Uncle Sam Bets Big Money on Iraq

With Wall Street straining for a toehold on stability and joblessness growing nationwide to about 6 percent, cynical people might conclude America's best bet for economic recovery lies in a war against Iraq. This would be a pump-priming Keynesian affair, a Republican gambit running directly counter to the right wing's beloved belief in privatizing and cutting the government, not to mention its passion for the free market.

What will the war cost? Almost every estimate allows room for doubling the minimum. The first bullet might as well be a blank check.

The initial military operation, says Congressman John Spratt of South Carolina, would run us $48 billion to $93 billion. The figures from Spratt, a top Democrat on the Budget and Armed Services committees, assume the war would last from 30 to 60 days, with an armed force of 125,000 to 250,000. But that would be just the beginning.

The Congressional Budget Office sets the expense of merely deploying the force at anywhere between $9 billion and $13 billion. The war itself would cost up to $9 billion per month. Returning U.S. forces to their home bases would run $5 billion to $7 billion. Occupation ranges from $1 billion to $4 billion, and that's per month.

The president's economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, told The Wall Street Journalrecently that a war in Iraq could cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. The Pentagon puts the total cost at $50 billion.

Then there are the lasting human costs. War inevitably results in refugees, and while the government's Office of Refugee Resettlement is leery of setting any dollar figures on resettlement, it did point out that the price of a single plane ticket from the Middle East to the U.S. runs between $1,300 and $1,600 and that to provide, as the rules call for, cash assistance for eight months can run anywhere from $2,800 to $8,000 per refugee. No one knows how many displaced people to expect.

JET LAG

In bits and pieces, a better picture of what happened on Sept. 11 comes into focus—no thanks to the federal government, which has stonewalled inquiries. A few months ago, I joined with Russ Kick (a Village Voice freelancer and the Web sleuth behind the archive Memoryhole.com), using the Freedom of Information Act to seek communications from the four doomed flights. In its response, the Federal Aviation Administration at first stated, "The recordings of communications, transcripts and any documents relating to your request are part of an ongoing, sensitive investigation." Access denied.

Further down, in the same letter, the FAA wrote, "There are no records or other correspondence relating to any signals, alarms or any other form of nonverbal communications emanating from the four hijacked flights," adding, "There are no documents in written or recorded form having to do with communications from any of the four hijacked flights."

In its response, the FBI said, "[The] material you requested is located in an investigative file that is exempt from disclosure." The CIA referred us to the FBI and the FAA.

This is absurd, since as far back as last fall, ABC broadcast smidgens of the air traffic controller tape. And AirDisaster.com, a usually reliable and thoroughgoing site, has posted a sound file of air traffic control during the morning of Sept. 11. It shows that Cleveland Air Traffic Control had two brief contacts with United Airlines Flight 93—the "Let's Roll" flight—before the crash.

As we already know from air traffic control tapes of American Flight 11, the FAA controllers became aware of that hijacking soon after the plane took off from Boston. Yet knowledge was no protection. The BBC recently aired an interview with the Northeast Defense Sector air commander saying there were only four armed fighters patrolling the Atlantic coast of the U.S. that day.

Still, the Flight 93 tape offers a slender thread of firsthand evidence about what really happened. And it once more raises the question of how much the FAA actually knew about what was going on that day. What else the government knows remains a secret.

OH, CANADA?

Despite the Canadian federal government's determination to adhere to the Kyoto principles, there is a growing move within the provinces, which control much of that country's energy policy, to turn their backs on the global-warming plan and follow the U.S. lead in opposing them. Canada, now our largest foreign source of energy, does pretty much what we want, especially when it comes to oil and gas.

North America's head-in-the-sand attitude will cost immense amounts of money. Just last week, experts at Munich Re, which reinsures many insurance companies, put the bill for natural disasters this year at $70 billion. Much of the cost is due to the August floods in Europe, the worst in 150 years.

There have been more than 500 natural disasters this year, killing thousands, making others homeless and affecting millions, said Thomas Loster, a member of the Munich Re team. "We have once more strong indications that global warming is increasing and will thus have serious effects on societies and economies alike."

Pollution Probe, a Canadian public-interest group trying to talk sense into that nation's politicians, came out with a pointed report last month arguing that climate change is going to hurt many people if precautions aren't taken.

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