Double or Nothing
With Wall Street straining for a toehold on stability and joblessness growing nationwide to about 6 percent, the most cynical among us might conclude that America’s best bet for economic recovery lies in a war against Iraq. This would be a pump-priming Keynesian affair, a Republican gambit running directly counter to the right wing’s beloved belief in privatizing and cutting the government, not to mention its passion for the free market.
What will the war cost? Almost every estimate allows room for doubling the minimum. The first bullet might as well be a blank check.
The initial military operation, says Congressman John Spratt of South Carolina, would run us $48 billion to $93 billion. The figures from Spratt, a top Democrat on the Budget and Armed Services committees, assume the war would last from 30 to 60 days, with an armed force of 125,000 to 250,000. But that would be just the beginning.
The Congressional Budget Office sets the expense of merely deploying the force at anywhere between $9 billion and $13 billion. The war itself would cost up to $9 billion a month. Returning U.S. forces to their home bases would run $5 billion to $7 billion. Occupation ranges from $1 billion to $4 billion, and that’s per month.
The president’s economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, told The Wall Street Journal recently that a war in Iraq could cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. The Pentagon puts the total cost at $50 billion.
Then there are the lasting human costs. War inevitably results in refugees, and while the government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement is leery of setting any dollar figures on resettlement, it did point out that the price of a single plane ticket from the Middle East to the U.S. runs between $1300 and $1600 and that to provide, as the rules call for, cash assistance for eight months can run anywhere from $2800 to $8000 per refugee. No one knows how many displaced people to expect.
With the midterm elections over, President Bush can finally come off the campaign trail and do a little actual work.
Priority No. 1, says Patrick Basham of the libertarian Cato Institute, likely will be to seek congressional approval for the Homeland Security Agency—a national, coordinated police system with the rudiments of a built-in snitch line. Mike Franc, point man for the conservative Heritage Foundation, predicts the Bush team will cast energy consumption as a primary security issue.
Other key components of the conservative program, according to Washington insiders:
• Rewriting Social Security “to modernize it,” says the American Enterprise Institute’s John Fortier. That means creating personal investment accounts for individuals, pushing them to follow the suckers and lose their shirts in the market. It also means giving Wall Street a scarcely imaginable windfall in commissions, management, and sales fees.
• Dumping Medicare in favor of a private, supposedly competitive health plan modeled after the one offered workers within the federal government.
• Jump-starting the economy. “If the economy continues to teeter-totter, there’s going to be a renewed effort on the tax issue. They will look to short-term ventures such as tax cuts,” says Basham.
• Extending faith-based governance. With the nation preoccupied by the war on terror, look for Bush to renew his attempts at turning social welfare over to the church. As in Dickensian times, the notion of civic responsibility has been transformed into a call for alms-giving to the poor.
In bits and pieces, a better picture of what happened on September 11 comes into focus—no thanks to the federal government, which has stonewalled inquiries. A few months ago, I joined with Russ Kick (a Voice freelancer and the Web sleuth behind the archive TheMemoryhole.com), using the Freedom of Information Act to seek communications from the four doomed flights. In its response the Federal Aviation Administration at first stated, “The recordings of communications, transcripts, and any documents relating to your request are part of an ongoing, sensitive investigation.” Access denied.
Further down, in the same letter, the FAA wrote, “There are no records or other correspondence relating to any signals, alarms, or any other form of nonverbal communications emanating from the four hijacked flights,” adding, “There are no documents in written or recorded form having to do with communications from any of the four hijacked flights.”
In its response the FBI said, “[The] material you requested is located in an investigative file which is exempt from disclosure.” The CIA referred us to the FBI and the FAA.
This is absurd, since as far back as last fall, ABC broadcast smidgens of the air traffic controller tape. And AirDisaster.com, a usually reliable and thoroughgoing site, has posted a sound file of air traffic control during the morning of September 11. It shows that Cleveland Air Traffic Control had two brief contacts with United Airlines Flight 93—the “Let’s Roll” flight—before the crash.
As we already know from air traffic control tapes of American Flight 11, the FAA controllers became aware of that hijacking soon after the plane took off from Boston. Yet knowledge was no protection. The BBC recently aired an interview with the Northeast Defense Sector air commander saying there were only four armed fighters patrolling the Atlantic coast of the U.S. that day.
Still, the Flight 93 tape offers a slender thread of firsthand evidence about what really happened. And it once more raises the question of how much the FAA actually knew about what was going on that day. What else the government knows remains a secret.
Despite the Canadian federal government’s determination to adhere to the Kyoto principles, there is a growing move within the provinces, which control much of that country’s energy policy, to turn their backs on the global-warming plan and follow the U.S. lead in opposing them. Canada, now our largest foreign source of energy, does pretty much what we want, especially when it comes to oil and gas.
North America’s head-in-the-sand attitude will cost immense amounts of money. Just last week, experts at Munich Re, which reinsures many insurance companies, put the bill for natural disasters this year at $70 billion. Much of the cost is due to the August floods in Europe, the worst in 150 years.
There have been over 500 natural disasters this year, killing thousands, making others homeless, and affecting millions, said Thomas Loster, a member of the Munich Re team. “We have once more strong indications that global warming is increasing and will thus have serious effects on societies and economies alike.”
Pollution Probe, a Canadian public interest group trying to talk sense into that nation’s politicians, came out with a pointed report last month arguing that climate change is going to hurt many people if precautions aren’t taken.
“Excessive heat could kill more than 800 Toronto residents a year by 2080, a 40-fold increase over the current death toll,” the analysis says. “Birds, insects, rodents, and other organisms are carrying a number of serious diseases, common in warmer climates, northward into the Toronto-Niagara region.” Malaria, dengue fever, and hantavirus may well spread northward “due, in part, to climate change.”
The Pollution Probe study underscores what the governments of industrialized nations already know. According to a 1996 World Health Organization document, Climate Change and Human Health, changes in global climate could result in a substantial increase in the geographic ranges of insect-borne diseases. Reduced supplies of fresh water, brought on by changes in regional rain and snowfall, may cause a higher incidence of some water- and food-borne illnesses and parasites. In addition, the report warns that an increase in extreme weather events, such as heat waves, floods, and storms, could threaten human health through greater risk of death, injury, or resource shortages.
The U.S. response to these dire warnings? Not to worry. “A range of negative health impacts is possible from climate change, but adaptation is likely to help protect much of the U.S. population,” says a report from the National Assessment Synthesis Team published in 2000 and updated this year. “At present, much of the U.S. population is protected against adverse health outcomes associated with weather and/or climate, although certain demographic and geographic populations are at increased risk.” V
The Costs of War
The military’s shopping list is never cheap, as these figures illustrate.
Blackhawk chopper $15 million
Aircraft carrier, per year$298 million
One fighting soldier, per year $300,000 to $500,000
Laser-guided bomb$19,000 to $26,000
Daisy cutter $27,000
Tomahawk cruise missile $500,000
Additional research: Waris Rashaad Banks, Rebecca Winsor, Gabrielle Jackson, and Josh Saltzman