Bush’s Christmas Budget: Guns Over Butter

Tomorrow morning and afternoon, I expect, George and Laura and mom and fellow war criminal Dad and the twins and Jeb and the rest of the misbegotten hyper-aristocratic and necrophyilic Bush brood will open presents and enjoy a sumptous meal prepared for them by grateful servants.

They will congratulate themselves on their spiritual rectitude, their spectacular and richly deserved wealth, and their forceful and moral policies. They will talk perhaps about Jesus and share their faith in the ultimate benevolence and God-ordained superiority of American decisions and the American Way of Life.

Meanwhile the ghosts of hundreds of thousands of murdered Iraqis, including large numbers of noncombatants and children, will be swirling around their mansions, giving testimony to the squalid moral rot that eats away at the heart of America.

Right in Washington D.C., home to the greatest urban inequality in the United States and some of the worst ghettoes in the nation, abject misery will be visible to those who care to look just a short cab ride away from the corridors of imperial power and homeland plutocracy.

The situation of people living in these and other zones of concentrated city poverty has been significantly worsened by the regressive and imperial Bush agenda and its broad number of bipartisan enablers.

It is my core and not particuarly original thesis that the pain on the periphery and the pain in the core are dialectically inseparable.

Merry Christmas to “the Bush crime family.”

Here (below) are some draft paragraphs from the conclusion to a book I am writing on persistent educational race and class apartheid in the United States. Here I am pointing out that we have more than enough money to properly and fairly pay for public education in the United States. The problem is state priorities that privilege savage empire and inequality over broad social and democratic investment and the needs of those who are most disadvantaged.

The richest and most powerful nation on earth, the United States does not even remotely lack the necessary material and financial resources to meet the Brown v. Board decision’s promise of educational equity by funding schools fairly and adequately. We do not have to look far to determine where we might find the assets to properly serve children victimized by social and educational class and race apartheid in the post-Civil Rights era. As of 11:15 pm on December 21st, 2004, the National Priorities Project (NPP) reported, the George No Child Left Behind Bush administrations imperial war of choice in Iraq had cost more than $151 billion. With that same sum of money, the NPP calculated, the United States could have: enrolled 20,037, 391 US children in Head Start for one year; provided health insurance for one year to 90, 588, 264 children; built 1,362,157 public housing units; and hired 2,621, 749 additional public school teachers for one year. In Illinois, where Rayola Carwell attends a ghetto school where class sizes are too big to permit individual attention to students, the state’s share of the war’s cost could have paid for the building of 772 new elementary schools. The city of Chicago’s share could have paid for the hiring of 27,284 additional teachers for one year.

Meanwhile, we learned, federal funding for education fell far short of need. In 2004, NPP reported, Title 1 programs to improve teaching and learning for disproportionately minority at-risk (poor) children fell more than $7million short of need. Federal allotments to Improve Teacher Quality fell $245 million short and funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (for disadvantaged students and their families) fell $1 billion short.

Such shortfalls are hardly surprising when we consider that the military eats up 29 cents of every federal tax dollars, compared to just 4 cents for education. They are even less surprising when we learn that the total costs of the Bush administrations harshly regressive tax cuts had reached $297 billion by 2004, equivalent to 2.6 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product. These cuts put government revenues at their lowest level as a share of the economy since 1950 and contribute to the dramatic shift from large projected budget surpluses as far as the eye can see, the mainstream Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports. By CBPPs calculations, just 8.9 percent of Bush’s “middle-class tax-cuts” went to the middle 20 percent of American income earning households. The wealthiest 1 percent received 24 percent of the cuts. Each such household have received an average tax reduction of $34,992. Millionaire households, equivalent to 0.2 percent of all U.S. households, received 19.3 percent of the tax cuts so far. These households have received an average tax reduction of $123,592 .

The average beginning teacher salary in the U.S. in 2003 was $29,564. In Rayolas state (Illinois), the average such salary was $34,522, just $470 less than the average tax cut enjoyed for far by the top 1 percent in what was already the industrialized worlds most unequal and wealth-top-heavy nation before Bush came into office.

Things don’t look good for federal funding for inner-city schools and communities in 2005. In a frosty front-page Christmas season WALL STREET JOURNAL article titled “Sharpening the Knife: Bush Vows to Halve Deficit, Targets Already Feel Squeezed,” reporter Jackie Calmes notes that concerns about the spectacular scale of the US deficit will mean less money for education among others areas of public investment that rank far below the urgent imperatives of empire and inequality. According to New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg, the new Chairman of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, “this cannot afford to be a guns and butter term. You’ve got to cut the butter. The butter apparently includes schools, contrary to the standard mainstream and bipartisan line that education is a critical weapon in the great economic war of nations. With guns or military spending growing,” Calmes calmly explains, “the butter to be cut is likely to include some of the most visible areas of domestic spending, including the Medicaid health program, subsidies to Amtrak, agricultural research, and even some federal education programs.”

It doesn’t help, Calmes notes, that “Bush has ruled out raising taxes and is widely expected to win an extension of his first-term income and tax-cuts, moves that will reduce revenue flowing into the Treasury, beyond his presidency. Moreover, both Mr. Bush and Congress are committed to changing the alternative minimum tax (AMI), a levy designed to prevent rich taxpayers avoiding taxes altogether. Fixing the AMI,” Calmes says, “will cut projected tax revenues by hundreds of billions of dollars [funny how Calmes accepts the term fix for a proposal to abolish.one suspects much the same confusion in the Bushcons efforts to fix the public schools P.S.]. In seeking to cut revenues to pay for imperial war and regressive tax cuts, Calmes observes, about 85 percent of the federal budget is almost untouchable by public consensus [funny, I wasnt contacted about that, as a member of the public, P.S.] the remaining discretionary funds and the area Mr. Bush has targeted for shrinking include breast cancer research, aid to rural and inner-city schools, veterans medical care, weather forecasting, and park rangers [yes, you read that correctly: the list includes VETERANS MEDICAL CARE, p.s.].” Calmes observes that the amount of money paid by the federal government for interest on its national debt – $168 billion in annual payments, much of it to overseas holders of Treasury bonds is more than the government will spend on education, housing, transportation, science, space, and technology combined (Calmes, Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2001, A1).

Turning to the state and local levels, policymakers looking for resources to pay for adequately and equitably funded schools should examine exploding incarceration budgets. Between 1980 and 2000, those budgets rose from a total nationwide cost of $6.4 billion to $51 billion (in inflation-adjusted dollars) as the nation embarked on a massive prison-constructing boom to warehouse nearly 2 million prisoners by the turn of the millennium. This is according to a Justice Policy Institute study that bears the interesting title “Cellblocks or Classrooms?” (August 2002). Nearly half the people behind bars in the world’s leading incarceration state are African-American and most of the nations massive army of black prisoners and ex-prisoners are the products of highly disadvantaged communities and schools. By 2000, the JPI reported, there were nearly a third more African American men incarcerated than in higher education in the US. Roughly half the giant US prison and jail population has not completed high school or received a GED and dropouts are especially over-represented among the one in the three African-American male adults that are under one form of supervision (prison, probation or parole) by the criminal justice system.

According to a widely advertised lament, progressive change in America is impossible because of the powerless and cash-strapped state. Government can’t really do anything anymore, this complaint says, because it doesn’t have the strength, the legitimacy, the money, and the wherewithal to carry out key objectives.

Tell that to the nation’s mass of prisoners and soldiers and the many victims of its glorious overseas campaigns.

The lament is usefully broken down as myth when we ask whose objectives American government can and supposedly can’t carry out. In the wealthiest nation on earth, the public sector lacks the money to properly fund education for all of the country’s children. It lacks the resources to provide universal health coverage, leaving 42 million American without basic medical insurance. It can’t match unemployment benefits to the numbers out of work. It lacks or claims to lack the money to provide meaningful rehabilitation and reentry services for its many millions of very disproportionately black prisoners and ex-prisoners, marked for life with a criminal record. The list of unmet civic and social needs goes on and on.

Listen, however, to what our public sector can supposedly pay for. It can afford to spend trillions on Tax Cuts rewarding the top 1 percent in the thoroughly disingenuous name of “economic stimulus.” It can spend more on the military than on all of America’s possible “enemy” states combined many times over, providing massive subsidy to the high-tech corporate sector, including billions on weapons and “defense” systems that bear no meaningful relations to any real threat faced by the American people. It can afford hundreds of billions and perhaps more than a trillion dollars for an invasion and occupation of distant devastated nation that poses minimal risk to the US and even to its own neighbors. And of course, it can afford to incapacitate and incarcerate a greater share of its population than any nation in history and to spend hundreds of millions each year on various forms of corporate welfare and other routine public subsidies to “private” industry.

The American public sector, in short, is weak and cash-strapped when it comes to social democracy for the people but its cup runs over in powerful ways when it comes to meeting the needs of wealth, racial disparity and empire. It’s useful to keep that distinction in mind when we hear people like the powerful Republican tax cut maven and political strategist Grover Norquist say that their goal – and here I quote Norquist – is “is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” When Norquist and his followers say they want to “starve the beast” of government, they target some parts of “government” for malnourishment a lot more energetically than others. They are most concerned to dismantle the parts of the public sector that serve the social and democratic needs of the non-affluent majority of the American populace. They want to de-fund what the late French sociologist Pierre Bordieu referred to as the left hand of the state, the programs and services that embody the victories one by past struggles for justice and equality. They want to reserve the right hand of the state, the parts that provide service and welfare to the privileged few and dole out punishment to the poor, from the budgetary axe.

Their wishes are being met. Under the pressure of an imperial war on terror and a relentless, well-funded political and ideological campaign led in its most extreme forms by radically regressive and repressive Republicans like Norquist, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove, the public sector is being stripped of its positive social and democratic functions. It is increasingly reduced to its policing and repressive functions, which are expanding in ways that are more than merely coincidental to the assault on social supports and programs. It is criminalizing and thereby deepening social inequality and related social problems through self-fulfilling policies of racially disparate (racist) mass surveillance, arrest, and incarceration – a perfect homeland counterpart to its racially disparate (racist) militarization of global US empire and its attendant social, political, and economic problems.

The Bushes are free to think Jesus would be ok with all of this, of course.

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