Thursday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
March 18, 2004 7:56PM (UTC)

The drug deal gone bad
The New York Times advances the story about the Medicare analyst who claims the Bush administration threatened his job if he told Congress the true cost of changes to prescription drug benefits. To refresh: The White House was selling the proposal to members of Congress as $150 billion less, and if members knew the actual, higher cost, some most likely would have changed their votes to "nay." Today, the Times reports some new, worrying details, in a piece told with the air of a mystery novel. It starts: "Late one Friday afternoon in January, after the House of Representatives had adjourned for the week, Cybele Bjorklund, a House Democratic health policy aide, heard the buzz of the fax machine at her desk. Coming over the transom, with no hint of the sender, was a document she had been seeking for months: an estimate by Medicare's chief actuary showing the cost of prescription drug benefits for the elderly."

"Dated June 11, 2003, the document put the cost at $551.5 billion over 10 years. It appeared to confirm what Ms. Bjorklund and her bosses on the House Ways and Means Committee had long suspected: the actuary, Richard S. Foster, had concluded the legislation would be far more expensive than Congress's $400 billion estimate -- and had kept quiet while lawmakers voted on the bill and President Bush signed it into law."

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"Ms. Bjorklund had been pressing Mr. Foster for his numbers since June. When he refused, telling her he could be fired, she said, she confronted his boss, Thomas A. Scully, then the Medicare administrator. "If Rick Foster gives that to you," Ms. Bjorklund remembered Mr. Scully telling her, "I'll fire him so fast his head will spin." Mr. Scully denies making such threats. These conversations among three government employees -- an obscure Congressional aide, a little-known actuary and a high-level official -- remained secret until now, and Ms. Bjorklund still does not know who sent the fax."

A foreign leader backs Kerry
The Washington Post reports that Spain's Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero railed against the U.S. occupation of Iraq as "a fiasco" and hoped American voters follow the example set by Spainiards by changing leadership in the fall and voting for John Kerry for president.

"'I said during the campaign I hoped Spain and the Spaniards would be ahead of the Americans for once,' Zapatero said in an interview on Onda Cero radio. 'First we win here, we change this government, and then the Americans will do it, if things continue as they are in Kerry's favor.' Zapatero, whose Socialist Party swept the governing Popular Party out of office in elections Sunday, just three days after terrorist attacks killed 201 people in Madrid, also rejected President Bush's request that he reconsider his plans to withdraw Spain's troops from Iraq unless the United Nations is given control of the country. 'I'll listen to Mr. Bush. But my position is very clear and firm,' Zapatero said. 'The occupation is a fiasco,' he said. 'There have almost been more killed after the war, from a year ago, than during the war. In the end, the occupying forces have not handed over control of the situation to the U.N.'"

An aside: While Spain's prime minister-elect was backing Kerry, Bush got the coveted endorsement of a group linked to al-Qaida.

Expert: U.S. less safe now
Newsweek interviews a security expert who says America is less secure now than before Sept. 11.

Security expert Bruce Schneier: "We have built a geopolitical situation where more people dislike America, more people hate us, and in that respect we have made the world a more dangerous place. Though we have also done a lot of good things to increase our security. We have arrested and neutralized terrorist cells. We have disrupted terrorist funding. Our investigations -- both internal in the U.S. and abroad -- are much better. We are better able at preventing plots and uncovering them. 9/11 was a very unfortunate intelligence accident. A lot of those sorts of things tend not to work because they get foiled. We were very unlucky. We are probably better prepared in that we kind of expect these thingslocal governments, when something like this happens, are going to be more ready because they have thought about it. In terms of the aftermath, we are more prepared. [But] in terms of whether weve made the world safer in the past two years, most of the things we've done have been irrelevant and some have been harmful."

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" We're still living in a world where politics trumps security. The things that tend not to work are the broad surveillance measures. We are spending $10 billion on a program to fingerprint foreigners, for example I think it is an enormous waste of money. The amount of security I'm getting is not nearly worth that cost. I'd much rather take that money and see it spent elsewhere Politicians tend to prefer security countermeasures that are very visible, to make it look like they're doing something. So they will tend to pick things that are visible even if they are less effective. Training FBI agents in Arabic is a really good idea, but no one is going to see it. Fingerprinting foreigners at the border is a very visible thing that, even if it is less effective, is going to look like we're doing something."

Don't we punish bad CEOs?
Reuters followed military families and anti-war activists to Capitol Hill on Wednesday where they asked Congress to censure President Bush for misleading the nation before the Iraq war.

"'The best way that the United States Congress can honor those brave men and women in uniform who have served in Iraq, and who continue to serve in Iraq, is to honor the truth,' said Sue Niederer, whose 24-year-old son, Army Lt. Seth Dvorin, was killed in Iraq in February. 'They can do so by holding accountable those who deceived and manipulated the American people to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq, starting with President Bush,' Niederer said at a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol. As Bush was inside for a St. Patrick's Day luncheon, the soldiers' families and anti-war activists displayed boxes of petitions calling for Bush's censure. The group Win Without War said it had gathered 560,340 signatures endorsing a censure resolution. A statement released at the news conference contrasted Bush's public comments on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq with CIA and media reports disputing the White House pre-war position that Iraq possessed these weapons."

"The censure campaign is led by Win Without War -- a coalition of 42 organizations -- along with MoveOn.org, True Majority, Working Assets and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities. The business group plans an ad campaign to begin on Friday, the U.S. anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. The ad, set to run in The New York Times, is headlined, 'Have you noticed what's happening to chief executives who lie?" and goes on to say, 'It's time for someone in this government to step forward and take personal responsibility for the deadly deceptions used to mislead this great nation into war. And that someone must be George W. Bush.'"

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He's only just begun
In an op-ed running in newspapers today, Howard Dean announces his latest efforts to get George W. Bush out of the White House. He's targeting his strong grassroots support on battleground states to help John Kerry win the election.

"To do our part, we will create out of the Dean for America campaign a new enterprise, Democracy for America, committed to four core principles: Strong grassroots involvement in democracy. Today, half of Americans don't even vote. People see what the problems are, but they are cynical about prospects for change. Only through doing will people recognize the power they have to change this country To help defeat Bush and his agenda in 2004, our new enterprise will focus on key battleground states. We will mobilize our supporters and use the groundbreaking organizing tools we developed during our campaign, planting seeds on the Internet, meeting face to face at the grassroots, bringing new people into the process."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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