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A Call for a Citizens’ Agenda Against Corporate Raids on the Treasury and an Outburst of Wartime Opportunism
On September 19, merely eight days after the bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page presented a blueprint of how the Bush Administration could take advantage of the post-September 11 environment. The Journal noted that President Bush had “an historic opportunity to assert his leadership, not just on security and foreign policy but across the board.” “Now is the time,” wrote the Journal editors, to push for next generation weaponry, big defense budgets, tax cuts, judicial nominees, drilling in Alaska, and more.
As Bill Moyers said on October 16, “it didn’t take long for the war time opportunists—the mercenaries of Washington, the lobbyists, lawyers, and political fundraisers—to crawl out of their offices on K Street determined to grab what they can for their clients. While in New York we are still attending memorial services for firemen and police, while everywhere Americans’ cheeks are still stained with tears, while the President calls for patriotism, prayers and piety, the predators of Washington are up to their old tricks in pursuit of private plunder at public expense. In the wake of this awful tragedy wrought by terrorists, they are cashing in.”
Since September 11, members of Congress have served up a nonstop buffet of corporate pork legislation. Under the guise of “national security” our federal treasury is being raided and our democratic rights are being taken away while Congress feeds sympathetic campaign contributors at taxpayer expense, sends working people to fight, and leaves the unemployed, the disenfranchised, and American families to suffer.
The shameful profiteering and opportunism since September 11 include:
1. A so-called “Economic Stimulus” Plan that benefits corporate treasuries and neglects workers.
Instead of a plan to help the hundreds of thousands of workers displaced or about to be displaced by the events of September 11 and the millions more at risk of losing their jobs, a piece of legislation even the Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill labeled “show business,” the so-called “economic stimulus” legislation, passed in the House of Representatives on October 24, at a cost of $212 billion over the next three years. The Senate is seeking an even more expensive version of $220 billion over the next three years. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted, while the meager aid to unemployed and low and moderate income workers is temporary, the corporate tax cuts are permanent. (1)
2. Pharmaceutical Gouging. The Administration has refused to authorize generic competitors to manufacture ciprofloxacin, and thereby reduce public anxiety over the supply of anthrax-fighting drugs. According to the Consumer Project on Technology, the Department of Health and Human Safety could easily introduce competition which would ensure redundant capacity and a more favorable procurement environment for these drugs by using 28 USC 1498 to issue compulsory licenses for patents, and immediately authorizing the five companies who have already satisfied US FDA requirements for the quality of their products to speed the manufacture of ciprofloxacin to confront the current crisis. Instead the government cut its own deal with Bayer. (2)
… while everywhere Americans’ cheeks are still stained with tears … the predators of Washington are up to their old tricks in pursuit of private plunder at public expense.
3. “Bailouts for Billionaires” not workers. Congress is open for business for maximum corporate and personal greed, but closed for business to raise the long-suppressed minimum wage for workers, which at $5.15 is more than $2 less in purchasing power than the minimum wage was in 1968. In the aftermath of September 11, more than 130,000 airline and civilian aircraft aviation workers have been laid off and nearly one million people employed by the hotel industry have been either laid off or are working only one or two days per week. Congress gave the airline companies a cash and loan guarantees bailout of $15 billion. Congress gave laid-off aviation workers and hotel industry workers nothing.
According to Public Campaign, “How did the airlines get to the head of the bailout line? And how did they end up getting more money out of taxpayers than they lost in the three days the nation’s airports were shut down? By moving fast and without shame to deploy a crack army of lobbyists on Capitol Hill and by using all the access and influence that could be bought with $65 million in campaign contributions over the last eleven years.” (3)
4. The Re-emergence of Autocratic “Fast Track.” The Department of Commerce official numbers admit that at least 360,000 jobs have been lost to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), while the Economic Policy Institute estimates nearly double that many jobs and potential jobs have been eliminated. Now, as millions of layoffs have begun, what is Congress doing? It is deciding whether to surrender to the corporate demand to expand NAFTA under a no-amendment NAFTA abdication of authority. (4)
5. Handouts for the Insurance Industry. According to J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for Consumer Federation of America and former Federal Insurance Administrator, “[t]he insurance industry has proposed a “massive overreach that unnecessarily exposes taxpayers to billion of dollars in risk.” The insurance industry is proposing legislation that would create free government reinsurance for the industry with taxpayers footing the bill, while waiving all federal and state anti-trust laws and a reduction of oversight. (5)
6. More Phony “Defense” and the Reintroduction of Biological Weapons. President Bush has said he is determined to build an unworkable missile defense system and has withdrawn from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia. According to the Center for Defense Information and Aerospace Daily, on Oct. 24, 2001, the House Appropriations Committee approved missile defense funding up to $7.9 billion, $400 million less than the Senate. Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, Jr., USN (Ret.), Vice-President of CDI, says that Americans should care deeply about the decision to deploy a national missile defense system. “By such an action we will signal to the world that we are willing to pursue illusory defenses against non-existent threats even though we subject all nations to continued nuclear competition and increased risks of a future nuclear war.” (6)
7. Endangering the Environment and Energy. For over 30 years, watchdog organizations which follow the nuclear power industry have warned that a successful attack on any of the 103 nuclear power plants could unleash an immense quantity of radio-activity which could cause hundreds of thousands of cancers and contaminate wide areas for generations. The response thus far from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been to completely shut down its website and to suggest a “long bureaucratic review process,” according to Paul Leventhal, president of the non-profit Nuclear Control Institute. On Friday, October 26, the Washington Post reported that the Bush Administration has also made a fresh appeal to the Senate to approve his proposal to boost domestic energy supply and production, including a plan to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As actor-environmentalist Robert Redford and Biogems, a project of the National Resource Defense Council, points out, “Using our national tragedy as an opportunity to advance the narrow interests of the oil lobby would not be in the best interest of the public.” (7)
8. The Oxymoronic “USA PATRIOT Act.” On October 26, President Bush signed legislation defining civil liberties downward in the United States. Congress passed the bill at breakneck speed—despite a widely supported and diverse coalition of organizations, law professors, computer scientists and others who protested the contents. According to OMB Watch, “The process was so rushed that a final copy of the bill was not available to the public at the time the votes were taken.” (8)
9. Restrictions on Information/Invasions of Privacy. According to Bruce Shapiro, in the October 29th edition of The Nation: Never in the nation’s history has the flow of information from government to press and public been shut off so comprehensively and quickly as in the weeks following September 11. Much of the shutdown seems to have little to do with preventing future terrorism and everything to do with the Administration’s laying down a new across-the-board standard for centralized control of the public’s right to know. (9)
President Bush said, in his September 20 address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, “They hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” What freedom “to disagree with each other” does he refer to as Congress rushes nearly in lockstep to satisfy vested corporate interests while weakening and damaging our rights in numerous ways? Citizen groups and citizen advocates who band together to question, to propose, to seek debate, to protest or to voice their opposition are acting out of a deeply felt sense of patriotism and allegiance to ideas which represent the best of our country. And, as Bill Moyers said, the corporate marauders are “counting on your patriotism to distract you from their plunder. They’re counting on you to be standing at attention with your hand over your heart, pledging allegiance to the flag, while they pick your pocket!”
The huge distortions of public budgets and resources on the way—which must be stopped—such as the billions in tax rebates to corporations, drilling in pristine environments to enrich oil companies, and furthering cold war weaponry designed to fight a no longer existing Soviet Union—have nothing to do with a response to terrorism in the aftermath of September 11.
This call to action was distributed by a coalition in formation which includes Ralph Nader, consumer advocate/founder Citizen Works, John Passacantando, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA, Steve Cheifetz, National Council of the Alliance for Democracy, Theresa Amato, President, Citizen Works, Robert Weissman, Co-director, Essential Action, Mildred Brown, past national President, ACORN, and Brent Blackwelder, President, Friends of the Earth.
1. Common Cause says that, “Regular Americans are being told to go out and spend more to do their part to stimulate the economy. Big campaign donors, though, are being told that ‘the check’s in the mail.’” For more information see Citizens for Tax Justice at http://www.ctj.org/; ACORN at http://www.acorn.org/; the AFL-CIO, http://www.aflcio.org/, Campaign for Americas Future, http://www.ourfuture.org/, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, http://www.cbpp.org/; Friends of the Earth, http://www.foe.org/; Common Cause, http://www.commoncause.org/; and Center for Responsive politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/
2. For more information see Consumer Project on Technology, http://www.cptech.org/; and Public Campaign, http://www.publiccampaign.org/.; Public Citizen Health Research Group, http://www.citizen.org/
3. For more information see Public Campaign at http://www.publiccampaign.org; Public Citizen at http://www.citizen.org
4. For more information see Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: http://www.citizen.org/trade/; Friends of the Earth, http://www.foe.org/; and the Economic and Policy Information Network at http://www.epinet.org/.
5. For more information see Consumer Federation of American at http://www.consumerfed.org/, ACORN http://www.acorn.org/
6. For more information see Center for Defense Information, http://www.cdi.org/; Union of Concerned Scientists, http://www.ucsusa.org/; The Sunshine Project, http://www.sunshine-project.org/
7. For more information see Friends of the Earth,http://www.foe.org/; the Sierra Club, http://www.sierraclub.org/; Biogems, http://www.savebiogems.org/; The Nuclear Control Institute, http://www.nci.org/; Public Citizen, http://www.citizen.org/; USPIRG, at http://www.uspirg.org/; Greenpeace, http://www.greenpeace.org/.
8. For more information see: American Civil Liberties Union, http://www.aclu.org/; Electronic Privacy Information Center, http://www.epic.org/; OMB Watch, http://www.ombwatch.org/; October 25, 2001 Statement of Senator Russell Feingold from the Senate Floor On The Anti-Terrorism Bill.
9. For more information see OMB Watch, http://www.ombwatch.org/, Public Citizen, http://www.citizen.org/; USPIRG, http://www.uspirg.org/; The Nation, http://www.thenation.org/, Electronic Privacy Information Center, http://www.epic.org/