The Scorched Earth Begins

The Scorched Earth Begins
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Seattle -- According to Wikipedia, the Scythians were the first to use the military tactic of scorched earth -- destroying your own homeland to deny its resources to an invading enemy. You can tell that the Bush Administration is in full retreat mode, because it has already begun using scorched-earth tactics a year before it leaves office. It's clear from the 2008 budget submission that the Administration is trying to use its final months in office to deny the next Administration -- of either party -- the necessary tools to heal the wounds of the past seven years. USA Today's headline yesterday, "For next President: $400 B deficit." The next president will "inherit a fiscal meltdown," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) was quoted as saying in the Washington Post.

The President's budget, while not a serious legislative threat, simply evades the real budgetary issues facing the federal government.

To take an environmental example, look at what the Administration, which is facing a huge deficit in investment in clean water infrastructure, proposes:

Funds for water infrastructure drop from about $177 million in fiscal 2008 to only $26 million in fiscal 2009. The petroleum tank cleanup would see a $34 million cut, dropping from an estimated $106 million in 2008 to $72 million in fiscal 2009. This at a time when all the science suggests that one consequence of global warming will be severe shortages of drinkable water in arid regions! Once we lose aquifers to contamination, the costs of cleaning them up are, essentially, unaffordable.

Even federal loans to the states for clean water get slashed: down $555 million, a $134 million drop from the fiscal 2008 budget, on top of a 2008 cut of $400 million -- so in two years, the program has been cut in half.

And the Administration continues to rush forward with irreversible giveaways of public resources -- with Alaska as ground zero. Not only it is clear that in spite of Agency scientists and congressional pressure, the Administration will irrevocably commit 30 million acres of polar bear habitat in the Chukchi sea to the oil and gas industry, Bush is also moving forward for the umpteenth time to open old-growth forests in the Tongass National forests to logging. The latest proposal would open 3.4 million acres in the Tongass to logging and road building, with 2.4 million of that in roadless areas. This will actually make the federal budget problem worse. Currently at its present, low levels, the Tongass timber sales program costs the Treasury $36 million, and brings in only $1.2 million.

At least when armies use scorched earth they are denying resources to their country's enemies -- the Bush Administration is behaving like a departing colonial power, which views the country it once occupied as just such an enemy. The last two times I remember this kind of behavior were when Indonesian troops savaged East Timor before evacuating it a few years ago, and much, much earlier, in 1958, when the French, departing from a newly independent Guinea, took everything, including the phone lines, with them.

Of course, some of us may remember the charge from the incoming Bush Administration that Bill Clinton's departing staff had trashed the White House. Those stories turned out to be fabrications -- but they were an ominous harbinger of how this Administration is behaving on its way out seven years later.

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