Saturday :: Nov 27, 2004

The Philosopher-King's Monument To Greed


by pessimist

\Con*serve"\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Conserved}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Conserving}.] [F. conserver, L. conservare; con- + servare to keep, guard. See {Serve}.]
1. To keep in a safe or sound state; to save; to preserve; to protect.
- Webster's 1913 Dictionary

I'm not the only one who wonders whether self-proclaimed conservatives really know what they are talking about:

What Are Conservatives Conserving Anyway?
By Allen Snyder
www.opednews.com

Allen Snyder can be reached at asnyder111@hotmail.com This article is copyright by Allen Snyder and originally published by opednews.com but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached. Read more of Allen's articles at Allen Snyder Archives

Conservatives continually obstruct any such progressive policies are always at the forefront of limiting equality, stifling freedom, curtailing rights, even while they try to expand them for themselves and other like-minded ignoramuses. Conservatism is nothing but the gateway to ignorance, intolerance, hate, oppression, theocracy, and fascism.

Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.
- John Stuart Mill

It’s always amused me when conservatives get themselves all worked into a persnickety self-righteous lather about the evil, immoral, and decadent slippery slope they think the country is always hurtling toward the bottom of.

There’s always some group with a dangerous and life-threatening agenda trying to force itself in on their happy, peaceful little ‘Father Knows Best’-like homes, always somebody forcing their bizarre and depraved lifestyle on them; homos, pinkos, feminists, minorities, commies, immigrants, peaceniks, anti-gunners, flag-burners, abortionists, labor unionizers, atheists. They either want to convert us all to Faggotry, stop whatever wars we’re fighting, make us all speak Spanish or Ebonics, repeal the Second Amendment, make the country socialist or communist, ban the Bible, feed Christians to the lions, or just plain hate, Hate, HATE, America and everything it stands for.

Conservatives (especially those on the increasingly psychotic, knuckle-dragging Christian Right) are forever playing the agonized, tortured victim, their divine rights are always being egregiously violated, their morally superior, ultra-indignant, and self-proclaimed Christ-like ‘way of life’ is always in danger from someone or other (first godless commies, now terrorists and married gays), the foundations of Western civilization are always being torn asunder, and they’re always the sole voices of reason (and the only true patriots) amongst the perpetual intellectual din of moral grayness and annoying nuance that is the stuff of liberalism.

Absent a convenient boogeyman at which to pin the blame for their illusory misfortune, they invent, create, or manufacture one out of thin air. Just like that person who’s not content unless they’re constantly smack in the middle of divisive and emotionally-charged situations, conservatives aren’t content unless there’s someone to hate, blame, oppress, and kill.

Thanks to exit polls that right wingnuts have deemed worthy of belief (the ones saying Kerry won be damned!), we’re told that ‘moral values’ were a big deal in the recent questionable election. Of course, such values talk is a purely spectacular pile of horseshit, since if given the choice, anyone (especially a blindly loyal Bush-lover) would rather respond that they voted for their guy ‘cause he’s ‘good’ than ‘cause he’s an idiot and a war criminal.

But nevertheless, this ‘values’ crap is being crammed down our throats like stuffing up a Thanksgiving turkey’s ass. It’s been given the Lazy-And-Useless-Mainstream-Media-Seal-of-Approval that has them gushing about the solidified political clout of fundie evangelicals, the radical Christian right acting as though their silliness and ignorance has been nationally validated, desperate Democrats running to the nearest river revival for born-again baptisms, and us real liberals retching and twitching in spasms of nauseous disbelief.

It all has me wondering what conservatives think they’re conserving? Seems they’re locked in a perpetual state of ‘Things used to be so much simpler when...’ or ‘Wasn’t it better when...?’ or some other such empty and meaningless bilge (‘upholding traditional values’ is another good one). The problem with this view is they’re hearkening back to and yearning for an dystopian America that liberals and other concerned patriots and lovers of freedom, liberty, equality, and democracy have spent whole lifetimes (often short violent ones) trying to eradicate.

They appear to envision a world where misogyny rules virtually unchallenged, testosterone pumps strongly and wildly, white reigns supreme, blacks and browns know their place, violence is the first resort (if it’s the last, you’re a girly-man), women are to be seen, then fucked, but rarely heard, and where not only every pregnancy is brought to term, but a living breathing child’s well-being is secondary to that of some nondescript microscopic glob of cells – all because one day it might grow up to vote Republican (thanks, Bill).

Sadly, the only things that can fill in for the ‘...’ above are repressive, regressive, de-evolving actions that take us further and further away from the democratic ideals that conservatism should really be interested in conserving. Instead, the progress that makes America great, the constant battles waged for the poor, unemployed, elderly, disabled, homeless, and needy, the desperately just attempts to extend liberty and equality to those in our own country unable to achieve it for themselves is the sole providence of liberals and liberalism.



Here are two such battles:


Monument to greed

After eking out a three-point election win, President Bush claimed a mandate and announced plans to "reform" the tax code and Social Security. Almost needless to say, those reforms conform to the reverse-Robin Hood ideal of giving to Bush’s wealthy benefactors while taking from wage-earners everywhere.

I say 'almost' because - hypnotized by the president’s folksy drawl - many don’t realize that they’re about to be conned out of even the minuscule tax cuts Bush delivered during his first term.

Oh, and yes - millions of salaried workers would stand to lose employer-sponsored health insurance in the bargain.

Think I exaggerate? According to The Washington Post, the White House has quit flirting with utopian daydreams like a one-size-fits-all "flat tax" or national sales tax (probably because at an estimated 25 to 28 percent, the latter might have sparked rebellion in Wal-Mart checkout lines).

Instead, the plan is to accomplish similar goals indirectly. As described in quasi-official leaks to The Washington Post, Bush’s tax plan reads like a scheme crafted by Scrooge McDuck. No wonder. Self-pitying tycoons have long funded tax-sheltered GOP think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute dedicated to the return of Gilded Age values. Their reward the White House euphemistically dubs the "ownership society."

The Bush/McDuck plan is a monument to untrammeled greed, a veritable swimming pool filled with bullion for trust-fund inheritors like Paris Hilton and the president himself to bask and wallow in. Without exception, each of the White House’s planned "reforms" would have the effect of shifting the federal tax burden away from the rich and toward the salaried middle class. It favors wealth over work at every turn.

If Bush gets what he wants from the GOP Congress, a secondary benefit would be to raise income taxes in the wealthier "blue" states (most of which already send more to Washington than they get back in federal spending) even more than in the "red" states that supported him. Nifty, huh?

Here’s the straight dope as the Post reported it. According to Treasury Department officials: The president will pursue a tax system where all income — whether from wages, dividends, capital gains or interest — is taxed only once. That would mean eliminating taxes on dividends and capital gains paid out of fully taxed corporate profits. Most investment gains are currently taxed at 15 percent.

The administration will also push hard for large savings accounts that could shelter thousands of dollars of deposits each year from taxation on investment gains, according to White House economic advisers who have been involved with the planning.

Any tax reform, according to Treasury Department officials, would likely eliminate the alternative minimum tax, a parallel income tax designed to ensure that the rich pay income taxes but one that increasingly ensnares the middle class.

To pay for those large tax cuts, the administration is looking at eliminating both the deduction for state and local taxes, and the business tax deduction for employer-sponsored health insurance. That would raise nearly $926 billion over five years, according to White House and congressional documents."

Male Bovine Excrement! The first thing employers are going to do is either dump all of the costs of their medical plans onto their employees, who are going to pay thousands more in taxes (mine will rise about $2000/yr if this passes), or will eliminate their plans altogether as they don't want to have to pay the costs of administering such a plan.

Anybody who’s ever filled out an itemized IRS Form 1040 can read the cards. With the estate tax (excuse me, "death tax") on multimillion-dollar inheritances already gone, an heiress like the aforementioned Paris Hilton, for example — who, until discovering The Simple Life on FOX, lived off dividends and interest from the family trust — might literally end up paying less income tax than her hairdressers and bodyguards.

So might everybody in the Bush clan.

Likewise, investors and real estate and stock speculators who live off capital gains could avoid income taxes almost altogether. High-salaried executives, physicians, professional athletes and others who earn considerably more than they spend would be able to shelter much of their income in tax-free accounts.

Ordinary working people would be left holding the bag. So you’d no longer have to pay income tax on savings account interest. Big deal. Eliminating the state and local tax deduction would cost most taxpayers many times more.

As an added political benefit, residents of "blue" states like New York, Pennsylvania and California, who pay far higher state and municipal taxes than citizens of, say, Florida and Texas (which have no state income tax), would pay considerably more than their "red" state counterparts. Readers who doubt me should dig out their own 2003 tax returns and do the arithmetic.

For most, it ain’t pretty. Given the national crisis in health care funding, it’s almost beyond belief that even Bush would eliminate deductions for employer-sponsored group health insurance, a potential boon to insurance companies selling far more expensive — and profitable—individual policies, but a big blow to everybody else.

It should be axiomatic: Any time a politician mentions "family values," get a firm grasp on your wallet.

That's the theory - only one of many that flies in the face of the facts. But then, what else are we to expect from the man who relies upon theory alone?

"I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe—I believe what I believe is right."
— George W. Bu$h, Rome, July 22, 2001


Our Own Philosopher-King

Though his reelection campaign brilliantly marketed President Bush's anti-intellectualism, the truth is that his administration has trusted more to pure theory than virtually any modern president's. And, as it's currently shaping up, Bush's second term looks to be even more theory-driven than his first. The Iraq war is a triumph of ideology over the facts on the ground (it's certainly not a triumph of anything else).

The Iraqis have already seen how the champions of American unilateralism have failed to secure their nation. Now, with the capital uber-alles whizzes unleashed for the president's second term, we'll see how far our philosopher-king can go to undermine economic security in our own nation. Theory certainly is driving the administration's tax policies. But to this president, the sanctity of wealth accumulation eclipses such other doctrines as egalitarianism. And to this president, the sanctity of theory -- his theories -- obviates the need for anything so small-minded as an empirical test. There are other theories out there, of course, theories that propound that health care is a right and should not be rationed on the basis of income. The Bush presidency is shaping up as the golden age of half-baked philosophes, from neocon adventurers to free-market snake-oil vendors.

In his first term, Bush took an ax to the taxes on dividends and mega-estates. In his second term, according to a story by The Post's Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, the president is looking at eliminating taxes on dividends and capital gains and creating generous tax shelters for all investment income. The theory here is that investment, not labor, is the real creator of wealth -- so the taxes on investment income will be scrapped, while those on wages will keep rolling along. And in the name of this theory, Bush seems willing to sacrifice much of the social compact that made America, in the second half of the 20th century, the first majority middle-class nation in human history.

To pay for his investment tax cuts, Weisman and Birnbaum report, the president is considering scrapping the tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance. This could mean that businesses would no longer be able to deduct from their tax bills the value of the health coverage they provide. Or it could mean that employees would have to pay taxes not just on their wages but on the value of the health coverage they receive. Or it could mean both.

It's hard to imagine a greater disruption of the way we live now. According to a September report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, 156 million Americans currently receive individual or family health coverage through an employer. Workers, of course, pay a share of their coverage, and that share is growing as employers shift the burden toward their employees in the face of rising health care costs.

According to a survey from the Labor Research Association, unionized workers on average pay $2,341 yearly for family coverage, while nonunionized workers pay $3,282. But the total average family annual premium now comes to $9,950 -- a figure well beyond the reach of median income families if their employers stopped providing coverage or greatly curtailed it.

Employer-provided health insurance in America is something of a historical accident. During World War II, when wages were frozen, the United Steel Workers and United Auto Workers won health coverage for their members at the bargaining table, setting a pattern for much of the rest of the economy. Today the pattern is being set by nonunion Wal-Mart rather than unionized General Motors. Fewer employers offer health coverage these days. Most employers scale back benefits, and the number of medically uninsured Americans has risen to 45 million. Either the government must step in to pick up a greater share of the cost, or individuals will just have to go it on their own.

The Bush administration has made it abundantly clear that it thinks government should play a smaller role in providing health care. Now, if it goes ahead with plans to tax employer-provided health benefits, it will significantly reduce the role of businesses in providing health coverage, too. Never mind that the 45 million Americans who are currently without insurance haven't declined coverage as a matter of preference; on the whole, they simply can't afford it. Never mind that families with incomes of $50,000 cannot find an additional $6,000 or $7,000 for health coverage, or that families with incomes of $80,000 will be trading off their kids' college tuition savings to purchase their health care.

These are mere facts, which are as nought in the realm of high theory where Bush's unworldly philosophers reside.

"I've changed my style somewhat, as you know. I'm less...I pontificate less, although it may be hard to tell it from this show. And I'm more interacting with people."
— George W. Bu$h, South Carolina Republican Debate, Feb. 15, 2000


Bush Cabinet Moves Seen as Stifling Dissent

President Bush is moving to concentrate power as he begins his second term, placing trusted members of his inner circle in key positions, but some analysts believe he risks stifling healthy debate within his administration. "It is understandable that this president, like any president, wants his decisions to be taken as writ," said William Galston, a government professor at the University of Maryland, who served as a domestic policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton. "However this president is running the risk of restricting the range of debate within the administration very seriously," Galston said.

DANGER OF HUBRIS

David Gergen, who served as White House adviser to four presidents, said the two dangers facing Bush were hubris and group-think, the tendency for everyone in an organization to adopt the prevailing view. "By closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands, he is acting as if he truly believes that he and his teams have a perfect track record, that they know best and that they don't need any infusion of new heavyweights," Gergen wrote last week in The New York Times.

Gary Schmitt of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, who served in the White House under President Ronald Reagan, dismissed the idea that alternative views would not be heard in inner circles as absurd. "There's a massive amount of commentary, both inside and outside of government. You can't live in Washington, D.C., and not be exposed to all kinds of views," he said.

But political scientist Dean Spiliotes of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics said history taught that second term presidents often became increasingly impatient with and intolerant of dissenting views. "Bush seems particularly susceptible to this because of his personal style. He doesn't like people in there playing devil's advocate. The result has been a higher risk of mistakes when you're all staffed with like-minded people," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan last week denied that Bush was surrounding himself with 'yes' men and women. "Once a decision is made, the president expects the administration to work together," he said. "But he's always welcomed a wide diversity of views from members of his team." Bush, however, may not have things all his own way. Republican conservatives have already shown they may be willing to defy him, as they did last weekend by refusing to go along with a bill to reform U.S. intelligence services.

Hubris Rising

Bush moved swiftly after his Nov. 2 election victory to consolidate power. He installed trusted White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and nominated national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, while elevating her deputy, Stephen Hadley, to replace her. Loyalists from the inner circle will also take over as White House counsel and at the Education Department.

Alarm bells rang in Washington's political circles last week when the new CIA director, Porter Goss, sent a memo to agency employees telling them their job was to 'support the administration and its policies'. "As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies," Goss said in the memorandum, which came after several top officers resigned.

Conservative commentator James Glassman of the American Enterprise Institute said Bush Cabinet officers should copy Goss and enforce loyalty. "How to do that when bureaucrats have the equivalent of academic tenure? Make their lives miserable, transfer them or re-educate them. But don't leave them in place," he said in a recent commentary.

Even Republicans criticized Goss' choice of words, saying it was crucial for the CIA to retain its objectivity and ability to 'speak truth to power'. Democrats, noting that Goss until recently was a highly partisan Republican member of the House of Representatives, saw it as part of a disturbing pattern.

Some historians believe that with Republicans securely controlling both houses of Congress, Bush will begin his second term with more power and fewer constraints than any president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

And we all remember what came from that. Ready for that kind of turmoil again?

"REDEFINING THE ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES FROM ENABLERS TO KEEP THE PEACE TO ENABLERS TO KEEP THE PEACE FROM PEACEKEEPERS IS GOING TO BE AN ASSIGNMENT."
- George W. Bu$h, JAN. 2001
."


U.S. struggles to find troops for Iraq, Afghanistan

By Joseph L. Galloway
Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young.

Washington would love to see an election in Iraq that was something like the success of the Afghanistan voting last month. Commanders in Iraq are under pressure to take the war to the enemy and beat them into less of a threat so that the Jan. 30 first round of elections in that country can take place with minimal violence.

The Army, which has been hard pressed to find enough soldiers to man the rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, may soon be faced with an urgent request to find another 5,000 to 7,000 troops to increase the number of boots on the ground in Iraq. Commanders there have been quietly signaling an immediate need for at least that many more soldiers to add to the 138,000 Americans already there. This, they say, is the minimum number needed to allow them to pursue the offensive against the insurgents in the wake of the taking of Fallujah.

Having taken Fallujah in a violent and bloody campaign that took the lives of more than 50 Americans and uncounted Iraqis and virtually destroyed a city where the insurgents and foreign fighters had had sanctuary and free reign for six months, the Americans now are obliged to rebuild what they destroyed. The city and the reconstruction efforts both have to be secured against a return of the insurgents, thus tying down thousands of American soldiers and Marines when they are needed elsewhere to fight those who escaped Fallujah.

Quags Like A Mire, Tar Baby!

Far from breaking the back of the insurgency, the capture of Fallujah only served as a signal for the enemy to launch its own offensive in cities across the Sunni triangle and in Baghdad itself. The fighters and leaders who fled Fallujah before the Americans launched their attack simply moved to other cities and went straight to work sowing havoc. The daily number of attacks and incidents in Iraq is now running more than 100 per day, or double what it was before the Fallujah offensive began.

Although the Pentagon has counted on the rapidly growing Iraqi security forces to begin taking up some of the slack, their hopes may be misplaced in the immediate future. The Iraqi battalions in the field seem to function much better when they come in behind American troops, as in Samara and Fallujah. Until they have a good deal more experience and develop both leadership and confidence they will remain too weak to go after insurgents and foreign fighters in the Sunni triangle.

Scraping The Barrel Until It Only Has One Side

Finding the rest of the troops that commanders want may be difficult. Army planners are looking at a number of temporary stop-gap measures to boost the strength in Iraq during January, including extension of the tours of thousands of soldiers nearing the end of their 12-month combat assignment and speeding up the deployment of the 3rd Mech Infantry Division so more of them arrive before January.

They are also reportedly eyeing the ready brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division - which stands by at Fort Bragg for rapid deployment anywhere in the world in a crisis - as one way to boost temporarily troop strength in Iraq. Those troops, however, are light infantry and do not come equipped with the Bradley fighting vehicles and M1A2 Abrams tanks that are increasingly needed for urban combat in Iraq.

Getting them to Iraq in time and properly equipped to fight in that dangerous environment may be even more difficult; Army and Marine commanders have already used up most of their bag of tricks to find troops for the usual rotations to Iraq.

Being All They Can Be - An Army Of One

The Baltimore Sun reports that the Army is hard pressed to find enough officers for staff jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will double the length of their tours in those countries from 179 days at present to a full 12 months. The Army is struggling to fill hundreds of staff jobs for majors and lieutenant colonels in war zone headquarters and in the past month began stripping majors and lieutenant colonels from their Pentagon billets and ordering them to Iraq and Afghanistan. Other extraordinary steps ordered or under consideration include pulling officers out of military schools or delaying entry into such programs. They could also curtail family-oriented programs such as the one that allows soldiers to extend their tours at a stateside base so their children can finish their senior year in high school.

"I'm certain to maintain the peace, we better have a military of high morale, and I'm certain that under this administration, morale in the military is dangerously low."
- George W. Bu$h, Albuquerque, N.M., the Washington Post, May 31, 2000

But they can have their graduation at the front in Iraq instead! The whole family will be there, serving 'their country' - the multinational corporatists and their campaign contributors - in the continuing effort to dominate the world's oil supplies with the goal being to become even richer than they are already.

Too much is never enough.


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pessimist :: 2:27 AM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!