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America’s Other War Is Also Mounting Casualties Here at Home

This is what happens to a nation when too many of its people abdicate their sovereign responsibility in not making a government accountable for its catastrophic actions. Now we have an out-of-control rogue leadership in tandem with a group of robber barons that's self-absorbed and self-serving, in the extreme. How low must a people sink before they call a holocaust by its right name?

Accordingly, Black Elk, a famous Wichasha Wakan (Medicine Man or Holy Man) of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux Nation), in 1887, stated he joined the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (circa 1883 - 1916), with the intent of better understanding Americans up close, especially those whites that dominated the wealth in the US. Given his deeply mindful assessment of our culture, his quote still resonates as truth more than 200 years later. Ponder Chief Black Elk's words that captured so well our fixation with materialism and the greed, hypocrisy and widespread inhuman treatment this led to with respect to America's own and others around the globe, then and now.
America's Other War Is Also Mounting Casualties Here at Home

I joined the show (Buffalo Bill Wild West Show), because I might learn some secret about the white man, that I could help my people, somehow. I did not see anything to help my people. I could see that the white man did not care for each other, the way our people did. That they would take everything from each other, if they could. And so, there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all, and maybe were starving. They had forgotten that the Earth was their mother.

Chief Black Elk - 1887

Against the backdrop of a dark Sunday morning sky in early September, on Chicago's north side, a fire blazed through a small 3 bedroom, third-floor apartment. When the inferno was finally extinguished, gone were a mother and her five children that ranged in age from 3 to 14 years, including a friend's daughter age 3. The fire also left two other children in grave condition.

According to the Chicago Fire Department, the blaze was started by a candle and spread rapidly throughout the unit of Amado Ramirez and his common law wife, Augusta Tellez. Both were employed by a local laundry. However, from all accounts the family had come up against hard times, which necessitated the older children taking on odd jobs to help out. Despite this, though, neighbors affirmed Amado Ramirez and Augusta Tellez were very devoted and conscientious parents.

While there is no question this incident was a horrific tragedy, closer observation, especially of the circumstances that led to this fire, suggest it had all the earmarks of duplicity on behalf of local government. However, others might argue this was an incident just shy of wholesale murder considering what's happening with domestic funding nationally.

Having had their electricity and heat disconnected four months earlier by Commonwealth Edison Power Company, in Chicago, Ramirez and Tellez resorted to using candles. Interestingly, following the fire, ComEd, which is part of Exelon, one of the America's largest privately, owned utilities that grosses on the average $15 billion dollars annually in revenues refused to comment on the tragedy. According to Tom Mackaman, a reporter with the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), "In the second fiscal quarter for 2006—the same period in which the Ramirez family went without power—ComEd boasted $644 million in profit." Yet despite ComEd's consistent record of soaring revenues, local officials intimated it is common practice for struggling families to have their heat and electricity disconnected by the power giant, even during the winter months, when an energy bill becomes delinquent and cannot be paid.

Another tragic fact in this story, according to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times papers', the fire department established that the smoke alarms were not working. Surprisingly, Ramirez's landlord stated, "The smoke alarms are hard-wired directly to the building's main electrical system." What has still not been determined by the Chicago Sun Times is if the interruption of power to the Ramirez' unit led to a simultaneous shut down of their smoke alarm system, putting the sleeping family at even greater risk in the event of a fire.

Despite the possibility the smoke alarms may have been inadvertently shut off, Raymond Orozco, of the Chicago Fire Commission, in a shocking and callous comment laid blame on the family commenting, "If the batteries went out in someone's remote control, how long would that last? But they won't spend a dollar on a 9-volt battery." Sadly, his observations weren't the only misguided and insensitive remarks. Following the tragedy, the Chicago Tribune surmised the disaster by reproaching the victims when they suggested, "Using candles for light... was a dangerous decision that proved to be deadly early Sunday." WSWS criticized the Tribune by suggesting the paper should have been more interested in why a family with two working adults was without power for four months in the first place.

Another interesting sideline to this heartbreaking tragedy is that Jay Johnson, a wealthy developer that owns numerous apartment units throughout Chicago, including the building Augusta Tellez and her children died in, has a history of contributing heavily to Democratic campaigns in the region. Following the successful elections of candidates Johnson has supported financially, his own appointment, ironically, has followed on both the local planning and zoning commissions. What is not known, if such placements might afford Johnson some control in helping to shape local policy that may influence sky rocking energy costs in the area. Interestingly, when Johnson was questioned following the fire, according to Mackaman, the developer rejected any responsibility for the Ramirez tragedy claiming that, "... functioning smoke alarms were in place when the Ramirez family moved in and that it was the responsibility of the tenant to inform the landlord if the alarms malfunction or are missing."

However, the tragic irony of this story is far from over. Mackaman reports that Ameren, the power giant that dominates energy distribution over a sizeable portion of Illinois has promised residential rate hikes in the coming years. These increases, which could average out to a 30 percent hike per year, will coincide with ComEd's graduating increases through 2009, despite the fact these hikes will pose a severe hardship on millions of struggling families, state-wide. Mackaman also states, "Politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties have authorized this change—ending years of state regulation on energy prices at the behest of ComEd and Ameren, which stands to reap windfall profits in the coming years."

In a statement following the disaster, Joe Parnarauski, candidate from the Socialist Equality Party for the state Senate in Illinois' was quoted as saying:
The fire that killed six young Chicagoans is an enormous tragedy that demonstrates the barbarity of the capitalist system. Workers everywhere should be outraged, as these deaths were not merely a tragic accident. They were the easily avoidable result of an economic and political system, which puts the profit imperatives of enormous corporations above the most basic needs of working people.

Even though both parents and a number of children in the Ramirez family worked, they apparently could not afford to pay their electricity bills. They were then compelled to illuminate their house with candles, one of which caught the apartment on fire while the family slept.

This tragedy highlights the social crisis facing millions of working people in Illinois and throughout the United States, who are facing rising costs and stagnating wages. On a daily basis, people are forced to struggle to meet the costs of basic necessities—food, electricity, housing, and health care. At the same time, a small layer of the population continues to amass huge fortunes.

Better Alternatives?

Though the Ramirez family is beyond the help we might have afforded them, their story alludes to a much bigger problem in our country. America harbors its own burgeoning third world population that, in my estimation, in part, is the result of our government's complicity in a system of enterprise that has become permeated with incidents of greed and corruption, especially in recent years. The other cause, I believe owes to our President's agenda to push costly wars that the majority of Americans want brought to an end.

Though recent elections suggest a change of direction in Washington, the fact is, this global war on terror coupled with massive tax cuts to the rich has taken a toll on established social programs that were designed to help those like the Ramirezes. Now, with the effects of continual deep cuts into domestic funding being felt all over, life grows increasingly more difficult for the average American. What's more, given our President's protracted motto of "... staying the course," (largely supported by Congress), has left many Americans feeling they have been politically and economically marginalized, while the line between lower and middle income continually blurs.

In an effort to assess the financial fallout from these wars on US taxpayers is to have some knowledge of the Congressional Budget Offices (CBO). In a report issued by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in September 2006, titled, 'The Cost of Iran, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11', the projected cost of all of this warfare will be 549 billion by 2007. What's worse, the CBO estimates that an additional 371 billion may be needed to finance these wars through 2016, which if approved would leave taxpayers with a 920 billion dollar price tag ten years from now.
Changing our nation's course may require more than just some sweeping electoral victories. The American public may be required to stay politically motivated, if we are ever to face our world with any degree of dignity and a conscience, again.

Moreover, by redlining unwarranted war expenditures we exemplify, in my opinion, the truest expression of that phrase pro-life, which upholds the integrity of human life for those already here and across the globe. With human casualties climbing into the thousands on our end and soaring into the millions in the Middle East, with little evidence of a democracy here and none there, surely, America's hard earned tax dollars can now be spent saving lives. Besides, when will we learn that peace can never be cultivated with the pointed barrel of a gun.

By redlining 6.4 billion, the monthly expenditure for the failed Iraqi war, we could provide 46.6 million Americans with the healthcare coverage they desperately need, or outfit 3.7 million homeless Americans, of which 1.35 million are made up of children, with affordable housing, that live on the streets, under bridges, in cars and cramped motel rooms across this nation, yearly.
On the other hand, 1.3 billion, the monthly cost of the Afghanistan war, could give secondary education, childcare for the working poor and Medicare a big boost. Or, the 413 billion that Bush commandeer from domestic spending for 2006, that was highlighted in a NCH report, could have shored up America's deteriorating infrastructure, addressed environmental concerns, including global warming that Bush tends to discount.

Even better, the 1.3 trillion tax breaks Bush gave exclusively to the wealthy in 2006, could have outfitted poor Americans with a livable wage, shored up a seriously eroded job base, addressed the issue of mental health, and subsidized poor students in their bid for a higher education.
Further, that estimated projection of 371 billion for the wars through 2016 could address the lingering concerns of the Katrina victims, another tragedy from Bush's watch. Or, we could divert some of this war funding into restoring as opposed to redesigning a seriously damage Gulf Coast region, instead of standing idly by while Halliburton grows increasingly richer. Lastly, we might envision what 920 billion, the final estimated cost of America's war of terror through 2016, could accomplish if vested in the U. S. public's interests and a huge array of other legitimate concerns.

Now weight the cost of an energy bill, the lives of the Ramirezes, and the deaths from the July 2006 heat wave, in the western region of the U.S., that resulted from a fear of high energy bills the poor could least afford to pay against a current war budget of 507 billion dollars.

The US Census Bureau reported that 5.4 million more Americans joined the ranks of the impoverished between 2000 and 2004. In a report authored by Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar in September 2006, "Who Will Pay the US Debt?" it is suggested 37 million people languish at the bottom of this nation's social stratum, which are largely ignored by our government. Bakhtiar adds, "The government has tried to reduce its expenditure by restricting access to social benefits and in some cases, by requiring the poor to work." What's more, Dr. Bakhtiar charges that many of the new mandates, specifically those pertaining to welfare recipients and other poor, "... were created to reduce the budget deficit rather than help the poor."

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), a Washington based advocacy, has long contended at the heart of poverty in the US are continually eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs, which offer fewer benefits. Add to this the declining value and availability of public assistance and the fact that fiscal gain, in actuality, is only realized by the top income and wealth distributions, creates a recipe for disaster, for millions. Paradoxically, those earning at or near minimum wage or living on fixed incomes come up short, especially after basic necessities are factored in along with Fair Housing Market rents. Thus, NCH suggests, working for millions of Americans affords no relief from poverty, today.
In a study conducted by Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a few years back, it was suggested that low-income, unassisted American households often pay more than 50 percent of their income on rent, in many instances, for substandard housing.

The Economic Policy Institute suggests, "Today, the minimum wage is 31 percent of the average hourly wage of American workers, the lowest level since the end of World War II." Dr. Bakhtiar adds, "It is clear that the poor will have severe problems in alleviating their economic condition by simply working for minimum wage. If they work hard enough, they may be able to join the ranks of the working poor."

Regardless of how Bush ignores the polls, overlooks environmental concerns, rewrites the laws, subverts dissent or attempts to elongate the powers of the Chief Executive, the glaring fact is, with the onset of his lassoed Presidency in 2001, the public debt has gone from 5.8 trillion dollars to 8.3 trillion today.

He and his cronies can no longer justify horrific tax breaks to the rich against a growing myriad of economic imbalances, across the board. Nor can he distance himself from the fact Americans are dying here at home given his determination to push an agenda for the fortune 500 group, at all costs.
Frankly, with so much corporate and political collusion and the unending corruption this has led to, at the highest levels of authority, our government harbors more the earmarks of a criminal cartel rather than an enterprise that promotes social equality, justice and peace. END

America's Other War and Mounting Casualties Final GO