Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Incompetence and corruption

These are the hallmarks of the Republican Party today. Each day there is fresh evidence of such shocking malfeasance and I am continually amazed that so many people can be so ignorant or so indifferent to it that they would continue to support this party and this administration.

First up today, Incompetence:

The first official history of the $25 billion American reconstruction effort in Iraq depicts a program hobbled from the outset by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting, secrecy and constantly increasing security costs...

In the document, the paralyzing effect of staffing shortfalls and contracting battles between the State Department and the Pentagon, creating delays of months at a stretch, are described...

Seemingly odd decisions on dividing the responsibility for various sectors of the reconstruction crop up repeatedly in the document...

"It almost looks like a spoils system between various agencies," said Steve Ellis, a vice president and an authority on the Army corps at Taxpayers for Common Sense, an organization in Washington, who read a copy of the document. "You had various fiefdoms established in the contracting process."

"The impression you get is of an organization that had too little structure on the ground over there, that it had conflicting guidance from the United States," said John J. Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As I said earlier,
Bush gets a lot of credit for spreading freedom and democracy in Iraq that is wholly undeserved because he is unwilling to put his money (or our money, as the case may be) where his mouth is. By cutting off funds for reconstruction in Iraq, Bush has effectively thrown in the towel on this war, he just won’t admit it.

As Paul Krugman noted the other day, “this administration refuses to admit defeat but has given up even trying to win.” He then goes on to relate another sad tale of Bushian incompetence relating to the persistent lack of progress in repairing Iraq’s electricity infrastructure.

So why is power scarcer than ever, almost three years after Saddam's fall? Sabotage by insurgents is one factor. But as an analysis of Iraq's electricity shortage in The Los Angeles Times last month showed, the blackouts are also the result of some incredible missteps by U.S. officials.

Most notably, during the period when Iraq was run by U.S. officials, they decided to base their electricity plan on natural gas: in order to boost electrical output, American companies were hired to install gas-fired generators in power plants across Iraq. But, as The Los Angeles Times explains, "pipelines needed to transport the gas" - that is, to supply gas to the new generators - "weren't built because Iraq's Oil Ministry, with U.S. encouragement, concentrated instead on boosting oil production." Whoops.

More incompetence. What a surprise.
And remember that President Bush was touted as the CEO president who’s Harvard education and business acumen meant he would manage the government as a tightly run ship and make sure all the trains would run on time.

Now on to the Corruption:

House and Senate GOP negotiators, meeting behind closed doors last month to complete a major budget-cutting bill, agreed on a change to Senate-passed Medicare legislation that would save the health insurance industry $22 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Senate version would have targeted private HMOs participating in Medicare by changing the formula that governs their reimbursement, lowering payments $26 billion over the next decade. But after lobbying by the health insurance industry, the final version made a critical change that had the effect of eliminating all but $4 billion of the projected savings, according to CBO and other health policy experts.

In November, as part of a broad budget-cutting bill, the Senate approved a measure to save billions of dollars by reducing Medicare reimbursements to private insurers. Most of those savings disappeared after the final bill emerged from House and Senate negotiations last month.

That change was made in mid-December during private negotiations involving House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the staffs of those committees as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. House and Senate Democrats were excluded from the meeting.

It’s hard to know where to begin here. Suffice to say that you and I, average Joe and Jane Taxpayer, have been stuck with an additional $22 billion in Medicare expenses over the next decade because Republicans are too cozy with those K Street lobbyists. And they did it all behind closed doors, away from the public and with no Democrats around to cry foul.

So please tell me again how the Republicans are the ones who are looking out for our pocketbooks as we watch the national debt continue to pile up higher and higher for the forseeable future. The truth is, the only pocketbooks they are looking out for are their own.

The only way to change things is to vote the Republicans out of office as soon as possible. But then, as we saw in 2000, that doesn’t always work either.

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