Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Two faces of spending

President Bush is a man of two minds about spending.

Pet projects never lack caviar funding. Other programs are put on bread and water rations.

Two new examples make the point.

The National Park Service has been ordered to operate on 80 percent or less of its budget. This is on top of a $5 billion backlog of undone maintenance and repairs at scenic vistas that attract 270 million visitors each year.

However, the president easily found $1 billion to construct a new U.S. Embassy in Iraq, a fortress-like, 104-acre project the size of Vatican City (108 acres) and described as the largest of its kind in the world with 21 buildings, its own defense force and full-time accommodations for thousands.

Erecting an ostentatious colossus commemorating the U.S. presence in Iraq is an exercise in self-adulating lavishness, rather than diplomatic good sense: Muslims have been agitating for Americans to withdraw, not build permanent, opulent reminders of U.S. power and intervention.

The White House has wrapped the project in secrecy, including names of construction companies. Could Halliburton be among them?

The deeper the United States sinks into Iraq, the more the president spends there in money and lives while he correspondingly shrinks funds for traditional domestic programs that benefit American families.

So, when visitors find cutbacks in park services and facilities getting dog-eared, they have the consolation of knowing their tax dollars are helping build only the best palatial legacy of President Bush's war.

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