April 30, 2003
By Marta Russell
— Marta Russell Los Angeles, CA http://www.disweb.org
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In a truly “developed” world where diplomacy reigned over brute force and the wealth of a nation was used to better the lives of its citizenry, the US military would be stripped of the billions of the people’s tax dollars it wastes. Militarism would be sidelined, if not outlawed.
I got arrested at the March 19 LA antiwar protest near the Westwood Federal Building. There were several hundred of us who gathered at noon before the military dropped Bush’s “Shock and Awe” bombs onto the people of Iraq. We were marching to make a last ditch effort to raise American voices against the oncoming so-called preemptive strike that would initiate an illegal act of aggression and stop a manufactured war for the sake of geopolitical dominance.
The four earsplitting helicopters hovering overhead gave me pause. US military flying objects now in Iraq hoard what the military casually calls a “daisy cutter” or a “cluster bomb.”
The chain of command for use of a cluster bomb goes like this. Bush, the born-again Christian self-anointed “by God” thumbs his nose at the United Nations attempts to maintain the peace and insists upon bloodshed. He has a vast murderous arsenal and generals at his disposal, unlike any in history. His general directs the Airforce plane to fly in and drop the bomb at just the right angle. It breaks up into “bomblets” separating in mid-air and then seconds later a huge wave of fire and shrapnel shoots along a straight line obliterating everything in its path.
Now envision this. The “compassionately conservative” and pious Bush bean counters have a shrapnel agenda at home. It too is to alter the domestic policy landscape. The Bush machine, reminiscent of the Gingrich congress of the mid-nineties, is out to dismantle social entitlement programs. Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill said as much before he was fired. The planes flying in are loaded with numbers in a budget that congress is to approve.
Already across the nation, teachers are being laid off, schools closed, health care pared down, and college aid slashed to pay for tax cuts for President Bush’s upper-class friends.
A tomahawk missile costs about one million each. The military has dropped hundreds in Iraq.
After telling the broke governors last Christmas that the federal government had no money to help bail their states out of debt and help them avoid deep cuts to domestic programs, this spring the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle machine got $80 billion from the Congress for the Iraq war. Already the military gets over half of annual federal revenues. It just got more.
The Bush machine proposed and the House passed a Y2004 budget bill that would cut $94 billion from Medicaid (over ten years), $18.5 million from SSI, $14 billion from Veteran’s programs, $13 billion in food stamps, and $1.2 billion in Child Care programs. These are all poor people’s programs.
The war at home against entitlements, upstaged by the Iraq occupation (and future invasions?), is off the radar screen. Make no mistake. It has reignited.
The nonexistent American class system has a class warrior in the oval office who very well knows what class war is all about. The Bush machine gave the rich $1.6 trillion in tax cuts through 2010 and promised more — nearly $2 trillion through 2013 (including added interest of the national debt, Center on budget and Policy Priorities).
The President’s “growth package” would cost the treasury $726 billion (over ten years according to the Tax Policy Center) and result in tax reductions averaging $90,000 each (Y2003) for Americans who have annual incomes of more than $1 million! Does it get any clearer than that?
As I watched an American soldier who occupied one of the palaces in Basra on TV condemn the Hussein version of the Ba’ath party government for such great wealth disparity that would allow lavish palaces to co-exist beside poverty-ridden neighborhoods, I wondered why the low-paid soldier could not see the same in his own native land. What is so different about the Bush version of the Republican Party aiding and abetting the owners of the giant American estates – or the fact that Bush just gave the wealthy who don’t need it a huge tax cut spitting on the working stiffs? Most of the benefits of Bush’s tax plan go to those making incomes over $300,000 per year. Does the soldier fit in that class? Hardly.
This disconnect cannot be understated or overemphasized. The polls are full of figures citing Americans who think they are in the top 1percent who aren’t and those who expect to get rich but won’t.
Wealth disparity in the US, both in assets owned and the income gap, is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. According to the Gini Index, a measure of income inequality from 1913, income distribution has been getting more unequal for over 30 uninterrupted years. The top 1 percent has nearly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 20 percent in 1976!
The reasons disabled persons organizations have come out against the Bush war are in sync with many others — moral, realpolitick and geopolitical. We, however, add another dimension.
Whirlwind Wheelchair International, for instance, a group against the war that promotes the design and production of sturdy low cost wheelchairs around the world. Pointing out that already more than 20,000,000 people in the world are still in need of a good wheelchair, WWI works in more than 40 countries, some of which are post conflict nations, seeing to it that every person who needs a wheelchair can obtain one.
The collateral damage and human rights abuses fomented by the warmongers have just made their job harder.
WWI says that it “feels a great responsibility to help people with disabilities in Iraq.”
Crips Against War, formed out of Chicago says the Bush administration’s agenda promises to “to rob us of the self-determination for which we have fought for so long.”
The Bush machine, including John Ashcroft, has had no use for anyone’s civil rights but the budget will ensure that the civil rights divisions of the federal agencies assigned to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act won’t have the resources either.
Further, under capitalist medicine dominated by for-profit insurance corporations and the ongoing institutional discrimination in education, welfare, the built environment and employment practices that exclude disabled people in large measure, self-determination often includes the ability to access to Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security. Entitlement, however, is a word the “compassionate conservatives” intend to eliminate from government’s dictionary and erase from the collective memory.
“The war is a perfect smokescreen to accomplish this. Disabled people will be sacrificed at the altar of war,” warns Crips Against War.
With estimates approaching a trillion dollar deficit each year for the next five years, the predicament is dire.
The broke states facing unprecedented deficits are already cutting or slapping co-payments onto the “optional” benefits. Those are medical services the federal government does not mandate the states to provide. People are losing Medicaid “optionals” such as prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, dental services, physical therapy, prosthetic devices, and eyeglasses, to name but a few.
Some states are halting progress on home and community-based services or personal care services that allow disabled persons an alternative to being warehoused in institutions.
Further there are “optionally eligible persons” under Medicaid. These are populations that (amongst others) include working disabled individuals whose incomes are above the SSI limit or who have high medical expenses that allow them to qualify. With the states in debt and looking to reduce expenditures these people’s health care is on the line.
By the end of this fiscal year 49 states will have cut Medicaid and 32 states will have cut Medicaid twice.
That was before the beginning of the “endless war” Dick Cheney, speaking on behalf of the machine, promised after September 11. It doesn’t take a genius to know that one cannot cut taxes for the wealthy and wage a war that will cost endless dollars – especially not during a recession – without curtailing spending somewhere.
“Collateral damage” is the euphemistic term that describes what happens to civilians caught in the crossfire of war.
What about collateral damage at home? With counties in debt and looking to cut costs–health care, social support services, poor people’s lives or those least likely to weather the cutbacks will change for the worse. Can we extend the term “collateral damage” to encompass people who die prematurely from lack of appropriate health care or go without vital social services?
At a rally to prevent the closure of Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Hospital in Downey, CA, due to LA County budget deficits, Janelle Rouse shared her story with me. Rouse came to Rancho as the result of a significant brain injury that regressed her function to the level of an infant. With the knowledge of the rehab expertise at Rancho she had relearned most everything – from the seemingly smallest things like how to dress to the more complicated like continuing to live in her community.
Rouse who lives with short-term memory loss contributes her time as a volunteer at Rancho.
Faced with Rancho’s closure, however, Rouse is uncertain of her future. Where will she go for the non-replaceable support services she receives from Rancho? Can she continue to live in the community? Will she find a doctor who will take MediCal? Where will she wind up — on the streets with so many others?
Other people who rely on Rancho will surely get displaced. People who use ventilators, for instance, are faced with no other LA hospital that will take them (stated by the County’s own consulting firm).
The present Congress, swayed by the right-wing Zionist lobby, the right-wing Christians, and the military-industrial complex with defense companies lobbying for military contracts all over the nation, is likely to accomplish what Gingrich could not. Clinton vetoed his contract on America. Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle will not. This budget has the devout blessing of the evangelicals-on-a-mission and the hawks beside them.
The organization Disabled Peoples’ International took a stand appropriately called “Peace is a Disability Issue.” DPI declared:
“Let us call for all nations’ economies to be transformed from war economies to peace economies. Let us insist that the $600 billion now spent on armaments is diverted to socially useful projects.”
Socially useful would not include pouring money into bigger better killing devices such as “daisy cutter” bombs or training our young people to become troops who kill other human beings.
While the popular culture often has interpreted impairment/disability as a metaphor for evil and menace, the real Dr. Strangeloves are people like able-bodied Donald Rumsfeld, a clinically “normal” person. Let’s call this the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle “perfect body” complex? The born-again President who says God told him to start this war would be considered delusional in a psychology textbook or suffering from “grandiosity” at an AA meeting or a violent fundamentalist at the very least. Then again, those who use the banner of religion as a cover for their deeds are seldom questioned for lack of coherence.
As I was being arrested I tried to talk two decent cops out of working for the LAPD. Why support that, I asked? I felt that they deserved more. How does one not harden into a tool of the state when protecting the interests of people who care nothing for one’s class? When it came down to it they had more in common with the working people, women, and children that day on the streets, not the Bush machine’s strategy for world domination nor his friends’ moneymaking agendas at Halliburton, Bechtel, Trireme (Perle is a managing partner) and Fluor corporations.
Americans live in an imperialist state with a passive, depoliticized population. The soldier in Iraq and the cops who arrested me do not make the connections. How could it be much different given the central values upon which capitalism rests: individualism, competitive “free enterprise,” and consumerism?
Still we built a vigorous antiwar movement and we must keep opposing this war plan, and militarism, and imperialism, generally. Damage control is needed now to stop the cluster of bombs dropping on the home front and to get these self-serving criminals out of office.