Against the huge backdrop of relentless conflicts that are ravaging the middle east, with no solutions in sight, and the endless memorials to 9/11 that have been exploited by every political rogue here at home, where freedom is anything but free, we have all but overlooked another war raging across America. This war, deep inside America’s bowels, is a festering cancerous malignancy that’s gone into overkill. It’s symptomatic of want, avarice, injustice, gullibility, arrogance and hypocrisy of the worst sort. It’s a war that has left only the tattered remnants of a once promising democracy, and only the faintest hint that liberty may have ever existed here at all.
How ironic that old Abe’s greatest fear of secession has finally been realized in America, though not owing to the dynamics of an industrial north engaged in an intense struggle with an agrarian south. This contemporary divide has been politically fashioned along the economic stratum where the chasm between rich and poor might as well be a galaxy apart. This is a war where one nation under God was sold to the highest commercial bidders and life has been predicated, literally, to the survival of the abominably rich that now demean what might have once been a great nation. This is a war that has also traversed the cultural divide that once separated the middle from the lower income, wherein the line between the two, now, is all but indistinguishable.
Too, this is a war where at the behest of
the erroneous Right and a heedless Religious Reich, all middle ground has
been purged as sovereignty is usurped from a people so unwittingly. Of
course, the byproduct of this war, as with any war, is death and mayhem on
an imposing scale.
So why should the needless deaths of a young mother and her six children, in an apartment fire in Chicago, matter in America anyway?
Perhaps, aside from the fact the Ramirez family’s energy had been turned off for more than four months, while they lived by candlelight, should have raised the first red flag, validating the family’s dire inability to pay for a necessity. The second red flag should have surfaced with the overriding concern as to why 12 people were sandwiched in a small 3-bedroom apartment without the basic amenities of life.
Though most of the Ramirez family is beyond the help we might have afforded them, the red flags remain indicating there is a much bigger problem here that goes directly to the heart of America’s own burgeoning third world population. What’s more, this tragedy was anything but an isolated incident in a nation where massive budget cuts of established social programs, by an errant administration, are occurring with such regularity so as to create the conditions that lead to these senseless disasters.
Of course, the other part of this equation that swells the ranks of America’s needy bespeaks of the U.S. quest for domination of finite resources. Cloaked under the guise of a war on terror, we are paying a horrific cost in dollars, but far more, lamentably, in human life. Considering that power corrupts on a grand scale, gluttony has driven the U. S. to continually ignore all conventional, ethical and spiritual bounds, both at home and abroad, in the pursuit of an ever greater dominion.
Thus, armed with the age old rationale of Manifest Destiny (right of way) and the ever thriving doctrine of Lazzie-Faire (unchecked trade), and a dash of Social Darwinism, applied preferentially, (survival of the wealthiest) America’s war mongering, which has taken on global dimensions with threats now aimed at Syria, Iran, and North Korea and an increasingly progressive South American alliance, suggests the sky is the limit.
Now we have an uncontrollable war machine, that at the behest of the criminals that are getting rich while running it, has overridden an implied cornerstone of our democracy that once placed human welfare second to none, especially here at home. Yet, despite the deterioration of our infrastructure, and an economy that warns of dwindling resources and the inevitability of a bankrupt treasury, the U.S. can now lay claim to its own dictator, exploding third-world population and millions more that are oblivious to the glaring dangers surrounding them, and even deadlier threats a shady regime suggests they’re immune from, down the road.
Meanwhile, back on the sheep ranch, too many Americans still wave their flag, which is eerily reminiscent of the type of nationalism that overtook Nazi Germany under another dictator, not so long ago. Obviously, history’s lessons have failed to enlighten us, once again.
So how do we weight the Pentagon’s insatiable war budget against the value of seven human lives and two others hanging by a thread? Or, do the lives of seven Americans really matter or a hundred-thousand times that, when a misguided war effort has already claimed millions of lives across the globe, including thousands more from our own military, and all under the opuses of anything but benevolence.
According to a report issued by a Congressional Research Service (CRS) in September 2006, titled, “The Cost of Iran, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” the projected cost of this Global War on Terror will cost U.S. taxpayers 549 billion by 2007. What’s worse, the Congressional Budget Offices (CBO) estimates that an additional 371 billion may be needed to finance these wars through 2016, which if approved would leave taxpayers with an estimated 808 billion dollar war debt ten years from now. With all of the political wrangling and posturing in Congress these days, do we have a war effort scaling down or gaining momentum with the advent of projected appropriations through 2016?
Lastly, what is the point of projecting a dollar amount on a war in Iraq that has already been deemed lost by the experts. According to an article titled, “The US Has Lost in Iraq…and That’s a Good Thing,” by Robert Jensen, he suggests not only have we lost the war in Iraq, but that, “The tragedy is compounded because these deaths haven’t protected Americans or brought freedom to Iraqis.”
While the CRS report tracks a continually ballooning war budget, dating back to 9/11, even this Washington based group cautions that it may not be in the nation’s best interests to squander our money and resources on a war where many Americans are working harder and longer and getting less bang from their dollars here at home.
“Faith, peace and justice organizations and networks have pointed out that the military expenditure of this order is an unforgivable waste of resources, given that so many of the underlying problems of poverty and injustice in the world today fester unresolved.”
-- Congressional Research Service
Maybe Americans need to follow the lead of certain South American nations that chose to galvanize, in a show of true patriotism, and reclaimed their governments, while ridding themselves of seedy politicians. Too, we may do well to go that extra step and redline war budget appropriations in favor of social programs that are in serious disarray, here at home.
For instance, 6.4 billion, the monthly expenditure for the failed Iraqi war, might provide 46.6 million Americans with the healthcare coverage they desperately need. Or, that same 6.4 billion could provide 3.7 million homeless Americans, of which 1.35 million are made up of children, with affordable housing that are now living on the streets, under bridges, in cars and crammed in motel rooms across this nation, yearly.
On the other hand, 1.3 billion, the monthly cost of the Afghanistan war, could give secondary education, childcare for the working poor and Medicare a big boost. Then there is the 413 billion that Bush commandeer from domestic spending, for Fiscal Year 2006, that could have shored up America’s deteriorating infrastructure, strengthen pollution controls among a host of other environmental concerns, including global warming that Bush tends to discount. Even better, 1.3 trillion, which is one of many tax breaks Bush gave exclusively to the wealthy in 2006, could outfit every American with a livable wage, shore up a seriously eroded job base, while addressing the concerns of mental health, and subsidizing poor students in their bid for a higher education.
Then again, that estimated 371 billion that has been projected for the war on terror through 2016 could be used to address the concerns of the Katrina victims, another tragedy that happened on Bush’s watch, of which many could have been spared. Or, we could divert some of this projected war funding into restoring as opposed to redesigning a seriously damage Gulf Coast region, instead of standing idly by while Halliburton grows increasingly richer. Lastly, we might envision what 808 billion, the final estimated cost of America’s war of terror through 2016, could accomplish if vested in the U. S. public’s interests and a huge array of other legitimate and related concerns.
Now weight the cost of an energy bill and
the lives of seven innocent Americans, and all those that died during the
scorching July 2006 heat wave throughout the western region of the U.S.,
for fear of generating high energy bills they could least afford to pay,
against war appropriations now standing at 507 billion dollars.
Regardless of how Bush ignores the polls, overlooks environmental concerns, rewrites the laws, subverts dissent or attempts to elongate the powers of the Chief Executive, the glaring fact is, with the onset of his lassoed Presidency in 2001, the public debt has gone from 5.8 trillion dollars to 8.3 trillion today. He can no longer justify horrific tax breaks to the rich against a growing myriad of economic imbalances across the board.
For example, the U. S. Census Bureau states from 2000 to 2004 the number of Americans living in poverty rose by 5.4 million, in other words, poverty took a mammoth jump in four years from 31.6 million to 37.0 million disenfranchised people. In a paper by Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar, titled “Who Will Pay the U.S. Debt,” it is suggested that 37 million Americans are poised at the bottom of this nation’s social stratum and are largely ignored, even by the government. Dr. Bakhtiar goes on to state, “The government has tried to reduce its expenditure by restricting access to social benefits and in some cases, by requiring the poor to work.” Dr. Bakhtiar charges that many of the new mandates, specifically those pertaining to welfare recipients and other poor, “…were created to reduce the budget deficit rather than help the poor.”
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), a Washington based advocacy, has long contended that at the heart of poverty in the U.S. are continually eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs. Further, the coalition suggests that in times of economic growth, fiscal gain, in actuality, is only realized by the top income and wealth distributions. Thus, working for millions of Americans affords no relief from poverty.
In a study conducted by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2002, it was suggested low-income, unassisted American households often pay more than 50% of their income on rent, and in many instances for substandard housing. Of these households, 40% have at least one person working.
The Economic Policy Institute suggests,
“Today, the minimum wage is 31% of the average hourly wage of American
workers, the lowest level since the end of World War II.” Dr. Bakhtiar
suggests, “It is clear that the poor will have severe problems in
alleviating their economic condition by simply working for minimum wage.
If they work hard enough, they may be able to join the ranks of the
In light of such staggering findings, does the Ramirez tragedy raise a huge red flag, suggesting there will be many more casualties from this nation’s internal war of want? Needless to say, I doubt that any of the foregoing analysis matters to Amado Ramirez, at the moment, having suffered the loss of his wife and six children on September 5, 2006, and with the lives of two more hanging in the balance. Yet, I’m sure, at some point, he will temporarily suspend his grief, to seriously consider the actions of the energy company and his community’s failure to respond to his family’s most pressing needs. He may even go one step further by suggesting that local government was also complicit in creating the agonizing sorrow he must now endure for life. Perhaps, in time, he may even assess his shattering loss from the perspective of many Katrina victims, in that this once great Republic is little more than a failed accord, especially in response to the needs of its poorest citizens.
As heartbreakingly unthinkable as it is to suggest, Amado Ramirez may, eventually, consider the testimony of early eyewitness accounts that stated, along with bystanders’ inability to help his doomed family that, “As the fire raged, the children were heard screaming in the apartment.”
Finally, regardless of how any of us may try, we will never fathom Mr. Ramirez’s thoughts or feelings as he ponders the coroner’s report that revealed, the bodies of his wife and children were discovered huddled together in one room, where autopsies suggested they died of smoke inhalation, before the fire took hold. In the name of one nation under God, how far does a government’s duplicity go?
In an effort to grapple with the enormity of this tragedy, I wonder, when the coroner remitted copies of their report to the appropriate agencies, if the energy company, in particular, and the city of Chicago got a detailed report, along with an indictment from the grand jury for complicity in such a senseless and heinous bloodbath. As well, President Bush should receive an indictment for his culpability in helping to orchestrate policies that have decimated social programs to the extent that innocent people are dying for lack of basic necessities, which low-wage jobs cannot provide for.
Harry Belafonte, a long time peace activist, in an interview Amy Goodman, host of Democracy NOW!, part of the progressive media series that airs daily on Free Speech Television, candidly assessed, in January of this year, the plight of the U.S. and its war of terror waged against America’s poor. His remarks, are, indeed, both painfully accurate and profound.
Harry Belafonte: It is quite curious that we can find billions and billions of dollars to sustain an illegal and immoral war in the Middle East, invading a country that did not provoke us and moving into this conflict unconstitutionally, even though it had the approval of the Congress. Even the Congress violated the statutes of the Constitution. We were not invaded. There was no threat of an enemy. We unilaterally walked into a country that had no threat to this country, and we invaded it. That's against the Constitution.
Amy Goodman: You call President Bush a terrorist?
Harry Belafonte: I call President Bush a terrorist. I call those around him terrorists, as well: Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales in the Justice Department, and certainly Cheney. I think all of these men sit -- and women -- sit in the midst of an enormous conspiracy that has been unraveling America for the last eight years -- six years. It is tragic that the dubious way in which this president acquired power should have begun to unravel the Constitution and the peoples of this country.
Yes, I say that there are people in this country who live in terror. Poverty is terror. Having your Social Security threatened is terror. Having your livelihood as an elderly person slowly disappearing with no replenishment is terror. Students who are dropping out of school because there are no resources to keep us in school are terror. You find people in the streets, watching drugs permeate our communities and destroy our young; it's a life of terror. And men who sit in charge of that distribution mechanism, which can help the American people overcome these problems and refuse to do so, while giving the rich more money than they've ever dreamt of having, while turning around our institutions and redirecting resources from those who are truly in need to those who are already generously endowed, if not hedonistically so, it's a great tragedy . . .
At the end of the day, what will America’s final legacy to the world be, as it struggles to free itself from a death defying grip of excess greed and corruption on the one hand, and the necessity to fulfill its founding principles for a people in dire want of a democracy on the other. In the final analysis, it may be said that America’s current civil war, captioned by the colloquial expressions of the haves against the have-nots, is better characterized by none other than that timeless struggle of good versus evil, as each side postures itself in an effort to overtake the world. But, will the average American see this in time?
is a freelance writer from Sacramento, California. Her writing has
appeared in the Progressive Populist, Salon, Sacramento
News and Review, which are all listed on the internet. She also
wrote for the Antelope News, a California publication with five
monthly newspapers. She can be reached at: