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Day 17

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INSIDE

The Real Bush is Back

by Dean Baker

After the latest morbid turn in the Chandra Levy mystery, it appears that politics has now come back full circle to where it was before September 11th. With the recent scandals and miscues, the President is no longer Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt, he is once again the bungler from Texas who finished second in the presidential race. This return to reality is good news – the nation should be paying attention to the president’s agenda, not engaging in mindless hero worship.

And the agenda isn’t pretty. At the top of the list is an ill-defined quest to combat an "axis of evil." While we all want to stop terrorism, it is not clear that attacking the countries on the president’s list is the best way to go about this task. The public has never been given much of an explanation of the president’s plans. We just know that they will take a long time, cost a lot of money, and probably lead to a lot of deaths. Some of the dead will presumably be terrorists, but many others are likely to be innocent civilians, like the people killed in the World Trade Center, and others will be our soldiers.

Domestically, the top of the president’s list still seems to be more tax breaks for the wealthy. To President Bush, this means not just the old-fashioned tax breaks passed by Congress – like the tax breaks from last summer – but also giving the wealthy and corporations the opportunity to simply not pay taxes if they choose.

The papers have been filled with stories of corporations that escape most of their income tax liability by opening a post office box in Bermuda. This rip-off could easily be remedied by a law closing this loophole. But President Bush supports the loophole – corporations shouldn’t have to pay taxes, if they find it inconvenient to do so. In the same vein, the <I.R.S>. has cut back on its audits of wealthy taxpayers, in order to spend more time auditing the returns of the working poor.

The President is also a vigorous supporter of a new bankruptcy law, the main effect of which will be to put credit card and finance companies in more direct competition with kids seeking child support from divorced parents. If the current laws made it too easy for scofflaws to escape their debts, our mailboxes wouldn’t be filled with credit card offers every day.

However, just as Bush has sought to make taxes voluntary for the rich, he has done the same with repaying debts. The bankruptcy bill has a clause that will allow people to use real estate to shield an unlimited amount of wealth from creditors. This means that a millionaire Bush supporter can own a $10 million home – with no mortgage – declare bankruptcy, and then tell his local grocer to get lost when she tries to collect on his tab.

President Bush has also come out in support of crony capitalism accounting rules that allow corporate executives to write down almost anything they want on their financial statements. This puts him at odds with just about every serious authority on financial markets, including Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, and the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the accounting profession’s internal policing body. He prefers standards that will allow for many more Enrons.

President Bush has also opposed efforts to re-regulate California’s electricity market, even as companies like Enron were developing their "Death Star" trading strategies to rip off California’s consumers. To the president, higher profits for Enron were good news, even if it meant soaring electric bills for small businesses and homeowners.

And of course, we can’t forget the president’s efforts to dismantle Social Security. At a time when many stock certificates are looking like lottery tickets, the day after the drawing, tens of millions of workers recognize Social Security as the only reliable source of retirement income.

But where the rest of us see retirement security, the President sees money that could be going to Wall Street. President Bush is trying to scare us into supporting his scheme by questioning the program’s health, even though the Social Security trustees (four of whom are President Bush’s cabinet members) report that Social Security is in better shape than at any point in the first four decades of its operation.

The bottom line is that in President Bush’s America, the only genuinely safe investment is a contribution to his re-election campaign. Stopping this assault on the nation’s well-being will not be easy, but the first step is recognizing that the guy in the White House is running a scam for his rich friends.

Dean Baker is co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is co-author (with Mark Weisbrot) of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press) and writes the Economic Reporting Review, a weekly analysis of media economic coverage.