Fool's Gold

Here, in one nugget, is what you need to know about President George W. Bush's plan to scrap taxes on dividends:

Almost half of the projected benefits from Bush's plan to scrap taxes on dividends would go to the 1 percent of the population whose incomes top $1 million. The scheme has been promoted as beneficial to the elderly, but, in fact, only 6 percent of the elderly with incomes less than $50,000 get anything out of it. These figures come from a briefing Monday by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank. Further, taxpayers who earn $35,000 or less come away with $27 more per year.

The impact on individuals is just the start of the matter. State governments are already reeling under fiscal pressures. Instead of following the right-wing mantra of helping the states out, Bush's proposal would drain more money away from them, worsening their situation by at least $4 billion per year.

Are right-wing Republicans playing class war? Don Nickles, the self-made businessman and senator from Oklahoma, had this to say on Sunday's Meet the Press, and he wasn't kidding: "Well, the wealthy are paying most of the taxes. You ought to have tax cuts for taxpayers."

At a time when we are supposedly trying to get rid of subsidies to farmers and other groups, Bush is offering a direct subsidy to Wall Street. The argument is that eliminating the tax would spur the market. Original predictions showed stocks would rise 20 percent. By Monday, these projections had sunk to 6 percent to 8 percent. And critics were beginning to point out that the president's plan would hurt other sectors of the economy, leading to a probable decline in the housing sector and the sucking of money away from small businesses.

Nor will it better the lot of the working class or the poor or help the long-term unemployed. And it's unlikely to salve the wounds of the millions whose 401(k)'s tanked with the market last year, save to possibly lure them back into the securities game, which is basically unchanged since the big accounting scandals.

As for the federal budget, which just two years ago was showing rosy surpluses, the picture now is one of growing deficits. "Even if no further tax cuts or spending increases are enacted, almost three-fifths of the improvement made from 1986 to 2001 will have been reversed in 2002 and 2003," says the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Meanwhile, as the Republicans ready yet another giveaway to the rich, Bush plans to cut back on domestic spending by holding the budget to $316 billion, according to The Washington Post. The savings, we're supposed to believe, are necessary to pay for homeland security and defense spending, but Victor Miller, a senior fellow at Federal Funds Information for States, isn't buying. "They're saying we can't have guns and butter," Miller told The Washington Post, "but, in fact, the butter side is the tax cut."

FETAL POSITIONS
In the 30 years since Roe v. Wade, the pro-life forces have successfully chipped away at a woman's right to have an abortion, limiting access by placing restrictions on providers and denying insurance coverage. Their campaign has targeted the most vulnerable women—those who are poor, working class, minority, uneducated and rural. The pro-life success stems in part from a shrewd strategy, but also from the lack of real opposition.

With the Republican right controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House now, the anti-abortion forces are taking a bolder tack: they seek to legislate recognition of the fetus as a living person, equipped with full constitutional privileges. If they succeed, abortion would become a crime of violence, subject to the vast array of criminal penalties.

Abortion foes have tried this approach before, on both the state and local levels. It has been hard for pro-choicers to counter what comes off as a pure law-and-order proposal. Last year, Congress adopted the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which underscored the rights of a fetus that, despite an attempted abortion, emerges from the mother's body alive. In 2001, lawmakers also passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which treats an attack on a pregnant woman as an attempt to injure two people—the woman and her fetus, thereby forging new ground by extending constitutional protection to the unborn.

"It's time that our society began recognizing and defending both of the victims who are harmed when violent criminals attack pregnant women," Tom DeLay, the majority House whip, said last year. "Those who would artificially discriminate between lives lost to crime within and without the womb draw empty and callous distinctions. All life is precious. Society must protect every victim." From an argument like that, it's just a short hop to a legal reading of abortion as murder.

The new Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, gives the administration key momentum for its conservative agenda. Look for anti-abortion measures to gain ground in his chamber, which had been more restrained than the House. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, says he's no better choice than the outgoing leader. "Few senators have a worse voting record on civil rights than Trent Lott, but Bill Frist is one of them," she says. "Frist has voted against sex education, international family planning, emergency contraception [the morning-after pill], affirmative action, hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This is the man who is supposed to save face for the GOP in the Senate? Think again."

BURTON'S BLUNT
At a Dec. 12 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee, Representative Dan Burton, Republican conservative from Indiana, raised the prospect of legalizing dope.
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