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David Swanson: Inequality and War

Inequality and War

By David Swanson

Ending the extreme inequality of wealth and well-being in the United States would end the war in Iraq.

Ending the war in Iraq and others like it would go a long way toward reducing the inequality.

Reverend Dr. Joseph Lowery honored Coretta Scott King at her funeral, speaking in front of four presidents, when he challenged injustice, saying: "We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there [standing ovation]... but Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."

This wasn't just a challenge to the powerful. This should be taken as a challenge to peace activists to start fighting poverty and to the poor to become peace activists.

Were there not a population of Americans so much less well off than another, or did we simply have a fair and honest and universal military draft, we would not be fighting a war in Iraq. America's growing inequality is a growing danger to the world.

This war has already cost thousands of dollars per American family. If it ends up costing as much as Joseph Stiglitz and others predict, it will cost every single American family more than a full year's salary at the federal minimum wage.

But it won't cost the wealthiest among us that much, and it will cost the rest of us much more. Just look at the current budget proposals. Increases at the Pentagon, which already swallows half of all discretionary spending. Cuts everywhere else, including education.

On Monday, Congressman Dennis Kucinich said, "This budget is not just fiscally bankrupt, it is morally bankrupt. This budget chooses war over health care, tax cuts over education, special interests over need of the nation and rich over poor. This budget cuts vital domestic funding because of spending for the war in Iraq and the tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, placing the burden squarely on the backs of poor and working class Americans. The President’s budget will increase defense spending by almost 7%, to $439 billion, while vital finding for Medicare, Medicaid, education, veterans health care, children’s health care, Welfare, transportation, NASA programs and the Department of Agriculture are slashed. All this, while requesting an additional $70 billion-or $120 billion for the year-to fund the misguided and ill-advised war and occupation of Iraq."

It has become harder and harder for many families to send their kids to college, but military recruiting stations are receiving more and more money. We're cutting federal student aid by $12 billion while doubling cash enlistment bonuses and raising the enlistment age to 40.

Meanwhile, war spending is still, dishonestly, left out of the budget and handled as a "supplemental."

Not only do the wealthiest among us – that 1 percent of us who actually fund federal election campaigns – tend to pay lower taxes. Not only do they depend less on the government for education, health care, recreation, or housing. But many of them are getting MORE stinking rich than they were before by profiting off this war. (Note: this is less the case among the 20 percent of Americans who THINK they are in the richest 1 percent.)

While an Army private is paid $24,000, a private military contractor $100,000, and a General with over 20 years experience $168,000, the average military contractor CEO is bringing in $11.5 million.

Military contractors are leading the way in inequality and unaccountability. Their average CEO to worker pay ratio is over 400 to 1, and their top earners have made their bucks by selling the US military defective equipment.

Military contractors are also leading funders of Congress Members and Senators. The spying industry is not, which may be part of the explanation for the higher level of noise in Congress about spying, as compared to the near silence over an illegal war based on lies.

There is total silence in Congress on the subject of inequality, and that is why a poor person in this country working three jobs and struggling with immediate crises needs to care about bogus reports on WMDs and lies told to the United Nations.

Peace activists need to care about inequality because the refusal of the Senate to oppose this war is closely tied to the fact that half of the people in the Senate are millionaires.

We peace activists need to care about the damage done to our society and our democracy, and therefore to the world, by inequality of the extreme sort described in this book:

(A book which, however, says not one word about opposing war.)

If we are going to ask poor people to oppose war, the least we can do is find the time to oppose poverty.

Twenty percent of Americans own 84 percent of the wealth in this country. Our country is far more unequal than any other developed nation. And it has become far less frequent for anyone born poor in America to die rich. This is not a democracy. Look at the length of the lines at polling places in poor neighborhoods where people do not have time to vote anyway. This is not a democracy.

And without a democracy, you have war. Every time.

You also have domestic violence. Violence increases with inequality. Reducing inequality reduces crime, and for far less expense than that of housing prisoners. This is widely known and virtually undisputed, but not acted upon.

And it is by housing prisoners that we train guards to torture Iraqis.

Inequality and war are twin plagues, and we need to rid ourselves of both, or we will continue to be afflicted with both.

There are organizations, like Progressive Democrats of America and United for Peace and Justice, that work for both peace and equality. The march in March from Mobile to New Orleans will unite anti-war activists with victims of Bush-and-Katrina.

But, on the whole, anti-poverty activists and anti-war activists live in two separate worlds. That needs to end.


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