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That Old Time Religion -- a Poem by Maurice Manning

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  • Sohel
    That Old Time Religion: A Note to J. M. By Maurice Manning The sisters came to see me, Jack, all nine of them, last night; I could hear the patter of their
    Message 1 of 580 , Jul 25, 2004
      That Old Time Religion:
      A Note to J. M.

      By Maurice Manning

      The sisters came to see me, Jack,
      all nine of them, last night; I could hear
      the patter of their feet around
      my bed: a flock of barefoot maids,
      the brood of a major god, good Lord!
      I breathed the smell of their lovely bodies
      and knew they�d come from heaven, and brought
      along their bucket and dipper gourd.
      I wasn�t looking for a bath,
      but they bathed me anyway, a stern
      admonishing submersion it was,
      as I recall, though I slept right through
      the whole delight � the night was deep
      and I was deeply in it. When
      I woke, I wasn�t whiskey-addled,
      as scoffers might suspect, but pearled
      with dew; my lips had curled into
      a shepherd�s crook, a look half-glad,
      half-stunned at being washed so well.
      I was released and governed both
      at once, Old Swain, but fancy this:
      inside my mouth I swear I held
      an older tongue. Will it pronounce
      the necessary word? Ha ha,
      we�ll see in several hundred years.
      It�s clear to me I can�t complain
      about these daughters or their water,
      and while the virtue of their visit
      is yet unknown, I wanted you
      to know, by golly, they were here.
    • Mauricio Rodriguez
      Selling The Ownership Society Bush & Co. are pitching self-sufficiency, urging voters to take control of health-care and Social Security decisions Like the
      Message 580 of 580 , Aug 27, 2004
        Selling The Ownership Society

        Bush & Co. are pitching self-sufficiency, urging voters to take control of
        health-care and Social Security decisions

        Like the embattled hero of one of those old Ronald Reagan movies, George W.
        Bush is a lonely man with a tough road ahead. Facing a challenge from
        dissolving public support for the troubled U.S. occupation of Iraq and
        hobbled by an economy that is struggling to create jobs, the President will
        have to fight to convince voters that he deserves another term in the White

        That battle begins in earnest on Sept. 2 at the Republican Convention in New
        York City, when Bush will focus attention on his central role in the war on
        terrorism. Arguing that Iraq is just one phase of a multifront struggle, he
        will strive to strengthen support for his proactive foreign policy. But Bush
        is also a realist. He knows that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot
        make Election 2004 revolve solely around terrorism and national security.
        Even if he wins the debate with Democrat John Kerry over who is seen as
        stronger and more steadfast, Bush could still come out on the short end Nov.
        2 if people think he's not up to the task of managing the economy.

        Here, the polls offer little encouragement. In an Aug. 5-10 survey by the
        Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 52% of Americans disapproved
        of Bush's handling of the economy, vs. 42% who approved. Some two-thirds
        rated an economy that boasts solid growth, benign inflation, and low
        unemployment as only "fair" or "poor." Why? Scarce jobs, soft wages, and the
        jolt of higher health and energy costs have created a disconnect between
        glowing macro indicators and kitchen-table reality.

        Bush needs a shield from Kerry's charges that he's out of touch with the
        economic pressures buffeting the middle class. In New York, the President
        will take the wraps off a second-term domestic agenda built around the idea
        of an "Ownership Society" in which Americans would be empowered to save and
        invest more, playing a larger role in managing their own health care and
        retirement finances. By promising to fight for private accounts in Social
        Security and a simpler and more investor-friendly tax code, Bush will return
        to the big reform themes that served him well in his 2000 campaign. Given
        his track record for bold and surprising strokes, he may also use his
        convention speech to hint at an even more ambitious second-term reform
        agenda that would tilt the tax balance further away from investment and
        toward consumption.

        While hardly original, Bush's Ownership Society approach is worlds away from
        the expanded government safety net that Kerry proposes to help strapped
        workers. The Democrat is making inroads with swing voters by promoting
        near-universal health coverage, tuition aid, and tax credits for new jobs.

        Whatever else it does, Bush's throwing down the gauntlet will open one of
        the more striking debates of the campaign. That's because there's a
        philosophical gulf between liberals' evocations of social equity and the
        comfort of a government helping hand vs. conservatives' paeans to
        individualism and entrepreneurship. As he barnstorms the country, Bush
        promotes the virtues of ownership with near-religious fervor, seizing upon
        one economic number in particular that shines from a so-so record: the
        torrid pace of home buying. "If you own something, you have a vital stake in
        the future," the President said in St. Paul, Minn., on Aug. 18.

        What's under the ownership umbrella? There's a renewed call, to be voiced in
        Bush's convention speech, for an aggressive trade-promotion agenda and for
        private Social Security accounts. The President also will talk up a health
        system built on individual -- rather than employer-provided -- insurance.

        Bush is saving his biggest ownership flourish for last, however. All year
        his economists have debated whether the White House can commit to broad
        reform of the tax code as a second-term goal. Bush has now signed on and
        will promote the ideas of "pro-growth" reform in his address without
        dwelling too much on specifics. Says former Council of Economic Advisers
        Chairman R. Glenn Hubbard, a key architect of Bush's first-term tax cuts:
        "The President is a problem-solver. He's keenly interested in fixing the tax
        code's complexity and anti-savings bias."

        In New York, Bush is expected to embrace a major tax initiative, vowing
        action on three fronts: He will fight to make existing tax cuts permanent;
        push for new individual retirement accounts that protect family savings from
        taxes; and direct the Treasury Dept. to outline changes that make the
        revenue code "fairer and simpler." That will trigger a foot-stomping
        celebration on the floor of Madison Square Garden, since GOP partisans
        equate those words with "lower and less onerous" rates.

        But what is Bush's ultimate goal? The steps the President is taking to trim
        marginal rates and exempt bigger and bigger chunks of investment income are
        marching the tax code toward a long-time dream of mainstream GOP reformers
        -- retaining the core of the basic income tax while gradually easing the tax
        bite on savings and investment. Bush must tread cautiously, however, to
        quell voters' fears that he aims to throw out the existing tax code and
        replace it with a pure flat tax or national sales levy. To calm those
        worries, he will insist that any changes keep both the home mortgage
        deduction and the write-off for charitable giving.

        Taken together, the Ownership Society themes resonate broadly, White House
        officials contend. The slogan returns Bush to the "reformer with results"
        rhetoric of his 2000 campaign. It permits the Texan to cast himself as a
        modernizer running against a Big Government liberal, as individual investing
        and exploding homeownership transform society. It fires up the GOP base with
        appeals for low taxes and property rights. And by turning the Social
        Security debate into a discussion of investor returns, Bush may lure young
        voters who have abandoned him. "The idea is to control your affairs through
        ownership, starting with homeownership and running to health care and
        retirement," says Dan Bartlett, White House communications director. "The
        question is: Do I trust myself more, or the government more?"

        By appealing to an optimistic future, Bush hopes to take peoples' minds off
        the economy's not-so-swell recent past. Business leaders, at least, seem in
        a forgiving mood. Thomas A. James, CEO of St. Petersburg-based Raymond James
        Financial Inc. (RJF ), says the President deserves "very good, not
        outstanding" ratings for steering through the downturn. Yet he worries that
        Bush's optimism may ring hollow in the Rust Belt. "I admire Bush for
        sticking with his agenda," James says. "[But] it may not be enough." Adds
        Robert E. Switz, CEO of ADC Telecommunications Inc. in Eden Prairie, Minn.:
        "The guy stepped in after the bubble and overall did a solid job. His tax
        reductions worked. I rate him a solid B." What keeps Bush from acing his
        exams? In chorus, execs cite a $400 billion budget deficit that, war or no
        war, most think is too big.

        Not everyone is convinced that Bush's paeans to property are an answer to
        future economic challenges. Liberals say that he envisions wrenching changes
        in the social compact. The thrust of his policies, foes assert, would be to
        place most of the tax burden on workers, not investors; to offload risk from
        corporations to individuals; and to undermine a social insurance system
        dating back to the New Deal. To critics, the Ownership Society is a reworked
        version of Newt Gingrich's 1994 manifesto -- the Conservative Opportunity
        Society on Botox.

        The White House "has come up with a smart way to package principles that
        have rattled around the Right for generations," says Alan Brinkley, a
        Columbia University historian. But "millions of Americans can't afford to
        'own' their retirement or health care, as Bush wants. They find the whole
        concept frightening."

        Some right-wingers are also underwhelmed by the ownership chat. They
        complain that Bush has shunned a flat tax, imposed steel quotas, pushed for
        a new Medicare drug entitlement, and deviated from the conservative script
        for the sake of political gain. The fancy labeling effort is "all retail
        politics, no vision," charges supply-side economist Bruce Bartlett, a
        flat-tax backer. "They said, 'Geez, we've got this hodgepodge of things,
        we've got to sell them."'

        Despite carping from the Left and Right, Bush is anxious to take his
        ownership blueprint on the road. After Labor Day, he'll stump hard for his
        agenda, trying to make the concept accessible to voters by stressing its
        component parts:

        Under pressure from opposition Democrats and a post-September 11 market dip,
        Bush backed off his original pledge to create Social Security private
        accounts. Under the plan, middle-aged and younger workers could divert a few
        percentage points of their payroll taxes into 401(k)-like investment funds.
        Bush argued that no matter how financial markets perform, over the long haul
        this system will beat the 1.5% annual return that today's workers will get
        from the system.

        Still, he never abandoned the belief that workers get a raw deal from
        traditional Social Security. So he'll dust off the notion on Sept. 2 without
        providing many fresh details. Bush will, however, assure Americans over 55
        that their benefits will not be cut and stress that new accounts will be

        The biggest weak spot in Bush's plan is paying for the transition, which
        economists say could cost at least $1 trillion. With a big budget deficit,
        Bush has nothing in the bank for such massive changes -- which is why many
        Republican pols think he will continue to be thwarted. In the meantime,
        Democrats will surely revive their "senior scare" tactics, charging that
        Bush is out to destroy the retirement system.

        Bush is playing both defense and offense on taxes. He will demand that
        Congress retain his previous rate reductions, insisting that low marginal
        rates and reduced taxes on dividends and capital gains spur growth and
        productivity. That's a challenge to Kerry. To help pay for his health-care
        plan, Kerry wants to hike top rates from today's 35% back to the pre-Bush
        39.6% and restore higher taxes on capital gains and dividends for
        upper-income families.

        Taking the offensive, Bush will also call for new Retirement Savings
        Accounts and Lifetime Savings Accounts, vehicles that let individuals stash
        away $5,000 a year without ever paying tax on the earnings. These ideas,
        while not new, are steps toward creeping reform, because they slash taxes on
        savings and investment. The White House claims its super-savings plans will
        boost growth. Critics counter that only the well-off can save enough to use
        the new breaks. And if Bush keeps exempting more forms of income from
        taxation, liberals fear he'll erode the revenue base just as Uncle Sam has
        to fund the Baby Boomers' retirement.

        Will Bush shatter the conventional wisdom and unveil a sweeping tax plan in
        the Garden? He has stunned the pundits before, presenting two giant tax cuts
        that took Washington's breath away.

        But 2004 isn't 2000. Bush now is saddled with a giant deficit, is waist-deep
        in Iraq, and has used up many of his chits with Congress. Advisers say the
        President isn't really aiming to pull the tax system out by its roots.
        Instead, he wants to find ways to reduce its bias against savings and
        investment and make filing simpler.

        The bottom line: Bush will charge up his party with general talk of reform
        while avoiding controversial specifics -- and see how much money is in the
        federal till following the election. That, and the prospects for
        disengagement from Iraq, will determine how ambitious he can afford to be.

        BUSHCARE. The Administration has no desire to match Kerry's call for a $650
        billion plan to expand government and employer insurance coverage. But Bush
        can't go into the fall empty-handed. So he is pushing health-care
        "ownership," trying to move toward individual insurance rather than
        employer-provided coverage -- all at a modest government price of less than
        $100 billion. Republicans believe that individuals who buy their own
        coverage will slash costs by spending their health dollars more wisely.

        The Bush Rx: Workers who purchase their policies would receive a refundable
        tax credit, up to $1,000, to help offset the cost of premiums. A second
        proposal would offer a tax deduction to people who combine high-deductible
        policies with new Health Savings Accounts. And to encourage small businesses
        to cover workers, Bush would let firms join insurance pools that spread
        risks and lower costs. The President will also try to limit his foe's
        advantage on the health issue by tarring Kerrycare as pseudo-socialized
        medicine. "We're siding with patients and docs, " says Bush campaign manager
        Ken Mehlman. "Democrats are siding with elites that dictate to people."

        Building on his 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which set national standards
        for schools, Bush wants to expand reforms to higher grades and junior
        colleges, stressing basic skills for the workforce of the future.

        To help Americans keep up with a changing job market, he backs $3,000
        personal reemployment accounts that can be spent on training and relocation.
        These vouchers, plus new proposals for more flexible hours, are billed as
        ways to give workers more control over their lives.

        Does all of this add up to a compelling agenda? Republicans are convinced
        that Bush is on to something big. "This is not the Democrats' 'Two
        Americas,"' says GOP consultant David Carney. "It's a positive message that
        resonates beyond well-to-do-suburbanites to people who aspire to the middle
        class." As more Americans squirrel away savings, buy homes, and start
        investing, Republicans sense a gathering demographic wave that could alter
        politics in the GOP's favor.

        Democrats belittle Bush's ownership agenda as warmed-over Hooverism. They
        charge that, by pushing investors out on a financial high wire without a
        net, Bush's policies expose millions of Americans to the risk of stock
        busts, housing bubbles, and fleecing by financial sharpies. "These stale old
        ideas will do virtually nothing to encourage ownership -- and could actually
        hurt it," asserts Jason Furman, Kerry's top economic adviser.

        Thus, in the election, two strains of the American character will collide:
        risk-taking and pioneering vs. a government safety net protecting citizens
        from the excesses of capitalism. "Americans are optiimistic and aspire to
        ownership," says Darrell West, a Brown University political scientist: "But
        pushing the Ownership Society is still risky, because it plays to future
        aspirations without addressing people's current economic problems."

        Over the long term, the ownership concept holds both power and promise given
        that it reflects profound changes in the way Americans live. George Bush's
        problem, though, is that he has a messy short term to traverse. As he tours
        the country conjuring visions of prosperity, an unanswered question hangs in
        the air: What if most Americans are too busy struggling to stay above water
        to give much thought to owning a nice boat?

        By Lee Walczak, Richard S. Dunham, and Mike McNamee, with Howard Gleckman
        and Rich Miller, in Washington and bureau reports

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