Issue 254 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
|The polluting companies have a friend in Bush (below)|
Three words sum up the first six months of George W Bush's presidency--corporate feeding frenzy. Bush has acted quickly to make sure the corporations and wealthy individuals that funded his presidential campaign and picked up the tab for his inauguration will consider their money well spent.
Bush signalled his intentions to make the rich richer by his cabinet appointments. For his Chief of Staff he chose Andrew Card. As head lobbyist in Washington for General Motors, Card was responsible for spending $12 million on lobbying between 1993 and 1998. To steer the economy Bush appointed Paul O'Neil to the Treasury, a man who earned $53 million in 2000. To ensure that business has a friendly ear at the commerce department, Donald Evans took up office. Evans owns stocks worth over $5 million. Elaine Chao was appointed to the Department of Labour. Hailed by Bush as a woman who epitomises 'the values and dreams of hard working Americans', he was of course thinking of the hard working Americans who accompany her on numerous boards of directors, including Northwest Airlines and Columbia/HCA Healthcare.
Minor appointments have been lined up to abolish government regulations considered a hindrance by big business. Mary Sheila Gall has been selected to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. She has a decade-long record of opposing safety rules because she believes that negligent consumers rather than faulty product design cause injuries. She has voted against safety standards for baby walkers, crib slats, bunk beds and baby bath seats. Harvard professor John D Graham, who has been proposed for a senior regulatory post, has argued that exposure to low levels of dioxins may actually reduce cancer, and not increase it as present government policy maintains. His research also found no evidence of harm to humans from residual pesticides on fruit and vegetables. Graham's research was funded by big business.
The first regulations to be abolished were rules concerning repetitive motion injuries. For ten years the American Federation of Labour/Congress of Industrial Organisations has lobbied to get workers relief from musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs). The National Academy of Science has calculated that every year 1 million Americans take time off work to treat MSDs, and that MSDs account for 70 million visits to the doctor every year. The rule proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would have required business to provide workers with basic information about the dangers of MSDs. Once a worker reported an MSD it was the responsibility of the employer to determine if the workplace had contributed to the injury. If it had, steps would have to be taken to eliminate the danger to other workers. These rules, which went into effect on 16 January 2001, were defeated by the National Association of Manufacturers, which said, 'We couldn't be more pleased that Congress has voted to scrap this expensive and unworkable rule.'
Not to be outdone by the Department of Labour, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has moved quickly to repay the arms manufacturers. His total assets are between $61 million and $242.5 million, and he has been one of the loudest advocates of the National Missile Defence (NMD) programme. NMD, nicknamed 'Son of Star Wars' after Ronald Reagan's failed programme in the 1980s, aims to use satellites and radar to track ballistic missiles heading for the US, and then launch a missile to destroy them. If successful, it would give the US military the ability to strike anywhere in the world without fear of retaliation. Rumsfeld, who says his plan is for the US 'to fight and win a nuclear war', hopes to oversee the spending of $100 billion on NMD. Most of this money will find its way into the pockets of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing, companies which eagerly look forward to government contracts that will offer a bottomless pit of profits. While it is doubtful whether NMD will ever work, it will start a new arms race that will make the world a more dangerous place to live in, as the showdown with China over the US spyplane that crash landed in April showed. To make sure this arms race is spread to every part of the world, the Bush administration has not only sold advanced weaponry to Taiwan, but is set to sell Chile ten F-16 fighter jets, the first transfer of sophisticated US fighter planes to Latin America in nearly two decades.
The second group of industrialists to benefit from Bush's reign is the energy companies. Immediately on taking office, Bush reneged on his promise to require power plants to control carbon dioxide emissions and said the US, the world's biggest polluter, would not abide by the Kyoto agreement to radically reduce greenhouse gases. Bush used the energy crisis in California to push for more coal, oil and gas energy production, the very sources that cause greenhouse gases. All this was music to the ears of the Enron Corporation, which gave $1.3 million to Bush's election campaign. But the crisis in California was totally manufactured by the energy companies, which took advantage of deregulation to price-gouge consumers. Bush's first budget reduced money for research into renewable energy sources and efficiency. The biggest shock to everybody was the announcement that Bush would push for the expansion of the nuclear power industry. Vice-President Dick Cheney, in announcing the turn to nuclear power, said nuclear power was 'as a matter of record a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source'. The nuclear power industry has been in the doldrums since the accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island. One environmentalist said of the reactor that cost $900 million to build, 'In one minute it turned into a $2 billion liability.'
During the election campaign Bush ran as a compassionate conservative trying to project an image of caring for the poor. He said that he would make education a priority so that 'no child is left behind', and to that end he plans to increase education spending by $1.6 billion. To ensure that the money gets into the right pockets he has appointed Rod Paige who, as Houston's school superintendent, privatised as many services as possible including food services and payroll. Among the highlights of Paige's tenure was putting Coca-Cola vending machines into every school hallway, and allowing Channel One television programmes into classrooms. Two out of every 12 minutes of Channel One's programming is devoted to advertisements for M&Ms, Mars, Nintendo, Pepsi and many others.
But Bush's compassionate conservatism doesn't go beyond the school gates. In the budget announced in April, Bush cut money from programmes for people without health insurance by 80 percent, including cuts to children's hospitals. And while the Department of Health and Human Services' budget is to increase by 5 percent, that money is earmarked for biomedical research and not direct patient care. Similarly, Bush plans to cut $259 million from training programmes for healthcare professionals at a time when the US has a shortage of nurses. His budget also announced a freeze on spending for the care of people suffering from HIV/Aids at $1.8 billion. This comes at a time when people are living longer because of the advance in drug treatment, which means more money is needed to provide drugs for longer periods. The freezing of funding will kill people--already many states which provide free treatment to uninsured people with Aids have had to cut back their programmes.
These cuts are in line with Bush's philosophy that private charitable institutions and not the government are responsible for caring for the poor, and sick. On 29 January, just nine days after his inauguration, Bush signed an executive order that allowed religious institutions to take government money and establish welfare programmes. Advocates for the poor pointed out that not only were these private institutions too small to tackle the increasing social problems of the US, but people who wanted to take advantage of their services have often been forced to adopt the particular group's religious creed or face being denied help.
In pushing the shift from government assistance to private institutions to care for the poor Bush stressed that all monetary contributions to charities and religions would be tax deductible. And of course his $1,350 billion tax cut plan is the centrepiece of his administration so far. Under this plan, which will actually cost closer to $5,000 billion over ten years, the 400 richest multi-millionaires will receive tax cuts worth up to $1 million a year. The 14 members of Bush's cabinet will benefit to the tune of $88.3 million. The poorest working families won't receive a penny. The Nation magazine pointed out that 'the $58 billion a year handed to the wealthiest 1 percent could be used to lift another 2 million out of poverty, provide health insurance to 5.1 million uninsured children, fund universal pre-school, and expand childcare services to more than 9 million children.' And Bush hopes that this is only the beginning. In an interview with the Financial Times, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil said the administration aimed to privatise social security, eliminate capital gains tax and abolish corporate income tax.
While Bush was soaking the rich in money, he was making sure that those drowning in debt would find no way out. In the US today, working class household debt is at an astonishing 97.4 percent of after-tax income. With a recession looming, the very real prospect of mass numbers defaulting on their credit cards, the automobile companies and the banks looks very real. Prior to Bush's administration, individuals could file under chapter seven of the Bankruptcy Code when they found themselves trapped in impossible debt situations, usually the result of illness, loss of job, and/or unscrupulous lending practices. Under Bush's plan, consumers will find themselves forced into long term repayment plans that consumer advocates have said are 'debtors' prisons without parole'. The main body behind the Bush plan was the National Consumer Bankruptcy Coalition, a group made up of, among others, the American Financial Services Association, Visa and MasterCard. Bush's first six months in office has demonstrated that all the talk of compassionate conservatism was hot air. Bush intends to be the most business-friendly president in history. However, he will not go unopposed. One of the main slogans of the anti-capitalist movement in the US is 'Think globally, act locally', and activists have tried to link their opposition to global capitalism with the everyday fights against school privatisation, elimination of healthcare facilities, pollution of neighbourhoods by energy companies, and the rolling back of workers' rights. Bush's across the board attack on the working class gives this slogan more urgency than ever.