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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Bushwacked ... all the news that fits

There were several good pieces on today's New York Times editorial page that have a common thread running through them. Read them and see if you come to the same conclusion about the Bush Administration that I do.

First, there's a New York Time's editorial that points out that the new governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, who used to be Bush's budget director and one of the architects of Bush's tax cuts and the concommittant budget deficit, has stunned the political world. Governor Daniels has decided, and announced, that Indiana needs to raise its taxes. The Daniels' tax increase would be only on the wealthiest Indianans and would be "temporary." As the Times points out, that's also what Daniels said about the federal tax cuts, which helped make a healthy surplus go away only to be replaced by a gaping deficit.

What neither Daniels nor the Times pointed out, however, is that Indiana's problems are partly a result of those federal tax cuts. When the federal government cut taxes, it also passed some of the budget items that it used to fund onto the states. It was only inevitable that state taxes would then have to rise. The states now have to pay for more of their own services and also have less revenue coming in because Republican tax cut fever also spread to the state level.

After all, everybody wanted less taxes. Everybody wanted services cut, until it was their favorite service. When pushed to actually name the cuts, it turns out there's not much there to slash. What do you want less of, police service, fewer schools and teachers, less snow removal, less trash removal? Everybody thinks there's so much to cut from poor people. But the welfare system has already been reformed. There just are fewer welfare queens out there to blame for our fiscal irrresponsibility. And it turns out that if you "starve the beast" as Stephen Moore, the ultra conservative founder of the Club for Growth calls it, you just have to do with less service yourself. If you're not rich like Moore, that turns out to be a drag. Oh I know, we can, maybe, cut corporate welfare. Maybe eliminate sweetheart deals for multimillionaire sports team owners who build themselves stadiums at public expense. Nope, won't even cut that either.

But it was actually a Republican who once famously said, "there's no free lunch."

In another article, Maureen Dowd takes on USA Next, a pro-Republican group that is trying to discredit the AARP. USA Next supports the Bush administration's Social Security reform plan. The AARP doesn't and, of course, is a formidable political rival. So, in order to push the Bush agenda, USA Next must also destroy the credibility of AARP. To do that, it's been running ads accusing the AARP of supporting gay marriage and of being opposed to the war in Iraq and veterans.

As Dowd points out, what the Ohio chapter of AARP opposed was specific language in a bill that would have made it impossible not just for gays but even for hetrosexuals to live together and pool resources. This is similar to a "defense of marriage" bill in Virginia. In its zealous attempt to forbid civil unions for gays, it could have the effect of preventing non-gay adults, who happen to be of the same sex, from entering into a mortgage or other contracts to share resources. The problem with this is that it could impact senior citizens negatively.

Often the only way to stay out of assisted living and to maintain independence, as people get older, is to team up with others. When somebody elderly loses a spouse, it becomes harder to maintain and run a home on their own. Sometimes, a roomate to share expenses and chores and just to be a companion can keep people living on their own longer. And when two good friends team up, they might want to give each other power of attorney and the right to give medical consent for each other in an emergency. With families so scattered, it makes sense that sometimes you can't wait for your next of kin, who might be a daughter or son thousands of miles away, to fly in just to give permission for an emergency medical procedure. That's a situation that I'm going to face someday with my aging parents who live in Florida, while I'm in Virginia. If one of them is left alone, that person is either going to need to move in with a good friend who can give informed consent in an emergency, or the one who is left is going to have to give up their home and go into a nursing home. So, that's why AARP is opposed to some of these laws. It's not the sex, gay or otherwise. It's the wording of the bills and how it affects all senior citizens.

And for the veterans issue, AARP simply hasn't taken any position. But considering how many AARP members are still also members of "the Greatest Generation", I'd find it hard to believe that they're an anti-veterans organization. Hogwash to that.

The same people who did the duplicitous Swiftboat ads, by the way, are behind this slime job of AARP. As Dowd points out, this is the hit and run crowd that always does Bush's dirty work.

Finally, Tom Friedman has an op ed article on the coming fiscal crisis because our nation will not raise taxes, will not save money, and will not give up its dependence on foreign oil.

As anybody who has followed the business news lately will know, South Korea announced that it was going to diversify its currency investments. That caused our stock market to panic and go into a slump. The dollar has been steadily declining against the Euro for a long time. South Korea quickly announced, the next day, that it was not selling its dollars, it was merely going to slow down and not buy so many in the future since the dollar has been losing value. However, if other nation's follow South Korea's example, and stop investing in our currency, it will continue to drop in value against the Euro, the Yen, and the Chinese Yuan (which is tied artificially to the dollar anyway and so is valued too high, which is a whole other issue). If the value of the dollar drops, interest rates will climb even higher. Right now, the safest investment that middle class people have is their homes. They are counting on the value of their homes to go up. However, if interest rates rise, mortgage rates go up too and the real estate bubble will surely deflate as fast as the dot com bubble did a few years ago. The stock market will react to this shock by going down too. As Friedman rightly points out, the stock market crash of 1987 also started with a currency crisis (and too high deficits under the Reagan administration).

As Friedman said, it is a sign of the economy's poor health that it is so vulnerable. But the Bush administration's skyrocketing deficit is to blame for a lot of this instability.

Let's see, here's the common thread that I talked about above, our economy is rocky because of the deficit, the governor of Indiana, who is one of the architects of that same deficit is now saying that Indiana's taxes have to be raised because of the deficit, and the pro-Bush USA Next is going after the AARP with false advertising to discredit the organization for opposing the Bush proposals for Social Security reform, which is a rocky proposition because of the deficits.

Ok, what does all this have in common? The common thread is how much can we really trust the Bush administration. They've been wrong about the economy. They've been ruthlessly dishonest in the way they treat credible opponents of their schemes. They were wrong about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Their deficits are starting to come home to roost in ways that are roiling economic markets. The stock market has been dropping. And now, they want to reform Social Security in ways that will depend on that volatile stock market for our pensions just at a time when this could be the dumbest investment.

Why don't we just all take the payroll tax and just go to Vegas and hit the slots. It would make as much sense as trusting this administration to fix Social Security.

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