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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

June 18, 2003

Making Slaves of Us All

Sometime before the summer is over, maybe even before July 4, a Republican Congress will pass the largest expansion of the welfare state in some 40 years, and a Republican president who calls himself a conservative will sign it.

I'm referring to the prescription drug benefit for Medicare, an estimated $400 billion program (prediction: it will cost much, much more than that) designed solely to attract votes. Seniors vote in droves and generally get what they want, which is why, though they are the wealthiest segment of society, they are on the receiving end of so many government handouts, perks, favors, and benefits.

Of course, someone must pay for this; we poor working slobs struggling to support our own families enjoy that privilege. And it definitely is a privilege. They are, after all, the Greatest Generation, the chosen people who overcame the Depression and defeated the Nazis. They have calmed storms, cast out demons, and walked on water, so they deserve their discounted meals at the local buffet and cheaper tickets on their Alaskan cruises. Most importantly, they deserve our money, much more than we ever could, because we haven't done anything but defeat Communism and try our best to pay for their ailments and retirements.

President Dubya did promise during his campaign to provide a prescription drug benefit, but it was always part of a larger Medicare reform plan. The drug benefits (at least the most generous ones) would be offered by private plans that seniors could join, while a bare-bones benefit would reside in Medicare for those seniors who chose to stay on the public dole. But apparently Congressional resistance was too great for a President with 60-80 percent approval ratings to overcome, so he caved and now we'll get a monster entitlement with no reform. Seniors get their happy juice and the rest of us get poorer.

Among the plan's many faults, the plan ignores Medicare's questionable fiscal future. Every year, more and more seniors are supported by fewer and fewer tax-paying workers. This can't last forever. As Robert Robb points out in his column this past Sunday:

Payroll taxes are projected to no longer cover Medicare hospitalization costs by 2012. Medicare already requires a $78 billion subsidy from the general treasury, which will grow rapidly as baby boomers retire.

Overall, Medicare costs are expected to more than double as a percentage of national income over the next 30 years. The Senate's "bipartisan" solution: add a taxpayer-subsidized drug benefit.

Our wise politicians are about to add more revenue demands to a program on the brink of running out of revenue. This is not smart.

The need for every senior to get subsidized drugs isn't that great, either. According to Robb, seniors, on average, pay $650 a month on prescription drugs. Just ten percent of seniors pay more than $2,000 a year.

That $650 sounds like a lot, but National Review editor and columnist Rich Lowry pointed out last year that the average senior annually spends $1,200 dining out, $1,000 on entertainment, and $800 on furnishings. Yes, yes, I know there are seniors out there who struggle to get by on just their Social Security check for income, but they're the small minority, and it doesn't make the case for all seniors receiving this handout.

But the moral issue is even more compelling. Because all seniors will get this benefit, regardless of income, a waitress struggling to keep three kids fed will pay for Bill Gates' prescription drugs. The "working poor" will provide all the goodies demanded by Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan, Rush Limbaugh, Warren Buffet, and other multi-millionaires. This from a party - the Democrats - who claim to believe in social justice.

Speaking of Democrats, remember during the tax cut debate, and after the bill was signed, how they whined and complained that low-income people who paid no income taxes did not receive an income tax break? Remember how this was so horrible? Remember how the Democrats claimed to be fighting for the little guy? 

Do you also remember how Democrats said we could not afford a $350 billion tax cut? That it was fiscally irresponsible and would explode the deficit? 

If you remember that, perhaps you could remind them. I think they've forgotten about the low-income worker who must now purchase Clint Eastwood's prescription drugs. I think they've forgotten that $400 billion is more expensive than $350 billion, and if $350 billion is fiscally irresponsible, then $400 billion has to be worse. This issue should forever put to rest the crass lie that Democrats are deficit hawks and fiscal watchdogs. They concern themselves with deficits only when they get less of your money and you get to keep more of it. 

Republicans are equally worthy of blame and derision. They've forgotten they're supposed to be the party of limited government and lower taxes. Conservatives do not vote for Republicans to expand the welfare state. If we did, we would have voted for Al Gore. They also forget that there are usually viable (though unelectable) alternatives on the ballot, like Libertarians, who really do believe in limited government and lower taxes. We can always change our votes or stay home. "But that would elect more Democrats!" Republicans wail, but how would that make any difference? What we're getting now - higher spending, increased entitlements, a campaign finance bill liberals loved, more intrusive federal intervention in education - looks suspiciously like a Democrat campaign platform.

This bill will continue to make the dwindling population of wage earners slaves to those who earn no wages. It's not just seniors - it's the college kids with their student loans most will never pay back, little Johnny and Susan sucking up Head Start funds, artists lapping up NEA grants, farmers harvesting crop subsidies, and a myriad of other Americans sucking at the federal teat. All these public parasites should ask themselves what happens when the wage earners either revolt or disappear, and they're forced to actually take care of themselves.

What will they do then?

Pimental Patrol

O. Ricardo Pimental has faithfully followed his liberal leaders and last Sunday essentially accused President Dubya of lying about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. I know, it's a shocking, original accusation, one that has never been asked before! But that's why Mr. Pimental gets paid the big bucks.

Pimental claims the administration is "laying the groundwork" if WMDs are not found in Iraq. Dubya will say the evidence was "mistaken" and it was very "probable" that Saddam had these weapons. Pimental kindly acknowledges that it would be no "surprise" if WMDs are found, but quickly brushes over that. He claims Dubya concealed or downplayed information that contradicted his WMD justification for war.

Pimental cites two sources. One is a Defense Intelligence Agency report that said there was "no reliable information" on WMDs in Iraq. Pimental offers no further information, but he's probably referring to a September 2002 DIA report that stated, in part, that "There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities." That sounds pretty bad, but here's the entire paragraph:

There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or where Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities. Unusual munitions transfer activity in mid-2002 suggests that Iraq is distributing CW munitions in preparation for an anticipated U.S. attack. Iraq retains all the chemicals and equipment to produce the blister agent mustard but its ability for sustained production of G-series nerve agents and VX is constrained by its stockpile of key chemical precursors and by the destruction of all known CW production facilities during Operation Desert Storm and during subsequent UNSCOM inspections. In the absence of external aid, Iraq will likely experience difficulties in producing nerve agents at the rate executed before Operation Desert Storm.

There's more from this report that supposedly proves Dubya is a liar. "Iraq is steadily establishing a dual use industrial chemical infrastructure that provides some of the building blocks necessary for production of chemical agents."

Not enough? How about this: "Although we lack any direction information, Iraq probably possesses CW agent in chemical munitions, possibly including artillery rockets, artillery shells, aerial bombs, and ballistic missile warheads. Baghdad also probably possesses bulk chemical stockpiles, primarily containing precursors, but that also could consist of some mustard agent or stabilized VX."

You can read more about the report here.

Oddly enough, Pimental mentions none of this. 

His other source is unimpeachable and undoubtedly 100 percent reliable - al Qaida terrorists. "We didn't hear [from President Dubya] about top al-Qaida lieutenants telling U.S. captors that Osama bin Laden had prohibited terrorist cooperation with Iraq."

But Pimental ignores an Iraqi intelligence document uncovered after the war, in which an Iraqi secret police agency invited a top al-Qaida operative to Baghdad. The memo's author wrote that "we may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden." The al-Qaida operative accepted the invitation and visited Baghdad in March 1998. 

So Pimental chooses to believe terrorists who hate America and despise President Dubya and ignore documentary evidence that undermine his claim. I suppose that's an easy call when there's a Republican in the White House.

So much for Sunday's column. Tuesday's was just odd. The headline says it all: "Are immigrants the new Negroes?"

Pimental believes that Americans treat "undocumented workers" like "our new Negroes." That's because, well, black slaves were forced to come here while illegal aliens come of their own free will. No, that's not it. It's because illegal aliens work hard for decent money rather than toiling for someone else's profit. But that can't be right. It's because illegal aliens are pretty much free to go and do whatever they wish while blacks did not enjoy the same freedom during the Jim Crow era. Wait, something is wrong here. 

How are illegal aliens like Negroes again? Essentially, it's because some are abused by dishonest employers and they can't complain because they could get deported. Of course, if they had entered the country legally in the first place, they would not risk deportation. But, even though there are laws against abusing illegal aliens, Pimental feels this curses them with the dreaded second-class citizen status. The fact that they are not citizens and are here illegally does not matter to Pimental. 

He's desperately trying to create sympathy for lawbreakers by comparing them to victims of segregation and discrimination. The analogy falls apart because those black Americans were American citizens and denied all the rights guaranteed them as citizens by the Constitution. Illegal aliens are not citizens and don't enjoy the same level of protection. No, they should not be abused or take advantage of, and they should always be treated humanely and fairly because they are fellow human beings and creatures of God. But to say they should be given all the rights of citizenship makes a mockery of the rule of law - they are lawbreakers. 

Pimental says that illegal aliens are "needed but unwelcome." I don't believe that. He has claimed in past columns that illegal aliens do jobs ordinary Americans will not do, which is why they are needed. I think it's more the case that illegal aliens do jobs Americans do not have to do. That's an important distinction. If INS were suddenly capable of deporting all ten million illegal aliens, would all their jobs disappear? Would no Americans do these jobs? I have a hard time believing that. 

Pimental's analogy blows up another way, and he does it himself. "If the need for (undocumented immigrants) and the effort to prevent them from coming creates a dangerous and corrupting underground smuggling operation, let's just go after the smuggler instead of dealing with the root causes." Taking his analogy further, Pimental evidently believes that the U.S. should not have gone after illegal smugglers of African slaves, and instead dealt with the root causes of slavery. That's fine, but is there any reason we can't do both? 

And how many illegal aliens must die while we're fiddling around (and even trying to define) those root causes?

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