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September 16, 2005

Greg Saunders :
Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity

I'm back from my extended vacation from blogging. Having avoided the blogosphere entirely during my honeymoon, I have thankfully only caught bits and pieces of the last two weeks worth of news. Playing catch-up on the plane, I read the incredible cover story in the newest issue of Newsweek. It's a sobering look at povery in America, yet it ends with this unintentionally hilarious proposal :

Beyond the thousands of individual efforts necessary to save New Orleans and ease poverty lie some big political choices. Until Katrina intervened, the top priority for the GOP when Congress reconvened was permanent repeal of the estate tax, which applies to far less than 1 percent of taxpayers. (IRS figures show that only 1,607 wealthy people in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi even pay the tax, out of more than 4 million taxpayers—one twenty-fifth of 1 percent.) Repeal would cost the government $24 billion a year. Meanwhile, House GOP leaders are set to slash food stamps by billions in order to protect subsidies to wealthy farmers. But Katrina could change the climate. The aftermath was not a good omen for the Grover Norquists of the world, who want to slash taxes more and shrink government to the size where it can be "strangled in the bathtub."

What kind of president does George W. Bush want to be? He can limit his legacy to Iraq, the war on terror and tax cuts for the rich—or, if he seizes the moment, he could undertake a midcourse correction that might materially change the lives of millions. Katrina gives Bush an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China opportunity, if he wants it.

George W. Bush caring about the poor? That's like saying Hamas has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach out to the Jewish community. It ain't gonna happen, buddy.

George W. Bush isn't going to do anything to stem the tide of poverty because he doesn't understand poverty. He doesn't know what it's like to have to decide which bill to pay this month. He's never had to memorize a bus schedule. He's never had to live on ramen noodles and whatever food he can get for free at his shitty restaurant job. If he really knew what it was like to be poor, he'd understand that a few hundred bucks isn't going to be enough to undo the damage of a dead-end job and crushing debt.

Tonight Bush gave a speech which many observers were saying would make or break his presidency. It was the standard laundry list of things he'd be throwing money at mixed with rhetoric that would sound impressive coming out of the mouth of someone who understood what it meant, but here's how the President squandered his opportunity to actually do something to help the poor :

Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well.

That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.

So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.

When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets.

When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses.
. . .
It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity. It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty. And we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.

Yeah, it's just a bunch of recycled "ownership society" garbage from last year, polished up a bit so it doesn't smell as much like shit.

I agree with the President's stated goals, but let's get real here. Poverty has gone up over the last four years, yet the President's only plan to deal with a problem he's been forced to address is to do the same thing he's been trying to do all along? The problem here isn't that there aren't enough government incentives to help minority-owned small businesses, it's that tens of thousands of people are living in makeshift homeless shelters. They don't need chatter about home ownership, they need to know where the hell they're going to get food, clean water, and a bed to sleep on. Telling a poor family with minimum wage earners that they should run their own business and own their own house sounds great on paper, but these patronizing ideas are about as constructive as telling someone with a broken leg that they should try to run a marathon.


September 15, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:

The good news is, I've just added papers in Santa Fe and Santa Cruz. The bad news is, I've just been dropped by the Detroit Metro Times. As always, I discourage astroturfing (which is why I don't provide direct links in these cases), but if you live in the Detroit area, please be sure to drop the paper a line and let them know what you think of this decision. As I've noted before, the papers are my bread and butter--if I had to live off my online revenues, I'd be in trouble. They're also the best way to reach the sort of reader who isn't directly seeking me out, which I consider important. Anyway, if you read the Metro Times, I'd appreciate the help--editors are sometimes willing to reconsider these decisions if they get enough feedback.

...one more thing: be polite. Abusive email does far more harm than good.

...also: I make no secret of the fact that I'm encouraging this response, so an initial flood of email is easily discounted. The thing is to keep the responses flowing over a longer period of time--that's sometimes the only way to convince an editor that you're not just zombies reacting to my mind control beams, that you actually do want to see the cartoon continue in their paper.


September 13, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Life in the bubble (a post in three parts)


The missteps on Katrina came at a crucial moment in Bush's second term, when his top legislative priority at home, Social Security reform, was already on life support and the war in Iraq was becoming a mounting economic and political burden. The Administration that had been determined to defy history and ward off the second-term curse--and early lame-duck status--by controlling the agenda and seizing opportunities appears increasingly at the mercy of events, at home and abroad.

And as if the West Wing were suddenly snakebit, his franchise player, senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, was on the disabled list for part of last week, working from home after being briefly hospitalized with painful kidney stones.

Bush has always said the Presidency is about doing big things, and a friend who chatted with him one evening in July said he seemed to be craving a fresh mission even though the one he has pursued in Iraq is far from being on a steady footing. "He was looking for the next really important thing to do," the friend said. "You could hear him almost sorting it out to himself. He just sort of figured it would come."

But when it did, he did not immediately show that he sensed its magnitude. On the Monday that Hurricane Katrina landed and the Crescent City began drowning, Bush was joshing with Senator John McCain on the tarmac of an Air Force base in Arizona, posing with a melting birthday cake. Like a scene out of a Michael Moore mockumentary, he was heading into a long-planned Medicare round table at a local country club, joking that he had "spiced up" his entourage by bringing the First Lady, then noting to the audience that he had phoned Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff from Air Force One. "I said, 'Are you working with the Governor?'" Bush recounted. "He said, 'You bet we are.'" But the President was not talking about the killer storm. He was talking about immigration, and the Governor was Arizona's.


Amid a slew of stories this weekend about the embattled presidency and the blundering government response to the drowning of New Orleans, some journalists who are long-time observers of the White House are suddenly sharing scathing observations about President Bush that may be new to many of their readers.

Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press?

Maybe not so much.

Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.

And three.


September 12, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Now what?

Major blackouts in Los Angeles.

...nothing dire, apparently.


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