Ann Coulter recently attacked Max Cleland, the former senator from Georgia who lost three limbs in Vietnam, for “allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero.” Her point was that his injuries occurred when he picked up a live grenade, thinking it was one of his own that he had just dropped. “He could have done it at Fort Dix,” she writes. But, Ms. Coulter, it didn’t happen at Fort Dix–or in the Air National Guard. It happened in Vietnam, where he was risking his life everyday, and where he had already won a Silver Star, one of the nation’s highest awards for bravery in battle.
My friend Jonathan Rowe recently visited the Philippines, and tells of meeting a young man who had just quit his job at a corporate call center in Manila. “There are over 50 of these places, some of them occupying whole buildings, I’m told. Chances are, when you call Microsoft, Citibank, and anyone of that ilk, you actually are calling the Philippines or else India. Corporations are assiduous at hiding this from their customers. Employees must take a course in which all traces of Pinoy are scrubbed from their speech. They are forbidden to say anything that might suggest where they are speaking from.”
Rowe has a solution for this problem: “If the law requires corporations to disclose where a t-shirt is made, shouldn’t they disclose where I’m calling when I call them?” As I was writing this item, The Wall Street Journal reported that John Kerry has introduced a bill that will make Jon Rowe’s solution the law of the land.
J. Edgar Hoover’s reputation has taken a beating since his death in 1972. I rise to his defense in one regard, however. It is his policy of “no left turns.” I’m not talking about his political philosophy but about the instruction given to his drivers. Actually, it makes sense. You are more likely to get in trouble when you turn left because you have to judge the speed of cars coming from both directions. Indeed, there is proof that this is so in the case of seniors. According to the AP, an American Automobile Association study found that elderly drivers “were more likely to get into crashes when turning left, when drivers often make quick decisions about whether to stop or go.”
I am, I must confess, a pro-football fan, having rooted for the Washington Redskins for more than 40 years. My wife will ask, how can I get so upset about violence in movies and still watch the violence on the gridiron. I, of course, stoutly maintain that violence is not football’s main appeal. The other day, she wore the kind of smug smile that warns me she’s ready to make a devastating point. She handed me a brochure we had received from the Redskins. Its cover read: “How comfortable can you be watching grown men tear each other apart?” Open the brochure and you see a fan sitting in one of the most expensive seats, which the brochure is trying to sell, with a big smile on his face saying: “Very.” She had me.
After George Tenet had assured a Senate committee that America is safer today than it was a year ago, Jay Rockefeller noted the result of public opinion polling in the Arab world. In Morocco, support for the United States has dropped from 77 percent pre-9/11 to 27 percent, in Saudi Arabia from 63 percent to 11 percent, and in Jordan from 25 percent to 1 percent.
When you read about Joe Trippi having worked for Howard Dean without salary, I hope you remembered the point I made in this column during the 2000 campaign: that most political consultants get their money not from salary but from commissions on the advertising that runs for their candidates. Trippi was depicted as a saint by the television pundits–I can still see the deeply respectful look on the face of Chris Matthews, who interviewed him after his departure from the Dean campaign.
True, Trippi charged a lower percentage for his commissions than many consultants. Still, his company had collected $700,000 in commissions on television advertising by the end of January and thereafter had at least $400,000 owed to it, all of which were expenditures largely determined by Trippi as campaign manager. Because of his understandable devotion to this medium for reaching the voters, he had spent almost all of what once amounted to the largest treasury of any Democratic candidate, causing Dean to cancel future advertising and confine himself to a last stand in Wisconsin.
A few people are catching on. The Washington Post‘s Paul Fahri just wrote a neat article about what Trippi was doing. He quotes Nancy Todd Tyne, president of the American Association of Political Consultants, as saying: “It’s interesting that the media guys are always pushing, ‘Do TV.’ You never hear the media guy say, ‘I was up all night thinking about how we need to do another piece of direct mail!’”
The solution I suggested in my 2000 item was that instead of paying consultants a percentage of the media buy, pay them a flat fee. Hillary Clinton did that with Mandy Grunwald, with a more than satisfactory result.
The ranks of Washington lobbyists include some of the world’s greatest confidence men. Everyone knows that these fellows have to con congressmen and bureaucrats, but what is less well known is that they have to con their client as well. This means keeping the client in a constant state of panic about plots being hatched, for instance, against the Celery Seed Producers Association, or whatever the client is–“Bulletin to Celery Seeders: We have just learned a bill is being proposed to ban our seeds. To stop it we need your help now. Please FedEx check today.”
I wouldn’t dream of calling Tom DeLay’s former assistant, Jack Abramoff, or his colleague, Paul Scanlon, confidence men, but it does appear that they have carried to new heights the art of making the client feel–and feel deeply–the need for their services. According to The Washington Post‘s Susan Schmidt, they have collected $45 million over the last three years to lobby for Indian gaming tribes. What is remarkable about their accomplishment is that “there are no major issues for gaming tribes on the horizon.”
Buried in a recent Maureen Dowd column is a good point by former Sen. Bob Kerrey. He said that once 9/11 happened, our target should have been Osama bin Laden, not terrorism in general. “To declare war on terrorism would seem to me to have the wrong target. It would be like after the 7th of December 1941, declaring war on Japanese planes. We declared war on Japan. We didn’t declare war on their tactic. Terrorism is a tactic.”
Kerrey might have added that, by making terrorism the enemy instead of al Qaeda, we took on an immensely complicated–should we war on the Chechens?–and ever-shifting target. One man’s terrorist is another man’s patriot. In the 18th century we were terrorists to the British, as were the Israelis to the British in the 1940s, and the Palestinians to the Israelis today.
This doesn’t mean I’m a big fan of terrorism. I was happy to see a report in The New York Times by our alumnus, James Bennet, that some Palestinians are using peaceful demonstrations to protest against the wall. I’ve long felt that non-violent resistance would be the Palestinians’ best tactic. Jewish guilt could get them more than terrorist bombs.
It’s not a slam dunk, however. “In advocating civil disobedience,” writes Bennet, “Gandhi and Martin Luther King had a bedrock faith in the essential humanity of their oppressors.” It is, unfortunately, a faith that Arab extremists do not possess, and that Israeli right-wingers have not earned.
The normally reasonable Tom Friedman of The New York Times may have been out in the sun too long with Paul Wolfowitz. Here’s what he wants the likely Democratic presidential nominee to say: “A Kerry presidency will pay any price and bear any burden to build a decent Iraqi regime in the heart of the Arab World.” It’s not that a democratic Iraq is not a laudable goal. But doesn’t this country have many other challenges to meet, both here and abroad, of equal or greater urgency?
Conservatives may be wrong in always seeming to prefer tax cuts for themselves over help for the less fortunate, but they are often right in being skeptical about the efficiency of government programs to provide that help. In West Virginia, it was recently discovered that Bob Graham, the director of Senior Services for Wyoming County (pop. 25,000), was being paid $301,000 a year. His compensation is supposedly determined by two boards consisting of senior citizens, at least some of whom are dependent on services provided by the program.
Where does the money come from? In 2002, reports the Charleston Gazette, the agencies that paid Graham’s salary got $5.2 million from Medicaid and other government sources, with only $73,100 coming from non-governmental sources. Is there any state or federal oversight of these senior service programs?
According to the Gazette, “state bureau of senior service director Ann Stottlemyre said she doesn’t know how Graham’s organization works[Gov. Bob] Wise and Director of Human Services Paul Nussbaum distanced themselves from the problem, laying the blame for the salary flap at the feet of the board members.”
Are federal authorities better informed? Not if Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is typical: “I’m not sure how much federal funds go directly into that center. I’m surprised there isn’t some kind of audit.” And three of the six living board members (two are deceased) recently told the Charleston Daily Mail “that they had no idea what Graham makes a year. They could not explain their role as board members, the duties of the board or the financial structure of the agency.” Does anyone know what’s going on? Does anyone know how many other programs like this there are around the country, receiving government money but without any accountability to anyone?
Shouldn’t the people who profit from Department of Defense contracts pay their taxes? After all, it’s our money they’re paid with, and it’s our loss when they don’t pay their share of the tax burden. Unfortunately, 27,000 defense contractors have not paid their taxes. That’s right –27,000. They owe a total of $3 billion, according to the General Accounting Office.
Ironically, legislation was passed in the late 1990s, giving the Pentagon authority to deduct 15 percent of any payment to contractors who owe taxes, but, guess what? The law has yet to be implemented. As we have frequently noted, it’s one thing to pass a law, it’s another to get it carried out. In this case, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department, the IRS, and the OMB have a joint task force that is “working on it.”
For many years, the Pentagon has published the “Early Bird,” a daily compilation of news items, magazine articles, and opinion pieces about the military. Recently, the “Early Bird” staff was told that newsmagazine articles should no longer be included. Could the edict have anything to do with the fact that a few days earlier, Newsweek ran a story titled “Rummy’s New Headaches,” and Time had one asking, “Is Rumsfeld Losing His Mojo?”
Virginia highway officials designed Interstate 81–it’s the main highway through the Shenandoah Valley–to accommodate traffic that is 15 percent trucks. Trucks are now 40 percent of the traffic, reports USA Today‘s Fred Bayles, who adds that “over the past two decades, the number of long-haul trucks has doubled” and “is expected to double again” by 2020. The reason for the increase is that “just about every company is using the highway system as a rolling warehouse.” Wise-guy MBAs tell businesses that to maximize profits, they must minimize inventory. This also causes pressure to be put on drivers to speed and short-change sleep in order to meet delivery deadlines.
Wouldn’t it be better if the companies built more warehouses instead of using more trucks and requiring drivers to risk their lives as well as those of the rest of us? That’s the Peters solution. Another, perhaps more realistic, approach is to make some traffic lanes trucks-only and others cars-only. At least then, you wouldn’t experience the terror of being surrounded by those behemoths.
It seems that Washington’s drinking water is laced with lead. “Tests of water in 6,118 homes last summer,” reports The Washington Post, “found that 4,075 had lead levels that exceeded EPA limits.” And there’s evidence that the problem existed well before that and should have been known by local officials. One employee of the local authority tried to warn its officials and the EPA of the problem. She not only wasn’t listened to, she was fired.
Conceding that Iraq and Vietnam are far from identical situations, there are some similarities that deserve attention. One is that we are confronted with a situation where some of the people want us there and some do not. Some of the don’ts feel strongly enough that they are willing to terrorize our troops and our Iraqi allies if we continue to stay. “What you have to understand,” a company commander stationed in the Sunni Triangle recently told The Washington Post, “is that most of the people here want us dead. They hate us, and everything we stand for, and they will take any opportunity to cause us harm.”
we leave, we will be giving in to the bad guys. And we will have betrayed the good guys, the Iraqi equivalent of the million South Vietnamese who risked their lives in leaky boats to flee the Communists after we pulled out.
If, on the other hand, we stick it out, more of our soldiers will die, as will more friendly Iraqis, as well as those who just get caught in the crossfire. It is going to cost us not only lives, but a bundle of money at a time we can ill afford it. And is there any reason to think that we know more about how to attain our goals in Iraq than we did in Vietnam?
Last year the District of Columbia’s mayor, Anthony Williams, took 30 trips. Among other destinations, he went to Paris, Brussels, Rome, Honolulu, Miami Beach, and Beverly Hills. It seems to me that in light of the daily demonstrations of ineptitude provided by his government, several of which have been recounted here, he should have stayed home, tending to a bureaucracy that would challenge the most gifted public administrator working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Faulty maintenance was one of the causes of the US Airways crash in Charlotte last year. The sloppy work was done not by the airline but by a contractor. One reason faulty maintenance by contractors is not spotted, reports Scott McCartney of The Wall Street Journal: Although 30 percent of maintenance is done by contractors, only 3 percent of the inspections done by FAA inspectors covering airlines look at how well the contractors are doing their work.
Kari Rein is a Norwegian who is married to an American citizen. She and her husband have lived in Williams, Ore., for 15 years. They run a small business and have a 14-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son.
Recently, as she was returning from a vacation in Norway, Rein was stopped at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport by the Bureau of Immigration and Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security. Officials told her they had to clear a few things up. “I thought they would let me go in an hour or two,” she told Ashbel Green of the Portland Oregonian. Instead, her husband and children were ordered to return home, and she was put in jail.
Why? It seems that she had a conviction on her record. Ten years ago, she had been found guilty of growing six marijuana plants. The judge in the case, having determined that she had grown the plants for personal use, and that she and her husband were good citizens, put her on probation. Before and after that episode, her record has been blameless. Her husband has managed to get her out on bail, but only after she’d been taken to court in handcuffs and shackles. The immigration service calls her “an aggravated felon” and still intends to deport her.
When the Immigration and Naturalization Service was made part of the Department of Homeland Security, I warned that simply putting it into a new agency would not solve its problems. It had been a perennial finalist in the competition for the title of Worst Government Agency. Now, instead of being reformed, its worst tendencies seem to have been exacerbated by the Bush administration.
Presidential campaigns are usually hard on bold and original ideas. When Howard Dean dared to suggest that something should be done about the inequitable payroll tax, Dick Gephardt immediately attacked him for threatening to wreck Social Security. I’m sure it won’t be long before the Republicans, not to mention the odious Ralph Nader, determined to destroy Kerry as well as his reputation, latch on to the fact that John Kerry once dared to criticize the “stifling bureaucracy” of the public schools and call for an “end to teacher tenure as we know it,” and Kerry will have to say he didn’t really mean it.
I’m indebted to Justin Rood, one of the Congressional Quarterly reporters who monitor homeland security issues, for this testimony from Robert Garrity, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Records Management Division: “FBI files are currently stored at one of 265 locations, including FBI headquarters, all 56 field offices, many of the larger of our 400 resident agencies, several warehouses around the Washington metropolitan area, and record centers operated either by the National Archives or the Records Technology Center on the East and West coast and at legal attach offices worldwide.”
The result, as you can imagine, is not the click-click, zip-zip, with information immediately appearing on the agent’s screen that you would expect from television and movies, but “time delays,” according to Garrity, that “mount as field office staff search file rooms, and then ship copies of the needed file or a prepared summary to FBI headquarters. This process,” Garrity notes with gentle understatement, “dilutes the FBI’s responsiveness.”
Speaking of Rumsfeld, remember how resolutely he clung to his insistence that the Army had enough soldiers to do the job in Iraq. He stoutly maintained that position even when the chaos of post-war Baghdad made it clear to practically everyone else that he was wrong. But finally, in late February, he quietly dispatched the Army chief of staff to the House Armed Services Committee to ask for 30,000 more troops to temporarily increase the size of the Army.
Tom Ricks, The Washington Post‘s excellent Pentagon reporter, recently explored the lessons troops are learning in Iraq. One is about training: “Our troops are in down-and-dirty fights in the streets of the Fallujahs of this country, and mostly the Army still trains for the Big Fight.” Another is about equipment. What the troops want is not the high-tech weaponry favored by the Pentagon, but “less fancy new stuff” and more “of the best body armor and screens against RPGs [rocket propelled grenades].” John Kerry, in a speech last month, pointed out that soldiers and their families are actually using their own money to buy body armor.
Marjorie Williams, one of my favorite people on the planet, has written a column in the March 7 Washington Post that is unremittingly hostile to John Kerry. She calls him “Flipper,” a nickname that I have a deep foreboding will be enthusiastically embraced by the GOP. A question for Marjorie and for other liberal journalists: Is this the time to afflict our friend and comfort the enemy? Isn’t Bush a far worse threat to everything they care about than Kerry at his worst?
It’s not as if the traits Marjorie identifies are such unredeemed failings that they disqualify him from the presidency. Indeed, the same characteristics appear in a considerably more favorable light in an article headed “Kerry Dots Deliberation with Decision” that appeared on the front page of the same edition of the Post that carried Marjorie’s column. Its author, Laura Blumenfeld, finds that Kerry “researches and analyzes carefully before choosing. He always deliberates, even if only for a second. What differs is how close he is to the ground.”
She tells a story of how a plane was plunging towards the Nevada desert. “10,000 feet, 6,000 feet, 2,000 feet and falling. Young Kerry, sitting next to the pilot, reached for the controls. ‘Give it to me,’ Kerry said, over the screams of the engine,” and landed the plane safely. His brother Cameron explained to Blumenfeld: “It’s the deadline thing. He is not going to act when he doesn’t need to. He’s incredibly decisive when he needs to be.”
Kerry is a relentless questioner, often playing devil’s advocate with his staff–a quality especially esteemed by presidential historians, and the very opposite of George W. Bush, described in The Price of Loyalty, who dislikes arguing with himself, who is profoundly incurious, and who does not encourage his staff to provide him with carefully researched alternatives, disliking the kind of debate that would explore options.
Another op-ed appearing the same day as Marjorie’s, Bruce Reed’s in The New York Times, described how Kerry’s apparent waffling can simply mean that he sees the merit in both sides and wants his decision to reflect those merits. In the case of welfare reform, for example, this meant voting in favor of reform while making sure the bill included more child-care money and other improvements that would make it more humane.
In addition to Marjorie, I have another close friend, Mickey Kaus, who has become relentless in his criticism of Kerry. One thing he shares with Marjorie is that neither of them knows Kerry. I would urge them to stop and consider the fact that the people who do know him have a better opinion of Kerry. This is most significantly true of people who have worked closely with him, from the battlefields of Vietnam to the floor of the Senate, and who have rallied to his cause.
Consider the number of Democratic senators who joined his campaign before the nomination was clinched, and the number of comrades from Vietnam who did the same. When you hear Ted Kennedy speaking about him, you know he’s not talking about the same man Marjorie and Mickey see in their minds’ eye.
To be sure, Kerry needs constructive criticism during the campaign and thereafter. But it should be accompanied by an awareness that Bush is the only other choice we now have, so that liberal journalists do not do unto Kerry what they did unto Al Gore–such a splendid job of tearing him down that they leave the Republicans little or nothing to add. They should be careful not to make the same mistake twice.
Congress voted in 2002 to give jobless workers an additional 13 weeks of unemployment compensation. Just before Christmas, the program ran out. “Congressional Republicans,” explains The Washington Post’s Kirsten Downey, “said another extension wouldn’t be necessary because the economy was going to strengthen and job growth was near at hand.” In January, a record-high 375,000 unemployed workers exhausted their benefits.
Liberal journalists who pick on Kerry should remember that Bush is the only other choice we now have, so that they do not do unto Kerry what they did unto Al Gore –such a splendid job of tearing him down that they leave the GOP with little or nothing to add.