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LAS AMERICAS I BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE ‘Make Levees, Not War’ ilV ashington is bus tling these days, as the hottest September ever draws to a close. On Saturday the 24th, more than 100,000 people gathered near the Bush White House for a long-planned protest against the Iraq war and other official crimes. Three days earlier, the Republican Study Committee gave the protest added momentum by releasing “Operation Offset,” a ripping read setting out a proposal for funding Katrina reconstruction while keeping the war going and tax cuts intact. The “Offset” piece, now stirring up hurricane-force winds inside the GOP, shows how the rightest of the rightwing of the Republican Party plans to use this latest emergency in much the same opportunistic way as it did 9/11. In the first case, the Al Qaeda attack justified breaking down civil liberties and the civil service in this country and launching a Halliburton/Kellogg, Brown & Root assault on Iraq. The Katrina catastrophe will now justify sucking up the few dollars left in social programs and handing them over to KBR and Halliburton as payment for no-bid repairs, to levees, ports, and oil rigs along the Gulf Coast. But this kind of debate about specific allocations of public money, with programs and dates and numbers, is just the sort of thing that the Congress likes to keep out of sight. The hurricanes, by forcing emergency spending of such unanticipated magnitude, are forcing the numbers out into the open. Meanwhile, for the Bushies, the alarming aspect of the protest on the 24th had to be the way in which the demonstration’s organizers and marchers tied together the dissension about the war and the disgust about the hurricane response. Signs and chants showed the prevailing anger and des peration: The billions looted from the Treasury and paid to merchants of death to create a man-made catastrophe in Iraq left the government unprepared and under-funded when it needed to rescue its own citizens from a natural one at home. And now we understand that, to address the Katrina aftermath, Bush cronies are orchestrating another $200 billion-plus heist. Welcoming marchers to the anti-war protest on the morning of the 24th was a mobile billboard positioned on 15th Street, at the eastern approach to the sprawling crowd on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The screen showed a 10-foot by 15-foot color photograph of the New Orleans flood. We have all seen the picture many times nowthe inundation between the river and the lake dotted with intermittent rooftops and spanned by the doomed causeway out of the city. The billboard also displayed the well-known quote from the Republican ideologue The Nation magazine calls Field Marshal Grover Norquist: “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” So, if the federal response to Katrina was any indicationMission Accomplished! Seems the late federal government drowned in the bayou just about a month ago, together with about 1,000 poor, old and/or sick people, plus their babies and their pets. So even if the Iraq war is off the rails, the Bush assault on the U.S. feds is right on track and ahead of schedule. The issue here is complicated but it is also simple, and for eight hours the anti-war march protested the reality now poking through the relentless Republican party drivel about freedom, democracy, andwhat else? “Staying the course”whatever that means. The issue, as usual, is massive corruption: the transformation of public assets into private wealth for the select few around the politically anointed and appointed. As the march neared the front of the White House just after noon, a crowd gathered near the by-now beloved “Billionaires for Bush” street theater. There they were, our bogus billionaires, dressed semi-regally in rusty tuxedos, and tatty evening dresses, flourishing cigarette holders and flashing rhinestones, promenading past the Bank of America at the corner of 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue. Periodically, they would burst into song: “All we are saaa-ying, is give greed a chance.” One ersatz doyenne brandished a sign that read, “It’s class warfare, darling, and we’re winning.” Which brings us back to Operation Offset, where class warfare has quietly escalated throughout September, and the real siege is just beginning. Believe me, darling, these people are not kidding. Their Katrina payoff plan opens with the chapter, “Tough Choices for Tough Times.” You might think that the tough choice in question is whether or not the real billionaires are going to get their tax cuts again this fall, but if you did, you would be wrong. The actual tough choice the Republican Study Committee had in mind here is the one that must be made, for example, by a low-income mother of a sick child, who has to decide whether to go to a doctor or pay the light bill. This is because the Katrina payoff plan would suck its greatest sustenance \($225 bilservices for the poor. An additional sum would be raised by increasing the Medicaid co-payment charged the poor. This approach would “Encourage a more cost-conscious use of services by beneficiaries, reducing the unnecessary number of medical services provided” \(For absolutely inscrutable reasons, Republican ideologues insist upon believing that poor people routinely go 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 7, 2005