Lies and Damn Lies
"Isn't there some limit to bullshit?" an internet correspondent wrote recently, after reading another White House press release purporting to be a news article,* "Isn't there some principle of quantum electrodynamics that requires matter to disintegrate if the concentration of bullshit in a closed system exceeds a critical level? Or is bullshit capacity (BC) infinite?"
We might well wonder. If it isn't, get ready for the implosion of the Bush administration.
First, it was the weapons of mass destruction. Saddam was hiding them from the UN inspectors, so there was no way they could be rooted out without an invasion. Remember, in Bush's State of the Union Address, the 25,000 liters of anthrax stockpiled by Iraq, the 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, the 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, the 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents?
Promising white powder in Latifiyah turned out to be explosives. Crates, barrels, buckets and boxes of various things have been tested and found to be non-toxic, non-lethal or non-threatening. A trailer seemed set up to make chemical agents, but no such agents were found. Officials were reduced to saying that the trailer had recently been 'well scrubbed.'
"The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" war secretary Rumsfeld told us grimly not long ago, but it's beginning to look like he was wrong about that, too.
Describing the impending withdrawal of the specialized U.S. unit sent to find the weapons, the Washington Post noted: "Task Force 75's experience, and its impending dissolution after seven weeks in action, square poorly with assertions in Washington that the search has barely begun." ("Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq; Task Force Unable To Find Any Weapons" May 11.)
Officials now admit to, um, exaggerating the threat: "To build its case for war with Iraq, the Bush administration argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but some officials now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason for war-a global show of American power and democracy" ABC News reported "Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABC News the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans. 'We were not lying,' said one official. 'But it was just a matter of emphasis.'"(John Cochran, April 25.)
POW rescue mission
Then there was the 'rescue' of private Jessica Lynch. In a made-for-TV war (except the parts where Iraqi recruits and random civilians get blown up) this was the life-imitates-Hollywood moment, complete with video of the military team rushing her stretcher out to a waiting vehicle under cover of night.
God help us. Dr. Harith Houssona, the Iraqi doctor who cared for Lynch recalled to the Toronto Star, "The Iraqi soldiers and commanders had left the hospital almost two days earlier... The night they left, a few of the senior medical staff tried to give Jessica back. We carefully moved her out of intensive care and into an ambulance and began to drive to the Americans, who were just one kilometer away. But when the ambulance got within 300 meters, they began to shoot. There wasn't even a chance to tell them 'We have Jessica. Take her.'"
The next day the U.S. raid came.
A U.S. military doctor came to the hospital three days later to thank them for the superb surgery Lynch had received. "I told him he was very welcome, that it was our pleasure," Dr. Mudhafer Raazk said. "And then I told him: 'You do realize you could have just knocked on the door and we would have wheeled Jessica down to you, don't you?'" (Mitch Potter, "The Real 'Saving of Private Lynch' Iraqi Medical Staff Tell a Different Story Than US Military" Toronto Star, May 4, 2003.)
Meanwhile Fox News wanted to know (but apparently didn't have the inclination to ask at the hospital) Had she been tortured? Had she been abused? "We all became friends with her, we liked her so much," Houssona said. "Especially because we all speak a little English, we were able to assure her the whole time that there was no danger, that she would go home soon."
This is the movie that should be made: Rambo-like soldiers come in with helicopters, blow up the hospital's power supply, burst into the crowded facility, terrorize medical staff, place patients in handcuffs, destroy equipment including the special traction bed Jessica was using, all because their sorry commanders, stung by reports of wanton killing of civilians at checkpoints, needed something that looked like the movies.
Then there was the story that Halliburton, the company that still pays former CEO Dick Cheney up to a million dollars a year, would NOT be getting any big contracts in Iraq. Just the lil' ol' subsidiary, Boots and Coots, which got the contract to put out oil fires. Whew. The corruption meters were turned off. Except troublemaker (and senior Democratic Congressmember) Henry Waxman started asking questions.
According to Agence France Presse (which could be aptly renamed Agence Freedom Presse) "In a May 2 letter replying to questions from... Waxman, the army said the [Halliburton] contract also included "operation of facilities and distribution of products." Waxman, the top-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives' committee on government reform, asked for an explanation.
The Financial Times reported "Halliburton, the US construction and engineering company, is permitted to produce and distribute oil in Iraq under a contract it was secretly awarded by the US government in March." (Joshua Chaffin, "Secret contract 'allows Halliburton to produce and distribute oil in Iraq.'" May 7.)
Waxman told the Army Corps of Engineers, "Prior descriptions of the Halliburton contract had indicated that the contract was for extinguishing fires at oil wells and for related repair activities... These new disclosures are significant and they seem at odds with the administration's repeated assurances that the Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people." (AFP, May 7.)
Tax cut to create jobs
In the middle of all this is the tax cut which is supposed to create jobs. While public workers are being laid off because there's not enough money, Bush insists, without a smirk, that giving money to rich people rather than to government will create jobs. Well it had better, cause there are going to be a lot more unemployed people when all the federal and state budget cuts hit. In Florida, the abolition of the estate tax alone cost the state $174 million in 2003.
Public employee union AFSCME notes that many members of the Bush administration stand to benefit handsomely from the new tax cuts: "Treasury Secretary John Snow tops the list with a $275,000 windfall... Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could pocket an extra $184,000. And not far behind is the $181,000 that could go to Secretary of Commerce Don Evans."
MoveOn.org, the feisty internet action group, notes, "Many Senators themselves are likely to reap enormous windfalls. For example, Bill Frist, the Senate Republican leader, has an estimated net worth of $20 million." They suggested that people fax their Senators the special IRS form for tax refunds of one million dollars or more "with a note scrawled across it, saying: 'Thought you might need this.'" They helpfully provided the link: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8302.pdf
But we do have checks and balances, the press murmurs, Congress gave Bush only half what he wanted (trimming a $726 billion tax cut to a mere $550 billion.) Such moderation! Such farsightedness! Such backbone! And we might ask-though we'd be encouraged not to-how is it half what he wanted?
Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times: "Many of the provisions would supposedly expire in 2005, others in 2012. Otherwise, it's a bigger tax cut than the administration proposed. ... The sunset clauses, like those in the 2001 tax cut, are clearly a mere gimmick: as soon as a tax cut becomes law, the administration will begin demanding that the whole thing be made permanent." Krugman notes: "The extent to which the House bill favors the rich is breathtaking: the typical family would get a tax break of only $217 next year, but families with incomes above $1 million would get an average of $93,500 each." ("Into the Sunset," May 9, 2003.)
If we don't toss the current jokers out it will almost certainly be renewed, giving Bush a larger tax cut than he asked for.
But the bullshit surely approached critical mass when George W., a civilian leader in a military uniform, emerged from a jet to address a crowd on an aircraft carrier just off the San Diego coast. Why did he not address a crowd on land? Perhaps the same reason he met with British and Spanish leaders on a military base in the Canary Islands: To avoid the discordant notes of protest which would accompany any such meetings on a land mass large enough to support a sentient, nonindentured population.
And it would have been unpatriotic, or at least career-limiting, to mention that Bush's aviation career in the Texas Air National Guard was abbreviated when he went AWOL for most of a year to work on the U.S. Senate campaign of a friend of his dad's. W. was grounded during this period because he simply failed to show up for his annual flight physical. (This-and press silence on the issue-was documented by Eric Zorn in the May 6 Chicago Tribune, "Media AWOL in Noting Irony of Bush's Flight.")
So Bush spoke to a bunch of folks who most certainly were not free to leave or object, given that they were not the spawn of some rich, well-connected politician. And just what did he announce? Not the end of war, certainly. As we now know, the war is, for political reasons, endless. As Gore Vidal commented recently, that's an advantage of declaring war on an abstract noun.
And what about that abstract noun? Terrorism is alive and well, but they do seem to have reality on the run.
*Mark Bennett, commenting April 2 via the email list Left Business Observer Talk, "RE: [lbo-talk] president, called by god, gives up sweets."
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