A Parallel Planet 

What can you say about an administration that threatens to fire people who tell the truth?

How much fun can one administration have? More dead GIs. New record trade deficit. Stock market plunges. The new Spanish prime minister says the occupation in Iraq is a "continuing disaster" and he's pulling his troops out. Still no jobs. And then the guy who was supposed to be the new jobs czar turns out to have laid off 75 of his own workers and then built a $3 million factory in China to employ 165 Chinese people. Whoever has the aspirin concession at the White House must be making a fortune.

The unfortunate matter of the would-be jobs czar came at a particularly awkward moment. More than six months ago, President Bush promised to appoint a "manufacturing czar" at the Commerce Department. As the Center for American Progress points out, since then we've lost another 250,000 manufacturing jobs. Bush was on his way to Ohio last week, where the economy has just been hemorrhaging jobs, to "focus on jobs." He actually claimed, "We're creating jobs -- good, high-paying jobs for the American citizen."

The guy is living on some parallel planet. Bush chose Anthony Raimondo, CEO of a manufacturing company in Nebraska, to be the jobs czar, which would have worked out better if Raimondo hadn't just outsourced those 165 jobs to China. The Web site the Daily Misleader found a truly impressive convergence between Bush's top campaign contributors and the corporations that have outsourced the most jobs abroad. Bush has gotten $440,000 and the Republican Party has gotten $3.6 million from the corporations that have outsourced the most jobs, including American Express, Bechtel, and several computer companies.

Even if the globalizers are right, and outsourcing every manufacturing job in America, which is pretty much where we're headed, is a terrific idea, what does it take to get the "good, high-paying jobs" Bush claims they're creating?

In theory, the new jobs will be "brain jobs" in biotechnology and other forms of advanced applied science, plus the creative fields, and for that you need scientists, entrepreneurs, creative people, and intellectuals. Basically, everybody Bush doesn't like.

He's shown so much favoritism to the big corporations, I don't see how he can claim to even like entrepreneurs. He's consistently replaced scientists on government advisory boards with religious activists. He's ignored scientific reports that indicate his various policies either don't work or are actually harmful.

This White House has changed and rewritten reports made by government scientists, particularly in the area of the environment. Bush kissed off biotechnology with the stem-cell research decision. And he's not in favor of green technology because he continues to subsidize extractive and polluting industries with tax breaks. How do they ever expect this thing to work?

Apparently, they think they can just lie about it. Last month, Bush released a personally signed report claiming his economic plan would create 2.6 million new jobs. Then he had to "distance himself," as they say in Washington, from that absurdity. Then Labor Secretary Elaine Chao appeared before Congress last week to claim Bush never actually signed the report.

What can you say about an administration that threatens to fire people if they tell the truth to Congress?

The latest example of this charming policy is the case of Richard Foster, chief actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Knight-Ridder News Service reported in an exclusive that Foster's boss at the time, Thomas Scully, wrote "a direct order not to respond to certain requests and instead to provide the responses to him and warned about the consequences of insubordination."

Scully was sitting on the rather pertinent information that Foster's cost estimates on the prescription drug bill were $100 billion higher than Congress was willing to go. You may recall the prescription drug bill -- which is practically no help to seniors and is a giant payoff to Bush's big contributors in the pharmaceutical industry -- passed the House on a 216 to 215 vote after the Republicans held the vote open for hours.

Many Republicans were unhappy with the bill and vowed not to vote for it if it cost more than $400 billion in the first 10 years. Foster had a whole series of estimates that put the bill at over $500 billion. In January, the White House said the cost would be $540 billion.

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., said, "Tom Scully told my staff that Rick Foster would be 'fired so fast his head would spin' if he released this information to us." Last summer, Scully told the Associated Press: "They don't have the right on the Hill to call up my actuary and demand things. These people work for the executive branch, period."

Scully said he would release the analysis, "if I feel like it." Uh, actually, "Mr. Scully's people" work for the taxpayers of this country and so does he, and we're represented in Washington by the Congress.

We are also of the opinion that Congress writes better legislation when it has some idea -- within a hundred billion or so -- what the damn law will cost us.

Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.


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