July 31st, 2003 ~ Less than 48 hours after the disclosure, public outrage, and rapid shutdown of the Terrorism Information Awareness Office's proposed Policy Analysis Market, the Wall Street Journal has reported the imminent departure of its director, retired admiral John M. Poindexter. While the underlying science of using the same predictive algorithms and stochastics formulae applied to the real futures market was intellectually sound, the concept of a public betting parlor was at best politically inept and at worst and quite literally, an invitation to disaster. Now, perhaps, some of the $3 Million earmarked for that program can be used instead to further investigate the nuclear secrets which the Clinton White House allowed to walk out of Sandia and other facilities. We could also put those taxpayer dollars to work building a database of Japanese and South Korean citizens abducted over the last 20 years to see if any of those names have shown up on our shores in the form of North Korean spies. Don't get me wrong. I love DARPA. They gave us the internet. I just think they 've had a few wires crossed lately. Nothing a good support tech couldn't straighten out.
July 29th, 2003 ~ One thing you can't say about Admiral John M. Poindexter, Director of the Terrorism Information Awareness Office , is that he doesn't have enough sense to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. Before I even had a chance to comment on his Policy Analysis Market, an online futures market for betting on the likelyhood of terrorist acts, he had pulled the plug on this characteristically perverse initiative under pressure from Democratic and Republican Senators alike. He may not have learned from his Iran-Contra days to look both ways before crossing the American People, but he's certainly learned that the We don't brake for Admirals.
July 27th, 2003 ~ Thanks, for the memories, Bob. You gave all us vets "Hope". We'll NEVER forget you, sir. God Bless you and your band of merry men... and women!
July 26th, 2003 ~ My wife and I turned to some light entertainment the other night with the recent remake of the Dudley Moore/Peter Cooke classic "Bedazzled"; this time starring Brendan Fraser as Elliott, a capital "L" loser who agrees to sign his soul over to the Devil (played with diabolical glee by Elizabeth Hurley) to gain the love of a pretty young woman from work. Elliott is allowed seven wishes to fulfill his dream, but each time something goes wrong and he's left more and more frustrated until he wises up at the end; finding a way to realize his dream AND break his contract with the Devil simultaneously.
As funny as Bedazzled is, it's also a modern day morality tale about dealing with the Devil and how shortcuts to happiness rarely work out. It perfectly illustrates the adage "Be careful what you wish for; it may come true." It also struck me as illustrating how much of the legislation coming out of Washington in the last decade or so seems like the less-than-perfect fulfillment of one of Elliott's wishes.
Case in point: the heavy work vehicle tax credit. As detailed in "
A Hummer of a Tax Credit" from Taxpayers for Common Sense, the credit was originally intended to assist hard-pressed family farms and small businesses acquire work vehicles such as vans and pickup trucks. Instead, due to a loophole in the wording of the credit, it has fueled an explosion in purchases - mostly by urban professionals - of huge luxury SUV's like Hummers and Navigators. These gas-guzzlers have, in turn, made us even more dependent upon foreign oil imports.
There are countless examples of such legislation. Legislation which sounds good in theory, but either falls short in practice, or worse, creates yet more problems. So, are our Senators and Representatives making deals with the Devil, or is it more a case of the Devil being in the details? It may be a little bit of both.
To begin with, our founding fathers never designed our system of government to accomodate an entrenched bipartisan legislature. They certainly assumed - as any intelligent people would - that there would be specific issues polarizing our Congress for whatever time it took to resolve those matters, but I doubt they expected decade upon decade of an institutionalized division between two parties as we have had for the last century. This has struck a false note in all political discourse as both parties - attempting to justify their continued utility to the people - try to nudge each other out of the centrist position while placating their core constituencies at the fringes.
And that may be part of the problem. While the center gets a politician elected, the fringe elements of the two parties run the campaigns. Once in office, those fringe elements are the first (and loudest) in line and it is a foolish politician who doesn't give them the access they want. The result, all too often, is a "compromise" (such as the tax credit above), between the needs of the general population and the demands of one or the other of the extremes, which is, in reality, no solution at all.
How, then, do we keep Liberal and Conservative extremists from hijacking our legislative process without jeopardizing the process itself? One excellent way of doing this would be to outlaw rider bills; legislation which cannot stand on its own under the light of public scrutiny. Rider bills are - by their very nature - parasitic and are a favored mechanism for Liberal and Conservative extremists alike to sneak in legislation which would otherwise never pass muster. They are usually attached as amendments to legislation critical to the American people; bills such as those dealing with disaster relief or national security. They very often include the wording "...and for other purposes..." somewhere in their title.
If you do a key word search of the Thomas Legislative Archives for "Enrolled bills", you will find at least 30 bills with those four magic words (and for other purposes). Now scroll down the list and check out H.R.1559, the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2003. In that "emergency" bill you will find $9 Billion in loan guarantees and an additional $1 Billion in direct aid to Israel, $39 Million for miscellaneous standing committees, $3.3 Million for payment to the European Communities regarding a music licensing dispute, and about $65 Million for additional salaries and expenses of the EEOC, D.C. Public Education and Human Support Services. What do any of these have to do with EMERGENCY Wartime Supplemental Appropriations? Absolutely nothing.
Yet if these parasitic riders had not been included in that emergency legislation, I can guarantee you another much-abused parliamentary tool would have come into play; endless referrals to committee which keep bills off the floor and away from any vote. Unlike tabling (which would be political suicide in the case of a much needed bill), referral to committee just turns the bill into a zombie; stalking the halls of Congress until its sponsors wise up and allow extremists to attach enough pork to bring it back to life.
Another way, then, of rescuing our legislative process from extremists would be a mechanism for mandatory public referenda. If a piece of legislation critical to the American people has been shanghaied by extremists, shouldn't the American people have a way of forcing that legislation to the floor for a vote?
I'll get off my soapbox now as I think I've made my point that we're currently at the mercy of an entrenched bipartisan system that could do with a serious centrist third party threat and perhaps some electorate-friendly checks on Congressional rules which often subvert our legislative goals. And how does that tie back into "Bedazzled" you may ask? Only that while "better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't know" may be sound policy for the far right and the far left, it still leaves the rest of us, like Elliott, stuck dealing with the Devil.
July 22nd, 2003 ~ Two of the three most wanted in Iraq went down in a hail of gunfire today. Someone in Mosul dropped a dime on Saddam's two little monsters, Quday and Usay Hussein. Word spread quickly to Baghdad and there has been sporadic celebratory gunfire - even a few fireworks - to mark their passing. I mention this because I want to make it clear I have never had any question about whether or not Saddam and his spawn were a pox upon the face of humanity. I have only questioned the ham-fisted way in which the administration steered us into a war which does not appear to have done much to further our national security.
As an armchair general, I fully admit I might be wrong and Iraq may have been a brilliant strategic move to place American military might squarely within quick striking distance of the terrorist breeding grounds. Certainly of all the nations in the region, the Iraqis have the greatest likelyhood of embracing a democratic and constitutional government and there's never been any question about the strategic importance of Iraqi oil. But as a citizen, I can only guess at these motives. They were never presented to me by the administration for my consideration. Instead, like many Americans, I felt manipulated with half-assed propaganda at best and stonewalling at worst.
Now the "blame game" of how those 16 words got into the State of the Union speech has shifted to a senior White House staffer and frankly I don't know - nor do I care to know - the name of this latest confessor. He will be forgotten in a few weeks anyway. The important point is that those 16 words, at the time they were spoken by our President, were used expressly to further justify a war which many of us had trouble relating to the ongoing threat of Usama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
My wife, just asked me, "Do you REALLY want to know whether or not our President intentionally deceived us? Do you want the French to know? Do you want the Brits and others who stood by us to know?" I understood the chilling subtext of her question. We've already had one liar in the Oval Office. We simply can't afford another.
July 21st, 2003 ~ As the situation in Liberia goes from bad to worse, our President so far refuses to help the people of Liberia, despite pleas for assistance and the stacking of dead innocents before the gates of the U.S. embassy in Monrovia. He wants Liberia's neighbors to commit peacekeeping troops before involving America. Odd that he didn't think of that solution for Iraq. Doesn't he know there are gold mines there? On another front, the BIG drug companies are in a complete tizzy as House legislation to ease imports of drugs from Canada gains ground even with some Republicans. (See July 9th article below.) That reminds me to check the batteries on my remote. Have to make sure the mute button works for the wave of nauseating ads they'll be bombarding us with. I think the FDA should require the BIG drug companies to include a warning about this on all drug packaging. "Warning, self-serving ad blitz by the drug companies may induce nausea."
July 17th, 2003 ~ I have seen the error of my ways. Upon deeper reflection I realize that Pat has not called for prayers against Chief Justice Rehnquist, nor against Justice O'Connor. They are safe from God's wrath. According to the edicts of Operation Supreme Court Freedom, "One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer, and another has a heart condition." This means Stevens is still in the hot seat as are Justices Ruth Bader Ginzburg and Anthony Kennedy. I can't imagine how I could have made such a grave mistake. What could have posessed me to identify Justices Rehnquist and O'Connor as targets of this almighty offensive? Could it have been... oh, I don't know... possibly... SATAN?
July 16th, 2003 ~ Whenever the political world seems especially tawdry and absurd, I know I can always count on Pat Robertson to make most politicians look like angels by contrast. His latest ministry (when he's not defending Liberian despot Charles Taylor to protect his gold mine) is a call to the faithful to join him in "Operation Supreme Court Freedom"; praying for the retirement of three Supreme Court justices - by whatever means necessary - so they can be replaced by younger and more conservative judges.
Robertson, age 73 himself, has targeted the oldest members of that august body, Justice Paul Stevens, 83, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 78 and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 73, for special consideration in his "prayers". He claims they are well past the age any corporate executive would retire (except, of course, Pat Robertson). In a CNN interview with Paula Zahn today, Pat was anything but shy in complaining that they are not an elected body; that they are an oligarchy of lifetime appointees. Of course if they agreed with Pat's view of the world, I assume they could be as old as Strom Thurmond and we wouldn't hear a peep out of him.
Apparently the words "hypocrisy" and "irony" are not in Pat's dictionary. I think I'll start my own "Operation Let's See the Pompous Ass Slip on a Banana Peel" prayer vigil. I'm praying God has a good sense of humor. The Duck-billed Platypus suggests to me he does.
July 12th, 2003 ~ The controversy d'jour centers around whether or not our President intentionally mislead the American people and the world by including in his State of the Union Address, a claim that Iraq attempted to buy nuclear materials in Africa. Yesterday, CIA Director George Tenet "took the bullet" for the President by stating he was responsible for that inclusion. This Ollie North gesture rings hollow, however, if one thinks about it for more than a few seconds.
FACT: In February 2002, Vice President Cheney expressly requested the CIA to dispatch former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson to Africa to dig up any information regarding such efforts by Saddam Hussein's regime. After an exhaustive search, Wilson reported that he could not find any evidence to support this suspicion.
FACT: As early as September 2002, CIA Director Tenet reported to the Select Intelligence Committee that documents obtained by British Intelligence, supporting an attempt by Iraqi operatives to obtain nuclear materials from Niger, were highly suspect. We can easily assume he reported these same reservations to the White House. Yet in December 2002, a State Department fact sheet listed Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium from Niger, as clear evidence of Iraq's failure to fully comply with a U.N. mandated weapons disclosure resolution.
FACT: In vetting the State of the Union speech, the CIA again expressed reservations about including statements of Iraqi attempts to procure nuclear materials from Niger, so the speech was changed to refer to British intelligence sources and Niger was exchanged for the more generic Africa.
These and other facts seem to indicate a single-minded determination on the part of the White House to link Saddam Hussein's regime to nuclear weapons; a linkage some within the administration may have felt necessary to justify the urgency of dealing with that regime militarily and if need be, unilaterally.
Can the argument be made that Saddam was a threat to the region and to his own people? Undoubtedly. Some might even argue that since we have already defeated Saddam's regime, this entire question is moot. They would be wrong, of course. Because this question goes to the very heart of our President's credibility.
If the end justified the means in this case, might not that also apply to a whole range of issues; both foreign AND domestic? Where is the line drawn between fact and fiction? Are we to henceforth treat everything coming out of the White House as possibly true when ~ as in the case of Iraq ~ such fabrication has cost hundreds of American and thousands of Iraqi lives?
As one Senator said on a recent interview program, "in investigating this matter, there can be no good findings". Either the White House played it fast and loose with the truth to load the dice in favor of war with Iraq, or the President has an intelligence organization that can't provide accurate data at a time when America desperately needs accurate data to guard us against terrorism.
So, while Mr. Tenet's statement of responsibility is in the finest Washington tradition of North, Poindexter, and other willing scapegoats, it does nothing to address the darker implications of this matter. Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that said "The Buck Stops Here". I think our current President needs to borrow this plaque from the Truman library and read it daily for the remainder of his days in office.
July 9th, 2003 ~ I've always hated advertising that uses scare tactics to make it's point. Y'know, the tire commercials that show a pretty young mother driving on a dark, storm-swept, rural highway with her child sleeping in the back seat. "Do you want THEM out here on just ANY tire?"
So I find the recent media blitz by the BIG drug companies especially loathsome. Their spiel is aimed at defeating legislation to allow the importing of prescription drugs from Canada. (You can read the entire texts of House Bill H.R.2497 and Senate Bills S.1 and S.7. online at the Library of Congress.) They imply that such legislation will start a flood of questionable drugs not vetted by the FDA "gold standard"; vaguely dangerous drugs from a host of shadowy countries. "Do you want your loved ones taking just ANY drugs?"
HELLO! We're talking about Lopressor from CANADA, folks! Not monkey-gland extracts from Lower Poopaloopa. But the BIG drug companies are not happy about you buying the exact same drugs from the exact same companies for 30% to 60% LESS than you would pay here in the Good Ol' US of A. That might cut into their $385 BILLION annual income and that's profit that won't be coming out of the pockets of the unemployed and uninsured; the elderly barely getting by on Medicare and Social Security. In short, those least able to afford such profiteering.
Most despicably, seniors and the unemployed seem to be the primary target demographic of their media campaign. I've noticed the majority of their scary ads are aired during weekday business hours. Who else would be listening and watching during those hours?
So I, too, urge you to contact your Senators and Congresspeople. Let them know how you feel about being able to afford life-sustaining drugs. Not exactly the message the drug companies ads wanted to get across, but then, we've all paid too much for those ads already, haven't we?
July 4th, 2003 ~ Independence Day; the day we celebrate our hard-won Liberty and democratic way of life. I mention this because right now, America's sons and daughters are in harm's way as they attempt to bring the same sort of freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. At least that's what they who are fighting and dying over there believe their mission to be.
It's not about the WMD anymore. That rationale hasn't panned out at all. The terrorist connection was tenuous at best and sank rapidly into the realm of farce. Nobody wants it to have been about the oil, despite the fact that the oil is the one aspect directly affecting the American people. It just seems too craven a reason to have sacrificed American lifes for. So all that's left is the liberation of an oppressed people.
And now, there's Liberia. Over twenty years ago, warlord Charles Taylor terrorized the citizens of Liberia into electing him as President. Since then, Taylor and his goons have butchered thousands to remain in power as he propped up his regime by selling arms to warring factions in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. Terrorism, arms sales, and a despotic dictatorship. All reasons our President used for the liberation of Iraq. All reasons we must now liberate Liberia.
Of all the nations in Africa, Liberia has a particularly special relationship to America. Founded in 1821 by the American Colonization Society - a private organization formed in 1816 to help repatriate freed slaves - Liberia saw a large influx of former American slaves throughout the 1820's and 1830's. In 1847, under pressure of British colonial aspirations, Liberia formally declared itself a nation with Monrovia as its capital. Since then, sadly, it has all been downhill.
One corrupt regime after another has bled this poor nation dry and left it destitute. Yet somehow, The Liberian people have always found it in themselves to try to lift their dreams up out of the muck, only to see yet another opportunist; yet another vampire attach itself to their jugular. Many of those regimes have been brutal, but none quite as psychotic as that of Charles Taylor.
Our President must know we cannot turn our backs on Liberia and expect the slightest shred of credibility from the rest of the world. They will look at Iraq and say "what's the difference?" And there will be only one possible difference. We cannot allow the memory of our fallen heroes in uniform to be cheapened that way. We cannot allow their sacrifices to be mocked as they were in Viet Nam.
There are voices inside the beltway urging caution; saying "this is a civil war". They say that unless Taylor agrees in advance to leave the country we might become mired in another Viet Nam; another Somalia. I say, we fought a bloody civil war ourselves 140 years ago to free our fellow Americans from slavery. If it takes another civil war to free their great, great grandchildren from slavery, so be it.