We're All Dems Now

George W. Bush's campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes suggests that only Democrats were upset over the Bush campaign's use of 9/11 images in his ads. If so, we're all Democrats now.

We agree with the firefighters and the families of victims of the attack on the World Trade Center that the political exploitation of their deaths is wholly inappropriate, if not unexpected. As New York Newsday's Jimmy Breslin wrote March 6, "In his first campaign commercial, George Bush reached down and molested the dead."

Bush, of course, rejected the criticism. "I will continue to speak about the effects of 9/11 on our country and my presidency ... How this administration handled that day as well as the war on terror is worthy of discussion and I look forward to discussing that with the American people."

But he looks forward to limiting that "discussion" to sound bites in paid advertising only, as he continues to stonewall the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks. Bush and Veep Dick Cheney have balked at meeting with the panel. The White House wants to limit Bush's exposure to one hour, in private, with the panel's chairman and vice chairman.

Bush already has started attacking presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry for changing his stances on issues over 20 years in the Senate. (Kerry calls it an evolution. Other partisans note that Bush has compiled a more egregious flip-flop record in just three years in the White House, on issues such as campaign finance reform, homeland security, the 9/11 commission, nation-building, deficits, free trade and environmental protection, not to mention the numerous occasions when he has promised assistance that never showed up.) Republican surrogates also have started to stage dirty tricks against Kerry, such as altering photos to make it look like Kerry had appeared with Jane Fonda at an anti-war rally, fabricating rumors of an extramarital affair and questioning whether Kerry earned his three Purple Hearts and his Bronze and Silver stars in the Vietnam war.

For the record, Kerry served with honor when he commanded a swift boat in the Mekong Delta. He also served with honor when he returned to this country to tell the men who sent those boats upriver what they could do with their medals.

To be sure, Kerry is not the populist presidential candidate we ordered. A Yalie and member of the secret Skull and Bones fraternity (like Bush), Kerry is a mainstream liberal who probably won't rile Wall Street any more than Bill Clinton did, but compared with Bush the difference is night and day. Kerry beat populist campaigns of Dick Gephardt, Howard Dean and John Edwards. Even after they exited the race, Dennis Kucinich was unable to make headway in Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi primaries March 9 while Kerry was already staking out his general election campaign.

Kerry calibrated his support of free trade to call for labor and environmental safeguards and won union endorsement. He opposed Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy. He advocated boosting the minimum wage. He led the effort against drilling in the Alaskan wilderness. He pushed for higher fuel economy standards and pressed for global warming remedies. "But what distinguishes Kerry's career are key moments when he displayed guts and took tough actions that few colleagues would imitate," David Corn wrote in the March 15 Nation.

The former Massachusetts prosecutor led the exposure of the Reagan administration's illegal support for Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s. Then he led an inquiry into BCCI, an international bank that facilitated drug dealing, money laundering, arms trafficking and terrorism, even when that probe caught up prominent Democrats, including Clark Clifford, in its net. When George Bush I's Justice Department turned up its nose at the information Kerry dug up, he sent it to New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, whose further investigation led to indictments. In the fall of 1992 Kerry released a report on the BCCI affair that was "an indictment of Washington cronyism," Corn wrote. Then, working with Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, he investigated the claims that American GIs were still being held in Vietnam. After 14 trips to Vietnam and opening Pentagon archives he found no evidence that American POWs remained in Southeast Asia. (His report did not convince die-hard POW advocates, but it allowed normalization of relations with Vietnam.)

Kerry also was one of five original sponsors of the Clean Money, Clean Elections Act, to provide for public financing of Congressional elections, to remove special-interest money from House and Senate campaigns.

We think Kerry is honest. His former boat crew attest that he is literally someone you can ride the river with. We look forward to the general election campaign.

Stop Social Security Thieves

The lie has been repeated so often by GOP talking heads that a majority of working people have come to believe Social Security will be unable to take care of them when they retire. This even though Social Security trustees have certified that the trust fund balances are sufficient to pay full promised benefits through 2042 (see www.ssa.gov). And that assumes a relatively low 2% annual economic growth, which would be the slowest stretch in our history.

Now Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who headed the panel in the 1980s that raised payroll taxes to pile up the surpluses needed to take care of the Baby Boomers' retirement, has joined the cabal of Republicans and conservative Dems who want to expropriate your promised Social Security benefits to pay for more tax breaks for the wealthy. If this doesn't boil your bile, then you have lost the capacity for outrage.

In his 2001 report scoring the winners and losers if Republicans succeed in forcing a Social Security trust fund default, economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (cepr.net) noted that the trust fund had accumulated more than $1 trillion in surplus government bonds from payroll taxes over the last two decades. "The taxes collected to buy the bonds held by the trust fund were primarily by low and moderate income workers through the payroll tax. ... If the government defaults on the bonds held by the trust fund, it would be a large transfer of wealth from the low and moderate income workers to upper income taxpayers."

Based on the Congressional Budget Office's model, Baker found that 95% of US households would be net losers if the federal government defaults on Social Security. If the default were to take place in 2016, more than $1 trillion (in 2001 dollars) would be transferred from the bottom 80% to the households in the top 5% of the income distribution. The bottom 80% would lose an amount equal to more than 20% of their annual income, while an average household in the top 1% would net more than $730,000.

So Bush and Greenspan want to spend the Social Security surplus that working people piled up with their payroll taxes over the past generation. All for tax cuts that the rich have largely invested in corporations that have built new factories in low-wage nations overseas. So you are expected to give up your retirement benefits to send more manufacturing jobs overseas.

With these facts, along with the increasing evidence that the Bush administration has botched the war on terror as well as the economy, Democrats should be able to unleash the hounds on the GOP in November. Don't let the manufactured furor over gay marriage and bare breasts on TV distract your friends from these facts. -- JMC

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