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The State of the Union 2006

Martin County Democrats

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
them, accept.
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.
save it.

- Charles Bukowski

    "He shall from time to time," reads the Constitution, "give to the 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 or another.

    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 levies viable.

    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 about it.

    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 House."

    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 never 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 and go 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 the leak."

    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.