"It’s a terribly hard job to spend a billion dollars and get your money’s worth."
     -- George M. Humphrey, U.S. Treasury Secretary, February 23, 1954.
"According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions."
-- Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Defense Secretary, September 10, 2001.


The Ministry of Public Misinformation
Posted May 16, 2005 | Link

After talking to many parents of Baby Boomers, it seems as if President John F. Kennedy was the last president who inspired any hope in them. It's not that he was a great president or accomplished any great feat; it's simply that his pervasive optimism was so infectious that Americans were hopeful about the future and confident we would get to a better place.

The sad reality, of course, is that after taking on organized crime, the military-industrial complex, and Khrushchev, JFK was compensated for his troubles with a bullet in the head. In many ways, this served as a lesson to all of the subsequent presidents who thought they might be able to change the status quo.

JFK and LBJ, Two Peas from Decidedly Different Pods

Since JFK, the list of presidents who have distinguished themselves with what they hid as much as what they did is a long one: Johnson fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in order to escalate the war in Vietnam; Nixon had Watergate; Ford barely had the time, but still managed to bungle the Mayaguez Incident; Carter started the long-term funding of militant, Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan; Reagan and Bush ran the doubly illegal Iran-contra scandal; Bush then swept Reagan's Savings & Loan crisis under the rug in order to help his 1988 election bid, and cost taxpayers an additional $70-80 billion for the delay; and Clinton's team covered up vital crime scenes, if not the crimes themselves, three separate times (Waco, TWA Flight 800, and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building). Do any of us still wonder why people naturally suspect politicians of being insincere?

And now we have the second President Bush. His pattern of obfuscation runs through both of his terms, dating back to Election 2000 when he first used the phrase “compassionate conservatism” and called himself the “education candidate.” How anyone who executed a record 152 inmates while governor could call himself "compassionate" is beyond me, but it's his education record that is truly damning.

Last year, it was revealed that Houston school administrators cooked the books in order to artificially boost Bush's achievements as Texas governor. It turns out that his "Texas Miracle" actually relied upon thousands of dropouts being misreported and upon hundreds of poorly performing students being prevented from taking the statewide achievement tests.

Robert Kimball, former assistant principal at Houston's Sharpstown High School. (CBS)

This should come as no surprise from the man who signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law--the statute that prevents the neediest schools from receiving new money until they reach arbitrary benchmarks. Conservatives used to be opposed to massive government interference in education and to federal legislators telling the states how to run their school systems. I guess things change.

Bush's dismal track record of dealing with problems in an honest and effective manner got much worse after September 11, 2001. When terrorist attacks on American soil left more than 3,000 people dead, the Bush team refused to investigate the attacks and almost immediately began marketing an invasion of Iraq despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the hijackings and no operational relationship with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda. Our intelligence community knew this then and the 9-11 Commission proved it three years later.

Logically speaking, why would Saddam Hussein and his petty bureaucrats even dream of taking down the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the first place, especially after their invasion of Kuwait cost them more than 100,000 casualties? If Hussein was truly the mastermind behind 9-11, and intelligence truly corroborated it, I have no doubt that he and his private army would have been vaporized within weeks rather than watching him be pulled out of a spider hole two years later.

The "Spider Hole" (Reuters)

After Bush started his War on Terror, his administration immediately began misleading us about the costs of it. First they wanted $50-75 billion, then another $87 billion, and now we've just passed $300 billion--all unbudgeted. Nothing about these costs is upfront because the Bush administration knows full well that these expenses aren't increasing national security one bit. After all, the number of terrorist incidents tripled last year, Osama bin Laden is nowhere to be found, and Pakistan--a major ally in the War on Terror--was found selling its nuclear secrets on the black market to countries like North Korea. The Bush administration's only response was to have the State Department stop publishing its annual report on terrorism.

We also have the $400 billion Medicare giveaway to HMOs and pharmaceutical companies. The real cost is somewhere between $500-600 billion, but Richard Foster, a government expert on Medicare said he was strongly pressured not to provide this information to Congress until after the bill was signed. Good timing for Bush's donors, since the Medicare bill also prevents our federal government from using its buying power to negotiate better rates.

Ironically, when Bayer’s drug Cipro became necessary to prevent the non-existent Anthrax epidemic in 2001, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson threatened to revoke Bayer’s patents on the medicine and got them to drop the price by almost 50%. Since Congress was at risk, such steps were deemed necessary. However, when our elderly need medicine to live, Bush’s response is to earmark almost $600 billion in taxpayer money for these seniors in order to buy their drugs at full market prices. Could this possibly be the largest campaign kickback in history?

But wait, there's more. Bush also wants to dismantle our Social Security system and funnel our taxes directly to his Wall Street backers--no middleman! The details are there for anyone to study, but in a nutshell, Social Security has been working fine for more than half a century and will continue working at least this long into the future. At its worst, it may need some tweaking like Reagan did back in the 1980s. We may have to shoulder a modest tax increase or <conservative shudder> increase the ceiling on the income cutoff (Bill Gates and I have one thing in common--we both pay the same Social Security tax). Facts don't matter, however, as Bush is pretending that the trillions of dollars necessary to get his plan going are free and that playing the stock market in a country that's already reached its economic zenith will somehow outperform guaranteed earnings.

The shenanigans still aren't over. While it’s been known for a while that Bush has been dismantling as many EPA and environmental protections as he possibly can, the problem is that Bush wants to permanently silence both the critics and the media’s knowledge of these transgressions. In January 2004, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced that it wanted to control the release of all information relating to public health, safety, and the environment. In addition, the OMB is attempting to control all peer reviews (i.e., scientific and technical evaluations) of all government rules, plans, and proposed regulations.

I am not making this up.

With scientists throughout the government already self-organizing to prevent further Bush blunders in the name of ideology over science, we have John Graham, the administrator of the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Graham, the man who said that environmental regulation “should be depicted as an incredible intervention in the operation of society,” and who believes that life has less value as you get older, now wants to be in charge of exactly who reviews government policy and what gets communicated to the public.

John Graham infamously depreciated the value of human life over time in his academic studies such that the cost-benefit analysis for any long-term policy (e.g., toxic waste cleanup, cancer prevention, etc.) would appear to have little payback. Not a friend of AARP to be sure.

I can’t imagine that either political party would want to live in a state where only a few handpicked people debate or decide government policy and are then the only ones allowed to tell the public about it. However, this is exactly what the Bush administration is proposing. They make George Orwell look positively conservative.

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