Joe Conason's Journal

Bush hawks begin to circle, prepared for a disappointing report Monday from the U.N. Plus: An illustration of the president's dropping poll numbers.

Published January 24, 2003 6:01PM (EST)

The bureaucrats they adore
Still more evidence in today's Washington Post -- if there were any remaining doubts -- that the Bush administration wants to dismantle and privatize the foundations of American social progress, from Social Security to Medicare and beyond. Their latest brainstorm is to push elderly Medicare patients into HMOs and other managed-care plans, supposedly in order to save money. When conservatives say they don't like "bureaucrats," what they mean is that they don't like government bureaucrats. They adore private bureaucrats, like those who torment most Americans in managed-care health plans -- and they plan to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to create many, many more of them. How many new private bureaucrats will we be paying for -- and how much will they cost? Here's the conclusion of the Post story: "The tilt toward competition among private health plans comes as the administration has been attempting to surmount widespread difficulties with another part of Medicare, known as Medicare+Choice, which was created in 1997 to encourage patients to join managed care. Enrollment -- currently about 5 million of Medicare's approximately 40 million patients -- has grown far more slowly than expected, in part because HMOs have dropped out, complaining that Medicare wasn't paying them enough." There go those "savings."

Graphic evidence
The excellent Daily Kos weblog has posted a graph that displays Bush's approval ratings in most of the major surveys, from his inauguration to date. Republican experts say the decline was inevitable, but that probably doesn't make Bush any happier.
[1:42 p.m. PST, Jan. 24, 2003]

Everything humanly possible
The Bush administration is preparing for disappointment on Monday, when the UNMOVIC inspectors report what they have found so far: nothing much. Yesterday in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz reiterated the same points made by Condoleezza Rice's New York Times Op-Ed. Unless Iraq meets the standards of openness and voluntary disarmament set by Kazakhstan, he suggested, the inspection process is a farce -- and bombs away.

A few of Wolfowitz's remarks deserve special attention because they are so contrary to what everyone believes about this administration's intentions. He reassured his audience that "the president wants to do everything humanly possible to eliminate this threat by peaceful means." After describing the Iraqi regime's recalcitrance, he also said: "Nevertheless, there is still the hope -- if Saddam is faced with a serious enough threat that he would otherwise be disarmed forcibly and removed from power -- there is still the hope that he might decide to adopt a fundamentally different course. But time is running out."

He did not say how much time is left. Wolfowitz also said that the U.S. provided "a comprehensive package of intelligence support, including names of individuals whom we believe it would be productive to interview and information about sites suspected to be associated with proscribed material or activities. We have provided our analysis of Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs, and we have suggested an inspection strategy and tactics. We have provided counterintelligence support to improve the inspectors' ability to thwart Iraqi attempts to penetrate their organizations." In response to questions from reporters and the audience, he insisted that "there is a lot of evidence; as the evidence accumulates, our ability to talk about it undoubtedly will grow."

But there remain a few important questions he wasn't asked: When did the U.S. begin to provide critical evidence regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction? Are the inspectors now following up on U.S. intelligence and advice? What are the chances of Saddam using any weapons in his possession while the inspections continue? Why not continue and intensify the inspections -- while maintaining allied military pressure on Iraq -- rather than insist on a precipitous, expensive and inevitably horrific invasion? Wouldn't that alternative come under the rubric of "everything humanly possible"?
[10:08 a.m. PST, Jan. 24, 2003]

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