Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Promises, promises
Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, September 21, 2005

If you can believe it, "compassionate conservatism" is back. Knocked sideways by public anger at the government’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush delivered a televised speech promising the moon to Gulf Coast residents left homeless and jobless by the storm. He added heartening words about the role of racism in the region’s enduring poverty. Backlit by temporary spotlights flown to New Orleans, Bush vowed to spare no expense in what he called "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen." He added that "federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone." Costs are estimated at $200 billion, very roughly what the U.S. expects to spend in Iraq this year. And here’s the beauty part: In the short run, those billions will come mostly from the governments of China and Saudi Arabia in the form of Treasury Bond purchases.

Eventually, of course, the debt must be repaid with interest, but not while Bush is president. Sweet. Pressed by reporters for a ballpark estimate, the president shrugged. Rebuilding after Katrina, he said, would "cost whatever it costs." He vowed not to raise taxes. Unspecified cuts in other government programs supposedly would make up the difference. Since Bush took office in 2001, government spending has risen by almost a third, from $1.86 trillion to $2.48 trillion, Newsweek reports. He has never vetoed a spending bill. In recently signing a $286.4 billion, pork-laden transportation bill—$250 million to build a bridge from a town of 8,000 to an island of 50 in a powerful Alaska congressman’s district, for example—Bush praised himself for doing it the "fiscally responsible way." Instead of raising taxes, he borrowed the money.

Bush "conservatism," see, is grasshopper conservatism. Party today, let the ants pay the caterer another day. Meanwhile, two little known, millionaires-only tax cuts enacted in 2001 will take effect next year. By removing ceilings on personal exemptions and itemized deductions, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the provisions will cut income taxes on the top 0.2 percent of taxpayers an average of $20,000 each. The five-year budget cost is $35 billion. With hundreds of thousands homeless and destitute, do they really need it? Then there’s that GOP obsession, the so-called "death tax" repeal. It’s valuable only to heirs (like Bush himself) who expect to inherit multimillion-dollar fortunes. Just over 1 percent of inheritors last year paid any estate tax at all. Roughly one-quarter of the total collected came from estates of more than $20 million. The average estate tax paid in 2003, reports Ernest Dumas in the Arkansas Times, came to 17 percent. Middle-class wage earners pay higher withholding taxes.

Contrary to GOP propaganda, most large estates consist of unrealized capital gains that have never been taxed at all. Keeping the estate tax could pay for Katrina all by itself. Instead, Bush vows to ask Congress to make tax cuts enacted in 2001 for the wealthiest Americans permanent. Over a decade, that’s expected to cost an estimated $1.4 trillion at a time of record deficits. Can the nation afford it? Even congressional Republicans are getting nervous. "We are not sure he knows what he is getting into," a House Republican told The New York Times. The newspaper said its source "requested anonymity because of the potential consequences of publicly criticizing the administration."

That’s basically the same reason White House aides were said to have feared interrupting Bush’s vacation with bad news about Katrina. Of course, Bush never knows what he’s getting into. One who may know is Karl Rove, the Machiavellian political operative Bush has put in charge of the rebuilding effort. It’s reasonable to assume that Rove nominated himself, and to ask why. To date the White House has used Katrina as a screen for standard right-wing "solutions" of the kind that kept the Gulf Coast region poor and polluted to begin with: suspending federal laws requiring government contractors to pay fair wages, waiving affirmative action rules and proposing to lift environmental restrictions on the nation’s most toxic waterways. Expect more of the same.

Just below the surface, moreover, ugly passions simmer. "Why are all these fat blacks laying around on cots sleeping while white people are lining up by the thousands to SERVE THEM MEALS???" a self-identified "conservative" wrote me. Similar mass e-mails are all over the Internet. Sadly, I fear they’re one reason Bush’s poll ratings dropped even lower after last week’s address. Rove’s entire career has been based upon divide-and-conquer tactics rooted in racial and religious conflict. Maybe he’s changed. More likely, he hasn’t.

Meanwhile, yet another deadly hurricane churns westward across the Gulf of Mexico. Pray that it blows into the Texas coast south of Corpus Christi, where there are only cows and mesquite trees to harm. (um, pop is around 277 thousand....njh)

—––––– •–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.


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