Friday, December 09, 2005

LIFE IN IRAQ IS GETTING BETTER


"Truly, truly, truly, lalalalala," said Fuhrer Bush in an improptu and unscripted press conference in the Rose Garden this morning.

"They tell me that life is much better for the average Iraqi than it was a year ago. Sure, they continue to sacrifice their lives so that they can enjoy our freedoms. But what price is too high for the opportunity to have clean water, electricity 10 hours a day and all the Coca Cola you can drink?

"Since November 1st, only 803 Iraqi civilians have martyred themselves and 522 have gotten hurt, while 255 Iraqi soldiers and police also martyred themselves so that their survivors can all share in the Christ-given gifts of indoor plumbin' and cheap porn DVDs," Bush added.

"When they bite the dust, and I do mean dust - boy it's a dusty country, and it's hard work dyin' for our cause, I mean their country - ya uh huh. They know, man, woman, and child - though who can tell the women with all dem clothes they wear - that whenever they step onto a bus or walk to work - those 50 percent that have jobs, I mean - or go to the local open air bazarre for a loaf of pita and a cancerous fish pulled from the riva', there's a damn good chance at bein' blown up or shot at. And those cute lil' Ayrab kids. Well school aint gonna help 'em much anyways. It's not like our American translators actually know how to write text books for all dem skools we're thinkin' 'bout rebuildin'.

"Listen, they live in a war zone. And it's better that Iraqis are making the sacrifice, 'cause if they don't, we'll be makin' it right here. Uh huh, yep. Well hey, it is the War of Terror, I mean the War on Terror, and it's pretty terrifying over there."

Bush closed by saying that he'd be happy to hold more impromptu press briefings, anytime he can take a break from his strategy meetings with Jack Daniels.





Thursday, December 08, 2005

BUSH'S MISSES AND LIES OF THE WEEK

Earlier in the week, Fuhrer Bush spoke to one of his exclusive and non-confrontational audiences at a Deere plant in Kernersville, NC about a wide variety of subjects. Here are some of his misses and lies:

HSAs or Health Savings Accounts

Bush was correct about there being over a million HSAs to date, and 40 percent of owners being previously uninsured.

Bush suggested that HSAs made health coverage "more affordable." Not necessarily and not totally true. While the high-deductible insurance policy portion of a health plan that includes a HSA account is usually cheaper than a traditional plan, you still need to set aside money - usually each month - to cover expenses that the high-deductible plan does not cover. So while your insurance premiums, and those of your employer, may be lower, your actual out-of-pocket health expenses can often be higher. These plans work great for high income earners; they can afford several hundred dollars a month in out-of-pocket. Most middle- and lower-income earners cannot. Further, for people that have health problems, chronic or otherwise, these plans can be financially worse than traditional high-premium/low deductible plans. So if you are healthy and make boatloads of money, HSAs may be perfect for you. For the rest of us? You might forget it.

Bush claimed that "your Medicare plan includes prescription drug coverage." NOT TRUE. The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan is completely separate from your normal Medicare plan. You pay extra premiums for the drug plan. And many eligible people are opting to not subscribe because it does not make financial sense for lots of people. Further, for the people that may need good drug coverage the most, those that need lots of drugs and perhaps do not qualify for Medicaid, Bush's Medicare drug plan still does not make health care affordable. Need we open the universal coverage discussion once again? It would truly make health care affordable and accessible. And not bankrupt the nation, as the Medicare drug plan threatens.

PENSION PLANS

Bush claimed that "40 percent of private companies have traditional pension plans." Sorry, NOT TRUE, or at the least DELIBERATELY MISLEADING.

  • Only about 22 percent of private industry workers have traditional, aka defined benefit pension plans.
  • 2/3rds of pension benefits go to only 15 percent of households with more than $100k in income.
  • Only 6 percent of workers earning less than $100k participate actually participate in pension plans.
Bush took the opportunity to mention the various incidences of multi-billion dollar pension plan default by his much-heralded private industry. You know, the ones that he and his family trust with the future of America? Bush slammed private industry and dictated, "Put enough money in the account to fulfill the promise."

And so Mr. President, what really is the difference between your demand that private industry keeps its promises to its workers (rather than inflating current profit for its shareholders, by the way) and your unwillingness to keep Social Security's promises to its "shareholders?"


SOCIAL SECURITY

An ongoing part of Bush's lies about Social Security in his effort to roll back future benefits and thereby devastating tens of millions of peoples' retirement years, he claims that the definition of "unfunded liabilities" (which he claims that Social Security has) is "fewer workers paying into Social Security and Medicare."

This just is not the definition of unfunded liabilities. The definition is:

"The actuarial calculation of the value of future benefits payable less the net assets of the fund at a given balance date."

True, there is an unfunded liability in Social Security. But not as Bush inaccurately and misleadingly defines it.

The following from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


"The deficit in Social Security over the next 75 years equals 0.7 percent of GDP according to the Social Security actuaries and 0.4 percent of GDP according to CBO. By comparison, the cost over 75 years of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, if the tax cuts are made permanent and not eroded over time by the Alternative Minimum Tax, is roughly two percent of GDP.

"In other words, if the tax cuts are made permanent, their cost will be three to five times larger over the next 75 years than the size of the Social Security shortfall. Furthermore, just the cost of the tax cuts for the top one percent of the population — a group whose annual incomes average about $1 million — is roughly the same size as the Social Security shortfall (0.6 percent of GDP).

"Even if one uses “infinite horizon” estimates, the cost of the tax cut still exceeds the size of the Social Security shortfall. The projected cost of the tax cuts, if made permanent, is $18 trillion under this measure, as compared to the $10 trillion projection for the Social Security imbalance."

Also, here's a good accounting about Five Myths About Social Security.

ENERGY POLICY

Bush stated that we need to be "less dependent on foreign energy." That the "high costs are a tax on working people and affect national security."

Oddly, Bush proclaimed that we "need to get more foreign natural gas into the United States."

PLEASE! Help me out here. We need to be "less dependent on foreign energy" but we need to "get more foreign natural gas?"

Well Bush's oil friends are doing all they can to increase our dependence on foreign natural gas, thank you. We don't need government incentives and policies to accomplish that.

Currently, domestic production of natural gas accounts for 84 percent of our consumption. Versus 39 percent of oil. But industry is expanding imports of LNG (liquified natural gas) by an astounding 15.8 percent annual rate and plans to continue that indefinitely, according to the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy.

To top that "less dependent on foreign energy" trend by Bush' friends and family, we actually export .26 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas to Mexico.

Now that's an energy plan!


On December 7, during a propaganda speech to the Council on Foreign Relations - which gave him a tepid response by the way - Bush trumpeted his poorly named "War on Terror."

"We're takin' the fight to those who attacked us," he said. That's right, straight to those impoverished and downtrodden Iraqi citizens that were responsible for 9/11.

Referring to the folks that are fighting our occupation of Iraq, Bush said that "
many are foreigners." Virtually every credible source for data on who is actually fighting us in Iraq states that somewhere between 5 percent and ten percent of the evil forces arrayed against our mighty military are foreign fighters.

The enemies in Iraq pose
"a direct threat to the American people." Oooooh scareeeeee! I had better look out for those RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and IEDs (improvised explosive devices, aka roadside bombs) in my local Denver neighborhood.

And how about those 30,000 Iraqi teachers that we have trained? That's Bush-speak, not me.

This from Portal Iraq on July 27, 2005:


"Training recently began for the Master Trainers under the teacher training initiative of the Basic Education program.

"Twenty-five Iraqi Master Trainers are currently participating in a five-week training in Amman, Jordan conducted by Hashemite University experts and international/regional consultants.

"The training will help the Master Trainers develop teacher training strategies, methodologies and resource materials.

"When finished, they will return to Iraq to train a core group of 440 teacher trainers in the 21 Directorates of Education in Iraq. These teacher trainers will then begin the process of training 50,000 teachers for grades one to three."


Bush touted the progress that has been made in Najaf, one of Shi'a Islam's holiest cities. It had earlier been devastated by American forces and subsequently by civil strife between competing Iraqi Muslim sects. Following is a September 18, 2005 article from The New York Times.

Najaf reconstruction struggles to get off the ground

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

September 18, 2005

NAJAF, Iraq – In April, Najaf's main maternity hospital received rare good news: An $8 million refurbishment program financed by the United States would begin immediately. But five months and millions of dollars later, the hospital administrators say they have little but frustration to show for it.

"They keep saying there's renovation but, frankly, we don't see it," said Liqaa al-Yassin, director of the hospital, her exasperated face framed by a black hijab, or scarf. "Each day I sign in 80 workers, and sometimes I see them, sometimes I don't."

She walks a visitor through the hospital's hot, dim halls, the peeling linoleum on the floors stained by the thousands of lighted cigarettes crushed underfoot. Anxious women, draped in black head-to-foot chadors, or veils, sit in the sultry rooms fanning their sick children.

"My child has heart problems, she can't take this heat," pleaded one mother as Yassin walked past.

The United States has poured more than $200 million into reconstruction projects in this city, part of the $10 billion it has spent to rebuild Iraq. Najaf is widely cited by the military as one of the success stories in that effort, but U.S. officers involved in the rebuilding say that reconstruction projects here, as elsewhere in the country, are hobbled by poor planning, corrupt contractors and a lack of continuity among the rotating coalition officers charged with overseeing the spending.

"This country is filled with projects that were never completed or were completed and have never been used," said a frustrated civil affairs officer who asked not to be identified because he had not been cleared to speak about the reconstruction.

Najaf would seem to be one of Iraq's most promising places to rebuild. As a Shiite holy place, it has few Sunnis and, as a result, none of the insurgent attacks and sabotage that plague other parts of the country. Just a year after fighting between U.S. forces and Shiite militias left much of the city in smoking ruins, a new police force is patrolling the streets and security in the city has been handed over to Iraqis.

There are some successes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has finished refurbishing several police and fire stations, one of which has shiny new fire engines donated by Japan. It is spending tens of thousands of dollars to refurbish crumbling schools and has replaced aging clay water pipes in the suburb of Kufa with more durable plastic ones. It is even spending half a million dollars to renovate the city's soccer stadium, putting in new lights and laying fresh sod.

But in a series of interviews, U.S. military officers and Iraqi officials involved in the reconstruction described a pattern of failures and frustrations that Army officers who have worked in other parts of Iraq say are routine. Residents complain that many of the city's critical needs remain unfulfilled, and the Army concedes that many projects it has financed are far behind schedule. Officers with the U.S. military say corruption and poor oversight are largely to blame.

"We were told to stimulate the economy any way we can, and a lot of money was wasted in the process," said Capt. Kelly Mims, part of the Army liaison team that maintains an office in Najaf's local government building. "Now we're focused on spending the money more wisely."

He said the Army was forming a committee with provincial authorities to create a master list of all current and future projects so that the money goes where it is most needed.

Several agencies are charged with reconstruction in Iraq. In Najaf it is primarily the work of the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

They award some projects to foreign contractors, many of them American companies that hold master contracts for reconstruction work. Other projects are awarded directly to Iraqi companies, but even the American companies subcontract much of the work to Iraqis. A handful of Army reservists and civilian employees hand out cash to Iraqi contractors and try to keep track of the projects they underwrite.

But U.S. officers say there is almost no oversight after a contractor is given the job.


Bush claimed substantial progress in bringing electricity and safe water services to Iraqis. But "more" independent sources suggest otherwise. This from the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance:

"Electricity productions slides as demand falls; Last week’s electricity averages were 10.6 hours a day in Baghdad and 14.6 hours per day nationwide;US Congressional GAO report says spending on water infrastructure at US$2.6 billion--less than half original plan—also problems because of staff, training, supplies, or electricity;
UN/Iraqi survey says 85% of households have unreliable electricity, 80% of rural families have unsafe water, and just a little over one third of households are connected to sewers."


I think that's enough for now, don't you?