Misdirection at the White House

By Al Kamen
Friday, January 20, 2006

Back in the Clinton era, people often made the mistake of trying to get to the administration Web site by typing "whitehouse.com" instead of "whitehouse.gov." That, sources told us at the time, would take you instantly to a porn site featuring, well, the usual.

Some people just couldn't stop making that mistake, no matter how hard they tried.

But now, in the Bush era, typing in "whitehouse.com" directs you to Loan.com, a site offering help on mortgages, debt consolidation, auto loans and the like.

Seems most appropriate. In the Clinton days, a sleazy sex site. In the Bush era, a loan company to hike up your debt.

Words Fail Him . . .

Anti-Bush bloggers and others have been circulating what they purport to be an actual statement by President Bush in response to a question about the Medicare prescription drug plan.

"I don't really understand how is it the new plan is going to fix that problem?" a woman at a roundtable event asks him.

"Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers," Bush explains. "For example, how benefits are calculate[d], for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised."

Bush, sensing he's lost the woman and everyone else, asks: "Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled."

"Look," he tries again. "There's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red."

This new liberal smear is grossly unfair and inaccurate. Granted, the exchange itself comes directly from a White House transcript. But it was a question about his now-forgotten Social Security plan. Also, it's from an event in Tampa back in February 2005. Finally, it has absolutely nothing to do with Medicare or health care.

Bush will be explaining those matters in his State of the Union address Jan. 31.

. . . And Him, Too

Sometimes it takes a while to sort things out.

The Treasury Department announced Wednesday that it had frozen the assets of Syria's military intelligence chief for aiding terrorism and for meddling in Lebanon.

At the daily White House briefing, spokesman Scott McClellan, reading from his notes, said Asef Shawkat "has directly contributed to Syria's support for terrorism, including the insurgency in Iraq, Palestinian terrorist groups given shelter in Damascus, and Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in Lebanon."

Officially blaming a senior Mideast government official with directly aiding the Iraqi insurgency seemed a bit unusual to some reporters, who questioned it later in the briefing.

"On Shawkat, you said," our colleague Peter Baker asked, "you talked about Lebanon, but you also mentioned that he contributed to the insurgency in Iraq. Can you elaborate on that at all, what he . . ."

"No, I didn't say he did," McClellan said. McClellan promptly issued a correction on the transcript. "*Correction: I did indicate he contributed to the insurgency in my opening statement. My apologies. If we can elaborate further, we will post it."

The Treasury Department statement, which documents at some length the case against Shawkat, and is the official word on what the U.S. government has on him, makes zero mention of Iraq.

Another White House spokesman, asked about how Shawkat was originally linked to Iraq at all, said: "We as policy people can offer a more robust description as to who the individual is."


Failure to Communicate

Technology experts here are at a loss to explain how an item Wednesday -- about Washington lawyer C. Boyden Gray's not getting Senate confirmation as ambassador to the European Union -- failed to say that President Bush announced he was giving Gray a recess appointment to the post. Gray will be in Brussels -- sign up now for the guest bedrooms -- until the end of 2007.

The tech folks are talking about a synaptic failure of some sort. Snap, crackle, pop.

No Jamaica Farewell -- or Hello, Either

Meanwhile, we're told by the office of Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey (Calif.) that she was not among the Democrats on a recent jaunt to Jamaica mentioned in last Friday's column. The coordinating agency, the Inter-American Economic Council, apparently had included her on a list of those in the congressional delegation.

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