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Government wages war against the poor

Courtesy People's Tribune

President George Bush, in a nationally televised speech in the aftermath of the Katrina catastrophe, said "we have a duty to confront that poverty with bold action."

However, as the recovery effort unfolded, it became clear that what Bush meant by "bold action" was the government's use of the Katrina tragedy to intensify its offensive against the poor. This was evident not only from the abandonment of poor people and their communities during evacuation and rescue efforts, but also in the fashioning of the recovery and rebuilding process. Consider the facts.

* The provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act which requires federal contractors to pay the average prevailing wage in the region were suspended.

* The U.S. Labor Department suspended requirements that contractors submit affirmative action plans for the hiring of minorities, women and the disabled,

* Federal rules requiring competitive bidding on federal contracts have been suspended in the hurricane ravaged area. Contracts worth hundreds of millions have been granted by FEMA on a no bid basis to large corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel.

Further, the Bush Administration and Congress -- Democrats as well as Republicans -- plan to cover much of the $200 billion cost of the Katrina rebuilding plan by expanding cuts in programs that the poor depend upon. Before Congress are proposals that would add an additional $20 to $50 billion in cuts to the $35 billion already proposed for the 2006 federal budget. Some proposals call for as much as $20 billion in cuts of Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamp benefits.

The government is even more aggressive in its defense of the $70 billion in tax cuts due in 2006 and targeted mainly for the corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Any proposal to rescind these cuts to help offset the cost of Katrina has been hooted down.

The callousness of the government's disregard for the impoverished victims of Katrina and poor generally becomes even more evident when some cold hard facts are taken into account.

Between 2000 and 2004 official poverty grew by 5.4 million or to 37 million people.  2.4 million or 44 percent of this growth in poverty occurred in the South. Over the same period the number of persons without health insurance coverage increased by 6 million to 45.8 million people.

In 2003, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, the states that bore the brunt of Katrina's fury, rank 3rd, 4th and 8th respectively in levels of poverty.  But, household incomes in these states were 47th ( Louisiana), 46th ( Mississippi) and 41st ( Alabama).

Over roughly the same period (2001 -2004) Congress passed over $600 billion in tax cuts of which the lion's share went to the largest corporations and those earning more than $288,000 per year. The American people were told that the tax cuts would stimulate the economy, create jobs and significantly reduce poverty levels. They now know that the tax cuts actually contributed to the growth in poverty.

The Katrina tragedy is teaching the people of this country some valuable lessons. One lesson is that this government is not the government of the people. Corporations are assuming direct control over government functions to maintain profits in a global market. This is why the government's response to the devastation wrought by the storm has been to prepare the way for blatant profiteering by the corporations and the forced removal and relocation of the poor.

Another lesson is that we can't rely on the billionaires and those who defend capitalism to end poverty.  The Democrats, for example, only call for an expansion of the earned income tax credit and a paltry increase in the minimum wage. Today, new technology is eliminating jobs.  Under capitalism, if people do not work, they cannot eat. Katrina drives home that the people must organize themselves independent of the capitalists to create a new society whose wealth benefits all.

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