Come Big or Stay Home

George W. Bush has made it as clear as he can: He wants the Republican Congress to pass a bill that dismantles the egalitarian guaranteed benefits of Social Security -- the most successful government retirement system in the world -- and replaces it with a complicated multi-tiered, needs-based program that ultimately reduces the incentives for middle-class taxpayers to support the program.

Bush insists on adding private accounts that will divert Social Security payroll taxes into stock market investments, which will reduce the revenue available to pay regular Social Security benefits. Then, when the Social Security Trust Fund comes up short, the middle class won't be there to support the bailout that wouldn't have been necessary if Bush had kept his mitts off the Trust Fund to pay for tax breaks for millionaires.

Establishment pundits have called upon Democrats to come up with their own plan to rescue Social Security. But Democrats and honest Republicans should not feel any obligation to participate in this charade -- in fact they would be foolish to cooperate with these charlatans who have trumped up a possible Social Security shortfall in 35 years if the economy tanks to record lows. Let Bush and the GOP come up with their bill to wreck Social Security and get some record votes on Social Security privatization in the House and the Senate; then we'll see in 2006 what the voters really think about letting George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay and Bill Frist run the country.

By the way, we hope you all noticed that Bush, in his April 28 press conference, said that people who wanted to make more conservative investments as they neared retirement could move their assets into Treasury bills. You know, the same "IOUs" whose value he had belittled in the Social Security Trust Fund. Meanwhile ...

Health Care Crisis

Social Security is not in a crisis, but our health care system surely is. Many states are being forced to cut Medicaid coverage for the poor. That will add to the 45 million Americans who now go without health insurance. Richard Schwartz of the New York Daily News noted May 4 that no other nation in the world comes close to the $1.7 trillion the US spends on health care annually. That is 15.5% of our gross domestic product. "Yet for all that money -- equal to the entire economic output of France -- 45 million Americans go without health insurance," Schwartz wrote. "By the way, in France, which on a per-capita basis spends about half what we do on health care, everyone is insured. In fact, under France's universal health system, patients can visit doctors, even specialists, virtually any time they wish."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF.org) found, from examining Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that 41% of uninsured adults said they were unable to see a doctor when they needed to during the previous year and 56% did not have a personal doctor or other health care provider. In 2003, chronically ill uninsured adults were more than four times more likely to go without medical care or prescription drugs than chronically ill insured adults. RWJF estimates that 20 million working Americans are uninsured and the Washington Times reports rising health care costs are forcing companies to pass more of their health care costs on to employees in an effort to cut business expenses." General Motors Corp., the nation's largest buyer of health plans, recently reported it lost $1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2005, its largest quarterly loss in more than a decade. The company cited the cost of providing health coverage for its workers and retirees as a main culprit."

The Center for American Progress (americanprogressaction.org) noted that the Bush administration has offered half-baked privatization plans &endash; like Health Savings Accounts &endash; that would help only 0.3% of uninsured adults. Bush also lobbied Congress to cut federal funding for Medicaid. In addition, Congress passed the White House-backed bankruptcy bill, which will make it harder for uninsured Americans to recover from crippling debt brought on by medical problems.

The Bush administration also pretends health care problems don't exist. The 2004 Economic Report of the President concluded "many [of the uninsured] may remain uninsured as a matter of choice," perhaps because "they are young and healthy and do not see the need for insurance."

We agree with the Center for American Progress and the rest of the industrialized world that health care should be a basic human right. The center has developed a blueprint for affordable, quality health coverage, made available and affordable for all Americans, through either employee-sponsored insurance, Medicaid or a new group insurance pool modeled on the system used by federal employees and members of Congress. The pool, based on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, would assist all those who lack access to job-based insurance &endash;- a problem for about 80% of all uninsured people. Almost two-thirds (63%) of US adults cite lowering health care costs and health insurance. They deserve better from the president and Congress.

W's 'Appeasement' Slander

Bush struck another low blow May 7 in Riga, Latvia, when he accused the US of appeasement in agreeing to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe after World War II. Bush said the February 1945 agreement at Yalta among President Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill "followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact."

Bush should be more sensitive to the nuances of history of World War II. After all, his grandfather, Prescott Bush, was complicit in the arming of the Nazi regime (See Dispatches, 11/15/03 and 12/1/03 TPP]. But W could not resist a chance to smear the liberal icon FDR, who, with Churchill, got an agreement from Stalin to allow free elections in the occupied zones and to join the war against Japan. Many historians think FDR and Churchill got the best deal they could, considering that Stalin already controlled Eastern Europe with battle-hardened troops. Stalin reneged on the elections in Soviet-occupied territories, of course, but to suggest that the US and Britain were prepared to go to war with the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe in 1945 is to engage in fantasy.

Bush also said, "We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations -- appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability." He should tell that to his kissing cousin, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, and other "allies" in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, and Pakistan where the CIA sends terrorism suspects to be tortured under the infamous "rendition" program. The administration denies that suspects are sent to be tortured, of course, but there's no other good reason to outsource interrogations.

Perhaps the worst of the lot is Uzbekistan, which the US State Department reported in February 2001 "is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights," where police commonly use "beating, often with blunt weapons, and asphyxiation with a gas mask" during interrogations. International human rights groups also report the boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers. At least two prisoners were boiled to death, the groups reported, but an intel official told the New York Times that the US sent "dozens" of suspects to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital.

But Bush won't have anything to do with tyrannies. -- JMC

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