Paeans to George W. Bush that he wouldn't acknowledge

Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2009 08:58 am
January 4, 2009
New York Times Op-Ed Columnist
A President Forgotten but Not Gone

WE like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians like Frank Langella. So here, too, George W. Bush has let us down. Even the banality of evil is too grandiose a concept for 43. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Josh Brolin and Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He’s the reckless Yalie Tom Buchanan, not Gatsby. He is smaller than life.

The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is. It stretches from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship. The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement. We are still trying to compute it.

The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is empty as well. Bush’s first and last photo-ops in Iraq could serve as bookends to his entire tenure. On Thanksgiving weekend 2003, even as the Iraqi insurgency was spiraling, his secret trip to the war zone was a P.R. slam-dunk. The photo of the beaming commander in chief bearing a supersized decorative turkey for the troops was designed to make every front page and newscast in the country, and it did. Five years later, in what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.

He tried to spin the ruckus as another victory for his administration’s program of democracy promotion. “That’s what people do in a free society,” he said. He had made the same claim three years ago after the Palestinian elections, championed by his “freedom agenda” (and almost $500 million of American aid), led to a landslide victory for Hamas. “There is something healthy about a system that does that,” Bush observed at the time, as he congratulated Palestinian voters for rejecting “the old guard.”

The ruins of his administration’s top policy priority can be found not only in Gaza but in the new “democratic” Iraq, where the local journalist who tossed the shoes was jailed without formal charges and may have been tortured. Almost simultaneously, opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused him of making politically motivated arrests of rival-party government officials in anticipation of this month’s much-postponed provincial elections.

Condi Rice blamed the press for the image that sullied Bush’s Iraq swan song: “That someone chose to throw a shoe at the president is what gets reported over and over.” We are back where we came in. This was the same line Donald Rumsfeld used to deny the significance of the looting in Baghdad during his famous “Stuff happens!” press conference of April 2003. “Images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over,” he said then, referring to the much-recycled video of a man stealing a vase from the Baghdad museum. “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?” he asked, playing for laughs.

The joke was on us. Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection. Lately he’s promised not to steal the spotlight from Barack Obama once he’s in retirement " as if he could do so by any act short of running naked through downtown Dallas. The latest CNN poll finds that only one-third of his fellow citizens want him to play a post-presidency role in public life.

Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days, like a salesman who hasn’t been told by the home office that his product has been discontinued. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan did. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, he has also embarked on a Bush “legacy project,” as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.

To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: he is once again claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as hifalutin as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short because the president is “not a big reader.”

Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin can be downloaded from the White House Web site: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results.” With big type, much white space, children’s-book-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?” and lots of color photos of the Bushes posing with blacks and troops, its 52 pages require a reading level closer to “My Pet Goat” than “The Stranger.”

This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).

If this is the best case that even Bush and his handlers can make for his achievements, you wonder why they bothered. Desperate for padding, they devote four risible pages to portraying our dear leader as a zealous environmentalist.

But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revelatory. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many print and television exit interviews.

The man who emerges is a narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever. It’s that arrogance that allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step. The president who famously couldn’t name a single mistake of his presidency at a press conference in 2004 still can’t.

He can, however, blame everyone else. Asked (by Charles Gibson) if he feels any responsibility for the economic meltdown, Bush says, “People will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived.” Asked if the 2008 election was a repudiation of his administration, he says “it was a repudiation of Republicans.”

“The attacks of September the 11th came out of nowhere,” he said in another interview, as if he hadn’t ignored frantic intelligence warnings that summer of a Qaeda attack. But it was an “intelligence failure,” not his relentless invocation of patently fictitious “mushroom clouds,” that sped us into Iraq. Did he take too long to change course in Iraq? “What seems like an eternity today,” he says, “may seem like a moment tomorrow.” Try telling that to the families of the thousands killed and maimed during that multiyear “moment” as Bush stubbornly stayed his disastrous course.

The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush’s final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. “I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting,” he told C-Span. “The president ends up carrying a lot of people’s grief in his soul,” he told Gibson. And so when he visits military hospitals, “it’s always been a healing experience,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But, incredibly enough, it’s his own healing he is concerned about, not that of the grievously wounded men and women he sent to war on false pretenses. It’s “the comforter in chief” who “gets comforted,” he explained, by “the character of the American people.” The American people are surely relieved to hear it.

With this level of self-regard, it’s no wonder that Bush could remain undeterred as he drove the country off a cliff. The smugness is reinforced not just by his history as the entitled scion of one of America’s aristocratic dynasties but also by his conviction that his every action is blessed from on high. Asked last month by an interviewer what he has learned from his time in office, he replied: “I’ve learned that God is good. All the time.”

Once again he is shifting the blame. This presidency was not about Him. Bush failed because in the end it was all about him.
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Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2009 09:01 am
Sympathy For the W?
In the end, a new portrait of Bush as tired, misunderstood, ruined
By Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronical Gate Columnist
Friday, January 2, 2009

You have to go deep. You have to scrape and dig and plow, hunt and dive and sigh and even then it might take so long and cost so much invaluable energy and ultimately prove to be so damn near impossible, you will wonder if it's even worth it and why the hell I am even trying because, well, sweet Jesus knows he doesn't deserve it in the first place.

But if you're so inclined, if the temperature of your temperament is just so, if that fourth glass of $10 recession-defying wine is making you feel unusually generous, maybe, just maybe you can muster a bit of sympathy for George W. Bush.

Possible? Insane? Blasphemous? Damn straight.

It's already happening. I've read a number of pieces and a few strange, sepia-toned articles of late (like this one) that, while certainly not daring to paint Bush with any sort of gushing, rose-colored, wasn't-he-an-unrecognized-genius brush of overt kindness, still attempt to give him a far larger dose of humanity and pathos than which might sit well with your very soul.

It's certainly not uncommon, this soft-focus retrospective thing. Every president gets it right about now -- the benefit-of-the-doubt overview, the look back in wistful pondering before the battered chief steps away for good and history gets hold of the whole package and makes it into various flavors of reconstituted mincemeat.

Writers of such pieces invariably comment on how tired and old the president now looks, how exhausted and beaten down, how eight years in office under that kind of constant pressure absolutely destroys your health, your marriage, your skin, your hair color, and by the way what about that legacy?

But with Bush -- the worst-regarded, least popular, most ethically offensive president most of us will ever know -- things are just little bit different. His is that most peculiar and disquieting of exit portraits, a slumpy little guy initially thought to be a middling and relatively harmless puppet, suddenly thrust into history's limelight by the most dire of events, who then squandered every drop of global goodwill and violated most every international law and whored away the very soul of the nation with far more dazzling, efficient success than anyone could have ever imagined.

The upshot is as painful as it is undeniable: Dubya is, whether we like it or not, one of the most extraordinary and influential presidents of all time. Imagine.

So then, would you care for a more intimate sense of just what sort of man Bush was? What hidden or lesser-known facets we might have missed, how it's possible that Dubya might've been slightly more complicated and interesting than anyone ever really imagined because we only imagine him as a squinty smirky inarticulate destroyer of worlds?

Here is Bush as the good listener. Bush as the simple but spirited debater. Bush as the inviter of disagreement (wait, what?), Bush as the thoughtful and open-minded (please, no gagging) evaluator of opposing argument before choosing his position and closing his little fist around it and never letting go no matter what, because that would look weak and indecisive and we just can't have that.

Bush as the family man. Bush as the master of friendly interpersonal relations. Bush as the dorky wise-crackin' fishing buddy. Bush as the war-weary, wizened, slightly deluded visionary whose vision just so happened to be horribly wrong in every possible way, but who nevertheless truly believed he was doing right by his confused and angry God, and probably still does, and doesn't that make him some sort of sad and tragic figure in our sad and tragic history?

Well, no, it doesn't. Pathetic? Yes. Pitiable? Maybe. But tragic? That implies honor gone wrong, integrity soured by unforeseen traumas, noble intent and spiritual purity ruined by dark forces beyond his control. Not a chance. Bush might not be the cleverest dolt in the playground, but he is far from ignorant of the dishonest, crony-laden, criminal slant of nearly every decision his administration has ever made.

To my mind, even the softest portrait of W merely raises the larger question, perhaps not to be fully answered for many years: How could such a mediocre and unimaginative human cause so much damage? How could this frat house daddy's-boy dullard so perfectly undermine America's fundamental identity and disfigure every major department of government and bring the nation to its knees? Indeed, unpacking that one may take awhile.

Other questions, though, are not so difficult. Questions like: Has it really been all that bad? Have we been too hard on the poor schlub? Does Bush really deserve such white-hot derision and international contempt? Or is he just lost and misunderstood, like a sad clown with a big shotgun and an unfortunate muscle spasm? I think we can all answer those without the slightest hesitation.

There is, after all, no escaping history. There is no escaping the hard reality of our gutted and mangled nation, how the past eight years are simply some of the most dismal and corrupt in our nation's history, a modern take on the Dark Ages. And there is also no escaping the sense that we barely got out of it alive.

But you know what? Maybe there will eventually be a tiny bit of room for empathy for George W. Bush, for feeling a tiny bit sorry for the guy for being so inept and so deeply loathed and for never really understanding the scope of the damage he was doing, or who was really pulling the strings.

They say forgiveness, after all, is one of the highest virtues of man. Particularly forgiveness of those who have wronged us, harmed us, wreaked violence and idiocy and a homophobic war-loving fundamentalist Jesus upon us. The question then becomes, how do you begin? Where do you look inside yourself for a hint of mercy and absolution for this most banal and regrettable of evil overlords?

Maybe you don't look inside at all. Maybe, at least initially, it's more effective to do the exact opposite, to step back and take the long view, widen your lens until it encompasses the entire insane pageant of life, until you can't help but see Bush and all his concomitant demons for what they really are: a blip, a blink, a shrug of God, a speck of sad lint floating through the giant, never-ending cosmic circus.

Hey, it might not be forgiveness, but it's a start.
0 Replies
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2009 09:05 am
Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008
The Bush Presidency, Eight Years Later
By Michael Kinsley
Time Magazine

"We will reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House." "the 2000 Republican platform

But they never did. Eight years later, the barricades remain. It was a phony issue, of course " just another stick with which to beat Bill Clinton, who closed the road at the insistence of the Secret Service. In an interview with PBS a month after Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney stated the obvious: "Pennsylvania Avenue ought to stay closed because, as a fact, if somebody were to detonate a truck bomb in front of the White House, it would probably level the White House, and that is unacceptable."

Sept. 11 is the excuse for many of the Bush Administration's failures and disappointments. It is also the basis for the one great claim made on George W. Bush's behalf: At least he has protected us from terrorism. In the seven years since that day, there has not been another foreign-terrorist attack on the American homeland. The trouble is that there were no foreign-terrorist attacks on the American homeland in the seven years before 9/11 either. The risk of another terrorist attack didn't increase on 9/11 " only our awareness of the risk. The Bush Administration took office mocking the concern that someone might blow up the White House but soon enough was echoing that concern. (See pictures of the White House.)

The platform on which Bush entered the presidency eight years ago comes from a lost world, in which even the party out of power saw an America of unthreatened prosperity and security. "Yesterday's wildest dreams are today's realities, and there is no limit on the promise of tomorrow," the GOP said. The biggest foreign policy challenge America faced in 2000, according to this party document, was to avoid misusing our enormous power. "Earlier generations defended America through great trials," the platform declared. Then it quoted the Republican nominee, Bush, on the importance of showing the "modesty of true strength. The humility of real greatness." Even enthusiasts of Bush's foreign policy would not describe it as displaying the humility of true greatness. More like the pugnacity of lost greatness. All that talk of one superpower " us " bestriding a "unipolar" world seems as dated as Seinfeld reruns.

The measure of Bush's failure as President is not his broken promises or unmet goals. All politicians break their promises, and none achieve the goals of their soaring rhetoric. But Bush stands out for abandoning the promises and goals that got him elected, taking up the opposite ones and then failing to keep or meet those.

In 2000 Bush excoriated his predecessor for launching wars without an "exit strategy." In 2008 he leaves his successor a war that has already lasted for years longer than America's involvement in World War II, with no exit in sight. Bush got elected warning against using U.S. troops for "nation-building" " meaning any goal beyond immediate military necessity. Then once in office, he promised to bring democracy to the entire Middle East and ended up destroying Iraq as a nation in the name of saving it.

Bush leaves the stage still justifying his Iraq disaster on the grounds that prewar intelligence showed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He acknowledges that this intelligence was wrong but maintains he relied on it in good faith. Who cares? What matters is whether there were WMD, not how sincerely he believed there were. WMD were how he justified the war. How do you explain to families of the war dead why a war must go on for years after even the man who started it thinks starting it was based on a mistake?

The current economic calamity was a bolt from the blue to many who should have known better, but only one of them had been in charge for the previous eight years. Only one spent much of that time bragging about how swell everything was, thanks to him. Many shared the heedless assumption that there was no limit on how much government or individuals could borrow, but only one turned record surpluses into record deficits. And only one lectured us, Reagan-style, about burdensome government and then, almost casually, expanded government's role in the economy more than any President since F.D.R.: taking over banks and bailing out the auto companies.

O.K., but didn't he do anything right? Well, he came up with serious money to treat AIDS and malaria in Africa. He used the bully pulpit to embrace Muslims in the great post-9/11 American bear hug, when there was real danger of the opposite reaction. And you could say that Bush's disastrous presidency vindicates democracy. Let's not forget that, in 2000, more people voted for the other guy.
0 Replies
Reply Mon 5 Jan, 2009 10:01 pm
I began to feel ill into the second article. Screw Bush is all I can say about it. Once we have dropped him we need to sterilize our hands.
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Reply Tue 6 Jan, 2009 12:17 pm
George Bush's legacy of failure
Cliff Schecter guardian.co.uk
Sunday 4 January 2009

The president's defenders are puffing his record in a positive light - but reality keeps getting in the way

With only days left until his term expires, it appears that the Bush legacy project, an attempt by the usual corps of serial sycophants to rehabilitate the lame-duck generalissimo's image, is falling upon the deaf ears and self-gouged eyes of an American public sickened by the last eight years.

Yes, the Bush cabal just couldn't clear out of town without trying to complete one last propaganda project for the Gipper, or the Decider, if you will. Karl Rove, the genius who predicted a permanent Republican majority right before destroying a temporary one, and Karen Hughes, who likes to create mutual understanding in the Middle East by explaining that God appears in the US constitution, have been unleashing a wave of their finest shock and awe talking points. To listen to them is to hear how black is white, up is down and Bush has been more Churchill than Ceausescu.

Condi Rice, the very Siren Song of Security who thought a 2001 presidential daily briefing entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US" meant the al-Qaida leader was thinking of investing in beachfront property in the greater Fort Lauderdale metro area, has also added her prescient voice to the chorus.

Our fearless chief diplomat's latest missive, reminding us that "the war on terror has failed to eliminate al-Qaida and its leader Osama bin Laden, but the US-led coalition and Iraq are close to defeating the group's Iraq branch", would be pretty cool if it weren't for the tiny hiccup that there was no "Iraq branch" of al-Qaida until she and her superiors chose to idiotically invade that country, and then do everything just short of providing al-Qaida in Iraq with an infusion of venture capital.

But the biggest problem for defenders of Bush's vast array of "accomplishments" is not even the cast of nincompoops trying to portray him as the "misunderestimated" heir to President Harry Truman. Their biggest obstacle appears to be reality itself. The American people have a way of getting it right, if not always immediately, and Bush's handlers haven't quite been able to force us all into the Matrix. Yet.

Right on time, CNN has come out with a poll that proves we know more than Mr Permanent Majority after all.

When asked whether Bush was "tough enough for the job", 49% of Americans responded yes, and 51% said no (even though he cleared brush in a very forceful manner! And wore a really tight flight suit! And said "Bring 'em on!"). That, by the way, is the best he performed on any question.

Is the president a person you admire? Seventeen percent yes, 72% no, but perhaps Bush legacy project peddlers can win over that 1% still thinking about it. Does Bush inspire confidence? Twenty percent said yes, and 80% said no. Did he manage the government effectively? Only 25% think he did, while 75% said not so much. Finally, did Bush bring the kind of change the country needed? A whopping 13% answered in the affirmative.

This is the way the rest of the poll goes. Whether it is about "getting things done" or "uniting the country" " two of Bush's campaign pledges " he is lucky to approach a 33% positive score. Saying these numbers ain't pretty is in the same range of euphemistic happy-talk as claiming the economy has hit a rough patch or the Cubs haven't won a World Series recently.

So when their two-page document of talking points comes your way reminding you that "Bush kept us safe after 9/11" (except for the anthrax attack, the shoe-bomber plot foiled by alert airline passengers and the more than 4,000 American kids unnecessarily killed in Iraq) and "Bush lifted the economy with tax cuts after 2001" (try Googling in succession: "sub-prime mortgages", "Bernie Madoff" and "Enron" for Bushenomics in action), much like CNN poll respondents, you can take the antidote by just refusing to close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears and scream "nah, nah, nah, nah nah" until no longer cognisant.

As for history exonerating Bush 43 (as Laura Bush claims will soon occur), Herbert Hoover somehow doesn't elicit evocations of ecstasy 80 years later, and LBJ is still remembered more for a very bad war than his landmark legislative accomplishments. Now try combining starting a stupid war with overseeing an economic meltdown.

See where this is going, Laura?

Just two months ago, I met with Julie Blust, communications director for the National Bush Legacy Bus Tour sponsored by Americans United for Change. Upon it's arrival in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, she took me aboard this 45-foot long, 28-ton monument to Dubya's impact on the country and planet, from Katrina to corrupt no-bid contractors, economic destruction to "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Upon seeing the real record, as it appeared in video, picture and chart form on the walls of the Bush bus, it would be impossible to draw any other conclusion than that this man was a one-man wrecking crew (well, two and a half if you include Cheney). And that he'll saunter up alongside James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding as the very definition of Oval Office calamity.

There is really only one arguable legacy of Bush's White House tenure that is a step forward for the US and all mankind. It's called President Obama.
Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 09:44 am
W. and the damage done
President Bush inherited a peaceful, prosperous America. As he exits, Salon consults experts in seven fields to try to assess the devastation.

By Vincent Rossmeier and Gabriel Winant
an. 8, 2009

After a couple of presidential terms, mismanagement in every area of policy -- foreign, domestic, even extraterrestrial -- starts to add up. When George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001, he inherited peace and prosperity. The military, the Constitution and New Orleans were intact and the country had a budget surplus of $128 billion. Now he's about to dash out the door, leaving a large, unpaid bill for his successors to pay.

To get a sense of what kind of balance is due, Salon spoke to experts in seven different fields. Wherever possible, we have tried to express the damage done in concrete terms -- sometimes in lives lost, but most often just in money spent and dollars owed. What follows is an incomplete inventory of eight years of mis- and malfeasance, but then a fuller accounting would run, um, somewhat longer than three pages.


Until not too long ago, President Bush's supporters could be heard to argue that the economy was the unheralded success story of his administration. In 2006, Larry Kudlow called it "The Greatest Story Never Told." While praising Bush, Ramesh Ponnuru decried the unfairness of it all. "It seems to happen every week: Some new piece of good economic news comes out, and Republicans sink a little deeper in the polls." To share their admiration, it helped if you ignored the way the wealth was being distributed. Or if you were a repo man.

But the whole debate became moot on Sept. 15, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Now the economy may be the most burdensome of all the Bush legacies that Barack Obama will have to shoulder.

The current financial and economic crisis has grown so massive, consuming everything in sight, that one might be able to forget that it started with bad mortgages. Well, one could try to forget, as long as one still has a home, or is not among the nearly one in four mortgage-holders whose homes are worth less than the debt on their homes.

How bad is it? "An average recession is one in which we lose about 3 percent of GDP. Three percent of GDP is about $500 billion," UCLA economist Lee Ohanian told Salon. "It's not inconceivable that this could be twice as worse, which would be close to a trillion."

How much poorer are we going to get before we start getting richer again? Here are some (scary, morbid, gruesome) clues.

Expected shortfall of gross domestic product below normal growth path in 2009: $900 billion

Decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from its decade high to its value at the close of business, Jan. 7, 2009: 5,394.83, or 38.1 percent

Number of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000: 3.78 million

Increase in number of unemployed workers from 2001 to 2008: 4 million, a jump of 2.7 percent in the unemployment rate

Real median household income according to the 2000 census, adjusted for inflation: $51,804

Real median household income as of August 2007: $50,233

Of course, the government didn't sit idly by while our financial future was disappearing down the drain. Instead, the feds have pumped in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, hoping to juice lending and public spending.

Cost of finance industry bailout: $350 billion, with another $350 pending congressional approval

Cost of auto industry bailout: $17.4 billion, so far

And even though there's widespread agreement among economists that the government needs to be spending a large sum of money on an economic stimulus package, it still won't look pretty on the public balance sheet.

National debt: $10.6 trillion

Amount of that debt owned by China: At least $800 billion


When that bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 145, we started to remember that the prosaic details of infrastructure policy matter. Nuts and bolts can mean, quite literally, life and death. And the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi is not the only American thoroughfare suffering from underfunding and neglect.

Number of bridges judged structurally deficient: 70,000.

Number of major roads in mediocre or poor condition: Roughly one-third.

Meanwhile, the roads aren't only worn down, they're overcrowded. In part, we can thank an administration that gave tax credits to SUV buyers while targeting public transit for cuts.

The Bush White House's proposed cuts in public transit funding for fiscal year 2009: $202.1 million.

Though he capitulated in the face of overwhelming congressional majorities in favor of Amtrak, Bush threatened repeatedly to defund the national rail system altogether.

Target level of federal funding for Amtrak proposed by Bush in 2005: $0.

Budget cutting on that scale causes a decaying, obsolescent infrastructure. Fixing it won't come cheap. On Dec. 6, during his weekly address to the nation, President-elect Obama promised t0 make "the single largest investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s."

President-elect Obama's proposed infrastructure program: $375 billion to $475 billion.

Amount spent by FDR's Works Progress Administration, up through 1941: $11.4 billion -- adjusted for inflation, that's about $170 billion.


How many times have you heard, "With the money we spend in Iraq in just one week ..."?

So how much has that been, exactly? Linda Bilmes, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and co-author with economist Joseph Stiglitz of "The Three Trillion Dollar War," thinks the figure in her book's title is, if anything, too low. (Bilmes and Stiglitz put the full price of all Bush administration debacles at $10 trillion in their own excellent damage report for the January issue of Harper's.)

"I think it's still a good figure. It was always a conservative figure. We essentially just took the amount of money that we spent to date, the sort of minimum that we are going to need to spend on veterans' disability benefits, veterans' disability, weapons that have been used up, interest on the money we've borrowed. And then there are some of the economic costs. There are social costs, like parents or spouses of wounded veterans who have to leave their jobs after parents come back. And there are economic costs, such as oil disruption."

Cost: From the start of the war through 2017, "You can't get any lower than $3 trillion."

And a gradual drawdown of troops isn't going to make it better, Bilmes says. Maintaining any presence at all in Iraq entails what economists call high fixed costs. Whether we've got 10,000 troops or 15,000 at a base, that base is still going to cost a lot to maintain. Hence, when the British withdrew half their forces from Basra, their costs fell by an almost imperceptible 3 percent.

Since $3 trillion is hard to digest, let's itemize some of the costs in Bilmes and Stiglitz's comprehensive figure.

Amount of money earned by a married U.S. Army sergeant with children per day in Iraq in 2007: $170

Amount of money earned by a Blackwater military contractor per day: $600

Number of U.S. military deaths as of Jan. 7, 2009: 4,222

Average cost of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle: $3.166 million

Cost of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad: $592 million

Cost to conduct the war per month: $12 billion

Amount the Bush administration estimated the war would cost from start to finish: $60 billion

The cost to "fix" the military: Meaning, to restore battered and depleted personnel and materiel. Larry Korb, a defense analyst at the Center for American Progress, thinks we're talking about $250 billion. "In terms of materiel, obviously, if you're talking fiscally, you've got the reset cost of the equipment that's been destroyed, used up, burned in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you've got at least $100 billion. So that's one cost, because you assume this is going to last longer, when you bought it." And then there's personnel: recruitment bonuses, the new GI bill, pay raises. Korb's guess is about another $150 billion there. And this isn't money that we'll necessarily recoup when the war ends. "You can never roll those back," he says of the GI bill and bonuses.

And, while these estimates overlap with those made by Bilmes, they don't even account for most of the increased defense spending. The Pentagon's budget is up about 40 percent since Bush's inauguration, says Korb. "I'd only say about one-quarter is due to the things we spoke about. The other is just poor management. You have the cost overruns in weapons systems, $400 billion in weapons systems since they came in."


One of President Obama's important early tasks will be dismantling the culture of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the web of white papers and executive orders that jeopardized habeas corpus and allowed -- encouraged -- torture.

The damage to the image of America may be long-term. Karen Greenberg, the executive director of New York University's Center on Law and Security, says that the stain on America's reputation among foreigners and, for that matter, Americans can never be removed.

"And it sullied -- not so much our reputation, because that's the obvious -- it sullied on some level how we think of ourselves," says Greenberg. "You can't undo the damage that torture's done. You took something out of a box that has vast repercussions, and gave people a chance and a reason to defend a practice that brings out rather horrific things about human beings for very little, for no gain. So the way to go about the torture thing is in a very definitive way. Which is, we're not going to do it. The policy prescription is not to have a policy. We don't torture."

Our methods in the war on terror, says Greenberg, expose a fundamental lack of faith in the ability of democracy to achieve policy successes. "The biggest cost of torture was that it eroded the confidence of the American people. Because if you choose bullying as your method, you are saying, we don't trust ourselves to have the skills, whether they are the intelligence skills, or the law enforcement skills, to be the best in the game and the best and the brightest on the issues that are part of our national security."

But there are also quantifiable costs to holding enemy combatants indefinitely, and creating military commissions to try them.

Number of detainees who have died in U.S custody: Human Rights First claimed that as of February 2006, nearly 100 had died, a figure the Pentagon disputes. In addition, Amnesty International says that more than three dozen individuals believed to have been in U.S. custody have essentially disappeared.

Cost of building and staffing detention facilities at Guantánamo: More than $400 million as of December 2008. Yet to be determined: the price for trying the 250 detainees who remain, or any civil suits that might be forthcoming.


When Katrina's winds were finally quiet, they had left in their wake a mountain of statistical testimony to the power of a hurricane and the incompetence of the government officials who were supposed to deal with it. Fifteen million people on the Gulf Coast were affected and 400,000 jobs and 275,000 homes were lost. The most important statistic of all is the number of deaths. Estimates vary greatly, but deaths directly caused by the August 2005 storm are generally believed to be in excess of 1,100, perhaps about 1,500, with total direct and indirect deaths in excess of 1,800. Another 700 or so people are still missing. Many thousands more, however, who fled Louisiana to escape the storm have never come back. The city's population is still only at 72 percent of its pre-Katrina level of 450,000. Louisiana and North Dakota are the only two states whose populations declined between 2000 and 2008.

But let's talk about money.

Cost to the federal government: As of mid-2006, Congress had approved $122 billion in funds for the region. FEMA had paid $19 billion.

Cost to insurers: A month after the storm, the insurance industry gave the preliminary figure of $34.4 billion. A year later, the number was $40.6 billion. Harry Richardson, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California and editor of a collection of scholarly articles called "Natural Disaster Analysis After Katrina," notes, grimly, that any assessments of the storm's impact should also include financial losses because of fatality. "Generally we estimate the value of life -- even for poor people -- at about $5 million per person. So if you wanted to estimate the cost in human life, you could multiply that [times the number of deaths]." At 1,800 deaths, that's another $9 billion or so.

There has also been a financial impact on people who were spared the wrath of Katrina, who have never heard of a levee and live far from Louisiana and Mississippi. Home insurance has become more costly and/or more difficult to procure. After the storm, many national insurers simply stopped issuing policies for homes that were too close to coastlines.

Cost to repair the levees in New Orleans: $1 billion, with no guarantee, as sea levels rise and hurricanes increase in intensity, that they will hold.


Americans are ambivalent about healthcare reform. They consistently cite it as a top issue in polls, and promising action on healthcare helped Bill Clinton get elected in 1992 and Barack Obama win 16 years later. But they've proved skittish about the actual details, as Clinton learned once in office. Victor Fuchs, an emeritus health economist at Stanford, says that "the public has shown no disposition to support any significant reform."

The Bush administration embodied this schizophrenia. Public concern about the rising cost of heathcare led Bush to push for the the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act in 2003, which included a prescription drug program called Medicare Part D that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2006. It was a somewhat compassionate idea, since it helped seniors pay for needed medicine, but it wasn't exactly conservative. Sure, it protected profits for drug companies, but only by forcing the government to pay the high prices that consumers had been paying. To the chagrin of Republicans who helped pass it, Bush's drug plan has turned out to be one of the biggest new entitlement programs of the past 40 years. (It only won enough Republican support to pass Congress because the Bush administration lowballed the actual price.)

Cost of implementing Medicare Part D: $534 billion

Difference in price of brand-name drugs, U.S. and Canada, in 2004: 70 percent more expensive in the U.S.

Increase in average prescription drug price between 1997 and 2007: From $35.72 to $69.91

While buying drugs for seniors, Bush denied healthcare to kids. In 2007, he vetoed an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which gives federal money to the states to help provide health insurance for families with children.

Number of children kept off of SCHIP because of Bush's veto: 4 million

Meanwhile, the nation's underlying healthcare problems remain unaddressed. Healthcare grows more expensive, and the number of uninsured Americans, as a percentage of the population, is not decreasing.

Number of uninsured Americans: 46 million, or 18 percent of the population under 65. Says Roger Hickey, founder and co-director of the progressive political organization Campaign for America's Future, "That's about 16 percent of the population. A larger and larger percentage of the public is losing their employer-sponsored healthcare because it's become so expensive for employers to insure their people. And that's the backbone of our system."

Increase in the amount that the average employee pays toward employer-provided healthcare since 2000: 120 percent

According to Hickey, the number of uninsured has fluctuated over the past eight years, but the figure is deceiving. "I can't say that it's gotten dramatically worse. ut there was an analysis when the latest numbers came out about three months ago that showed the only thing that kept it from getting worse is that more and more people are signing up for public programs like Medicaid." Hickey expects the number to spike upward very soon. "People are losing their jobs -- there's about to be a huge leap in the uninsured as the recession hits."

Hickey characterizes Bush's expansion of Medicare as "a wasted opportunity," because of corporate influence on drug pricing. "The legislation was written by drug company lobbyists and lobbyists-to-be like Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who wrote the bill and then took a job as the head of PHRMA, the pharmaceutical lobbying organization ... There are actually provisions in that law that protect drug companies from competitive pricing."

Harvard Business School professor Regina E. Herzlinger, author of the book "Who Killed Health Care?," says that the scariest American healthcare stat is probably how much we spend on it as a percentage of our economy.

Cost of healthcare as a percentage of GDP: 16 percent

Ratio of cost of healthcare to cost of national defense: 4.3-1

"As an economist," says Herzlinger, "I am tremendously concerned about the ever increasing fraction of our GDP that's taken up with health care. Most of the countries that we compete with average 9 to 10 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend about 70 percent more and I cannot honestly say that we're getting 70 percent better health care in the U.S."

"I put this squarely at the foot of the Bush Administration. They were purportedly people who were interested in helping consumers but they didn't do a lot of the things that could have helped the consumer."


Number of nine warmest years on record that have occurred since 2000: Seven.

How much has the Arctic ice cap shrunk? 50 percent since the turn of the century.

By now, the stories of global warming denial and outright censorship of government scientists by the Bush administration are well known. The incoming Obama administration admits the existence of climate change, but a decade has been lost. Meanwhile, there is both a tremendous and growing financial impact from existing climate change, and the specter of the enormous economic commitment that would be required just to return global temperatures to status quo.

"It's difficult to put a cost on sea level rise of 40 feet, or the Southwest becoming desertified," says physicist and Salon contributor Joseph Romm. "[But i]f you were to ascribe to Bush a significant fraction of the cost of catastrophic climate change, then it's a number that's going to dwarf all the numbers you have."

The Stern Review, a report commissioned by the British government, pegs the potential cost of unaddressed climate change at 20 percent of world gross domestic product. While that's an immense figure, it doesn't adequately conjure the Armageddon we're facing, Romm says.

"From my view, you have to start talking, at some point in the second half of the century, about triaging coastal cities. You're certainly not going to try to save every coastal city. Galveston is probably a write-off, but you're certainly going to try to save Houston. You're not going to save the Florida Keys but you'd save Miami, certainly, New York, the island of Manhattan. But it's one thing to save them from a few feet of sea level rise. It's another thing when we're talking about 20 or 100."

So, what's it going to run us to save Manhattan from the sea? It means the replacement in the next three or four decades of all the infrastructure of the developed world, followed by a similar effort in the rest of the world in the second half of the century.

Cost to fix: 2 or 3 percent of global GDP, a couple trillion a year.

The good news: "Because we're so rich," says Romm, "avoiding catastrophe is a huge amount of money in absolute terms, but it's pocket change relative to our wealth."

0 Replies
Reply Fri 16 Jan, 2009 10:14 pm
Hey, come on now, BBB. He's said some nice things about Obama. Let's give credit where credit is due.
Reply Sat 17 Jan, 2009 09:10 pm
I hope he lives to be a hundred. And is in great pain every second.
0 Replies
Merry Andrew
Reply Sun 18 Jan, 2009 06:48 am
Funny thing -- every non-A2Ker that I've forwarded these gems to has had the exact same response: "You're preaching to the choir."
0 Replies

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