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Trouble At Home

David Elfant
Date Published: 
February 14, 2003

The preparations for a war against Iraq are continuing unabated, with Donald Rumsfeld issuing a New Year’s Day order sending an additional 11,000 troops to the Persian Gulf. This is on top of the 60,000 troops the US has already deployed in the region. Never mind the fact that Iraq has issued no threats and that UN inspectors haven’t found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

And, as if a war with Iraq alone wouldn’t satisfy the appetite of the hawks in the Bush administration, they recently started talking of a possible war with North Korea. Following his “bomb first, negotiate later” credo, Rumsfeld announced to the world that the US is now prepared for a war on two fronts.

While all this talk of war is going on, the US economy continues to tank. 2002 witnessed a steady stream of mass layoffs, mega-bankruptcies and corporate scandals. Even CBS News was inspired to set up an interactive “Pink Slip Parade” on their web site, notably documenting 35,000 job cuts at Ford, 22,000 at Kmart, 17,000 at WorldCom, 15,000 each at IBM and Consolidated Freightways, and the parade of carnage continues. Those who are being laid off are being doubly hit by the disgraceful state of our health care insurance system and the collapse of their market-driven 401(k) retirement savings.

The US has some of the best healthcare in the world, but millions of Americans are denied access. Among them are those who are forced to allow their health to deteriorate to the point when they have no choice but to admit themselves into hospital emergency rooms. Recent estimates put the ranks of the uninsured at 41 million.

But this doesn’t take into account the millions of underinsured Americans, such as those who are denied access to the treatment they need by their restrictive HMOs, or have no coverage for the soaring prices of prescription drugs. When workers are laid off, they are given the privilege of continuing their coverage for a year, as long as they can afford to shell out hundreds of dollars a month without a steady income.

Hollow victory

As Bush and Rumsfeld celebrated the New Year by sending more troops to the Gulf, 800,000 unemployed workers were thrown off their unemployment benefits. Bush and Co. are eager to divert people’s attention away from the economic troubles at home, and gain control over Iraq’s vast oil supply. But Bush knows that he and the Republicans can be sent packing if the situation at home continues to deteriorate.

Barely a month after the elections, Bush sacked two of his top economic advisors as a symbolic gesture that he intends to get serious about dealing with the weak economy. But the only solutions he continues to provide are more tax cuts for the rich and rehashed trickle-down Reaganomics.

The worse things seem to get at home, the more Bush bangs the war drums. But while a war with Iraq seems all but a certainty, opposition to the war is growing. On October 26, a quarter of a million activists turned out for antiwar protests in Washington, DC and San Francisco in the biggest day of antiwar action since the last Gulf War in ’91. The movement has continued in cities and campuses across the country.

We have also begun to see some signs of life in the labor movement. TWU Local 100, representing 30,000 transit workers in New York City, threatened illegal strike action in December and were able to win raises and improvements to their healthcare as opposed to the 0% raises and healthcare cuts proposed by management.

After the last Gulf War, Bush Sr. saw his popularity plummet after peaking at around 90%, as the economy slipped into recession. Bush Jr. is currently riding high in the polls, but he may soon be met by the same fate.