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 Day 19

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The Elephant in the Room The Other State of the Union

The Other State of the Union

by KATHRYN CASA

This country today is poised on the precipice of a war that could alter the world as we know it — a conflict that could fundamentally change who we are as a nation, the rights we enjoy and the way the rest of the world relates to us.

War’s curtain call shrouds pressing domestic priorities including jobs creation, environmental protection, health insurance and education.

In his State of the Union speech, George W. Bush promoted his new economic stimulus package. We also heard more arguments in favor of the push for war with Iraq, and rhetoric dismissive of the European position against such action.

What we didn’t hear about is the other state of the union — the one that a war with Iraq would so helpfully obscure.

Statistics compiled recently by the minority staff of the House Appropriations Committee reflect the precarious nature of our situation. They hold a mirror to the country George Bush does not want us to see.

For example, here is what we didn’t hear the president say about the economy:

* 1.7 million jobs have been lost since January 2001, and 8.6 million Americans are actively looking for work.

* Between Dec. 29, 2000, and the end of the third quarter 2002, the total market value of all U.S. equities dropped by 38 percent, or $6.65 trillion.

* 1.3 million Americans slipped below the official poverty line in 2001, the first increase since 1993.

* In two years, the United States had the highest rate of bankruptcy cases in history, up 23 percent since 2000.

* Requests for emergency shelters increased some 19 percent in 2002, the largest annual increase since 1990.

More news from the domestic front that went unspoken:

* A budget surplus of $236 billion in 2002 has turned into a $157 billion deficit for 2002, and forecasters predict the Bush ’04 deficit at between $300-350 billion — a half-trillion-dollar negative change.

* Bush has cut programs within the “No Child Left Behind” Act by $90 million, and the ’04 budget for Title I, the main program targeting aid to disadvantaged children, is expected to fall more than $6 billion short of what was promised in the new education law.

* Nearly 40 percent of Bush’s first tax cut went to the richest 1 percent of the country, or those earning more than $373,000 a year. Under the second tax cut proposal, the same segments of the population would receive an average tax cut of $30,127, while the average working family would get about $289.

* The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 1.4 million in 2001, after dropping in 1999 and 2000.

* Monthly premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance went up by 12.7 percent between spring 2001 and spring 2002, the largest increase since 1990.

* Bush unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Kyoto Treaty, despite an EPA warning to the United Nations of significant environmental effects from climate change with, according to Associated Press reports, “changes over the next decades expected to put southeastern coast communities at greater risk of storm surges, prompt more uncomfortable heat waves in cities and reduce snowpack and water supplies in the West.” The president has suggested “voluntary action” by industry is enough to deal with greenhouse-gas pollution.

* The Bush administration in 2002 designated fewer toxic sites for restoration, and shifted the bulk of the cleanup costs from industry to the taxpayers. Bush’s EPA also denied requests from its own regional offices to continue cleanup actions at 33 sites in 19 states.

* In the first increase in serious crime in a decade, the FBI reports robberies were up 3.7 percent between 2000 and 2001, and murders increased 2.5 percent.

* Yet despite a focus on the “war on terrorism,” we are not likely to hear the president reveal that we are no safer now than we were on Sept. 11, 2001. That’s because:

* In August 2002 — just four months before he was to propose another tax giveaway to the rich — Bush vetoed a bipartisan package for port security, cockpit doors, border patrol, customs information systems, local first responder equipment, chemical weapons safety and other security concerns. Bush said the nation could not afford the additional homeland security expense.

* The Washington Post reported in December that the “threat of ‘Islamic terrorism’ toward Western countries was growing, as Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida successfully recruit young men for a “holy war” against the United States.

* U.S prestige in Europe, the Middle East and Asia is at perhaps an all-time low due to our perceived arrogance and belligerence.

Mr. Bush read his lines from his teleprompter; the Democrats issued their response; the pundits analyzed the words. The rest of us should buckle our seatbelts. We are aboard the runaway train called America.

KATHRYN CASA is managing editor of the Brattleboro Reformer, where this article originally appeared.