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Tax the Rich, End the War

Congress should levy a 'Victory Over Terror' tax on the superrich which would expire once our troops are safely home.
 
 
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"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more," cries George W. Bush, the downmarket, twangy version of Shakespeare's Henry V. But that king, on stage and off, was a war leader who actually fought in the battles he asked other men to die in. Regardless, the President is moving to commit more of our soldiers and more of our money to try one more time to win the war in Iraq.

This latest "surge" against the unseen enemy, the umpteenth of its kind, is to be called A New Way Forward. New Way Forward is not to be confused with the February 2006 Operation Together Forward.

It demands some concentration to keep straight the names of our various operations, strikes, offensives, surges and initiatives in Iraq. Among others, we have had over the long weary years Operation Southern Focus, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Ivy Needle, Operation Longstreet, Operation Chamberlain (what was that about?), Operation Sweeney (who was Sweeney?), Operation OK Corral, Operation Eagle Curtain, Operation All American Tiger, Operation Ivy Cyclone, Operation Boothill, Operation Bulldog Mammoth, Operation Panther Squeeze, Operation Red Dawn, Operation Arrowhead Blizzard, Operation Rifles Fury, Operation Rock Slide, Operation Tomahawk, Operation Rocket Man, Operation Rocketman III (no record of a Rocketman II), Operation Warhorse Whirlwind, Operation Centaur Rodeo, Operation Lancer Lightning, Operation Wolfpack Crunch, Operation Rapier Thrust, Operation Spring Clean Up, Operation Phantom Fury, Operation Steel Curtain, Operation Swarmer and Operation Giuliani.

There has been more than one "sweep" operation, as in Operation Tiger Clean Sweep, Operation Industrial Sweep, Operation Market Sweep, Operation Rifle Sweep and Operation Ripper Sweep. Also favored have been the "iron" operations, as in Operation Iron Hammer, Operation Iron Promise, Operation Iron Grip, Operation Iron Force, Operation Iron Resolve, Operation Iron Saber, Operation Iron Bullet and Operation Iron Justice.

Why there should be an Operation Giuliani but not one named after other noncombatant, civilian heroes is a puzzle. Perhaps with the new, contemplated "surge" there may be an Operation Iron Rumsfeld, Operation Rifle Rice or an Operation Cheney Sweep.

The President has not been talking about how Operation New Way Forward is to be paid for. Some of it will be paid for in our young people's lives, of course, but as for the money... Congress is to appropriate it, the Treasury Department is to borrow it from China and Mr. Bush will spend it.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic hero of the hour, says that she will resist sending more troops to Iraq. But, though the new House Speaker has a lot going for her, she will not be able to block this escalation of the war effort. There are not enough votes in Congress for something so drastic.

For the same reason, yet more drastic measures are yet more out of reach, so those who, like Cindy Sheehan, hope that the much-spoken-of power of the purse will be used to force the President to end the war are going to be disappointed. The Democrats, scared that the Republicans will attack them as national-defense weenies, twinkies and cupcakes, will make sure nobody can say they failed to support the troops by failing to send more troops.

In this case the power of the purse turns out to be useless. Or does it? Another, indirect way is there for the taking. It is a way that shelters the Democrats from being called soft on the war on terror, closet pacifists and defeatists.

The Democrats can tax our way out of the war. This would be a Victory Over Terror tax to be levied on incomes of $5 million a year or more. It should be a surcharge of 20 percent over and above what people in that rarified income bracket are already paying. It should be levied on all income, regardless of what form it takes, so it would include stock options, jet plane rides, company-paid-for health and life insurance, retirement programs, golden parachutes, the use of apartments in Paris, cars and drivers.

The people in this stratospheric income category have enjoyed the big tax cuts that have gone into effect while the nation has been attacked and been at war. Individuals making $1.25 million a year have gotten tax cuts of almost 20 percent, but many of these would be spared paying the Victory Over Terror tax, which only cuts in at the $5 million level.

Needless to say, those paying this tax do not represent the Democrats' voter base. As these things go, this is politically pain-free. The tax is aimed at war profiteers, overpaid CEOs and grossly fat cats in general, most of whom carry a lot of weight at the White House. If there is any group of people in the world whom George Bush listens to, it is this bunch of billionaires. Call this a backdoor use of the power of the purse. And since the surcharge expires when the war on terror is won or declared over, those taxed will have a powerful incentive to tell the President it is time to get a move on.

Nicholas Von Hoffman is a columnist for the New York Observer and is the author, most recently, of "Hoax" (Nation Books, 2004).

 
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