Nation

Shrub's Kamikaze Run Against Taxes
Americans Sink Into Debt
What Putin Found in Davy Jones's Locker
The Gospel According to Joey



Shrub Makes Kamikaze Run Against Income Tax
GOP Suicide Attack With a presidential candidate like George W. Bush, who looks dumber and dumber as he stumbles on into the campaign, the GOP appears to be deep-sixing its chances before the main event even begins. That's not just because Bush can't explain his income-tax plan, although his confusion allows critics for the first time to openly question the candidate's intelligence. In Portland, Maine, sounding like a real nutcase, Bush recently introduced a local couple with annual earnings of $40,000 and said that under his plan, they would pay nothing to the IRS. Bottom line, Bush is running against the income tax—over the objections of Republican insiders, who from the very beginning warned their pols not to get hung up in the party's long-term love affair with lower taxes. The wonks know the economic boom has made the issue irrelevant, and the supposed surplus used to rationalize a tax cut is an ever shifting mirage. In New Hampshire, John McCain carefully crafted a conservative compromise that called for a modest reduction and would have pumped any surplus into basic necessities like Social Security and Medicare. But Bush, against all advice, ran simply on a huge tax break. He lost in New Hampshire because independent-minded voters don't buy this sort of stuff; the tactic won't work in a general election, either, when he will need even more of them. The Bush handlers are on a kamikaze mission, and, like Henry Hyde in the impeachment process, they're willing to take the ship down at any cost. So Bush is out there, stumbling around and tying himself in knots trying to explain what he proposes to do. He's hooking himself to the hard right-wing end of his party, and running against the income tax as a way of demonstrating that he supports sharply cutting federal programs that need tax money. To make matters more ludicrous, Dick Cheney—who scored millions getting government contracts for the Halliburton oil firm—has been out West defending high gas prices, which, of course, will make his $30 million in Halliburton stock options worth more. The next step in the Republican suicide campaign will be to begin the long-awaited attack on Al Gore as a Clinton crony and campaign finance crook—two lines of assault that have been honed in the conservative press for more than a year, but go nowhere. Gore has escaped from one campaign finance investigation after another. And attacking the popular Clinton will surely result in bringing the lame-duck president directly to Gore's defense, in a way that can only help the vice president's campaign. This kind of stumblebum incompetence by the Republicans is just about the only thing that could make Al Gore look good. Now that Gore has a Jewish running mate to do the holy rolling for him, he can concentrate on doing what he does best—bean counting and policy wonking. The sizable minority determined not to get fooled again by Clinton-Gore's feel-good con are still sticking with Nader, who, despite recent polls showing he'd get 3 percent of the vote, drew a crowd of 10,000 in Portland last month. Far from hurting Gore, Nader can probably help the Democrats get out votes for hotly contested House seats. In that sense, Nader is a good surrogate for the semidetached left wing of the party, the very wing Gore's New Democrats have been trying to jettison all these years.

While Stocks Rise, Ordinary Americans Sink Into Debt
Bull Shit Tucked away in the Economic Policy Institute's newly updated version of The State of Working America, a rundown on where things stand for ordinary people, is a cautionary note for the manic boomsters in the Clinton-Gore camp. True enough, as President Clinton can't stop saying, Americans made generally higher wages and increased their incomes during his presidency, when the bulls ran wild on Wall Street. But the sorry fact is that added income hasn't made a difference for most people because it has been accompanied by rising debt. "Household debt grew much more rapidly than household income in the 1990s," the institute reports, "so that, by 1999 total household debt, for the first time in history, exceeded total household disposable income." Personal bankruptcy is at an all-time high, and 14 percent of middle-income households have debt service obligations that exceed 40 percent of their income. There still is no sign of any real redistribution of wealth. The disparity of well-being in the world's biggest democracy is ominous: The richest 1 percent of households control 38 percent of the national wealth, the report says, while the bottom 80 percent make do with only 17 percent. In another finding, the market boom, for most people, is phony. According to government data, less than half of all households have stock in any form, including mutual funds and 401(k)-style pension plans. Of those who do own stock, 64 percent have portfolios worth just $5000 or less. The statistics tell the story: "The top 1 percent of stock owners hold almost half (47.7 percent) of all stocks, by value; by contrast, the bottom 80 percent of stockowners own just 4.1 percent of total stock holdings." Footnote: Two-thirds of the new jobs Clinton touts are temporary or part-time, and thus don't come with health insurance, pensions, or vacations, according to Economic Apartheid in America, by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel. These McJobs offer median wages at about 75 percent of those for full-time salaried workers. The nation's largest employer now? The temp agency Manpower, Inc.

What Putin Found in Davy Jones's Locker
Red Tide It seems like only yesterday Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to show the world that the former Soviet Union was still a military superpower. "Russia is a strong sea power," Putin declared on Russian Navy Day, in July. "The navy has always been and remains the symbol of a strong Russian state and a pillar of its defense capability." With those words, he sent the sailors off to the ill-fated exercises in the Barents Sea, capped by the humiliating sinking of the submarine Kursk. Though evidence suggests the accident resulted from a screwup in launching a torpedo, Russians continue to insist the Kursk went to the bottom because of a mysterious collision with another ship (perhaps American) or a World War II mine—or, according to a more recent theory, because of a terrorist plot. In an August speech at Harvard, former Russian sub captain Alexander Nikitin said the Kurskmight start leaking radiation in a couple of months, but that a more serious problem was posed by the 110 mothballed Russian nuclear subs—containing 250 reactors—rotting at docks in the Murmansk region. Nikitin told The Boston Globethe subs constitute "the largest concentration of such reactors in the world." Any of these vessels could sink at any time, he said. This is the depressing symbol of the Russian military at the beginning of the new century.

The Gospel According to Joey
Lieberman's Law In Wallacev. Jaffree, then Connecticut attorney general Joe Lieberman joined then governor George Wallace and the Moral Majority to back an Alabama law authorizing a minute of silence in public schools. Critics say the plan was a Trojan horse for an earlier law that included this teacher-led prayer, unearthed by the Brooklyn-based
Smartertimes.com from Supreme Court filings: "Almighty God, You alone are our God. We acknowledge You as the Creator and Supreme Judge of the world. May Your Justice, Your Truth, and Your Peace abound this day in the hearts of our countrymen, in the counsels of our government, in the sanctity of our homes and in the classrooms of our schools, in the name of our Lord, Amen."


Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi

 
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