Homeland Insecurity

U.S. Schools, Middle Class, Poor Take Shelling

The Council on Foreign Relations estimates the cost of occupying Iraq with 75,000 troops at $20 billion a year. But the real cost is likely to be higher since we have 125,000 troops in Iraq now. How long they will be there is anybody's guess, because commanders were reported as saying last week that the fighting is not yet over.

If the Iraq war adds to the growing deficit, so does the fact that under Rumsfeld's command the Pentagon has somehow lost track of $1 trillion worth of materiel. According to a study from the GAO, conducted late last year, those losses include 56 planes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin cruise missile command launch units.

Then there are the little things, like the cost of blowing up Saddam's bunker. Bush said he had to start the war early on March 20 so as to kill Saddam, his sons, and other top officials at a secret meeting in a bunker. According to reports last week, that bunker did not exist.

But consider what it cost, according to estimates by an analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:

Two stealth fighters, at $1,500 an hour each for three hours: $9,000

Two Navy Prowlers as escort, at $4,000 an hour. Total for three hours: $24,000

Two bunker-buster bombs, at $60,000 a pop. Total: $120,000

Two Tomahawk missiles, at $750,000 to $1 million each. Total: $2 million

The grand total? Somewhere between $1.6 million and $2.2 million to take out a nonexistent bunker.

That might not seem like much, the way the Pentagon throws around money, but it would pay for at least 1 million school lunches (at $2.14 each) for kids from poor families.

Meanwhile, back at the White House, Bush knows he's got to do something about the economy for re-election. As a purported stimulus plan, he pushes through Congress a tax-refund plan on stock dividends. Over half of all Americans don't own stock, and most of those who do hold piddling amounts. But the theory is that if you give the rich a break, they'll spend money on capital goods and services that will trickle down to create jobs, the rich tide lifting all boats. Few economists think that is very likely to happen. But one thing is for sure. The tax plan is a great windfall for the president and his cabinet.

The total estimated tax savings, on dividends and capital gains, that Cheney, Bush, and the cabinet are likely to enjoy under the tax-cut plan will run anywhere from $800,993 to $3.2 million, according to an analysis by L.A. Democratic congressman Henry Waxman, the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform.

This averages out to at least $42,000 per cabinet member—and as much as $167,000. Cheney would come out a happy camper, with about $116,000 saved, and Rumsfeld reaps as much as $604,000. Colin Powell, forever the good guy, will make out quite nicely, gaining anywhere from $109,506 to $670,150.

The tax refund is a rip-off for the rich. Benefits to the top 1 percent of all taxpayers will average $11,483. The 80 percent of taxpayers who earn $77,000 or less come out with a miserable $29.50.

The three largest shareholders among officers and directors of Fortune 100 companies will save an estimated $120 million a year in total, meaning an annual average of $400,000 each. All told, these 300 execs will gain $1.3 billion over 10 years.

To cover the cost of the giveaways to Bush's inner circle, the 300 execs, and others—not to mention covering $1 trillion of Pentagon losses caused by lousy management—Bush will cut back the nation's social welfare programs.

Education, one of the president's domestic priorities ("Leave no child behind"), is apparently first to go under the knife. Examples:

• Tens of thousands of California teachers already have received layoff notices. They had been hired over the last few years to reduce class size. The classes are climbing back to where they were.

• In Colorado, schools are going to a four-day week to trim costs. Local businesses are trying to help out by purchasing classroom supplies and groceries for teachers.

• Two-thirds of Florida's pre-kindergarten programs have been axed.

• A newly built library in Hawaii has no books.

• Parents in Idaho are raising teachers' salaries through bake sales.

• Half the school districts in Kansas have cut staff, and some now charge students to participate in extracurricular events.

Elsewhere, more than 41 million people have no health insurance, and those numbers are believed to have increased under Bush. Half of all women who get pregnant don't get prenatal care because they don't have the money. Half of the nation's personal bankruptcies occur because of medical debts. Neither the administration nor Congress is any closer to a health-care solution.

In the past decade, homelessness has tripled in America's big cities. Some 3.5 million people now are homeless, but programs for low-cost housing are being cut. Prisons are bursting, from 1.2 million occupants in 2001 to about 2 million today. The price of natural gas, the clean fuel pushed by industry to replace dirty coal, was $1.58 per million BTUs in 1990. By 2000, it was $4.08 per million BTUs. And last Friday it stood at $5.99.


Additional reporting: Phoebe St John

 
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