Viewpoint: Fear and fantasy spin the Bush agenda

President George W. Bush and his administration continue to rely on fear-mongering and crisis manufacture to keep the American public in line and marching in lockstep behind him.

The radical religious right, with Bush as its standard bearer, now controls all three branches of our government—at least it used to be our government. It controls the media, which has become a giant propaganda machine, echoing every one of Dubya’s pronouncements.

The president just delivered his inaugural address, replete with visions of vengeance, destruction and death and painting a picture of the imminent collapse of our social safety net.

Adding insult to injury, as far as Americans are concerned, the president nominated and Congress confirmed, two of the most damaging and devious officials ever to serve at the federal level—Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales.

One of those who rose in the Senate in opposition to Rice’s confirmation as Secretary of State was Sen. Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia and the oldest member of the Senate.

In his remarks, Byrd stated: “With respect to this particular nomination, I believe that there needs to be accountability for the mistakes and the missteps that have led the United States into the dilemma in which it finds itself today, besieged by increasing violence in Iraq, battling an unprecedented decline in world opinion, and increasingly isolated from our allies due to our provocative, belligerent, bellicose and unilateralist foreign policy.

“Whether the administration will continue to pursue these policies cannot be known to senators today as we prepare to cast our votes. At her confirmation hearing on Jan. 18, Dr. Rice proclaimed that our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue. But two days later, President Bush gave an inaugural address that seemed to rattle sabers at any nation that he does not consider to be free. Before senators cast their votes, we must wonder whether we are casting our lot for more diplomacy or more belligerence, reconciliation or more confrontation. Which face of this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde foreign policy will be revealed in the next four years?” (

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales drew the second-highest total of “no” votes ever cast against a successful nominee for U.S. Attorney General. The highest number of negative votes for such a candidate was cast against Charles Warren back in 1925.

Here is a man confirmed as the top U.S. law official who has displayed full disregard for the Constitution and the law. He finds the Geneva Convention and the accepted rules of warfare “quaint” and advises the president we needn’t bother with any of that. Worse, he condones and even advocates torture of political prisoners. Gonzales is a close and long-time personal friend of George W. Bush and his family.

A compliant, Republican-dominated Congress approved both nominees.

Interestingly, in the case of Gonzales, the strongest opposition came from a number of retired high-ranking military men, including Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, former Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force, Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the Army’s first and only woman three-star general, and Gen. Joseph Hoar, former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command. He also served as Chief of Staff for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

In their letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, (see “The signers of the letter” list on page A5) the group of officers said: “Perhaps most troubling of all, the White House decision to depart from the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan went hand in hand with the decision to relax the definition of torture and to alter interrogation doctrine accordingly. Mr. Gonzales’ January 2002 memo itself warned that the decision not to apply Geneva Convention standards ‘could undermine U.S. military culture, which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat, and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries.’ Yet, Mr. Gonzales then made that very recommendation with reference to Afghanistan, a policy later extended piece by piece to Iraq.

“Sadly, the uncertainty Mr. Gonzales warned about came to fruition. As James R. Schlesinger’s panel reviewing Defense Department detention operations concluded earlier this year, these changes in doctrine have led to uncertainty and confusion in the field, contributing to the abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and undermining the mission and morale of our troops” (

Speaking of Mr. Gonzales, Human Rights First, formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, said: “He has embraced the radical view that the President has the power to ignore laws passed by the nation’s representatives in Congress. Such views are anathema to the rule of law, and contrary to the rights the United States has pledged to protect” (

So here we have the president putting in place two close personal friends who, by and large, tell him only what he wants to hear. That does not augur well for the future.

The president, himself, has been busy trying to sell his plan to privatize Social Security and just finished a barnstorming tour of five states. His first stop was in Fargo, N.D., where 40 residents were surprised to learn they were on “the list” and could not attend Bush’s speech. All are opponents of the war in Iraq. Like Stalin, Bush admits only party loyalists who agree with his views. His trip is part of the $5 million public relations campaign backed by the National Association of Manufacturers and carried forward by the administration.

Bush is trumpeting the idea that Social Security is facing a “crisis” and will go bankrupt if the government doesn’t act to rescue it, and act promptly. He wants younger working Americans to opt to put part of their Social Security taxes into private accounts, investing in the stock market.

The president says the private accounts would be optional and that those choosing this approach would get far more income than the existing system can provide. He said he does not intend to raise payroll taxes to make up any shortfall in Social Security revenues.

But his spiel is only one side of the story. There is more that Americans ought to know before they decide whether they want such a drastic change.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in editorial comment following the president’s speech, said: “Mr. Bush continues to avoid offering any specific plan or bill [for Social Security reform], even while claiming credit for providing leadership on the issue. It seems appropriate to ask: Where’s the beef, Mr. President?”

Here’s the beef, and it’s spoiled.

First off, Social Security cannot go bankrupt. It has no creditors. The taxpayer choosing the privatized program would not get to pick his own stocks. Mr. Bush’s administration would do that through handing the accounts to his Wall Street broker buddies, who would rake in a fortune in management fees.

Further, the account holder won’t get all the proceeds from his or her investments. The government will take 50 cents on the dollar, and that is on top of the 30 percent cut in Social Security benefits Bush’s plan anticipates. The average retiree would lose $152,000 in benefits over a 20-year post-retirement period (The Century Foundation).

Privatizing the system would cost an estimated $2.2 trillion. That’s red ink, folks, with the money coming from loans from countries like China and Japan (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities).

Any time you have politicians deciding who gets the business in this kind of deal, you open the door to corruption. We already have enough problems with the politicos stealing the excess funds in the Social Security Trust Fund.

That fund is composed of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Fund that pays retirement and survivor benefits, and the Disability Insurance Fund, which pays disability benefits. Congress has be

en dipping into this fund since 1983 when the payroll tax rate was boosted, creating billions of dollars in surplus annually. The boys on the hill have grabbed the goodies for their favorite pork barrel projects and to cover some other programs. We ought to make them pay it back or get a room in the 6 x 6 hotel.

The Congressional Budget Office has said that benefit payments will not exceed revenues until 2020, not 2018 as the administration has been saying. The trust fund will remain solvent until 2052 (not 2042) and it would be solvent long after that if the trust fund thieving were halted. The director of the CBO says the revised projections are not economically significant.

Robert Reich, Labor secretary in the Clinton administration, holds out some hope against this dismal scenario. Reich said Wall Street is divided between stock brokers and bond traders. They have differing investment philosophies.

Writing of the stockbrokers, Reich said: “They’re all for the Bush agenda because it will put more money in their pockets. Not only will they get more tax cuts on unearned income, but they also stand to rake in hundreds of millions in management fees on all those privatized Social Security accounts.”

Bond traders, on the other hand, see a different picture. Reich explains: “All the borrowing will create a deluge of new Treasury securities on the market. This will put extra pressure on the interest rates because there’s only a limited amount of savings out there to be borrowed—and it’ll push bond prices down” (The American Prospect).

Bush and company are telling the bond traders not to worry because all the loans will be paid off in 30 to 60 years when benefits are cut. Traders understandably are skeptical. Reich says any trace of panic in the bond markets, and Bush’s rip-off reform plan is toast.

Oh, in case you didn’t know, the ultimate aim of Bush’s program is to abolish Social Security altogether. So much for compassionate conservatism.

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