[ProgressiveEd] NYTimes.com Article: Casualties at Home

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Thu, 27 Mar 2003 10:46:09 -0500 (EST)

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Lest we forget. Carol
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Casualties at Home
March 27, 2003
WASHINGTON - On Tuesday, as President Bush was asking
Congress for the first installment of the hundreds of
billions of dollars needed to finance the war in Iraq and
its aftermath, the students and teachers at a high school
within walking distance of the White House were struggling
through their daily routine in a building that has no
cafeteria, no gymnasium, no student lockers, not even a
fully reliable source of electricity. 
A few weeks ago bricks were falling from the facade of the
building, which is more than 100 years old. 
As we continue the relentless bombing of Baghdad, which the
military tells us is the necessary prelude to saving it,
it's fair to ask when the rebuilding of essential
institutions like the public schools will begin here at
home. (Don't hold your breath. The money for that sort of
thing has completely evaporated.) 
"We actually have rooms where the water comes in when it
rains," said Sheila Mills Harris, the principal of the
School Without Walls, an academically rigorous high school
that routinely finishes first or second in the District of
Columbia's rankings. 
Laura Bush has visited the school, which has won a series
of national honors. But academic honors and a visit by the
first lady are, frankly, irrelevant in an era in which
social concerns - such as support for public schools and
health care, and the need to assist the poor, the hungry
and the unemployed - have been forced to the perimeter of
public consciousness. Those issues, crucial to our
conception of ourselves as a just and humane people, have
been devalued and shunted aside by an administration that
is committed to an ill-advised, budget-busting war and a
devastating parade of tax cuts for the very wealthy. 
With our attention riveted on the death and destruction in
Iraq, and the continued threat to Americans in the war
zone, the other very serious problems facing the U.S. get
short shrift. We knew last fall that the proportion of
Americans living in poverty had risen, and that income for
middle-class households had fallen. 
We know that unemployment, especially long-term
unemployment, is a big problem. And we've known that the
states are facing their worst budget crisis since the Great
Depression, a development that has led, among other things,
to drastic cuts in education aid that are crushing the
budgets of local public school districts. 
These issues aren't even being properly discussed. The Bush
administration sounds the alarm for war and blows the
trumpet for tax cuts, and Congress plunges ahead with the
cuts in domestic programs that must inevitably follow. The
voices of those who object are effectively silenced by the
war propaganda and the fear of seeming unpatriotic. 
With attention thus deflected, the administration and its
allies in Congress have come up with one proposal after
another to weaken programs that were designed to help
struggling Americans. 
In his budget last month the president offered a plan to
make it more difficult for low-income families to obtain
government benefits, including tax credits and school lunch
assistance. This month, as The Times' Robert Pear reported,
the administration proposed changes in the Medicare program
that would make it more difficult for elderly people, many
of them frail, to appeal the denial of benefits like home
health care and skilled nursing care. 
The extent to which the most vulnerable Americans are being
targeted is appalling. Billions of dollars in cuts have
been proposed for food stamp and child nutrition programs,
and for health care for the poor. 
Collectively, these are the largest proposed cuts in
history. Even cuts for veterans' programs are on the table
- in the midst of a war! 
The administration is actually fighting two wars - one
against Iraq and another against the very idea of a humane
and responsive government here at home. 
At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, the war
against Iraq will end. Americans will then have the
opportunity to look around and be stunned by the fix we'll
be in. We'll look at the enormous costs of the postwar
occupation in Iraq, and at the social and economic
dislocation that's occurring here. And we'll look at the
disaster that the federal budget has become. We'll be
broke, and we'll ask ourselves, again and again, "What have
we done?"�� 
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