Tilting at Windmills

I have been puzzled by the immense sales figures racked up by Viagra and by newer but similar drugs. I had thought these drugs had been developed for seniors who wanted to put a little fun back in life and for a relatively modest number of younger men who were troubled by sexual dysfunction. But obviously millions of young men are buying these drugs. If they really need them, how did women get pregnant before? A clue comes from Warren St. John of The New York Times. It’s that men in their prime are taking Viagra not because they usually have a problem but because they don’t want to have a problem tonight. I do recall, from my youth, that as the moment approaches in a relationship when it becomes clear or at least possible that this will be the night, males experience performance anxiety. In other words, Viagra and its relatives appear not so much to be an answer to a medical condition as an antidote to stage fright.

When Condoleezza Rice appeared on “60 Minutes” talking about 9/11, she said that now “the world is a lot safer.” When the questioner observed that there have been more terrorist attacks in the 30 months since 9/11 than in the 30 months before, she replied, “That’s not the way to look at it.”

It seems to me that the reporting of the Richard Clarke-Condoleezza Rice controversy put too much emphasis on whether the Bush administration was to blame for 9/11, and not enough on whether the administration’s preoccupation with Iraq detracted from its war against those responsible for 9/11. On the first question, the evidence is so muddy that in a poll released just as we were going to press, Rice won. On the second, however, the evidence is strong. The Taliban and al Qaeda survive today because the Bush administration was so determined to attack Iraq that it diverted resources away from finishing the job in Afghanistan. “What was unique about George Bush’s reaction,” writes Richard Clarke, “was his choice to invade, not a country that had engaged in anti-U.S. terrorism, but one that hadn’t.”

“If ‘sexy high heeled shoes’ are four of your favorite words…If girls can never have too many handbags, dresses, t-shirts, or lacy underthings… If you know that shopping is one of life’s most fabulous pleasures, then…” according to the envelope copy from a recent direct mail solicitation, you should subscribe to “Lucky, The Magazine About Shopping.”

This reminds me that I want to embrace a proposal by the New America Foundation’s Maya MacGuineas to replace the payroll tax with a tax on consumption. The worker’s share of the payroll tax is an unfair burden on low- and middle- income workers. The employer’s share is a disincentive to hiring new workers.

The value-added tax in Europe and state sales taxes in this country prove that consumption taxes can be accepted. And MacGuineas’s proposal avoids the regressive problem of sales taxes by making the rate increase as the amount of consumption rises, and by providing low-income exclusions. As for the effect of a consumption tax on business, it’s hard to believe that it would discourage the subscribers to Lucky.

I admit there’s not much chance that Ralph Nader can be persuaded to end his run for the presidency, but a ray of hope may have been presented by Wayne Slater’s revelation in The Dallas Morning News that Republicans are contributing to the Nader campaign. When Slater asked these contributors if they would vote for Nader, they all replied they were for Bush. “So why,” asks The New Republic, commenting on Slater’s report, “are they giving Nader money?” If Ralph considers that question, he just might be shamed into doing what he should do, and that is get out now.

Remember Bob Graham, the man who I said had collected $301,000 for running the senior service program for Wyoming County, W.Va. (pop. 25,000)? Well, I have to apologize. I got it wrong. He actually received a total of $463,000. It breaks down this way: $185,000 base salary, $44,000 overtime pay, $190,000 unused sick leave and personal days, and a Christmas bonus of $34,000.

To those who protest, Graham argues that the government can’t regulate non-profits. It certainly hasn’t been doing so. Cullen Murphy recently reminded us in The Atlantic of other examples of abuse by non-profits. “Item: in Massachusetts, a trustee of a family foundation reportedly increased his compensation in order to pay for a daughter’s $200,000 wedding. Item: in Washington D.C., an audit of the local United Way revealed that the former chief executive had received some $1.5 million in ‘apparently improper or questionable payments.'” Murphy goes on to describe the non-profit conference circuit, and the “privileges enjoyed by cosmopolitan thought leaders under the auspices of the gilded non-profit sector of the Western World–life on the gravy jet.”

Live appearances by George W. Bush received 12 hours and 11 minutes of cable news coverage, compared to three hours and 47 minutes for Kerry between March 3 and April 16, reports The Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz. Part of this, of course, was due to Kerry’s absences from the campaign because of his bad shoulder. But even after making the most generous allowance for Kerry’s days off, Bush clearly had an advantage of more than 2-to-1. Bush’s coverage was also, in my view, unmistakably more respectful than Kerry received, especially on FOX and CNN’s Headline News. It is perhaps no coincidence the same period this study covered, the presidential race according to Gallup has gone from a Kerry lead to a Bush lead, 51-46.

The historic ability of the White House to control the news tended to disappear during the Clinton years but returned full-blast on 9/11. Since then, Bush has gotten the full benefit of the commander-in-chief role. The only exception to the recent White House dominance was during this year’s Democratic primaries, which may help explain why as Kerry clinched the nomination, he led Bush in the polls by a comfortable margin.

More about Judge David Sentelle–remember, he’s the judge who presided over the panel that appointed Ken Starr as Whitewater prosecutor and refused to pay more than a small amount of the legal expenses of Starr’s victims. The Washington Post‘s Carol Leonnig produced a revealing comparison of the reimbursement the court has approved for Reagan and Bush I appointees investigated for misdeeds related to Iran-Contra–they got $1.5 million–and the amount approved for Whitewater victims, $114,000. Incidentally, Leonnig notes that Sentelle named his daughter Reagan, in honor of Guess Who?

Bob Shrum recently elbowed Jim Margolis, another political consultant, out of the Kerry campaign. The bad news for Kerry is that Margolis had created the most effective of Kerry’s campaign spots to date, the two about his service in Vietnam. David Axelrod, one of the top Edwards managers, said: “I think he won Iowa because of those ads.” Actually, I think he won more than that and would win many more states by continuing to appeal to Vietnam veterans.

America, Henry Wallace noted, even when the New Deal had been riding high, is a normally conservative country. For a Democrat to win, he needs either emergencies like the Great Depression and World War II, or he has to appeal to a substantial group of voters who would otherwise tend Republican. Kennedy did this with Catholics in 1960, Carter with Southerners in 1976, and Clinton repeated with Southerners in 1992. For this appeal to work, it helps that the group had felt disrespected, as was the case with Catholics and Southerners, and has been the continuing plight of Vietnam veterans. Kerry’s ability to appeal to these veterans stood out as his campaign’s principle political advantage. Why risk throwing away that advantage by getting rid of Margolis? Did Shrum simply want Margolis’s share of the ad commissions, as Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times suggests? Or did he fear the inevitable attacks on the legitimacy of Kerry’s military record?

But what is indisputable about that record is that Kerry served in combat–in contrast to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the other Republican chickenhawks–and that while being shot at, he displayed bravery that stood out enough to win him the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest decoration for courage. Shrum’s brilliance has won dozens of campaigns. His skills are legendary. He does, however, have a less appealing side. Those who recall the conclusion of the 1980 Democratic convention will remember the pathetic spectacle of Jimmy Carter pursuing Ted Kennedy around the platform, vainly seeking the arms joined and upraised pose that traditionally spells the coming together of primary opponents as a convention closes and the party looks ahead to the fall campaign. Being ignored by Kennedy was a complete and total humiliation for Carter. It was unusual for Ted Kennedy, who for all his faults is not a cruel man. Where did he get the idea to behave that way? No one knows the answer for sure, but Bob Shrum had ridden with Kennedy to the convention in the back seat of the same car that night.

One of the glories of my hometown is that it has morning and afternoon papers. Furthermore, they have different points of view. The Gazette is Democratic, the Daily Mail Republican–a difference that is reflected in their presentation of the news. Here’s how they played recent stories about the state of the local economy. The Mail‘s banner headline announced “Toyota adds 50 workers;” a one-column story said, “DuPont losing 70 jobs.” The Gazette, under a “Good News and Bad on Jobs” banner, devoted a four-column head to the DuPont cut, which it said was of 92 jobs, while giving one column to the good news from Toyota.

Communication breakdown

One problem with the military that drives me around the bend is the deaths of our soldiers that we could have prevented, those that are caused by friendly fire. David Martin, the CBS Pentagon correspondent, reports that of the 600+ American deaths in Iraq so far, roughly 400 were the result of enemy action. Consider the 18 Marines killed taking the bridge in Nasiriyah: As many as 10 of those deaths were by fire that came from our Air Force jets. The Marines had no way of communicating with the Air Force pilots, and the Air Force pilots had not been trained in how to identify Marine vehicles. Didn’t the same problems exist in the 1991 Gulf War?

The warrior as welder

Another illustration of how maddening the Pentagon can be comes from The Wall Street Journal‘s Greg Jaffe. It reminds me of the failure to provide body armor that we discussed last month. In this case it is the failure to adequately armor the Humvee. Many of the deaths and maiming injuries suffered by our soldiers could have been avoided if this simple step had been taken. At the beginning of the Iraq War, only 2 percent of the Army’s 110,000 Humvees were armored. Even last May, after two months of fighting, the Army still said it needed only 250 armored Humvees in Iraq. Meanwhile, soldiers in the field were desperately trying to weld sheets of metal on the vehicles to give themselves some protection. Now the Army has finally ordered 11,000 armored Humvees, and 8,400 add-on kits to put armor on those already in the field. Jaffe attributes the long wake-up call to the Army’s penchant for big-ticket equipment designed for big wars.

As if to prove Jaffe’s point, George C. Wilson reports in The Washington Post that the Pentagon is planning to spend $80 billion to buy 278 F-22 fighters that we do not need, first because they were designed to prevent the threat of a Soviet air fleet that no longer exists, and second because updated F-16s can do the job now needed just as well as the F-22 at a much lower cost.

The best sources

In the months leading up to our invasion of Iraq last year, why did so few journalists avoid being conned by the Bush administratio”s case for those fictitious weapons of mass destruction? Answering that question in a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Michael Massing quotes Knight-Ridder‘s John Walcott, one of the handful who were not gulled, as saying something that delighted me because it has been lesson number one at The Washington Monthly school of journalism for 35 years: “One question worth asking is whether we in journalism have become too reliant on high-level officials instead of cultivating less glamorous people in the bowels of the bureaucracy. So if you relied exclusively on traditional news sources –assistant secretaries and above–you would not have heard things we heard.”

Witch-hunt

The Office of Independent Counsel for Whitewater finally closed its doors on March 23, having endured for more than 10 years, and costing more than $70 million. The office, which had been established to delve into the Whitewater real estate venture and related financial irregularities at a Little Rock Savings & Loan, managed to wander all over the place, culminating in its investigation of Bill Clinton’s sex life. Its constantly expanding role was a tribute to the genius of the Republican right and its ability to persuade millions of Americans that Starr’s mission wasn’t the witch-hunt it truly was.

Risky business

One reason for the accounting scandals of recent years is something called the “risk-based audit.” An example of how it works is provided by Jonathan Weil of The Wall Street Journal:

When Ernst & Young accountants took a look at Health South’s 2002 financial statement, they asked the hospital chain’s executives “if they were aware of any significant instances of fraud.” The answer was no. “As a result,” writes Weil, “the auditors performed far fewer tests of the numbers on the company’s books than they would have at an audit client where they perceived the risk of accounting fraud to be higher.”

Legal eagles

The Knight Foundation has pulled the plug on a program that gave journalists a year at Yale Law School. The idea was that the rigor of law school would be intellectually stimulating for the reporters who also would be better prepared to cover legal issues. Linda Greenhouse, who covers the Supreme Court for The New York Times, was one of the participants.

I think the Knight Foundation made a serious error in halting the program. In my 32 years of working with bright young journalists, I found their greatest defect to be a lack of sense of where the holes were in the cases they were making in their articles. The best way to learn to avoid those holes is through exposure to a demanding Socratic law professor who leaves you determined to never again be embarrassed by sloppy thinking. Every reporter, regardless of whether he’s covering legal issues, needs this kind of intellectual discipline. There may be weaknesses in the Yale program–I understand, for example, that it is possible to avoid the tough professors but they should be fixed and the program continued.

Numbers game I

Speaking of questionable accounting practices, Alex Berenson of The New York Times has discovered that Freddie Mac paid Washington Mutual $100 million for “the right to guarantee” Washington Mutual’s mortgages. Now why should you pay to insure someone else’s mortgages? They should pay you. It appears that the reason for this bizarre transaction was that Freddie Mac could use the loans on its books to meet its 2003 “affordable housing” goals. The Washington Mutual loans covered apartment buildings with 5-50 units. Each such unit counts for two toward Freddie’s affordable housing goal. If this isn’t Wonderland, why is Alice standing there?

Jeepers creepers

The bad news is that the Hummer limo, a stretch version of the H2, is, according to the AP, “among the most sought after limos.” The good news is that sales of the regular H2 “fell by 21% in February,” according to The New York Times, “making the sixth straight month of falling sales.”

Doctored ratings

Twenty-eight large corporations are teaming up to develop “score-cards” to help their employees choose a physician, reports The Wall Street Journal‘s Laura Landro. One part of the scorecard, rating doctors on how well they care for their patients, is clearly laudable. It’s the other part that worries me. It is based on how “cost-efficient” the doctors are. This too could be a good idea, but only if used to punish wasteful medical practices–and not if used, as I fear the companies will be tempted to do, to pressure employees to use the cheapest doctors.

Numbers game II

Speaking of statistical manipulation, it turns out that Atlanta played around with its crime figures in order to win the 1996 Olympics. The AP reports that the practice of underplaying crime statistics became so habitual in the Atlanta police department that it continued until at least 2002, when it appears that 22,000 crime reports were “either intentionally suppressed or lost through sloppy record-keeping.” Of these, 4,281 were for violent offenses.

Made in India

Merck let 3,200 of its American workers go last year as it announced 1,200 new jobs abroad, reports Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post, who adds that in the same period, Merck increased its untaxed foreign earnings by $3 billion to a total of $18 billion, on which it says it has no intention of ever paying U.S. taxes.

Intel dropped 3,300 American employees while it added 4,300 overseas. Its untaxed earnings grew by $700 million to a total of $7 billion. The company said it “intends to reinvest the earnings indefinitely in operations outside the United States.” Doesn’t this mean that John Kerry is right about wanting to change the tax system so that corporations are not rewarded for sending jobs abroad and not paying taxes here?

First thing we do, let’s outsource the lawyers.
For a moment at least, a recent headline in The Wall Street Journal boosted my hopes that action would be taken to stop the flow of jobs overseas. It read, “Next on the Outsourcing List, Job Shift to Cheaper Countries Could Threaten More Careers: Analysts, Architects, Attorneys.” If the lawyers are threatened, I reasoned, action by politicians, so many of whom are also members of the bar, would quickly follow. But my hopes were dashed: By reading on in the story, I saw that it was only the paralegals, the little guys of the law, who were threatened. I am afraid that the big shots will only become concerned about outsourcing when their own jobs are threatened.

Stumbling at the end

My wife Beth and I were talking about Ralph Nader the other day. “He reminds me of Clark Clifford,” she said. Clifford had climaxed a distinguished career of public service both as a high official and as an advisor to presidents by embarrassing himself as the head of the First American Bankshares of Washington during a period of unseemly fiscal hanky-panky at that institution. I couldn’t see what was similar, so I said why? She explained that it was because both men in the twilight of their careers chose a way of remaining players that instead of enhancing their reputations, threatened to destroy them.

Sistani as Hindenburg

Another historic analogy has occurred to me, which for obvious reasons I pray I’m wrong about. But could it be that Muqtada al-Sadr will turn out to be Hitler to Sistani’s Hindenburg? Hindenburg, you will recall, was the revered German statesman and World War I hero who, despite a profound distaste for Hitler, lacked the will to fight him when he had the prestige to do it. It’s incredible the extent to which our future in Iraq depends upon one man, Sistani, our ability to handle him, and his ability to handle the extremists.

Render unto Caesar

Thanks to everyone who wrote about the religion item in last month’s Tilting. I hope the Monthly will have space to run some of the letters in our next issue. In the meantime, I want to mention one, from my old friend Juanita Goodman, who back in the 1950s worked with my wife and me on a young people’s program at the First Presbyterian Church in Charleston. She writes about one thing her current church is doing to be socially responsible: It pays its share of the local property taxes, even though it’s not legally required to do so. I was delighted to hear this because I’ve long believed churches should pay taxes in return for the services that they are provided by government, like police and fire protection. If what the First Amendment forbids is the singling out of religion or of a religion for help or harm by the state, exempting religion from property taxes, instead of expressing the intent of the amendment actually violates it.

Real Christianity

While we’re still on religion, John Kerry, speaking at the New Northside Baptist Church in St. Louis, cited James 2:14, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith and doesn’t have works?” and asked, “When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?” A Bush campaign spokesman replied, “John Kerry’s comment at the New Northside Baptist Church was beyond the boundary of acceptable discourse, and a sad exploitation of scripture for political attack.” It seems that real Christianity makes the Bushies nervous.

Pinstripes

Journalists are dressing more and more like Wall Street lawyers and bankers. TV anchors and reporters, even print journalists on those talk shows, all seem to be wearing pinstripes. One has to wonder if their point of view is becoming pinstriped as well.

The Dubya is for Wayne, John Wayne

Have you ever noticed how George W. Bush walks, with his arms several inches from his side? It’s exactly like the walk of movie cowboys, leaving room for the six-shooters strapped to their waist.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of The Washington Monthly and president of Understanding Government.

One of the glories of my hometown is that it has morning and afternoon papers. Furthermore, they have different points of view. The Gazette is Democratic, the Daily Mail Republican–a difference that is reflected in their presentation of the news. Here’s how they played recent stories about the state of the local economy. The Mail‘s banner headline announced “Toyota adds 50 workers;” a one-column story said, “DuPont losing 70 jobs.” The Gazette, under a “Good News and Bad on Jobs” banner, devoted a four-column head to the DuPont cut, which it said was of 92 jobs, while giving one column to the good news from Toyota.

One problem with the military that drives me around the bend is the deaths of our soldiers that we could have prevented, those that are caused by friendly fire. David Martin, the CBS Pentagon correspondent, reports that of the 600+ American deaths in Iraq so far, roughly 400 were the result of enemy action. Consider the 18 Marines killed taking the bridge in Nasiriyah: As many as 10 of those deaths were by fire that came from our Air Force jets. The Marines had no way of communicating with the Air Force pilots, and the Air Force pilots had not been trained in how to identify Marine vehicles. Didn’t the same problems exist in the 1991 Gulf War?

Another illustration of how maddening the Pentagon can be comes from The Wall Street Journal‘s Greg Jaffe. It reminds me of the failure to provide body armor that we discussed last month. In this case it is the failure to adequately armor the Humvee. Many of the deaths and maiming injuries suffered by our soldiers could have been avoided if this simple step had been taken. At the beginning of the Iraq War, only 2 percent of the Army’s 110,000 Humvees were armored. Even last May, after two months of fighting, the Army still said it needed only 250 armored Humvees in Iraq. Meanwhile, soldiers in the field were desperately trying to weld sheets of metal on the vehicles to give themselves some protection. Now the Army has finally ordered 11,000 armored Humvees, and 8,400 add-on kits to put armor on those already in the field. Jaffe attributes the long wake-up call to the Army’s penchant for big-ticket equipment designed for big wars.

As if to prove Jaffe’s point, George C. Wilson reports in The Washington Post that the Pentagon is planning to spend $80 billion to buy 278 F-22 fighters that we do not need, first because they were designed to prevent the threat of a Soviet air fleet that no longer exists, and second because updated F-16s can do the job now needed just as well as the F-22 at a much lower cost.

In the months leading up to our invasion of Iraq last year, why did so few journalists avoid being conned by the Bush administratio”s case for those fictitious weapons of mass destruction? Answering that question in a recent article in The New York Review of Books, Michael Massing quotes Knight-Ridder‘s John Walcott, one of the handful who were not gulled, as saying something that delighted me because it has been lesson number one at The Washington Monthly school of journalism for 35 years: “One question worth asking is whether we in journalism have become too reliant on high-level officials instead of cultivating less glamorous people in the bowels of the bureaucracy. So if you relied exclusively on traditional news sources –assistant secretaries and above–you would not have heard things we heard.”

The Office of Independent Counsel for Whitewater finally closed its doors on March 23, having endured for more than 10 years, and costing more than $70 million. The office, which had been established to delve into the Whitewater real estate venture and related financial irregularities at a Little Rock Savings & Loan, managed to wander all over the place, culminating in its investigation of Bill Clinton’s sex life. Its constantly expanding role was a tribute to the genius of the Republican right and its ability to persuade millions of Americans that Starr’s mission wasn’t the witch-hunt it truly was.

One reason for the accounting scandals of recent years is something called the “risk-based audit.” An example of how it works is provided by Jonathan Weil of The Wall Street Journal:

When Ernst & Young accountants took a look at Health South’s 2002 financial statement, they asked the hospital chain’s executives “if they were aware of any significant instances of fraud.” The answer was no. “As a result,” writes Weil, “the auditors performed far fewer tests of the numbers on the company’s books than they would have at an audit client where they perceived the risk of accounting fraud to be higher.”

The Knight Foundation has pulled the plug on a program that gave journalists a year at Yale Law School. The idea was that the rigor of law school would be intellectually stimulating for the reporters who also would be better prepared to cover legal issues. Linda Greenhouse, who covers the Supreme Court for The New York Times, was one of the participants.

I think the Knight Foundation made a serious error in halting the program. In my 32 years of working with bright young journalists, I found their greatest defect to be a lack of sense of where the holes were in the cases they were making in their articles. The best way to learn to avoid those holes is through exposure to a demanding Socratic law professor who leaves you determined to never again be embarrassed by sloppy thinking. Every reporter, regardless of whether he’s covering legal issues, needs this kind of intellectual discipline. There may be weaknesses in the Yale program–I understand, for example, that it is possible to avoid the tough professors but they should be fixed and the program continued.

Speaking of questionable accounting practices, Alex Berenson of The New York Times has discovered that Freddie Mac paid Washington Mutual $100 million for “the right to guarantee” Washington Mutual’s mortgages. Now why should you pay to insure someone else’s mortgages? They should pay you. It appears that the reason for this bizarre transaction was that Freddie Mac could use the loans on its books to meet its 2003 “affordable housing” goals. The Washington Mutual loans covered apartment buildings with 5-50 units. Each such unit counts for two toward Freddie’s affordable housing goal. If this isn’t Wonderland, why is Alice standing there?

The bad news is that the Hummer limo, a stretch version of the H2, is, according to the AP, “among the most sought after limos.” The good news is that sales of the regular H2 “fell by 21% in February,” according to The New York Times, “making the sixth straight month of falling sales.”

Twenty-eight large corporations are teaming up to develop “score-cards” to help their employees choose a physician, reports The Wall Street Journal‘s Laura Landro. One part of the scorecard, rating doctors on how well they care for their patients, is clearly laudable. It’s the other part that worries me. It is based on how “cost-efficient” the doctors are. This too could be a good idea, but only if used to punish wasteful medical practices–and not if used, as I fear the companies will be tempted to do, to pressure employees to use the cheapest doctors.

Speaking of statistical manipulation, it turns out that Atlanta played around with its crime figures in order to win the 1996 Olympics. The AP reports that the practice of underplaying crime statistics became so habitual in the Atlanta police department that it continued until at least 2002, when it appears that 22,000 crime reports were “either intentionally suppressed or lost through sloppy record-keeping.” Of these, 4,281 were for violent offenses.

Merck let 3,200 of its American workers go last year as it announced 1,200 new jobs abroad, reports Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post, who adds that in the same period, Merck increased its untaxed foreign earnings by $3 billion to a total of $18 billion, on which it says it has no intention of ever paying U.S. taxes.

Intel dropped 3,300 American employees while it added 4,300 overseas. Its untaxed earnings grew by $700 million to a total of $7 billion. The company said it “intends to reinvest the earnings indefinitely in operations outside the United States.” Doesn’t this mean that John Kerry is right about wanting to change the tax system so that corporations are not rewarded for sending jobs abroad and not paying taxes here?

First thing we do, let’s outsource the lawyers.
For a moment at least, a recent headline in The Wall Street Journal boosted my hopes that action would be taken to stop the flow of jobs overseas. It read, “Next on the Outsourcing List, Job Shift to Cheaper Countries Could Threaten More Careers: Analysts, Architects, Attorneys.” If the lawyers are threatened, I reasoned, action by politicians, so many of whom are also members of the bar, would quickly follow. But my hopes were dashed: By reading on in the story, I saw that it was only the paralegals, the little guys of the law, who were threatened. I am afraid that the big shots will only become concerned about outsourcing when their own jobs are threatened.

My wife Beth and I were talking about Ralph Nader the other day. “He reminds me of Clark Clifford,” she said. Clifford had climaxed a distinguished career of public service both as a high official and as an advisor to presidents by embarrassing himself as the head of the First American Bankshares of Washington during a period of unseemly fiscal hanky-panky at that institution. I couldn’t see what was similar, so I said why? She explained that it was because both men in the twilight of their careers chose a way of remaining players that instead of enhancing their reputations, threatened to destroy them.

Another historic analogy has occurred to me, which for obvious reasons I pray I’m wrong about. But could it be that Muqtada al-Sadr will turn out to be Hitler to Sistani’s Hindenburg? Hindenburg, you will recall, was the revered German statesman and World War I hero who, despite a profound distaste for Hitler, lacked the will to fight him when he had the prestige to do it. It’s incredible the extent to which our future in Iraq depends upon one man, Sistani, our ability to handle him, and his ability to handle the extremists.

Thanks to everyone who wrote about the religion item in last month’s Tilting. I hope the Monthly will have space to run some of the letters in our next issue. In the meantime, I want to mention one, from my old friend Juanita Goodman, who back in the 1950s worked with my wife and me on a young people’s program at the First Presbyterian Church in Charleston. She writes about one thing her current church is doing to be socially responsible: It pays its share of the local property taxes, even though it’s not legally required to do so. I was delighted to hear this because I’ve long believed churches should pay taxes in return for the services that they are provided by government, like police and fire protection. If what the First Amendment forbids is the singling out of religion or of a religion for help or harm by the state, exempting religion from property taxes, instead of expressing the intent of the amendment actually violates it.

While we’re still on religion, John Kerry, speaking at the New Northside Baptist Church in St. Louis, cited James 2:14, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith and doesn’t have works?” and asked, “When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?” A Bush campaign spokesman replied, “John Kerry’s comment at the New Northside Baptist Church was beyond the boundary of acceptable discourse, and a sad exploitation of scripture for political attack.” It seems that real Christianity makes the Bushies nervous.

Journalists are dressing more and more like Wall Street lawyers and bankers. TV anchors and reporters, even print journalists on those talk shows, all seem to be wearing pinstripes. One has to wonder if their point of view is becoming pinstriped as well.

Have you ever noticed how George W. Bush walks, with his arms several inches from his side? It’s exactly like the walk of movie cowboys, leaving room for the six-shooters strapped to their waist.

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Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly.