The State of the Union 2006
By William Rivers Pitt
Tuesday 31 January 2006
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
i knew that i was dying.
something in me said, go ahead, die, sleep, become
then something else in me said, no, save the tiniest
it needn't be much, just a spark.
a spark can set a whole forest on
just a spark.
- Charles Bukowski
"He shall from time to time," reads the Constitution, "give
Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their
consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."
And so it shall be. George W. Bush will be speaking tonight from the
podium in the House of Representatives. Before him will be arrayed
Senators, Representatives, generals and judges. The balconies will be
filled with observers, luminaries, reporters and a few so-called
"special guests" whose presence will be used to reinforce some argument
It shall be quite a thing to see, a show worth watching if only to
observe exactly how many lies, distortions, threats, taunts and smirks
can be crammed into a single speech. This will be Mr. Bush speaking,
after all, and the truth is not in him. It will be in every pertinent
sense a mere commercial, a television advertisement from a failing
company, a whitewashing of ugly truths by a staggering CEO whose sole
desire is to keep the stockholders in line for another quarter.
In the interests of truth, the actual state of this union deserves to be
displayed for all to see. This is the deal. This is how it is.
The Real Economy
Since 2000, the number of Americans living in poverty has risen to
nearly 37 million. More than 13 million of these are children. More than
one in four American families with children make less than $30,000 a
year. Look within that number and you will find 46% of African American
families with children and 44% of Hispanic families with children fall
below this mark. Average annual income for Americans fell once again in
2005. 46 million Americans live without health insurance.
The response to this? Vice President Cheney, three days before
Christmas, cast the tie-breaking vote on a spending reduction bill that
will fall most heavily on the poor, the infirm and the elderly. Funding
for health care, child support, and education subsidies for low-income
families has been gutted. Medicaid benefits for the poor were cut by $7
billion, and Medicare programs for the elderly were cut by $6.4 billion.
Federal student-loan programs were cut by $12.7 billion.
On the very same day, the Senate passed legislation that drastically cut
funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and
Education. The Head Start program was hit especially hard: the cuts here
eliminate some 25,000 slots for low-income children. All in all, these
spending reductions are expected to save $40 billion.
Meanwhile, recently-passed tax cuts ravage the budget far more deeply
than these drastic budget cuts. Two tax cuts in particular that went
into effect on New Year's Day will cost $27 billion, more than half of
what the spending reductions are supposed to save. These cuts will cost
more than $150 billion over the next ten years. 97% of the money from
these cuts will go to households making more than $200,000 a year.
Households with incomes under $100,000 will get 0.1% of these cuts.
If all of Mr. Bush's tax cuts are stopped or allowed to expire, $750
billion will be added to the federal budget. That is more than enough to
pay for the programs that have been eviscerated. It won't happen, not
with the priorities of this administration, but that is the simple math
of the matter.
New Orleans Drowned in a Bathtub
The first weeks of September brought to all Americans a devastating
tragedy. The city of New Orleans was all but obliterated by Hurricane
Katrina when levies meant to hold back the waters failed. The failure of
these levies came, in no small part, because of unprecedented budget
cuts for the Army Corps of Engineers, which was tasked to keep the
The tragedy was compounded by the utterly incompetent management of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency and its head, Michael Brown, whose
experience with disaster management came while he was serving as an
attorney for owners of Arabian horses. In the weeks to follow, lavish
promises were made by Mr. Bush. "We will do what it takes, we will stay
as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and
their lives," he said on September 15th.
Those promises have been broken. We have gone from oaths to revive this
cherished city to this: "I want to remind people in that part of the
world, $85 billion is a lot," said Bush on January 26th. Hundreds of
thousands of Americans remain displaced, many holding on by the skin of
their teeth in cramped trailers. Thirty million cubic yards of debris
remain uncollected - the Washington Post estimated over the weekend that
this was "enough to build a five-sided column more than 50 stories tall
over the Pentagon." There is not even a plan in place to begin to attack
the problem. The Bush administration has left New Orleans to rot, and
the next hurricane season is four months away.
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist once famously stated that he wanted to
shrink the federal government to the size where it could be drowned in a
bathtub. As evidenced by the budget cuts and tax giveaways described
above, many within this government feel as Norquist does. Thanks to
their actions, to the cuts in the Army Corps of Engineers budget, to the
nomination of useless cronies like Brown to vital positions of civil
defense, to a war in Iraq that has bled the budget further and left
Louisiana without sufficient National Guard troops to help the
population, it is New Orleans that has been drowned in Norquist's
bathtub. A major American city has been shattered, and nothing is done
To add insult to injury, the Bush administration utterly refuses to
answer any questions on the matter. Senator Joseph Lieberman of
Connecticut, perhaps the most widely-known Democratic defender of Mr.
Bush, is the ranking minority member on the Senate Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs Committee. Even Mr. Lieberman is flabbergasted by
the stonewalling of the White House.
"My staff believes that DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) has
engaged in a conscious strategy of slow-walking our investigation in the
hope that we would run out of time to follow the investigation's natural
progression to where it leads," Lieberman said last week. "At this
point, I cannot disagree. There's been no assertion of executive
privilege, just a refusal to answer. I have been told by my staff that
almost every question our staff has asked federal agency witnesses
regarding conversations with or involvement of the White House has been
met with a response that they could not answer on direction of the White
Mark Folse, a New Orleans native, operates a blog called "Wet Bank
Guide." On Monday, Mr. Folse posted a message for Mr. Bush. "I've
lost the deepest allegiance I've ever held: to my city," wrote Folse.
"We have always known we were a people different and unique, as divided
as we may seem. That sense of identity as a New Orleanian is the
powerful bond that draws me on. It is the deep love of country that
drives me - of my country, New Orleans and southern Louisiana. It is the
irrational emotional attachment to my piece of America that leads men
and women to go willingly up Bunker Hill, to follow General Pickett, to
volunteer for Iraq."
"A life of assured privilege has protected you from having to take these
sorts of risks," continued Folse, "to find the strength to get up
into the maw of uncertainty, to risk and gamble your own and not other
peoples' lives or money. You can pledge allegiance or sing the anthem or
give a stirring speech as well as any, but you know you have no
allegiance except self-interest."
"If nothing moves you except your own self-interest," concluded Folse,
"then consider this. There are hundreds of thousands of us, scattered
throughout most of the United States. We are everywhere you and your
party will go to campaign: Arkansas and Atlanta and Austin, Dallas and
Detroit and Denver, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Baltimore and Boston,
Chicago and Charlotte. Many will remain there indefinitely, unable to go
home, precisely because you have lied to them and betrayed them. We will
not let you escape from the net of lies you have woven. Wherever you
turn, you will find us, ready to call you out."
The situation in New Orleans is a problem that will not go away. Men
like Mark Folse will make absolutely sure of that.
"Scandal" Is Too Small a Word
The Abramoff scandal directly touches some sixty Republican
congresspeople, according to campaign finance records that show where
the disgraced lobbyist sent his money. Mr. Bush recently promoted the
lead investigator in this case, effectively removing him from the
investigation. Despite this, the hard look into Mr. Abramoff's dealings
continue. Mr. Abramoff's plea deal has a lot of people in Washington
suffering from flop-sweat.
Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the outing of a deep-cover CIA
agent by administration officials continues apace, and has already
cashiered Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby. According to t r u t h
o u t investigative reporter Jason Leopold, Fitzgerald has "spent the
past month preparing evidence he will present to a grand jury alleging
that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove knowingly made false
statements to FBI and Justice Department investigators and lied under
oath while he was being questioned about his role in the leak of covert
CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity more than two years ago, according to
sources knowledgeable about the probe."
"Although there have not been rumblings regarding Fitzgerald's probe
into the Plame leak since he met with the grand jury hearing evidence in
the case more than a month ago," continued Leopold in his January 10th
report, "the sources
said that Fitzgerald has been quietly building his case against Rove and
has been interviewing witnesses, in some cases for the second and third
time, who have provided him with information related to Rove's role in
None of this will be mentioned in the State of the Union speech tonight.
The Bush administration continues to stonewall these investigations with
all its might - Mr. Bush has denied ever knowing Jack Abramoff, despite
the existence of several pictures showing them glad-handing each other
in the White House - and the Republican-controlled congress will
certainly do nothing to advance the questions being asked.
In contrast, a portion of the speech will certainly be dedicated to
moralistic sloganeering about values. Remember, as high-flown words
about truth and justice are spoken, what the Abramoff and Plame scandals
represent: a government run by thieves, stroked by swindlers, and
staffed by assassins who sing of defending the nation even as they cast
us down into greater danger.
And, by the way, the Enron trial started on Monday.
The Middle East
2,242 American soldiers have died in Iraq. Tens of thousands more are
grievously wounded. Tens and tens of thousands of civilians are dead or
maimed. Scores more simmer in rage and pick up weapons to attack
American forces. American soldiers wishing to go around the Pentagon to
augment their meager armor have been threatened with the revocation of
death benefits for their families. A coalition of fundamentalist Shiite
groups has taken over the government, the two main parts of which are
notorious terrorist organizations with umbilical ties to Iran. Hundreds
of billions of dollars have been spent to do this. There is no end in sight.
Three years ago, in another State of the Union address, Mr. Bush told
the nation that Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax,
38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons (which is 1,000,000 pounds)
of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 munitions to deliver these
agents, mobile biological weapons labs, al Qaeda connections, and
uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program. Mr. Bush
will have to work very hard tonight to tell a lie as vast, dramatic and
bloody as this.
Certainly, Mr. Bush will sing the praises of bringing democracy to the
Middle East. It is worthwhile, however, to consider what his concept of
democracy has accomplished to date. Six months ago, a radical named
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran. Thanks to the intense
feelings within Iran's populace about the US occupation of Iraq,
Ahmadinejad has been able to unify his country behind the establishment
of a nuclear program that frightens the rest of the world. Ahmadinejad's
election itself owes a great deal to Mr. Bush's policies on Iraq.
Last week, the terrorist organization Hamas was overwhelmingly elected
by the Palestinian people to run their government, leaving the Fatah
party shocked and displaced. While the success of Hamas has much to do
with Fatah's corruption and lack of progress on several fronts, the slow
radicalization of the general population in the Middle East once again
can be laid at the doorstep of Mr. Bush. It has been revealed that
Bush's decision to disengage from the peace process between Israel and
Palestine several years ago was a disastrous choice. Couple that with
the occupation of Iraq and the torture of its citizens, and few can be
surprised when the general population in the Middle East turns toward
more radical elements.
Democracy is a tricky thing. The fact that people in Iraq, Iran and
Palestine are afforded the opportunity to vote, instead of suffering the
absolute control of a dictatorship, is arguably a good thing in the
main. Yet methods matter. When the Iraqi people are given the vote by
way of a ravaging war that inflames the passions of the region and
enshrines a radical government, democracy becomes its own worst enemy.
When that ravaging war empowers a fringe president in Iran, democracy
becomes its own worst enemy.
Methods matter. Democracy does not exist in a vacuum. When it is forced
upon a population at the point of a sword, that population will see the
sword as the best viable option to exercise its collective will. Almost
immediately, democracy will be used to elect radicals, and those
radicals will dispose of democracy at the first opportunity. The
radicalization of governments all across the Middle East has made the
world substantially more dangerous. Mr. Bush will speak of progress
tonight. The only progress being made is toward a general conflagration.
On the other hand, Exxon Mobil has posted a $32 billion profit for the
last year. This stands as the largest single one-year profit in the
entire history of the world. Progress indeed.
The Unitary Executive Tapping Your Phone
Mr. Bush and friends have been jumping through flaming hoops to justify
the blatantly illegal policy of spying on Americans by way of the
National Security Agency. Their tortured arguments in favor of this
action, and their flat-footed declaration that the policy will continue,
makes confetti of the Fourth Amendment.
More than that, however, it moves this nation one step closer to having
an Executive Branch that supersedes all others in power and scope. Not
only will Mr. Bush spy on whomever he pleases, but he will also torture
whomever he pleases. Put simply, the constitutionally-required
separation of powers, the checks and balances that have maintained the
stability of this republic, is being destroyed. This will echo down the
corridors of our history long after Mr. Bush has left his office.
On Monday afternoon, Senate Democrats failed to muster the necessary 41
votes needed to avoid cloture on the nomination of Samuel Alito. The man
will be elevated to the highest court. Beyond the fact that Alito is
hostile to a woman's right to choose, hostile to privacy rights in the
face of unwarranted police intrusion, and hostile to the poor and
disadvantaged, there is the matter of his opinion on the powers of the
Executive. In short, he agrees with Mr. Bush.
The Reign of Witches
The state of this union is not good. We are poorer, frightened, faced
with the swelling ranks of enemies our leaders have created, and
hell-bent to do away with the most precious aspects of our system of
government. We are surveilled, propagandized, intimidated. We empower
the radicals and disenfranchise the common good. We are fed swill via
the television and thus convinced that what they tell us is what we
already believe. We are bought, and we are paid for.
The radicals running this country have long desired to destroy the
government's ability to govern - they found things like taxes intrusive,
which is amusing when one hears them now defending warrantless spying on
Americans - and they are well along the path towards success. The budget
is destroyed, spent on tax cuts and the Iraq occupation, while millions
of Americans suffer the loss of necessary services. The one percent of
the one percent is making a killing, and the rest of us are left behind.
If there is hope to be found in all this, it is in the words of Thomas
Jefferson, written 208 years ago after the passage of the Sedition Act.
"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over,
their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight,
restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the
meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of
a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. If the game runs
sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and
then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have
lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.
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