Uncle Sam Bets Big Money on Iraq
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 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
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.
The Next White House Wish List
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,"
• 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.
Feds Stiff Reporters Asking for 9-11 Tapes
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.
Provinces Answer U.S. Beck and Call
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
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
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