LOST DECADE: Winning The Race To The Bottom

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[Photo by RICHARD DREW]

ESQUIRE: In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity’s divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet. In all the other pictures, the people who did what he did — who jumped — appear to be struggling against horrific discrepancies of scale. They are made puny by the backdrop of the towers, which loom like colossi, and then by the event itself. Some of them are shirtless; their shoes fly off as they flail and fall; they look confused, as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain. The man in the picture, by contrast, is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits flag.jpgthem, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else — something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is, fifteen seconds past 9:41 a.m. EST, the moment the picture is taken, in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears. MORE

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republican.thumbnail.gifNEW YORK TIMES:  The Bush administration on Saturday formally proposed a vast bailout of financial institutions in the United States, requesting unfettered authority for the Treasury Department to buy up to $700 billion in distressed mortgage-related assets from the private firms. The proposal, not quite three pages long, was stunning for its stark simplicity. It would raise the national debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion. And it would place no restrictions on the administration other than requiring semiannual reports to Congress, granting the Treasury secretary unprecedented power to buy and resell mortgage debt. “This is a big package, because it was a big problem,” President Bush said Saturday at a White House news conference. MORE

WASHINGTON POST: There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is no such thing as a free war. The Iraq adventure has seriously weakened the U.S. economy, whose woes now go far beyond loose mortgage lending. You can’t spend $3 trillion — yes, $3 trillion — on a failed war abroad and not feel the pain at home. […] The end result of all this wishful thinking? As we approach the fifth anniversary of the invasion, Iraq is not only the second longest bushfinger.gifwar in U.S. history (after Vietnam), it is also the second most costly — surpassed only by World War II. Why doesn’t the public understand the staggering scale of our expenditures? In part because the administration talks only about the upfront costs, which are mostly handled by emergency appropriations. (Iraq funding is apparently still an emergency five years after the war began.) These costs, by our calculations, are now running at $12 billion a month — $16 billion if you include Afghanistan. By the time you add in the costs hidden in the defense budget, the money we’ll have to spend to help future veterans, and money to refurbish a military whose equipment and materiel have been greatly depleted, the total tab to the federal government will almost surely exceed $1.5 trillion. MORE

THINK PROGRESS:  Bush is demanding unprecedented control over billions of dollars — with no oversight. His history of mismanaging taxpayer dollars should make Americans skeptical of his buyout plan:

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$142 million wasted on reconstruction projects that were either terminated or canceled. [Special Inspector General for Iraq, 7/28/08]

“Significant” amount of U.S. funds for Iraq funneled to Sunni and Shiite militias. [GAO Comptroller, 3/11/08]

$180 million payed to construction company Bechtel for projects it never finished. [Federal audit, 7/25/07]

$5.1 billion in expenses for Iraq reconstruction charged without documentation. [Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction report, 3/19/07]

$10 billion in spending on Iraq reconstruction was wasteful or poorly tracked. [GAO, 2/15/07]

Halliburton overcharged the government $100 million for one day’s work in 2004. [Project on Government Oversight, 10/8/04]

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Millions wasted on four no-bid contracts, including paying $20 million for an unusable camp for evacuees. [Homeland Security Department Inspector General, 9/10/08]

$2.4 billion in contracts doled out by FEMA that guaranteed profits for big companies. [Center for Public Integrity investigation, 6/25/07]

-An estimated $2 billion in fraud and waste — nearly 11 percent of the $19 billion spent by FEMA on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as of mid-June. [New York Times tally, 6/27/06]

“Widespread” waste and mismanagement on millions for Katrina recovery, including at least $3 million for 4,000 beds that were never used. [GAO, 3/16/06]

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A $50 million Air Force contract awarded to a company with close ties to senior Air Force officers, in a process “fraught with improper influence, irregular procedures, glaring conflicts of interest.” [Project on Government Oversight, 4/18/08]

$1.7 billion in excessive fees and waste paid by the Pentagon to the Interior Department to manage federal lands. [Defense Department and Interior Department Inspectors General audit, 12/25/06]

$1 trillion unaccounted for by the Pentagon, including 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin missile command launch-units. [GAO, 5/18/03] MORE

WORTH REPEATING: The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin’s lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this palin-pageant-crown_s1-274.jpgcountry. “They think they’re better than you!” is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. “Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!” Yes, all too ordinary. We have all now witnessed apparently sentient human beings, once provoked by a reporter’s microphone, saying things like, “I’m voting for Sarah because she’s a mom. She knows what it’s like to be a mom.” Such sentiments suggest an uncanny (and, one fears, especially American) detachment from the real problems of today. The next administration must immediately confront issues like nuclear proliferation, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and covert wars elsewhere), global climate change, a convulsing economy, Russian belligerence, the rise of China, emerging epidemics, Islamism on a hundred fronts, a defunct United Nations, the deterioration of American schools, failures of energy, infrastructure and Internet security … the list is long, and Sarah Palin does not seem competent even to rank these items in order of importance, much less address any one of them. MORE

DICK POLMAN:  Palin, however, is merely the latest beneficiary in the national celebration of mediocrity, much like one of those early-round American Idol entrants who wins insta-fame for being Just Like Us. Lest we forget, the lame-duck administration in Washington has long been dumbing down the standards for public service, by seeking to elevate the ill-qualified to positions of authority.

americafuckyeahgun_1.jpgI think first of Harriet Miers, tapped for the U.S Supreme Court by President Bush, who lauded her as “the best person I could find.” It turned out that Miers had penned exactly three legal articles (including a promotional story about some new bar association seminars), and that her most notable legal work had arguably occurred years earlier, when she handled the paperwork on Bush’s fishing cabin.

I think of Monica Goodling, who was tapped for a key post at the Justice Department – evaluating the performance of U.S. attorneys, and helping to fire those deemed insufficiently conservative – despite her scant prosecutorial experience, and her stint at a law school listed in the “fourth tier” (the lowest score) by the academic rankers at U.S News & World Report.

I think of George Deutsch, a 24-year-old NASA appointee who barred NASA scientists from talking publicly about global warming, and who ordered NASA’s Web designer to append the word theory to every mention of the Big Bang. Not only did Deutsch have no science background, it also turned out that (contrary to his initial claim) he didn’t even graduate from college. But his political work for Bush’s reelection campaign was deemed sufficiently meritorious. […] Patrick Rhode, the acting deputy director, got his FEMA job after working as a Bush advance man. His previous experience had consisted of covering natural disasters as a local TV anchorman. Rhode is the FEMA guy who lauded the agency’s response to Katrina as “probably one of the most efficient and effective responses in the country’s history.” MORE

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