“War casualties overflow Walter Reed Hospital.” This headline is not from some left-wing anti-war publication. It appeared in the conservative, pro-Bush Washington Times in early August. It suggests a story I haven’t seen reported by the American media. What is the total number of service people wounded or injured in Iraq since the war began? (The English newspaper The Guardian says “unofficial figures are in the thousands.”) Where and how well have they been treated? How many have died? How many are permanently disabled? I suspect the cost of this war is much greater in human terms than the far less important, but still troubling, extra financial cost we’ve been learning about.
“The Bush administration is in the process of cutting the budget of CDC units including the Center for Infectious Diseases,” reports the columnist Richard Reeves. Like Blanche DuBois, the CDC is reduced to relying on the kindness of strangers. Its new Emergency Response Center in Atlanta got built only because the money to finance it was put up by Bernard Marcus, the retired chairman of Home Depot. An essential public service “shouldn’t have to depend on handouts,” observes Barry Bloom of Harvard’s School of Public Health. But that’s where Bush’s tax cuts and his war on Iraq have left us, without enough money to pay for basic government functions.
Did you know the Air Force and the Navy are sending enlisted personnel to butler school? To be confident that their enlisted aides will provide generals and admirals with the spiffiest service, reports Slate’s Tom Anderson, the Pentagon is “enrolling some aides at the Starkey International Institute for Household Management, the country’s premier school for domestic help.” In case you’re wondering, Anderson adds that “the Army trains its own servants at its advanced culinary program at Fort Lee, Va.” Wouldn’t it be a better use of these fellows to send them to relieve the guys who have been sweating it out in Iraq for too long?
As I was catching a plane at Reagan National Airport a few weeks ago, I noticed a defibrillator housed in a glass-covered case in the wall. Pasted over the glass was a handwritten sign saying “out-of-order.” Can’t you imagine the desperation of the Good Samaritan who, upon witnessing a heart attack, inquires about the location of a defibrillator, rushes to it, only to see that out-of-order sign!
The ACLU is an organization of laudable purpose. But from time to time, it has displayed a tendency to focus on relatively trivial matters instead of major threats to our liberty. This instinct for the capillaries recently found expression in a lawsuit by the ACLU of West Virginia to permit hunting on Sundays. They may have a case, but with John Ashcroft loose in the land, shouldn’t liberals be expending their slim resources more judiciously?
The war in Iraq was not pointless. We all agree Saddam Hussein was a vicious tyrant. There is, however, just so much we can do in this world. First, we must take care of the home front, at which the Bush administration has failed miserably. If we had to have a foreign war, the one that was most clearly justified was going after the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. It didn’t make sense to take on another war in Iraq before we had the situation in Afghanistan in hand, and even now that obviously is not the case. We read of a resurgence of the Taliban, the failure to carry out our pledges to rebuild Afghanistan, and the unchallenged power of the warlords outside of Kabul.
Now, to top it all off, comes a report from Time’s Michael Duffy and Massimo Calabresi that last fall Bush shifted the special forces’ A-Team that had been pursuing the Taliban and al Qaeda to Iraq, replacing it with “reservists, who rather than specializing in countering Islamic threats, were trained for operations in Russia and Spanish-speaking countries.”
How do Supreme Court justices keep working through their seventies, even well into their eighties? One reason is that the job is not excessively demanding. A three-month recess is customary, from the beginning of July until the first Monday in October. And, as we annually point out, the number of cases they deign to hear keeps falling, from an average of 150 per year in the 1980s to just 73 last year.
The press has finally gotten tough about Bush’s relying on British intelligence for his uranium claim instead of checking the validity of what the Brits were telling him. But the press should ponder how often it has done the same thing itself. Think how many times you’ve seen a story that begins with “the president says” or “Senator X says” or “Alan Greenspan says,” with the paragraphs that follow displaying not a hint of evidence that the reporter has examined the truth of the quotation. All too often, all the reporter does is seek balancing quotes–“Senator Y says Senator X is dead wrong”–but does not try to find out who was right. In fact, much of the run-up to the Iraq war was assisted by a press that mindlessly reported Bush claims without examining them.
That men want more sexual partners than women do has long been a matter of common observation. And it now appears confirmed by a recent study of 16,000 people from every inhabited continent conducted by David P. Schmidt of Bradley University. That is, it appears to do so until the 20th paragraph of The Washington Post’s story describing the Schmidt study. There we find another study conducted by Ohio State psychologist Terri Fisher. She asked a group of men and women if they masturbated, or watched soft or hardcore pornography. With a maximum score of 3 for a yes to each, the men averaged 2.32 and the women 0.89. Well, you say, that confirms the Schmidt study. But wait. When Fisher changed the rules so that the answers were deposited in a locked box, the women’s average rose to 1.52. Then when the women were given the test alone in a locked room, and deposited their answers in a locked box, their score jumped to 2.04 compared to the men’s 2.32. In other words, women are different, but not that different.
In our continuing effort to educate our readers about the culture of bureaucracy, one lesson for which there has never been a shortage of fresh examples is the Art of Redefinition. Clever bureaucrats, when confronted with a potentially embarrassing statistic, know that they should never abandon hope. Instead, they redefine whatever they are quantifying so that the bad news is either mitigated or disappears. Take the administrators of Brooklyn’s Franklin Lane High School. Anxious to avoid high dropout and failure rates that might reflect badly on their performance as educators, school officials have been pushing marginal students out the door.
Franklin Lane is not the only school involved. Indeed, the practice has become widespread. “As students are being spurred to new levels of academic achievement and required to pass stringent Regents exams to get their high school diplomas, many schools are trying to get rid of those who may tarnish the schools’ statistics,” explain Tamar Lewin and Jennifer Medina of The New York Times, “many students are being counseled or forced to leave.”
The U.S. Border Patrol plays a similar game. Its statistics for the number of illegal immigrants who died trying to cross the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border are misleadingly low, reports Claudine LoMonaco of the Tucson Citizen, because they include only those who die in the counties actually on the border. Those who manage to keep breathing as they stagger beyond the border counties are not counted. The 19 bodies found in that trailer in Victoria, Texas, do not appear in Border Patrol statistics because Victoria is not in a border county.
Joe Lieberman calls the Democratic candidates who oppose the war in Iraq “extremists.” It seems to me that the real extremists are the top officials of the Bush administration who repeatedly exaggerated the need for the war to the point of outright lying, and the legislators like Lieberman who aided and abetted them. Speaking of extremists, what about the administration’s running dogs at Fox News? Consider this from Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast of March 26: “You flatten Baghdad, you flatten the troops, we flatten all the troops. And you know as well as I do the war would have been over in two days. It’s just frustrating for everybody to know that we have been fighting this war with one hand behind our back.”
Still another example of the uses of definition comes from the world of foundations. Foundations are required to dispose of at least 5 percent of their assets each year. The idea is that they should make at least some charitable or educational use of their money. The foundations, however, apply the Art of Redefinition and count salaries, trustees fees, legal and accounting fees, rent and office expenses as part of the 5 percent. Needless to say, the salaries and fees represent a tempting opportunity for the people who run the foundations to enrich themselves at the expense of their supposed beneficiaries. When Congress proposes reform to prevent abuse, foundation officials moan that they will have to cut back on essentials such as auditing and annual reporting to their donors. “There has been no mention, however,” notes Stephanie Strom of The New York Times, “of cutting compensation for trustees and executives.” The median salary for executives of non-profits with assets of more than $25 million is $176,000. At New York’s Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, reports Strom, even the trustees were each paid $175,000 in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available.
It used to be that lobbyists were people who wished they were in the Congress or the White House, but had to take up lobbying because their side had lost an election. That began to change in the 90s. Steven Waldman, one of our alumni, was the first to notice that congressional staff members were devoting a lot of their time to angling for lobbying jobs. Now comes another Monthly alumnus, Slate’s Timothy Noah, who reports that members themselves are getting into the act.
Recently, at a retirement party for the prominent lobbyist Hilary Rosen, Reps. Billy Tauzin and Mary Bono sang “Who wants the job of Hilary Rosen? How about the team of Bono and Tauzin?” What’s happened, I suspect, is that today’s public officials look at a Jack Valenti, who since leaving the Johnson White House has been the Washington lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association. His role has enabled him to maintain his status as a player on the Washington scene for 36 years. He doesn’t have to raise money and run for reelection and he earns a salary in the neighborhood of $1 million.
Reformers like Paul Taylor have been trying to get broadcasters to honor their public service obligation by contributing at least some free time to political candidates. After all, it is the public that gives the radio and TV stations the license to use the airwaves, so they should do something in return. The broadcasters have responded to this seemingly reasonable position with massive resistance. Now comes the news that not only are they refusing to give free time, they are also actually charging candidates more than year-round advertisers. They raise their rates by more than 50 percent in the weeks before the election. Last year, in the period from Aug. 26 to Nov. 4, according to the Alliance for Better Campaigns, rates rose 53 percent.
Sen. Mark Dayton is making Washington officialdom nervous. He has slipped an amendment into the Senate’s prescription drug bill that would cut drug coverage under the congressional health plan to the level Congress provides for the public. Bureaucrats from the White House down through the ranks of the civil service are worried that they too might be affected. What would happen if the public ever found out about the generous health benefits federal officials enjoy? Would the people demand the same coverage for themselves, or will the Dayton amendment mean a reduction in the feds’ goodies? There is a difference between the two sets of benefits.
On drugs, under the most popular federal plan, the congressman or other federal official pays only 25 percent of the cost. There’s no deductible, and the official pays nothing at all after the total reaches $4,000. Under the Senate’s plan for the people, each person must first pay a $275 deductible, then 50 percent of the cost of the prescription. Once their costs reach $2,000, the people pay 100 percent until the bill is $4,000. Then their drug coverage kicks back in until the total cost reaches $4,900. Here, at last, their benefits become equal to the senator’s.
The House bill does not contain the Dayton amendment, and it appears likely to be killed in conference. The House has already passed a bill to protect federal retirees from having their benefits reduced to the proposed Medicare level. “We take care of our own, and the hell with the average American,” says Rep. Fortney Stark. (You can see why the Republicans called the Capitol Police to shut this guy up.)
There are, however, a few signs that word is leaking out to the general public. I saw a good piece explaining what’s going on by the Hearst News Service’s Judy Holland in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. And on Aug. 4th, Nora O’Donnell laid it all out on NBC News.
When Brady Kiesling, a veteran foreign service officer, was planning to resign in protest over the war in Iraq, his friend, former ambassador Robert Keeley, told him it wouldn’t do any good, people would forget what he had done.
I happen to know Bob Keeley, and am sure that he hopes he was wrong. Brady Kiesling deserves to be remembered as a brave and thoughtful public servant, as do Ann Wright and John Brown, the other foreign service officers who joined him in resigning in protest. It isn’t easy to abandon a career. Asked to describe Brady, his sister Jennie said simply, “He’s a diplomat,” writes Bob Thompson of The Washington Post Magazine. A diplomat no longer, Kiesling is getting his Ph.D. and hopes to teach. We wish him well.
Brady Kiesling represents a good side of the foreign service: the high quality of the people it attracts. A less happy side, how their abilities are often wasted on triviality, was told by Bill Keller, the new executive editor of The New York Times, in an article that appeared in the November 1979 issue of this magazine. A few years ago, I was selecting the best articles about government that had appeared in the Monthly. One I chose was Keller’s foreign service piece. It will be posted on our Web site during this month.
Another article Keller wrote for the Monthly told a truth about Washington that still holds today. Titled “Lowest Common Denominator Lobbying” (May 1983), it describes how Washington lobbyists are prisoners of the worst elements of the group they represent, the loudmouths who can make trouble for them at the group’s next convention unless they toe the extremist line. Sometimes the lobbyists become willing prisoners. Faced with a shortage of contributions from their members, they will stir up the crazies with messages like: “Bulletin to Members: We are faced with a great danger of another attack by the liberals. Help stop Hillary. Send your contribution today.”
As many have learned to their regret, you have to watch which key to press when sending email. The latest example comes from former Sen. Tim Hutchinson, who is now a Washington lobbyist. It seems that he wanted to let two officials at the Department of Homeland Security know that a client of his would be meeting with Asa Hutchinson, one of the department’s top honchos, who happens to be the former senator’s brother. Alas, the former senator hit the wrong key and the message was dispatched to 70 other Washington lobbyists, some of whom were less than delighted to learn that a competitor had this fraternal advantage over them.
Unsurprisingly, the message was leaked to Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, who called the brothers and asked for an explanation. Tim Hutchinson assured her that he did not lobby his brother. Asa Hutchinson said “I have recused myself from any decision-making on any of my brother’s clients.” Why then this meeting between Tim Hutchinson’s client and Asa Hutchinson? “For social and friendship purposes,” said Asa.
The latest bulletin from that most farcical of public institutions, the government of the District of Columbia: District emergency medical services save the lives of 4 percent of Washingtonians who suffer cardiac arrest. In Seattle, the figure is 45 percent, according to Matthew Cella of The Washington Times. In April, he adds, “the number of critical medical calls reached within 8 minutes by district personnel was 55 percent; the national average is 90 percent.” If you’re planning to come to Washington, you might want to consult your cardiologist before you call your travel agent. If you’re planning to arrive at Reagan National Airport, bring your own defibrillator.