The dizzying blend of audacity and incompetence that is the Bush Administration continues to amaze me.
Yesterday's big development was that the highly controversial 2003 Medicare bill, which squeaked through Congress with White House assurances that the cost would not exceed $400 billion -- only to have that estimate revised up to $534 billion after the bill's passage when it was discovered one of the actuaries responsible for the estimate had been ordered to hide the true cost -- will really cost $720 billion over a decade.
Now, hold on, the White House says. The first estimate was for the decade 2004-2013, the second estimate is for 2006-2015. The first number is still accurate because the bill does not go into effect until 2006, so it includes two years where there are no costs. Uh huh. If that's not Enron economics, I don't know what is.
By the way, $518 billion of that is for drugs, and the legislation makes it illegal for the government to barter with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices or to import drugs at lower prices from foreign countries. The government has to pay whatever the pharmaceutical companies ask. What kind of sense does that make?
Today's front page was a doozy. Kim Jong Il has withdrawn from the multilateral talks and publicly announced, for the first time, that he has nuclear weapons. (Whether they can actually be deployed is uncertain.) He declared that he believes that America's intention is the destruction of his regime and that we're not really interested in diplomacy anyway. I wonder where he got that idea from?
Bush has consistently mishandled this issue. Kim is a nutcase. He's even more deluded than Saddam, but this guy actually has a nuclear weapons program. His pride and arrogance even eclipses Dubya's. Bush has treated him with public disdain, once referring to him as a "pygmy." You can't take a hard line with North Korea because the cost of offending this crazy could be a nuke exploding in Seoul. Or Tokyo. Or Seattle.
Stick and carrot diplomacy is what we need; we'll give him official recognition of his government and a non-aggression treaty if he'll dismantle the weapons program. Don't worry, the rest of the planet will understand why we're doing it. From then on we dangle x (economic packages, trade agreements, etc.) in exchange for y (access by weapons inspectors, human rights teams, press, etc.). It might take a while, but eventually we can pull out the foundations of Kim's power. Bush tends to favor the "all-or-nothing and right now" approach. In Iraq, that left tens of thousands of people dead. Oh, and North Korea has nukes, did I mention that?
Between April and September 10, 2001, the Federal Aviation Administration received 52 separate intelligence briefs that mentioned Osama bin Laden and/or al Qaeda. The administration blocked release of the 9/11 commission report on this information for five months. Hmm, February, January, December, November...October? No, there's no coincidence there. Does Secretary Rice still maintain there was "no way to predict" the attack?
The Washington Post conducted a survey that revealed 63% of Americans don't understand that Bush's plan for Social Security involves borrowing trillions. Thirty-nine percent don't understand that under Bush's plan retirees could receive less than they do under the current system. And 70% believe that cost of living has risen faster than wages over the last twenty years, whereas the opposite is true. Current Social Security benefits are tied to wages, but Bush wants to change that, which "would result in significantly lower guaranteed benefits for future generations, according to both supporters and opponents."
The trade deficit hit a record $618 billion last year. The Treasury Secretary says that's good news, it shows how strong our economy is because Americans are buying so many foreign goods. I might buy that as an explanation/rationalization for a moderate imbalance in favor of imports, but a record deficit? It's like when Bush said the growing insurgency in Iraq was a sign of our success there. Up is down, black is white, record debt is a strong economy.
Salon.com reports that the White House gave a press pass to a partisan hack posing as an accredited journalist under a penname, who was then called upon during one of Bush's rare press conferences where he deployed a planted question using a fake quote he attributed to Senate Minority Leader Reid. According to independent investigations, his "credentials" are from a two-day $50 course. Incidentally, the person who owns this "reporter's" personal website also owns "the gay-themed sites hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescorts.com and militaryescortsm4m.com."
Why does anyone find a reason to believe anything Bush or any member of his administration says? I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him.