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The Smirk of a Killer

Ending the Impunity of the Bush White House

by NORMAN SOLOMON

The man in the Oval Office is fond of condemning "killers." But his administration continues to kill with impunity.

"They can go into Iraq and do this and do that," Martha Madden, former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, said Thursday, "but they can’t drop some food on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, right now? It’s just mind-boggling."

The policies are matters of priorities. And the priorities of the Bush White House are clear. For killing in Iraq, they spare no expense. For protecting and sustaining life, the cupboards go bare.

The problem is not incompetence. It’s inhumanity, cruelty and greed.

Media outlets have popularized some tactical critiques of U.S. military operations in Iraq. But the administration is competent enough to keep the military-industrial complex humming. It’s good at generating huge profits for "defense" contractors, oil companies and the like. First things first, and first things last.

Why shore up levees when the precious money it would take can be better used for war in Iraq? Why allow National Guard units to remain home when they can be useful, killing and being killed, in a faraway war based on lies?

And when catastrophe hits people close to home, why should the president respond with urgency or adequacy if their lives don’t figure as truly important in his political calculus?

It’s time to end the impunity of President George W. Bush.

Of course he doesn’t pull the triggers, drop the bombs or oversee the torture himself. And he avoids the dying that he has facilitated in the wake of the hurricane. White-collar criminals — in this case, white-collar war criminals — rarely get close to their dirtiest work.

Every minute has counted in the wake of the hurricane. While dawdling and compounding the massive tragedy, Bush wants to shift responsibility. We should stop and think about why he noisily rattled a big tin cup midway through the week.

While the death toll rises in New Orleans and criticisms of his inaction grow more outraged across the country, the man wants us to think about making a charitable contribution, not taking political action. But George Bush and Dick Cheney must not be let off the hook.

There is something egregiously obscene about the people in charge of the U.S. government telling citizens to donate money for a hurricane relief effort while the administration, from the president on down, has viciously abdicated its most basic responsibilities.

For the activities it views as really important, like the war on Iraq, the Bush White House hardly requires private contributions while siphoning off vast quantities of taxpayer funds. But when the task is to save lives instead of destroying them, kids are supposed to bust open their piggy banks.

"True compassion," Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." He accused the federal government of demonstrating "hostility to the poor" — appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity" but providing "poverty funds with miserliness." Four decades later, de facto hostility to the poor remains government policy, and its results include widespread deaths in New Orleans that could have been prevented.

Respect must be paid, and justice must be created. The dead cannot be brought back; the suffering of recent days can’t be undone. But it’s up to us to create maximum pressure for a truly adequate rescue effort — and to organize effectively while demanding political accountability. That means depriving Bush, Cheney and their congressional allies of the power they ruthlessly enjoy. And that means ending their impunity, so that truth has consequences.

NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of the new book "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death."