Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Bush's meeting with black leaders

Also in today's New York Times is a report by Elisabeth Bumiller on a one-hour meeting between President Bush and 20 African-American religious and community leaders. In this meeting, he pledged that he would fight for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and that fighting HIV and AIDS in Africa remained a priority. Perhaps strangest of all, he argued that they should support his plan to partially privatize Social Security, based on the reasoning that such changes could benefit blacks as they have a shorter average life span than whites and end up putting more money into the retirement system than they take out. This is our president in action: rather than addressing the health problems that result in shorter life spans for blacks and other minorities, he tries to sell them on the idea that their shorter life spans mean they would benefit from his plans on Social Security. The article said all the leaders were supporters of Bush.

Budget Deficit Will Rise Again

Front page story in today's New York Times:
Bush Aides Say Budget Deficit Will Rise Again, by Edmund L. Andrews

White House officials say the budget deficit will rise to $427 billion, according to the NYT report, "which includes part of an additional $80 billion that Mr. Bush requested mostly for Iraq.."

According to the Congressional Budget Office, if Pres. Bush is successful in persuading the Republican Congress to make tax cuts permanent, that will add an additional $2 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. And the agency predicts the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost our country another $600 billion over the next ten years, *if* they taper off gradually.

Added to that, if the plans to partially privatize Social Security succeed, that will cost between $1 trillion and $2 trillion over the next two decades.

It is incredible that here in California, our former governor could have been removed from office for a deficit of a few billion dollars (only to be replaced by a governor who makes no headway in reducing the deficit), while nationally our Republican administration is running up deficits that will be in the trillions of dollars over the next few decades with little effort to stop this travesty.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Inauguration as a form of bribery

"Large corporations, many of which have enormous regulatory and policy interests in Washington, are paying for most of President Bush's inauguration,"reports Matt Stearns of Knight-Ridder. Bush is expected to tie a record he set in 2001 with a $40 million event (the previous record was $33 million set by Clinton in 1993). All of the money comes from private, mostly corporate sources who have an obvious interest in the policies of the Bush administration. Stearns reports the largest contributor so far are the financial service companies, who have so far donated $4 million, and who will benefit from Bush's scheme to establish private investment accounts as a part his Social Security reform, and who also benefit from the tax cuts. There are no legal limits on corporate contributions to this event. These are people who really understand that you get what you pay for (and more), unlike most citizens of this country. Donating to this event is a good investment for these corporate interests, in this legalized system of bribery.

Social Security employees unhappy

"Over the objections of many of its own employees, the Social Security Administration is gearing up for a major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution," reports Robert Pear of today's New York Times. He adds: "But agency employees have complained to Social Security officials that they are being conscripted into a political battle over the future of the program. They question the accuracy of recent statements by the agency, and they say that money from the Social Security trust fund should not be used for such advocacy."

Pear also quotes Robert M. Ball, who worked at the Social Security Administration for three decades and was commissioner under Democratic and Republican presidents from 1962 to 1973, who said: "It's fine for the agency to answer factual questions, but it's unusual to use the Civil Service organization to push a political agenda, especially because what they're saying is not true. The program is not going bankrupt."

Interesting that overturning our Social Security system has become such a high priority for the Bush administration after his re-election. I don't recall him saying much about it during the campaign -- maybe he was afraid of losing Florida? Now we see another case of questionable use of a government agency to promote a dubious ideological position.

The plot against America: a novel

I recently read Philip Roth's novel, The Plot Against America. In this novel, Roth imagines what it would be like if Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot well known for his isolationist views at that time, had become president in 1940. This is actually the first novel of Roth's I have read, although from some reviews I have read it may well be his best. It is a real page turner, quite engrossing and vividly written. It has an autobiographical quality to it as well, as Roth uses his real name and childhood age at the time, although some of the characers are composites of people he knew growing up. The novel is set in Newark, New Jersey, Roth growing up in a lower middle-class Jewish neighborhood. His father, an insurance agent who did not have the opportunity to receive much education, is the center of integrity in this novel. It is a valuable portrayal of the life of a Jewish-American family at that time, when anti-Semitism was much more open and widespread than now, but not as apparent to the Roth family until after Lindbergh's election. There are elements of satire in it as well, particularly in the euphemistic approach the Lindbergh administration adopts in implementing its anti-Semitic domestic policies and in making alliances with Hitler and Japan. Does it have relevance for today? I think so in some respects, particularly in how our society can be misled by shallow politicians (like Lindbergh), who can gain popularity through superficial campaign techniques while pursuing darker designs that threaten the integrity of our society.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

You get what you pay for

According to a recent Rand study, California's education system ranks among the lowest in the nation. This is quite a transformation for a state once considered to be in the forefront of public education. Unfortunately the system will receive no help from our governor. Schwarzenegger is determined not to raise any kind of taxes in order to deal with the huge deficit facing our state, so instead, like his predecessor Gray Davis, he has been shuffling around funds and borrowing from the future. Now he is adding a new component, cutting funds for the programs that most directly serve the people of this state, while condemning those who protest as "special interest" groups.

As reported by The Los Angeles Times yesterday:

"A boost in money for local schools would be put off — even as national reports suggest California's education system is in trouble. As commuters spend more time than ever sitting in traffic, more than $1 billion worth of payments for road projects would be canceled.

"The plan would cut welfare benefits, the pensions of teachers and other public employees, and the salaries of workers who provide home care to the frail elderly and disabled.

"University students would get hit with fee hikes, and tens of thousands of low-income Californians would have to begin paying premiums to get healthcare. Visits to the dentist for poor people would be limited. Thousands of low-income seniors would lose their renter's tax credit.

"The proposed budget is larger than the current year's spending plan of $105 billion. But that increase is not enough to avoid dramatic cuts in services."

Why can we not recognise that in order for California and our nation to be great, we have to pay for it? We ask young men and women to go over to Iraq and risk life and limb for a war we should have never entered, yet here in America we are led by Republican politicians who believe there should be no fiscal sacrifice -- especially from those who have the most money -- to maintain even the most basic services.

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