Monday, March 15, 2004

The Beat Goes On

Back after a week on the road, with much to catch up on, including a brimming in-box with interesting news links from readers of this site. It'll take a while, but we'll catch up. In the meantime, here's the first and most pressing item that's caught my attention:

The continuing stench arising from last December's Pharmaceutical Industry Relief Act of 2003, otherwise known as the Medicare Bill. It's enough to gag a Cape Horn vulture. First, last Friday, Knight Ridder broke a story that "the nation's top Medicare cost analyst," a lowly civil servant named Richard Foster who works in the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services, got himself threatened by his former boss, Thomas Scully, administrator of Medicare & Medicaid, who "ordered him to withhold from lawmakers unfavorable cost estimates about the Medicare prescription drug bill. He said the estimates exceeded what Congress seemed willing to accept by more than $100 billion." (Original Knight Ridder story here)

"Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D- S.D., said the allegations justified reopening the vote on the drug benefit." Interesting, since Daschle was one of a handful of Democrats who helped the Republicans pass the bill (at approximately the same time I was straining my voice yelling into the telephone at various senators' aides, including one of the Minority Leader's: "What the hell is the matter with you Democrats up there?!")

Anyway. So the Bushies lied and cheated to convince the fiscal conservatives in their own party that the supposed drug benefit they were adding to Medicare would NOT inflate the deficit all that much, when it would in truth inflate the deficit ALL THAT MUCH.

Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), one of 13 Republicans in the House who were induced to vote for the fraudulent bill on the promise that it would not balloon the deficit, said she was highly disturbed to learn of the whistle-blower's spilling the beans. (Story that includes a quote from Myrick here)

But, you see, the plan all along has been to drive the government so far into debt that Congress will have no choice but to end, or at least cripple, many social programs. The Bushies do not want to reform Medicare so much as they want to lay the groundwork for ending it, while giving a healthy boost to some of their biggest corporate sugar daddies, the pharmaceutical and HMO industries.

Then this morning comes another article in the New York Times that "Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines." (Story here.) The videos were sent out to local TV stations across the land for use on local news casts ... propaganda masquerading as news.

"Two videos end with the voice of a woman who says, 'In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting' [Karen Ryan is an actress] .... Another video, intended for Hispanic audiences, shows a Bush administration official being interviewed in Spanish by a man who identifies himself as a reporter named Alberto Garcia. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law 'helps you better afford your medications,' and the customer says, 'It sounds like a good idea.' Indeed, the pharmacist says, 'A very good idea.' "

What's potentially illegal about propagandizing about the Medicare Bill? "Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for 'publicity or propaganda purposes' not authorized by Congress. In the past, the General Accounting Office has found that federal agencies violated this restriction when they disseminated editorials and newspaper articles written by the government or its contractors without identifying the source." Not that anybody will EVER do anything about it.

I mean, we're talking Sleaze City with stuff like this ... muzzling the government official who actually has some true facts and then sending out Rovian make-believe to the gullible people who are often in charge of the news at local TV stations.

I'm back from vacation, and already I'm disgusted.

UPDATE: Tuesday, March 16th ... The Center for American Progress has a good overall summary of the Bush administration's lies and manipulations about the Medicare Bill ... if you're keeping a file.

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