2005/04/30

Fisking of the President

[Fisking is a term invented by right-wingers that means doing a close and detailed examination of someone else's speech, article, etc. For some reason, right-wingers use the term in a disparaging manner.]

We must address the root causes that are driving up gas prices.

In the past decade, America's energy consumption has been growing about 40 times faster than our energy production. That means we're relying more on energy produced abroad.

To reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, we must take four key steps.

First, we must better use technology to become better conservers of energy.

And secondly, we must find innovative and environmentally sensitive ways to make the most of our existing energy resources, including oil, natural gas, coal and safe, clean nuclear power.

Third, we must develop promising new sources of energy, such as hydrogen, ethanol or bio-diesel.

Fourth, we must help growing energy consumers overseas, like China and India, apply new technologies to use energy more efficiently and reduce global demand of fossil fuels.

I applaud the House for passing a good energy bill. Now the Senate needs to act on this urgent priority.

American consumers have waited long enough. To help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, Congress needs to get an energy bill to my desk by this summer, so I can sign it into law.

Back in the early days of Bush's first term, I was amazed to, all of the sudden, start hearing talk about an energy crisis. I tend to pay pretty close attention to the news, so this was a surprise to me. Now, could it be that Bush and his people were more informed and aware than I was? Consider that Bush was Vice-President of Arbusto Energy, which nearly went bankrupt and had to merge with Spectrum 7, after which Spectrum 7 reported a net loss of $1.5 million. Bush than joined the board of Harken Energy, where he attracted the attention of investigators due to the loss of $23.2 million and his suspected involvement in insider trading. So yes, with Bush's career being heavily involved in energy exploration, it's entirely likely that Bush & Co. were more informed on the energy problem/crisis than I was. But if the problem has been growing “over the past decade” and he's only been president for five years, then that suggests he had five years to plan for an energy strategy upon coming into office. Yet at his press conference of 28 Apr 05, he complains that “American consumers have waited long enough.” and that an energy bill is needed on an expedited basis.

Bush's desire for a “good energy bill” that includes “innovative and environmentally sensitive ways to make the most of our existing energy resources” is not a bad thing in and of itself, but where has this idea been for the past five years? In 2001, Vice-President Cheney's energy task force rather famously stiff-armed the renewable energy lobby. In the 2005 House energy bill, “Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, ...noted that the bill does nothing to improve the fuel economy of automobiles.” and with $8.1 billion in tax breaks “going to promote the coal, nuclear, oil and natural-gas industries.” this is hardly a conservation-aware administration. As Business Week puts it:

Sadly, the plan Bush proposed would do little to increase existing supplies of oil, gas, or electricity, or decrease domestic demand for energy -- the two steps that would really make a difference.

They also point out that giving assistance to the nuclear industry is a waste of money as long as the issue of nuclear waste remains unresolved. “But the waste issue is a political hot potato, so Bush steered clear of it.“

Here's a classic:

"There will be no price gouging at gas pumps in America," Bush said.

He spoke on the same day the world's largest publicly traded oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., announced that its profit for the first three months of the year had risen 44 percent to $7.86 billion from the corresponding quarter a year ago.

Sorry, but the new attention Bush is paying to energy policy priorities like renewable energy, public transportation, etc., is mostly just PR boilerplate. I'm prepared to give him credit for being serious when I see actual policy result from all of his wonderful words and hazily-defined good intentions.

Social Security

Franklin Delano Roosevelt testified in 1941 that the Social Security program initiated in 1935 was designed in a very deliberate and conscious way:

Those taxes were never a problem of economics. They are politics all the way through. We put those payroll taxes there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.

The Wall St. Journal editorial complains that FDR decided to make participation in Social Security universal (Wrongly suggesting that rich people stay in the program because they're stupid and don't know any better.) so that wealthier people wouldn't abandon Social Security. The editorial quotes Wilbur Cohen, who argued in 1972 that:

I am convinced that, in the United States, a program that deals only with the poor will end up being a poor program. . . . Ever since the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, programs only for the poor have been lousy, no good, poor programs. And a program that is only for the poor--one that has nothing in it for the middle income and the upper income--is, in the long run, a program the American public won't support.

Contrast that with Bush's proposal:

We also have a responsibility to improve Social Security by directing extra help to those most in need and by making it a better deal for younger workers.

In other words, Bush would toss the whole Social Security program overboard by first turning it into a “program that deals only with the poor”. This would reduce the stake of all other Americans in the program and revive the old charges of welfare abuse that were such a staple of American politics before Clinton's welfare reform. To argue that either FDR in 1941 or Bush in 2005 are being cynical about human nature is 1. Entirely correct and 2. Beside the point. FDR was doing something good, creating a program that Americans have shown strong support for over the 70 years that it's been in existence. Bush is trying to destroy that program so that only the rich will retire in comfort. For everybody else to finish out their days living in a one-room apartment heated only by a single candle and eating cat food is obviously a scenario that Bush and Co. are perfectly comfortable with.

I'm also puzzled by this section:

First, millions of Americans depend on Social Security checks as a primary source of retirement income, so we must keep this promise to future retirees as well. As a matter of fairness, I propose that future generations receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today's seniors get.

Secondly, I believe a reformed system should protect those who depend on Social Security the most. So I propose a Social Security system in the future where benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off.

By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire into poverty.

This reform would solve most of the funding challenges facing Social Security.

But both provisions would increase the cost of Social Security. By retaining benefits for older Americans and by having a system where “benefits for low-income workers will grow faster than benefits for people who are better off“, Bush appears to be suggesting something for everybody. But a problem with Bush's proposals that the media usually ignores is that the cost of establishing privatized accounts would hugely outweigh any potential benefits. Bush's plan is guaranteeing that Social Security would be more expensive, not less. Once the aware citizen includes the costs as well as the benefits of privatization, it becomes clear that no, Bush's “reform” does not solve any of the funding challenges.

Iraq

I just can't come up with the motivation to read anything Bush has to say on the issue after this:

But, nevertheless, there are still some in Iraq who aren't happy with democracy. They want to go back to the old days of tyranny and darkness and torture chambers and mass graves.

This sort of straw-man arguing has been a staple of Bush's political arguments for his entire presidency and probably well before that. This argument treats Iraqis as stupid, moronic dolts who can't tie their own shoes without assistance from “Dear Leader” Bush. It's a cowardly way to argue because he completely dodges the very real problems Iraqis have with the American occupation of their country. As the vile atrocities comitted in the Abu Ghrab prison showed, Americans did not leave the “torture chambers” of the old days behind at all.

Nothing else he says on the issue can possibly be of any significance.

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