All over the nation, more and more cuts are being made on the state and local level. These budget cuts are the result of the weak economy that America has endured ever since George W. Bush moved into the oval office. They're also the indirect result of many of the budget cuts that Bush has already pushed through on the federal level. In Oregon, five weeks of classes are being eliminated in public schools. Here in my state, budgets of local libraries are being slashed. Public transportation is being reduced or eliminated. Schools are being told to go onto austerity budgets. Medicaid coverage is being sharply reduced. These kinds of cuts are taking place all over America. Even as people suffer the effects of these cuts, George W. Bush has declared that he will not support any federal aid to the states in order to help them through these problems. As a result, income and sales taxes are going up in many states. Now, if America wasn't spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a war against Iraq, could the federal government help the states and prevent the cuts in basic government services without requiring tax hikes? Of course, it could. If America goes to war, however, these cuts will just continue to get worse. The economy certainly is not improving, in spite of all the promises the Bush administration has been making over the last two years.

The America That Makes No Sacrifice

Pay attention now, because there's one small group of Americans who won't be suffering through these severe budget cuts. You guessed it, it's the upper-upper class of super rich Americans who, like George W. Bush, make most of their money by investing the wealth left to them by their well-off parents.

Get this: at the same time that ordinary Americans are going to be enduring all the sacrifices I've described above to support Bush's war, the super-rich Americans who live off of investments in stock are going to get a special government handout. Remember that Bush has proposed to let these people, who don't even work for their money, get away with paying no taxes on their income made at all. The leisure class will contribute nothing to Bush's war budget, even as ordinary Americans work harder than ever before and get less for their money.

Cuts in the budgets of social security, medicaid, libraries, public schools and other basic programs don't matter to the leisure class. They can buy whatever services they need without making a dent in their family budgets. The financial and practical burden of Bush's war will fall on the poorest Americans, while the financial benefits will almost exclusively go to the upper class Americans who are too rich to work for a living. It doesn't take a PhD in economics to see that the guy who's struggling to find a home for his 40 chickens and 10 ducks won't be any better off when Bush's invasion of Iraq is complete. His prospects will only continue to get more desperate.

The Final Economic Equation

I admit, this is an awful lot of information to take in. So, as a final consideration, let's put all the details aside, and look at what's really at stake. The basic issue is this: When George W. Bush asks you to support his war against Iraq, he's not just asking you to support the war itself. He's also asking you to support the severe sacrifices he's willing to inflict upon the American people in order to make his war possible.

The Bush family is used to being able to buy its way into whatever it wants. It has that kind of money. If you're like most Americans, your family doesn't have that kind of money. The rest of us have to make choices about the financial sacrifices we're willing to make. When it comes down to it, this is a kitchen-table budget decision. Just how much are you willing to give up in order to enable Bush to fight his war?

Will you pay more taxes?
Will you give up your child's education?
Will you give up your parents' health care?
Will you give up your social security retirement money?
You will, if America invades Iraq.

That's a promise, from George W. Bush to you.

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