American Newspeak

Advanced Flag Waving

By Wayne Grytting

On September 11th, while survivors were being treated near the World Trade Center, a nearby Starbuck's charged rescue workers $130 for bottled water. They later apologized. Tragedies and wars bring out the best and worst of human nature, from heroism down to cynical profiteering. Below that lies the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed a new milestone in porkbarrel politics.

On October 24th, the House narrowly passed the Republican sponsored "Economic Security and Recovery Act," aimed at pumping $100 billion into the economy, most of it directed to corporations and the rich. If signed into law, it means we'll be asking young men and women to sacrifice their lives, while inviting rich Americans to become even richer.

In all fairness, Republicans are supposed to provide for the wealthy. That's their job. Typically, pumping money into the hands of the rich comes with a host of economically respectable fig leaves. The rich invest and create jobs while the middle and under classes "waste" money on food, clothing and rent. Supporters of these arguments are at least able to keep a straight-face on the MacNeil Newshour. But the major tax break in this proposal pushes its supporters over to Saturday Night Live.

The naked centerpiece of the stimulus bill is the repeal of the corporate minimum tax, a gift of $25 billion. This tax minimum was originally designed to see that U.S. mult-nationals did not use their tax shelters to pay zero taxes. Back then, that was considered a national embarrassment. Arguing that such a tax is now unfair, the authors drew the obvious conclusion. Not only should it be removed from the books, but all payers of it should get refunds on taxes paid -- all the way back to 1986.

Remember the $300 tax rebate you received this year? All the rebates added together are approximately one-half of what Republicans are offering to 100 corporations. Taxpayers will be handing IBM $1.4 billion, Ford $1.0 billion, General Motors $832 million, not for any new investments in America but for having invested their money outside our borders or in tax shelters. The purest grade pork imaginable without a bridge or tank or American job to show for it.

But now comes the fun, flag waving part. How do you defend such handouts? Fortunately the House held a debate, so we can quote some of the finer rhetorical flourishes. First up to bat was Rep. John Linder (R-Ga), who pointed out on the House floor that we need this measure to ensure our economic security "in light of the tragic events of September 11, 2001." That's $1.4 billion for IBM, $1.0 billion for Ford Motors, $832 million for General Motors... as sort of a memorial to the victims, I presume.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tx) rose to proclaim "We cannot stand by idly and let a terrorist topple our economy as they toppled the World Trade Center." Obvious conclusion: We need to give $671 million to General Electric, $608 million to Texas Utilities, $600 million to Daimler Chrysler...

Even more spirited was the response of Rep. James Traficant (R-Oh) who answered Democratic critics: "Let it go with this class warfare business. It hurts America. This is an important bill, as important as any we have dealt with that deals with terrorism. We are defeating terrorism." Defeating Bin Laden with cash handouts of $572 million to Chevron Texaco, $371 million to United Airlines... I assume he's ready to surrender now.

The high point of the debate came when the main sponsor of this bill, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Ca), addressed the House. Rep. Thomas prefaced his remarks by saying "Sometimes we actually run into problems when we are dealing with plain English." How true. Then he asked, "Does anyone dispute that making sure the economy remains strong so that we can be a vigilant and free America is combating terrorism?" Sounds like $254 million to Enron...

Rep. Thomas also had an answer for the negativity critics directed toward corporations. We mustn't lose sight of the fact, he said, that "businesses are America's employers. They're the hardware store, the diner down the street, the gas station on the corner." Take a wild guess how much the corner diner will be receiving. Meanwhile, where was I? It's $241 million for Phillips Petroleum...

These payments are, according to the President, "part of our homeland defense" just as drilling the oil of Alaska's Arctic Wildlife Refuge has become a matter of "national security." Is there anything in the Republican agenda that won't have the Stars and Stripes engraved on it? Is it conceivable they could be ever-so-lightly exploiting America's newfound patriotic vein?

The next time you see a politician waving the flag, ask to see the other side. See if you can identify the corporate logos. Then if you need to, yank it out of their picayune little hands.

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