With Bush propagandizing about the fiscal “crisis” of Social Security and his critics on the left and right pointing to a bloated $600 billion budget deficit, it is time to look at where all the money went. Clintonâ€™s presidency closed with a $300 billion surplus and rosy dreams about paying down the national debt. (Of course, billions of that surplus were created by cutting or eliminating programs related to welfare.)
So where did all the money go? And why did it go there?
This story, like many today, begins on September 11th. Prior to that day, George W. Bush was struggling. Severe economic crisis compounded the nagging problem of the very legitimacy of his presidency after the 2000 Florida fiasco.
Instead of asking you to believe, as Bush did, that the money disappeared because America was attacked (imagine Bushâ€™s smirking, psuedo Texan accent) and we had to pay to defend ourselves, Iâ€™m going to argue that something more fundamental and ideological was brought to the surface on that day.
Are we to believe that Bush cares about terrorism aside from how well it will propel his agenda? How often have you heard the words “terror alert” or see the color coded system that Tom Ridge used to trot out when Bush wasnâ€™t polling well? According to the Department of Homeland Security website, as of about lunchtime Eastern time on February 17, November 10, 2004 was the last time the threat level was changed. It was lowered to “yellow.”
I guess Cheney was right: terrorism would disappear if Bush was reelected â€“ well, at least as an issue, anyway. What other explanation could there be? No major mass arrests of Al-Qaeda suspects has occurred. Terrorists are still at large in Iraq. In fact, just last month, the CIA warned that the Iraq war will prompt a growth of terrorist forces globally.
But not to worry, Bush was appointed by God and a few thousand stolen votes in Ohio to keep you safe, so donâ€™t worry about terrorism.
Social Security is the new crisis. Well, at least it will be in 50 years. But we have to have a crisis mentality about it now. Focusing on terrorism would distract us simple-minded Americans with our short attention spans.
The Bush administration uses this crisis mentality as a tactic. It recalls something the Reagan administration did fairly well. David Stockman, Reaganâ€™s budget policy adviser and “free market” ideological toady, masterminded it, in a paper presenting the administrationâ€™s ideological and fiscal goals called, “An Economic Dunkirk.” Essentially, it sought to provoke and create a series of managed crises that would present the public with few options regarding the governmentâ€™s finances: cut, eliminate, and scale back social spending, while expanding military spending.
(Dunkirk was the coastal town where the first Allied invasion force into Europe was defeated by the Nazis in 1940. The intended image is that we are caught between the advancing enemy army and the sea. What are we going to do?)
Communism and terrorism were the boogeymen coming to get us, and “welfare queens” were keeping us from adequately defending ourselves. Remember?
They claim communism is gone, and certainly donâ€™t want to revive that boogeyman. After all capitalism was supposed to have won because of its superiority. So if communism returns, maybe capitalismâ€™s not so hot. (Letâ€™s ignore the fact that Communist Parties have been elected to governments or play influential roles in the civil societies of a growing number of countries.)
So terrorism is the bad guy, and all the same Cold War rules apply: donâ€™t dissent, donâ€™t analyze the situation, and the only solution is a military one.
9/11 presented Bush with his original Dunkirk. How could he go wrong? Military budgets shot up. Few critics emerged, except on the left, to challenge the notion that tax cuts for the rich, ignoring the growing unemployment problem, billion dollar airline bailouts, and shoving Enron corruption under the rug was our patriotic duty. Racial profiling and attacks on public institutions became a top priority.
As paralysis wore off and people started to question the direction of the administration, the drums of war began to rumble.
The new “Dunkirk” was suddenly Iraq with WMD that could kill Americans and the friends of Americans within 45 minutes. When the skeptical neâ€™er-do-wells pointed out that UN inspectors had destroyed most of what Saddam had and that widely devastating and lethal sanctions that starved hundreds of thousands of Iraqis prevented him from acquiring more, evidence was conjured up, cartoons were drawn, satellite photos were taken, exiles were bribed, and expert testimony was carefully censored.
Meanwhile, No Child Left Behind defunded elementary public education on a massive scale and a new outrageous tax cut for the rich sneaked in the back door, while the rest of us were waving our arms and shouting about fake “yellow cake” in Niger and Colin Powellâ€™s fabricated report to the UN.
Presto. War. Two years and $210 billion later, we are asking, what happened to all that money? (Never mind the very basic question of why we ended up in a war when the reasons for it were unfounded. Remember that all of the Bush administrationâ€™s reasons for war were shown to be false before the war, and since then, the collapse of Hussienâ€™s regime revealed no WMD and no real connections to Al-Qaeda.)
Bushâ€™s 2006 budget provides some answers to our nagging question. It is both an ideological statement and an agenda. The first noticeable element of the budget is that while Bush proposes to cut or eliminate 150 programs, the Pentagon gets a 4.8 percent boost â€“ not counting the money for the war and related expenses. According to the Labor Research Association (LRA), “The 2006 budget represents a 41 percent increase in military spending since 2001.”
But this is needed to fight terrorism, say Bushâ€™s supporters. Never mind the fact that the “terror threat level” has been ignored since the election.
People in the world are out to get us and they donâ€™t like our freedom, they retort. A quick comparison, according to LRA, shows that the second largest military spender is China, at approximately $51.0 billion a year, followed by Russia at $50.8 billion, Japan at $41.4 billion and the United Kingdom at $41.3 billion. Iran and North Korea â€“ key states in the “Axis of Evil” â€“ spend a whopping $5 billion each.
Imagine if public education spending had been increased by 41 percent. Poverty programs? Unemployment and job creation programs? Shoring up Social Security?
According to the National Priorities Project, almost 2.7 million public school teachers could have been hired with the same money so far spent on Bushâ€™s Iraqi “Dunkirk.” Almost 1.4 million public housing units could have been built. Over 92 million children could have been provided health insurance.
By the end of 2006, $210 billion will have been spent on the war in Iraq. With a $600 billion deficit, where does that money come from? What do you do when you are at the “Dunkirk” of having to buy groceries for the week or taking your kid to the dentist for a chipped tooth that isnâ€™t covered by your flimsy insurance? You break out the Visa.
Our government has the very nasty habit of breaking out the Visa, not for kids health care, as I noted above, but for extra fighter-bombers, star wars missile defense systems that donâ€™t work, artillery models that are obsolete, wars that arenâ€™t necessary, and so on.
All of this extra deficit spending is coming directly out of the Social Security Trust Fund. Each year, workers pay more into the system than retirees take out. Instead of holding onto that money and keeping Social Security secure, George W. Bush is flashing the cash to every military contractors’ lobbyist that slinks into the Oval Office.
And heâ€™s giving it away overseas, too. As long as youâ€™re not a tsunami victim, AIDS victim, or a resident of Darfur. But if you live in Poland where theyâ€™re thinking about pulling out of Iraq (remember Bushâ€™s election debate boast that Poland was a great ally?), a 50 percent increase in military assistance might convince you to stick with Bushâ€™s program. Or if you live in Ukraine, $105 million might go along way to not only helping to elect the guy Bush liked better, but getting your new government on the neo-con track.
Our “Dunkirk” is now. Bush and privatization are on one side and the economic hardship are on the other. Either we hand over the funds needed to protect Social Security to Bushâ€™s corporate backers and for a war we didnâ€™t want, or we fight back. Sign petitions to stop Bushâ€™s plan at the AFL-CIO website and the MoveOn.org website. Get your congressional representatives to pledge to protect Social Security from Bush’s privatization plan here.