Thursday, March 31, 2005


Separation of Powers

A federal appeals court today rejected Terry Schiavo’s parents’ latest attempt to get her feeding tube reconnected. In his concurrence, Judge Stanley Birch, a Bush I appointee, became the first judge to declare Congress’s actions in the case unconstitutional:

A popular epithet directed by some members of society, including some members of Congress, toward the judiciary involves the denunciation of “activist judges.” Generally, the definition of an “activist judge” is one who decides the outcome of a controversy before him according to personal conviction, even one sincerely held, as opposed to the dictates of the law as constrained by legal precedent and, ultimately, our Constitution. In resolving the Schiavo controversy it is my judgment that, despite sincere and altruistic motivation, the legislative and executive branches of our government have acted in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers’ blueprint for the governance of a free people – our Constitution.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


The "vision" thing

Ok, so it's been a while since I've posted. I've been busy (besides
being completely shocked / mortified by the election).

The vision thing. Many people are willing to parrot that President
Bush has the 'vision thing.' But here's my response? What vision
does he really have? The mid-east is showing some signs of forward
progress. Maybe. Beyond that, what else is there? Ownership
Society? A "Culture of Life?" Let's talk about what really is there:

As it's the most topical, "Culture of Life." Let's move past the
marketing pitch and talk about tangible results: What President Bush
is speaking of is as follows:
• Abortion Rights. Women have no right to control what happens to
their body. This means that the rights of an unborn child take
precedence over the rights of a living, tax paying adults.
• Sanctity of a marriage. Legal standing is discardable, if the
decision of the person (say Michael Shiavo) is opposed by those that
are politically powerful. The result of this is that the federal
government can intervene in family matters, and overrule long
standing legal precedent.
• Defunding the safety net. The culture of life apparently does not
include funding medicare / medicaid. This means that thousands of
low income families will have no health care coverage at all. Our
already creaking healthcare system must take yet another blow. The
result of this, is that the taxplayers must still pick up the tab
when the emergency room cannot receive payment.

Ownership Society. Social Security has been demagogued into the
"Ownership Society." A corner stone of the ownership society is
"personal responsibility." The recent bankruptcy bill was passed
with senator Hatch saying that it will force people to "...take
personal responsibility for themselves." I group the following into
this area:
• Social Security. Rather than creating a trust between generations
saying that the younger generation has a responsibility to support
the older is apparently no part of the responsibility of society. I
don't want to talk about the complete failure of the math behind the
president's proposals, or even call into question that the society
has responsibility to ensure this. Instead, I want to talk about
retirement before Social Security. Half of seniors died in poverty.
This is the time that retirees ate cat food for their daily
sustenance. Take every other argument against the President's plan
out (like the fact that it does nothing to solve the solvency issue,
and actually makes it worse), and you still come back to 50% of
seniors retiring in poverty. Apparently the "Ownership Society" is
incompatible with the "Culture of Life."
• Bankruptcy Bill. The bankruptcy bill was just passed by congress
(both houses) and will likely be signed into law. This bill
addresses what the Republicans have called rampant abuse of the
bankruptcy system. In particular, the target stereotype is that of
"people living beyond their means" running up their credit cards for
whatever new toy they want. By declaring bankruptcy, these unsecured
debts are forgiven, and this individual can start again. Why do we
have this system? To encourage people to take risks and start new
Bankruptcy law is essential to a growing economy - it
fosters innovation, though risk taking. The new bankruptcy law
eliminates most of these protections for most people. Unsecured
debts are preserved to be passed on when the individual emerges from
bankruptcy in most cases. What's truly reprehensible is the asset
shelters that are exempted in this law. The Republicans blocked
Democratic amendments to remove the shelters for these financial
instruments used by the wealthy. That's right, the wealthy can move
their assets into these trusts, declare bankruptcy, and then recover
their riches from the trust. This is nothing but soaking the middle
class / poor and defending the rich.
A recent study showed that 60% of all bankruptcies were caused by
medical costs of between $4,000 and $12,000. Most of these families
had insurance. These are not families that were living beyond their
means. Moving right along to our next point:
• Personal Medical Accounts. About the most insidious of proposals
of the conservatives is the idea of the personal medical account.
The rationale behind these accounts is that if individuals needed to
pay for their own health care, they'd take responsibility, and not go
for frivolous medical procedures. This is a disgusting distortion on
just about every level. First, most families have a negative
savings rate
. Most families need two incomes to survive, while
relying on traditional insurance. Instead, this plan will force
americans to forgo traditional insurance in favor of putting away pre-
tax dollars into this personal medical accounts. Who has
discretionary medical procedures, excluding cosmetic surgery which
isn't covered by insurance anyway. The whole thing is ludicrous.
• Tax burden. One of the things that President bush has done is
changing the top tax bracket from 39.9% (it may have been 36%) to
32.6%. He has also reduced the dividends tax rate to 10%. The
argument for the dividend tax reduction is that more than 50% of the
recipients of dividends are seniors. This is a clever bit of
misleading with statistics. Yes, half of the total number of
dividend recipients are seniors. Isn't it more important to look at
where the bulk of dividends are going, rather than what percentage of
the population receives as little as $1.00 in dividends? Something
on the order of 80% - 90% of dividends (dollar amount) goes to the
top 10% of income earners in this country. The net effect of the
above is that the rich become richer at the expense of everyone else.
This brings us back to the top income bracket. At one time, we
believed in a "progressive income tax." This meant that those that
make more have an obligation to society to shoulder more of the
burden of funding it. This is the essence of noblesse oblige. We
have replaced this with a seductive message of greed - the role of
government is to allow the wealthy to get more wealthy. Those that
have not achieved wealth deserve their fate because they are
unworthy. What is most disgusting about this is the idea that the
government is stealing from you in the form of taxes. It is
profoundly unaware. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized
society. I believe that the income tax should explicitly geared
towards supporting and growing the middle class. Our tax policy now
is geared towards growing the millionaire / billionaire contributors
to the bush administration. Everything else is a smoke screen for
this singular goal.

So, given all of the above, where is the vision? We face massive
threats from fundamentalism at home at abroad, we face an
environmental holocaust, we face challenges to our economic
dominance, and we face a waning of our technical superiority. Has
any leadership been show on any of this? Has any vision been shown?
No. Instead, we have been distracted by a war in Iraq, and the
dangers of homosexuals receiving the same rights as any other
American. How is this even close to visionary?

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