Empirical news


Transfixed as I’ve become by the new empire spreading out of Washington, I offer some empirical news bits that have recently drawn my attention. President Bush, who for now has resisted accepting the “emperor” title and its crown and scepter, gave a speech last week to a select group of admirers in Lexington, Kentucky. It was one of those unilateral orations about his Iraq war and related subjects, such as the patriotic, secret spying on Americans that he authorized shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attack. Of course, it’s no longer secret, because the treasonous New York Times outed the covert operation on December 16. But the president has acted swiftly, ordering a secret investigation into that heinous act. More reporters may be going to jail. The president says no mercy will be shown to those who comfort the enemy.

Anyway, I’m watching his speech on CNN and suddenly the president utters one of those giggly little fibs he likes to tease America with. He says of the soldiers he has sent into battle: “When you put these kids in harm’s way, we owe them the best equipment, the best training, and a strategy for victory.”

It was the “equipment” part that crossed my eyes. Omigod, I thought, his staff has failed him again and made him look like a fool. I guess they didn’t tell him about the repeated news stories since the war’s start, nearly three years ago, that showed soldiers were being killed and maimed because of outdated body armor and vehicle armor. The latest undisputed report was on page one of the Times on January 7, just four days before his speech. The president says he doesn’t lie, so it must have been another staff bungle.

The Times story, by Michael Moss, said that a secret Pentagon study the paper had obtained concluded that of the 2,100 American soldiers who have died in Iraq—roughly 1,700 of them in combat—more than 300 could have been saved with adequate protective vests. Simply enlarging the existing shields, the study said, “would have had the potential to alter the fatal outcome.” Reporter Moss better get himself a good lawyer.

The study is still labeled secret. The president and his coterie have put so much information behind “classified” walls that now even the president apparently doesn’t have clearance. A reasonable person might opine that this makes our leader blind and naked. I wouldn’t wish that on an evildoer.

I think Bush should fire Cheney and Rumsfeld and maybe Wolfowitz, who now hides at the World Bank. They’re the planners and executors of the war. They’re the ones who have kept him out of the loop. It’s not nice to turn the president, almost an emperor, into a figure of ridicule.

That’s only the half of it, though. A story came out the other day reporting that Wall Street bonuses had hit a record of $21.5 billion. I guess that’s what the president means when he keeps reminding us how well the economy is doing. But he didn’t say anything in his speech about most of the money going to the Gekkos at the top. Maybe his handlers kept that from him too—those bums. It can’t be the president. He’s a regular guy.

There’s even more economic stuff Bush is not told about, as the national debt soars out of sight, subsidized by Communist China. Consumers are borrowing on their homes to pay their current bills. Household spending is running at more than 70 percent of gross domestic product, an unprecedented level. Bankruptcy filings hit a record in 2005. The president seems oblivious. Secrecy, like a wasted mind, can be a terrible thing.

The new book State of War, by
New York Times
national security reporter James Risen, takes the lid off the secret eavesdropping on Americans by the National Security Agency but also uncovers many other intelligence failures in the run-up to the Iraq war. Risen reveals, for example, that in 2002, the CIA sent some 30 Iraqi Americans, at great risk, back to Iraq to interview family members who were weapons scientists. All the Iraqi Americans returned to the U.S. and reported that their relatives were astonished by their inquiries because, the scientists told them, the nuclear weapons program had been abandoned a decade ago. The CIA said it believed the scientists were lying—and rejected the information. A month later, in October 2002, the intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate that said Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

The CIA director, George Tenet, whom some believe was cherry-picking intelligence to satisfy the president’s determination to invade Iraq, stepped down from his post in mid July 2004. Mr. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. In his Kentucky speech last week, the president said nothing about Tenet’s selective intelligence. There’s an old vaudeville joke: Two elderly women meet on a Brooklyn street. One asks the other: “Hannah. Did you see what’s happening in Israel?” “See?” shrugs Hannah. “I live in the back. I don’t see anything.” Poor George.

A different Times reporter (the paper had a good week) delivered still more eye-opening news. David Cay Johnston disclosed hanky-panky by the IRS. Here is Johnston’s lead:

“Records showing how thoroughly the Internal Revenue Service audits big corporations and the rich, and how much it discounts the additional taxes assessed after audits, are being withheld from the public despite a 1976 court order requiring their disclosure, according to a legal motion filed last week in federal court in Seattle.”

First, the IRS insisted no such court order existed. How could that be? The IRS has been providing the litigant, Syracuse University professor Susan B. Long, with this very data for many years at no charge, based on the court order. (She makes the data available to the public on the Internet at She provided the IRS with a copy of the document. It doesn’t matter, the IRS spokesman responded, we’re denying the data anyway. Could it be that the rich-leaning Bush administration doesn’t want the public to have access anymore to the proof of this giveaway? For the record, the president’s speech was also silent on this news item. Johnston will need a lawyer too.

The proverbial man in the street can draw no other conclusion: The clandestine Bush administration is so afraid of letting the public see what it’s doing that it has denied the president himself all access to outside information except for the sports pages and religious news. You read it here first.