Mother Jones Daily: Briefing


Bush’s Tax Trickery
Cloning Back in the Mix

POLITICS
Bush’s Tax Trickery

The White House is busily touting its sweeping tax cut plan as a surefire cure for fiscal malaise. But, according to all but the most partisan of commentators, President Bush’s new tonic is more political snake oil than economic elixir of life.

As Robert Reich notes in the Los Angeles Times, the plan covers the same old Republican ground, with roughly half of its benefits going to the wealthiest one percent of Americans, and little or nothing to the poorest.

“The president calls it a ‘jobs and growth’ plan, but it’s neither. His latest round of proposed tax cuts won’t create jobs and won’t grow the economy. It will only do more of what his last round did — make the rich even richer.”

The Boston Globe‘s editors agree, describing many of the plan’s provisions as breathtakingly cynical — with some amounting to nothing less than political blackmail.

“Bush’s proposal is particularly cynical in linking the tax cuts to revenue sharing for cash-strapped states and an extension of unemployment benefits for the 750,000 Americans whose checks ran out on Dec. 28. Both should be passed quickly on their own merits and not be used as bait — or ransom — for the larger tax bill.”

In a similar vein, Molly Ivins rips apart the trickle-down logic at the plan’s foundation. While agreeing that tax cuts can indeed stimulate the economy, Ivins argues that Bush’s proposed cuts aren’t likely to do anything of the sort.

“[N]ote the long, circuitous thinking about giving tax cuts to the rich: If the rich have more money, they will invest it — and that investment will allow companies to expand, and then they will hire more workers, and that will end the recession. Whereas, if you give tax cuts to the middle and working classes, they go out and spend the money because the baby needs new shoes. Presto, demand is up, factories back in action, end of recession.

There’s no guarantee that rich people will do anything economically productive with more money. Their major strategy seems to be stashing it in offshore banks so they don’t have to pay any taxes. As Leona Helmsley so famously remarked, taxes are for ‘little people.’ The dirty little secret about taxes in this country is that rich people and corporations mostly don’t pay them now — they have a whole system of shelters and offshore deals. We don’t need to raise taxes in this country, we need to collect them.”

Predictably, the president’s plan is going over very well with conservatives, however, including the editors of the Washington Times, who approvingly urge Bush to forge ahead with his program — naysayers and Democrats be damned.

“So, what is the best policy? In hindsight, it is utterly indisputable today that the president’s headstrong pursuit of the fulfillment of his campaign promise to reduce taxes was the right thing to do in early 2001. And if a timely tax cut was appropriate during the early stages of a recession, then an acceleration of that phased-in cut has to be the right policy today.”

Conservative stalwart William F. Buckley, meanwhile, predictably sees little wrong with the president’s plan. But Buckley’s logic in defending the plan seems strained at best. The problem, he seems to suggest, is not that the plan will disproportionately benefit the wealthy; it’s that critics of tax cuts are biased against the wealthy:

“To say that the rich primarily would benefit is profoundly irrelevant. The rich attend the Metropolitan Opera disproportionately because they can afford it and because the opera’s appeal rewards education and cosmopolitan exposure. The Metropolitan Museum is disproportionately patronized by the rich, even though it is relatively free, for the same reasons.

The word ‘rich’ is loaded. When it is used in political commentary it is almost always used invidiously. You can’t say ‘principled’ without evoking ‘unprincipled,’ democratic without invoking undemocratic, rich without invoking poor. A jacobinical turn of the lips becomes appropriate.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats’ counterproposal is getting little notice. The alternative is smaller and suffers from many of the same weaknesses as the Bush plan. But, as the editors of The Houston Chronicle observe, it would be more likely to deliver on its stated goal: stimulating short-term economic activity.

“The Democrats can argue persuasively that their plan would put money quickly into the economy. If the middle class has no other power, it controls the economy with its collective decisions on whether to buy a car, a pair of shoes or an ice-cream cone.”

HEALTH
Cloning Back in the Mix

It reads like something straight out of science fiction: a little-known and decidedly not-mainstream religious sect announces that it has successfully cloned a human. Genetics experts quickly dismissed last month’s announcement by the Raelians. But the rampant skepticism hasn’t stopped America’s ever-ready pundits from reigniting the debate over human cloning.

Representing a more alarmist school of thought, Wesley J. Smith argues in the Weekly Standard that the cloning claims are suggestive of a new era in which immorality and the “flouting of societal norms” are “bubbling up throughout the fields of bioethics and biotechnology.” True, there is “no proof of any kind” that the Raelians actually have cloned a human, Smith concedes. But who cares about proof?

“The Raelians and others who claim to be busily cloning human children seem to have adopted Kevorkian’s strategy of defiance. Society’s moral revulsion? Irrelevant. The likelihood that a cloned child would have serious health problems caused by genetic defects? Beneath concern. The Raelians and the parents willing to participate in this immoral human experimentation want what they want, the opinions of society and the health consequences be damned. The cult proudly claims to have several other cloned babies in gestation.”

The announcement alone — and the lack of a thunderous and monolithic national condemnation — reflect a “flouting of the law, societal norms, and/or moral sensibilities” among the nation’s scientific elite, Smith contends: “While cranks like the Raelians may be discredited, the movement they represent is plunging ahead.”

A more measured response, increasingly common within the punditsphere, posits that, while fears of actual human cloning are well-founded, they should not obscure the potential benefits of cloning research. Liz Langley worries in AlterNet that alarmists like Smith represent a spirit of “Chicken Littling about cloning,” which may lead to a ban of all types of cloning — “including the therapeutic kind.”

The editors of the USA Today agree, opining that cloning opponents have reacted to the Raelians’ claims in an exaggerated fashion, seeking to blur the distinctions between types of cloning:

“Whether or not Eve proves to be genuine, any clone would catch Americans spectacularly unprepared. That’s because conservative Republicans and the Bush administration have insisted on pursuing a ban on all cloning. Their overreach overlooks a more sensible alternative: outlawing the morally reprehensible cloning of humans but permitting cellular cloning that could cure ailments from Alzheimer’s to spinal injuries.”

Less conciliatory, Michael Shermer is among those who believe that the cloning of humans is inevitable, and that we are foolish — and overly cautious — to try and prevent it. He doesn’t argue in favor of cloning per se, but he does suggest — in a Los Angeles Times commentary — that we should go ahead and find out whether or not the science is viable. . Impatient with the arguments that cloning’s staunchest naysayers have floated, Shermer offers three myths he finds repeatedly used in debates:

“The Identical Personhood Myth is perpetuated by those who say: “It’s a horrendous crime to make a copy of someone.” But what they should be saying is: “Clone all you like; you’ll never produce another you because environment matters as much as heredity.”

The Playing God Myth has numerous promoters, the latest being Stanley M. Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke University who responded to the Clonaid announcement with this unequivocal denouncement: “The very attempt to clone a human being is evil. The assumption that we must do what we can do is fueled by the Promethean desire to be our own creators.”…. But cloning scientists don’t want to play God any more than fertility doctors do. What’s godly about in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer and other fully sanctioned birth enhancement technologies?

The Human Rights and Dignity Myth is embodied in the Roman Catholic Church’s official statement against cloning, based on the belief that it denies “the dignity of human procreation and of the conjugal union.””

Hybrid Hype?
Preemptive Social Engineering

ENVIRONMENT
Hybrid Hype?

Finally, American automakers are getting serious about offering clean alternatives to their gas-guzzling behemoths. Or are they?

Amid great fanfare, the Big Three unveiled a raft of hybrid cars and SUVs at the Detroit Auto Show this week. The moves are a welcome — if long overdue — response to the growing demand for cleaner and more fuel-efficient technology, Arianna Huffington observes in Working for Change, but she wonders if Detroit’s epiphany is more than skin-deep.

“It’s one thing to make a big show of rolling out glittering ‘concept models’ intended for future production — or to promise, as GM did, to have a million hybrid vehicles for sale by 2007 ‘if demand is high’ — and quite another to commit the marketing resources necessary to create the high demand. Time will tell if the industry has really fallen in love with this new/old kid on the block or if the industry’s embrace of hybrid technology is just a one night stand, a here-today-gone-tomorrow defensive gambit for the PR cameras.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Monthly‘s Stephanie Mencimer answers the most pressing of motoring questions: “Have you ever wondered why sport utility vehicle drivers seem like such assholes?”

“Surely it’s no coincidence that Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, tours Washington in one of the biggest SUVs on the market, the Cadillac Escalade, or that Jesse Ventura loves the Lincoln Navigator.

….

According to market research conducted by the country’s leading automakers, Bradsher reports, SUV buyers tend to be ‘insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others.'”

HEALTH
Preemptive Social Engineering

A non-profit group calling itself Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity (or, CRACK) is under fire in New York for offering drug addicts and alcoholics $200 each in exchange for sterilization or long-term birth control. Two months — and only four clients — after the opening of its first office there, CRACK has garnered negative press and a tepid reception from many activists and the mainstream medical establishment, reports Liz Trotta in the Washington Times.

Anaheim-based director Barbara Harris’ philosophy is: “It is better for a child not to be born than to suffer the physical and psychological damage inherited from addicted parents.” CRACK has, so far, struck its unusual bargain with 838 women (half of them sterilized) and 22 men. Harris’ most vocal critic, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, has compared CRACK’s goals to those of Nazi Germany’s sterilization programs, suggesting a practise of “racial targeting.” Harris claims that more white women have availed themselves of the service, but some of her critics beg to differ. Others argue that CRACK’s methods are exploitative and irreversible. A chief New York City Medical administrator, Dr. Van Dunn, suggests that “[o]ffering a woman, a poor woman, money to give up her reproductive rights is unethical.”

According to Paroma Basu, in an earlier article in The Village Voice, while Harris maintains that the organization is apolitical, her mission includes the stated goal of protecting the rights of unborn children. Much of the group’s funding, therefore, comes from right-wing supporters, including the likes of Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Bush’s Partisan Picks
Congo Horror Continues
POLITICS
Bush’s Partisan Picks

Yesterday, the White House shuffled Otto Reich, a controversial right-wing Cold Warrior, off to a low-profile desk job instead of risking another fight over his confirmation. Immediately, some wondered: might this signal a newfound desire to play nice with Democrats rather than run roughshod over them?

Not likely. Bush may have backed off on Reich’s appointment, but he renominated two equally polarizing figures for federal judgeships: Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen. Pickering’s Trent Lott-style pining for Jim Crow and Owen’s vehement opposition to abortion provoked animosity last year, but, as Dale McFeatters notes in Capitol Blue, the White House has decided to push ahead, never mind the controversy.

“The bold, in-your-face gesture to Democrats, on the first day of the new Congress, shows that the president plans to play hardball even though Senate Republicans have only a one-vote majority. The Democrats, correctly, see the re-nominations as a test of how aggressive they’ll be as a minority.

Some of Bush’s advisers reportedly counseled the White House against renominating Pickering. But the president clearly felt that this fight was worth expending, in Washington’s latest buzzwords, his ‘political capital.'”

The editors of The Oklahoman, meanwhile, wouldn’t have it any other way, lauding Bush for his leadership amid Democratic sniping.

“This President Bush, with a 63 percent job-approval mark, is flexing his political muscle — with a bold, visionary economic stimulus plan and with the renominations of candidates who should’ve been confirmed for the federal bench long ago.”

The Washington Post‘s editorial board, however, savages Bush for “ prying open the fissure lines between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill”:

“The president came to town promising to change the tone of debate and to reach across party lines. Now he seems to have settled on a different course. Some of his advisers apparently have concluded that polarizing political fights with Democrats benefit the administration; that ugly combat, even in a losing and not terribly worthy cause, such as the renomination of Judge Pickering, only shores up support among the Republicans’ socially conservative Southern base. Tactically they may be right. But as a method of governing, all-out war from Day One leaves much to be desired.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Congo’s Continuing Horror

Despite a ceasefire and peace agreement between the Kinshasa government, its opposition party, and major rebels group in the Democratic Republic of Congo last month, fighting and massacres have continued. IRIN, a United Nations news outlet, reports that a new wave of refugees are flooding into neighboring Burundi, in efforts to escape the warring amongst rebel groups and militia. Fears are escalating, as the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie-Goma (RCD-Goma) — a principal rebel group — is largely barring transit across the border, forcing thousands to make perilous nighttime river-crossings.

Elsewhere, in northeastern DRC, terrible accounts have surfaced of rebel groups butchering and eating pygmies. According to Basildon Peta of The Independent, pygmies who have failed to offer sufficient food to their captors have sometimes been murdered and consumed — especially for sexual organs, which are thought to give strength — and even fed to other pygmies. The cannibalism, adds Peta, is only one part of the renewed violence: random rape, murder, and mutilation by various rebel factions vying for power, often with the aid of foreign governments and soldiers. So unspeakable has the ongoing civil war been, writes Peta, that the Congolese call themselves a “cursed people.”

“With a war that has left an estimated 3.5 million dead, the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have probably suffered the worst massacres of any single nation since the Second World War.”

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