'The haves and the have-mores'
The Bush administration's new mandate is razor-thin, writes Joel Wendland from Washington
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US President George W Bush relaxes after delivering his inaugural speech at the Capitol in Washington
Freshly inaugurated President George W Bush armoured limousine raced down Pennsylvania Avenue, while thousands of protesters pelted his motorcade with jeers and insults. As Bush aloofly prepared to partake in numerous lavish black-tie dinners and balls to celebrate his razor-thin election win, polls released by The New York Times show clear majorities in the United States opposition of his signature policies: war and privatisation. Despite claims of national unity, Bush presides over a country never more deeply divided. Over half of Americans say the country is on the wrong track.
The crass opulence of the inaugural celebrations highlights the reasons for the growing disunity. Funded by a handful of corporations and wealthy individuals, inaugural events are a way for donors to buy influence openly.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a non-partisan organisation that provides financial data on the US political system, 140 individuals and corporations gave $100,000 or more to finance the inaugural events. About $40 million will be spent, while one million people suffer unemployment as a result of the Asian tsunami.
Among the top donors are financial services corporations Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs -- all of which are mega contributors to Bush's campaign -- auto and financial services giant General Motors, United Parcel Service, oil magnate Rich Kinder, and investment shark Sam Fox -- who has donated millions to Bush's political party. According to CRP, donations from the finance capital sector comprised the single largest source of funds for Bush's inaugural parties.
The corporate subsidised festivities are reminiscent of a speech Bush gave in 2000 at the Alfred Smith dinner, a plush event given for New York's wealthy socialites. During that speech Bush remarked, "this is an impressive crowd -- the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base."
The influence purchased will ensure that Bush's "base" is taken care of. Finance capitalists, for example, are eager to continue privatising government programmes. Some sections of finance capital, mainly the insurance industry, got a small taste in 2003 of the trillions of dollars in the US treasury waiting to be "liberated" when Bush's prescription drug benefit plan was passed. In essence, the plan turned hundreds of billions of tax dollars over to private insurers to purchase prescription drugs from pharmaceuticals for disabled workers and retirees.
Bush supporters erroneously believe that private insurers are better able to negotiate lower prices. In the process, pharmaceutical companies raised prices to cash in on the plan. Meanwhile, according to the liberal Center for American Progress, new regulations allow insurers not to cover low- income Medicare recipients whose healthcare needs might cut into their profit margins.
The privatisation of social security is a much more lucrative prospect. Bush wants to change the current system of using payroll taxes to pay for guaranteed benefits for retirees into a private system of individual accounts.
He misrepresents the financial stability of the current programme to convince the public that it needs to be "reformed". While most analysts argue that even if the system is not changed it will be able to pay guaranteed benefits until at least 2042, Bush calls it a crisis.
Last year the Social Security Administration reported a $138 billion surplus -- the programme always takes in more from taxes than it pays out in benefits. Bush's tax cuts for the rich cost the treasury more than it would take to cover possible future shortages. Bush's plan asks workers to give the government part of their wages, which would then be given to investment bankers.
Brokerage fees alone would be a bonanza for companies like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch. But according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, fees are not the real booty. As much as $2 trillion would be taken from the public system and given to investment bankers, bankrupting the public system.
Now Bush would like us to forget about the Enron scandal and dot-com bubbles, but nearly two-thirds of Americans say they would not trust Wall Street with their Social Security money, says The New York Times. Seventy per cent think Bush's plan is a bad idea if future benefits cannot be guaranteed. Few people realise that Bush has already promised to cut future benefits, or that Chile's privatisation experience shows that pensioners can expect smaller returns from private accounts.
The centrepiece of Bush's presidency, however, is its foreign policy. Administration officials are growing less fond of their war in Iraq but are committed to ensuring that a government friendly to the interests of the US, i.e. preservation of the privatisation policies imposed and supportive of US military and geopolitical interests in the region, comes to power.
In her statement to the US Senate during her confirmation hearings, Condoleezza Rice asserted that troop withdrawal depends on the security situation in post-election Iraq. A decoding of her statement shows that the administration plans to withdraw only if it gets what it wants from the new National Assembly. Democracy and Iraqi sovereignty are not its main priorities. Rice also expressed the administration's blatant lack of concern over the fact that the reasons for going to war in Iraq -- terrorist ties and WMD -- were simply fabrications.
Neither diminished global credibility nor the truth are serious considerations for Bush. No new policy has been outlined for Palestine either. Though the administration praised the Palestinians for an apparently fair election process, Bush has not made any practical or meaningful gesture to rehabilitate the peace process. He seems content with the apartheid wall and with allowing Sharon's plan to carve up Palestinian territory to proceed. Rice refused to appoint a special emissary to bring the sides together.
The administration's credibility gap and its difficulties with the truth spell serious trouble for tense international negotiations focussed on Iran's nuclear programme. Many observers are wondering if Bush will seek a similar course in that situation as the administration's drive for war in Iraq.
Bush's "big stick" foreign policy combines with a criminal disregard for humanitarian issues. Legitimate accusations of human rights abuses in Abu Ghraib and other US prison facilities have not been fully and openly dealt with. Administration officials openly sneer at international agreements and scoff at demands that they protect the human rights of prisoners. Additionally, it was only embarrassment at being called "stingy" that compelled Bush to increase aid pledged for countries devastated by the tsunami, not a humanitarian's instinct. The administration's well-known miserliness with financial assistance for preventing and treating HIV/AIDS globally further reveals the lack of compassion that grips the administration, exposing the hypocritical claim of the providential nature of Bush's mission made in his inauguration speech.
On top of the deepening division in US civil society, Bush's imperialist agenda and disregard for humanity have earned him growing global disapproval. ABC News reports that international polls surveying tens of thousands of people showed that 58 per cent of the world "believes Mr Bush has made the world more dangerous since becoming president".
Further, most people see "US influence in the world as largely negative and view Americans negatively as well". The administration's earlier warning that "either you are with us or you are against us" may indeed have serious global consequences, but not of the variety it envisioned.