Tilting at Windmills

It may be that the explanation for Bill Clinton’s sexual naughtiness does not lie in the psychological traumas of his childhood identified in his memoir. Instead, recent research by scientists at Emory University, reported by David Wahlberg of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, suggests that his genes may have been the guilty party. The research found that the meadow vole, an animal previously notorious for its Clintonian tendencies, suddenly became passionately monogamous when its brain’s reward center was injected with something called a “suppression gene receptor.” There is evidence that Clinton’s enthusiasm for a variety of sexual experience was shared by his biological father–William Blythe–and certainly genes would explain the conduct of John Kennedy, a meadow vole if there ever was one. His father, Joseph Kennedy, was one of the great womanizers of the modern era.

The Bush tax cuts may have starved important domestic social programs and done little to produce good jobs for the poor and the middle class, but they certainly have taken care of one group. “The number of ‘high-net-worth individuals’ in the U.S., or those with at least $1 million in financial or liquid assets, jumped to 2.27 million last year, up from 2 million in 2002,” reports The Wall Street Journal‘s Robert Frank.

The Democrats could lose West Virginia again, argues Slate‘s William Saletan. “West Virginians respect authority.Democrats stick with the party of their fathers unless the GOP nominates an incumbent President.” Saletan acknowledges one exception to this role in explaining George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore–“they trusted the King’s son.” However, he fails to mention another, Herbert Hoover. That Republican incumbent lost West Virginia to FDR in 1932.

What possible relevance does that have today, you ask? Hoover was so heartily disliked by West Virginians that for the next couple of decades, the Democratic Charleston Gazette would dispose of the current Republican presidential nominee by seizing on the occasion of an obscure Hoover speech in Dubuque and run a banner headline: “Hoover Backs Dewey!” accompanied by a picture of Hoover looking his smuggest that the paper kept carefully preserved in its files for just such occasions. The point of the picture was to depict the GOP as the party of the rich, whose indifference to the common man was only exceeded by their satisfaction with themselves. Herbert Hoover may be long gone, but West Virginians are still the same people. And that is why Bush’s indifference to their needs should be emphasized by his opponent’s campaign. Fortunately for John Kerry’s people, finding a photograph of Bush looking smug is a blessedly undaunting challenge.

Saletan correctly emphasizes the importance of patriotism to West Virginians. That is why it’s essential for the Democrats to make clear that Kerry walked the walk not taken by George W. Bush nor any of the top figures in his administration. Kerry got shot at in Vietnam. He displayed bravery in combat. He was brave again to oppose the war when he came back. What difference does it make what he did with his medals? He earned them. He had a right to do what he wanted with them. Bush didn’t have the guts to fight in the war or against it.

Finally, West Virginians are fair minded. Show them how the Republicans have tried to denigrate Kerry’s heroism. What if he did get a Purple Heart for a scratch? There are enough veterans in West Virginia who know that a lot of Purple Hearts were for minor wounds awarded. But they also know that you don’t get a Bronze Star, let alone a Silver Star, for just a scratch. And when you’ve gone back in under fire to rescue a comrade, you have passed their highest test.

There is new evidence that Halliburton is taking U.S. taxpayers to the cleaners in Iraq. And I mean literally. Halliburton has been caught charging $100 for each 15 pound bag of laundry their workers put in their washing machines, according to NBC’s Lisa Myers, who adds that the company has also been charging $45 a case for soda.

Auditors report that Halliburton employees live in five-star hotels and buy “high-end SUVs” loaded with unnecessary options. When a Halliburton employee complained to her supervisor about the extravagance, she was told, “We can be as dumb and stupid as we want in the first year of war, nobody’s going to complain.” Another Halliburton worker who was disturbed at not having enough to do to justify his $82,000 salary was told, “Just log in twelve hours a day and walk around and look busy.”

You have probably read about how the 9/11 Commission was a bit disturbed by the confusion caused by the plane headed toward the Capitol building just before the Reagan service. An even more disturbing indication that we have not learned enough from 9/11 also occurred in early June, but was less widely reported. According to the testimony of the Federal Aviation Administration’s New York operations manager, Benedict Sliney, as an unidentified aircraft was nearing New York, controllers reported the hazard to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. But, according to UPI’s Shaun Waterman, “Sliney and his NORAD counterpart were unsure who had the power to order a military intervention. It took Sliney more than five minutes to ascertain where the authority lay.” In five minutes, a jet under full throttle can cover 50 miles.

Speaking of failures to learn the lessons of 9/11, flight attendants are still being taught to cooperate with hijackers, according to Patricia Friend, president of the United Association of Flight Attendants. She wants attendants trained to help resist the terrorists. Her argument, which seems compelling to me, is based on what happened to the 25 attendants who cooperated with the 9/11 hijackers: “Their wrists were bound, their throats slashed.”

I was shocked by what The Chicago Tribune did to Jack Ryan. The Republican candidate to be United States senator from Illinois was forced to withdraw when Tribune reporters persuaded a judge to unseal records of a child custody proceeding which showed that his wife had accused him of taking her to sex clubs and trying to persuade her to engage in sexual activities with other patrons watching. People make all sorts of accusations in custody and divorce proceedings–often goaded by Iago-like lawyers who whisper in their ear “you’ve got to say something”–that they later regret as untrue, exaggerated or not nearly as outrageous as had been presented to the court. Indeed, the former Mrs. Ryan herself wanted the records kept sealed. Then what right did the judge have to release them? After all, this wasn’t the kind of sealed record that protects corporations that are hiding injuries or deaths caused by unsafe practices. It was a private matter. And what business did the Tribune have prying into a private matter?

Articles of Feith

If you have thought the Pentagon’s failure to plan for post-war Iraq was inexcusable, you should know that Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, offers himself and his Pentagon colleagues full absolution. He told Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times that the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance could not do anything until “Saddam made it clear he wasn’t cooperating with the inspection regime.” This has to be not only the weakest excuse in recent memory but also the very first indication that anyone in the Bush administration ever took the inspectors seriously.

Feith’s self-forgiveness has to ignore all the planning, reported by James Fallows in the January/February Atlantic Monthly, that had been done by upper mid-level government officials and outside experts at the Army War College, the CIA, and the State Department, warning of all the hazards the war hawks failed to anticipate. Perhaps we should all pitch in for a gift subscription to the Atlantic for Feith and for Gertz and Scarborough.

Roosevelt’s girlfriends

Back to the relationship of a politician’s sex life to his public role. I remember being on NBC’s “Meet the Press” one Sunday in December 1998 with William Safire, Sally Quinn, and Tim Russert. My fellow panelists took a stern view of President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his lies about it. I said that unfortunately lots of otherwise good people committed adultery and lied about it to protect their wives, children, and themselves. As I looked around the table, it occurred to me that Safire, before becoming a columnist, had worked for years in public relations in New York, a world that did not abound in innocence. Quinn’s friends, I knew, were drawn from the world of fast-track journalism in Washington and New York.

During my own college and post-graduate years, my friends in New York were mostly in the fields of the arts and entertainment, neither of which is noted for putting a high value on sexual morality. Russert may have grown up an altar boy in Buffalo, but he later had high-level political jobs in Washington and New York before joining Sally Quinn in big-time journalism.

In these worlds, each of us knew people who committed adultery and lied about it but continued to enjoy our professional respect. I still can’t understand why my fellow panelists refused to see Clinton in this light. I wish I had thought to cite the case of Franklin Roosevelt. The greatest president of the past century may have had sexual relations of one kind or another not only with Lucy Mercer Rutherford, but also with his secretary Marguerite Lehand, Princess Martha of Norway, his distant cousin Daisy Suckley, and Dorothy Schiff, then publisher of The New York Post. Suppose that during the darkest days of the depression or World War II, a reporter revealed one of those relationships, and Roosevelt lied about it for the same reasons that Clinton did. Can anyone imagine that the resulting damage to his authority would have been good for the country?

The latest Florida poll shows Kerry beating Bush 46 percent-44 percent–without Ralph Nader. With Nader included, and garnering 5 percent of the vote, Bush and Kerry are in a dead heat. And we all know what that means: Considering that the Florida governor’s office and the U.S. Supreme Court are still in the same hands, the importance of getting Nader out of the race becomes more urgent every day.

If he wasn’t embarrassed by the news we recently reported that Republicans were contributing to his campaign, he is not likely to be bothered by the recent revelation that they are working to have his name placed on state ballots. But I can still take one last shot at convincing Nader to get out, thanks to a reader who notes that the consumer advocate is in danger of being ranked by history as another Harold Stassen. Nader is old enough to remember how Stassen, like him, enjoyed wide respect during his early years. As the youthful governor of Minnesota, he was selected to give the keynote speech at the Republican national convention in 1940. And when he ran for president in 1948, his candidacy was taken seriously. But when he ran again and again, without a realistic hope of winning, he became a laughingstock.

Rolled call

Senate Republicans have discovered a new way to torment John Kerry: Schedule a vote on an important issue that coincides with a Kerry campaign event, and confront the Democratic candidate with the choice of missing one or the other. On June 23, an amendment guaranteeing federal funding for veterans’ health care was due to come to the Senate floor for a vote. Kerry flew back to Washington, disappointing New Mexico voters who were waiting to see him, but ready to vote. Majority leader Bill Frist, however, then refused to allow the amendment to come to the floor. Can’t you see the smile on Karl Rove’s face?

NOC out

I have often complained about how few real spies the CIA has. Called NOCs for “non-official cover,” the real spies operate outside the comfort and protection of U.S. embassies enjoyed by case officers. James Bamford, whose recent book, A Pretext for War, reveals that the CIA failed “to recruit a single source within bin Laden’s growing Afghanistan operation,” supplies a more precise definition of what I meant by the word “few.” At their highest point during the 1990s, according to Bamford, there were only about 150 NOCs compared to about 2,500 case officers.

Why were there so few? The CIA’s excuse is that NOCs cost too much and are too likely to be caught, with the danger of an embarrassing diplomatic dust-up for the government and of death for the agent. I suspect that an understandable fear of being caught and shot was the main reason, followed closely by a preference among agents for the comforts and perks of embassy life. Even many of the real NOCs–Bamford says most–use a business cover which permits them to live well. Living well is no sin, and one can understand how sometimes doing so would not be inconsistent with spying. Arriving at an al Qaeda camp at the wheel of a Jaguar, however, seems unlikely to be an effective technique for clandestine penetration.

Unscreened

Another gap in aviation security involves the people who work in airports. Although the Transportation Security Administration screens passengers and luggage, it does not require, reports the AP, “airport employees to be screened before entering secure areas.”

Funny money

Riggs Bank, a Washington institution for ages–its flagship branch is actually depicted on the $10 bill–was recently fined $25 million for failing to report suspicious transactions in the accounts of the embas-sies of Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea. It seems that possible violations of rules against money laundering by Riggs had been discovered as early as 1997. Why then did the government take seven years to act? Your guess is as good as mine, but you may be interested to know that the comptroller of the currency’s examiner-in-charge from 1998-2002 became a vice president of Riggs when he left the government.

Doesn’t this remind you of the woman who became a Boeing executive after leaving her job at the Air Force, where she had awarded Boeing an unusually lucrative contract?

Religious left

Our campaign to take religion back from the right recently became less lonely. “More than 350 political liberals of many faiths gathered in Washington,” reports The Washington Post, “to begin what some pollsters say is a quixotic task: restoring the voice of the religious left in the nation’s political debate.” The gathering was brought together by John Podesta, Clinton’s last chief of staff, who now heads the Center for American Progress.

One of the speakers was Taylor Branch, the author of Parting the Waters and one of the most distinguished of the Monthly‘s alumni. Branch explained that the great surge of the Christian left that was a major factor in the civil rights revolution fell apart and lost its steam over the issue of abortion, with most liberals becoming rabidly pro-choice. To reach out to moderate Christians, Branch argues, the left must move beyond polemics:

“Not many people who call themselves pro-choice actually want to celebrate abortion, and not many of those who call themselves pro-life want to put women in jail for having abortions. It’s more of a show than a debate with polarizing options that aren’t real. Both sides profess that they love children, but you really don’t have the two sides doing very much to cooperate to reduce the number of neglected and unwanted and abandoned children, or to care for them.”

Branch’s speech reminded me of a 1972 article by Suzannah Lessard we published while he was here entitled “A Legal Right, A Moral Choice.” Its point was that liberals were justified in insisting that abortion was a legal right, but that all too often they were wrong in not acknowledging the gravity of the moral decision involved.

A similar absolutism keeps many liberals from acknowledging that abortion may cause pain to the fetus. As Steve Chapman recently pointed out in The Chicago Tribune, surgeons seeking to correct birth defects now operate on fetuses, and when they do they use anesthesia, not just for the mother but for the fetus as well. Chapman goes on to quote pediatricians who say fetuses can feel pain. Maybe they’re wrong, he concedes. But why not err on the side of caution and seek to find ways to terminate pregnancies in the most humane ways possible for both the woman and the fetus?

Smoke signals

“Tobacco Makers Want Cigarettes Cut from Films.” I couldn’t believe this headline in The Wall Street Journal. The article reported that, “because state authorities in California have begun to inform tobacco companies that they are obliged to police the use of their brands in films,” cigarette makers are now writing to movie studios asking that their products not appear on screen.

The trouble with the story is that the Journal reports it without its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. For years, the tobacco companies have plotted and conspired to get their cigarettes smoked by the stars, with the brand identified on screen if at all possible. A “product placement” industry grew up in Hollywood to cater to this need. Fees were paid that might strike the average person as bribes–all for the purpose of exploiting the example of glamorous movie stars to lure the impressionable into smoking and into using a specific brand. It defies belief that the tobacco industry could now fight to undo something it has fought so long for. I would bet my last dollar that these letters are pro forma and nothing more.

Playing monopoly

In 1997, Congress passed a law designed to prevent concentration of the control of oil and gas leases on federal land. Nevertheless, according to David Pace of the AP, “a single New Mexico family and a dozen big oil companies, including one headed by Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, now control one-quarter of all federal lands leased for oil and gas development in the United States.”

How could this be? It seems that the Bureau of Land Management keeps extending the deadline for putting the law into effect. It also fails to exercise its power to cancel leases that exceed the cap. Why are BLM officials such reluctant warriors? For one, they “rely on the companies to provide accurate records of their holdings.” For another, and I somehow doubt that this will surprise you, “Companies and people who dominate federal oil and gas leasing have been major financial supporters of the Republican party and President Bush.”

Verbal methadone

“Nuance” is a word that crept into vogue about a decade ago. Since then it has flourished, like “ambiguity” and “dichotomy” during my college years, as a sign of the writer’s intelligence. Too often it is used to suggest that there is something understood by the author but too complex for you to understand or him to explain in the limited space available. At the Monthly, we used to have a list of similar faddish words posted on the wall under the heading “VERBOTEN.” I recommend a similar fate for “nuance.” Writers in need of a verbal methadone to help break the habit might give “subtlety” a try.

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

I was shocked by what The Chicago Tribune did to Jack Ryan. The Republican candidate to be United States senator from Illinois was forced to withdraw when Tribune reporters persuaded a judge to unseal records of a child custody proceeding which showed that his wife had accused him of taking her to sex clubs and trying to persuade her to engage in sexual activities with other patrons watching. People make all sorts of accusations in custody and divorce proceedings–often goaded by Iago-like lawyers who whisper in their ear “you’ve got to say something”–that they later regret as untrue, exaggerated or not nearly as outrageous as had been presented to the court. Indeed, the former Mrs. Ryan herself wanted the records kept sealed. Then what right did the judge have to release them? After all, this wasn’t the kind of sealed record that protects corporations that are hiding injuries or deaths caused by unsafe practices. It was a private matter. And what business did the Tribune have prying into a private matter?

If you have thought the Pentagon’s failure to plan for post-war Iraq was inexcusable, you should know that Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, offers himself and his Pentagon colleagues full absolution. He told Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times that the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance could not do anything until “Saddam made it clear he wasn’t cooperating with the inspection regime.” This has to be not only the weakest excuse in recent memory but also the very first indication that anyone in the Bush administration ever took the inspectors seriously.

Feith’s self-forgiveness has to ignore all the planning, reported by James Fallows in the January/February Atlantic Monthly, that had been done by upper mid-level government officials and outside experts at the Army War College, the CIA, and the State Department, warning of all the hazards the war hawks failed to anticipate. Perhaps we should all pitch in for a gift subscription to the Atlantic for Feith and for Gertz and Scarborough.

Back to the relationship of a politician’s sex life to his public role. I remember being on NBC’s “Meet the Press” one Sunday in December 1998 with William Safire, Sally Quinn, and Tim Russert. My fellow panelists took a stern view of President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his lies about it. I said that unfortunately lots of otherwise good people committed adultery and lied about it to protect their wives, children, and themselves. As I looked around the table, it occurred to me that Safire, before becoming a columnist, had worked for years in public relations in New York, a world that did not abound in innocence. Quinn’s friends, I knew, were drawn from the world of fast-track journalism in Washington and New York.

During my own college and post-graduate years, my friends in New York were mostly in the fields of the arts and entertainment, neither of which is noted for putting a high value on sexual morality. Russert may have grown up an altar boy in Buffalo, but he later had high-level political jobs in Washington and New York before joining Sally Quinn in big-time journalism.

In these worlds, each of us knew people who committed adultery and lied about it but continued to enjoy our professional respect. I still can’t understand why my fellow panelists refused to see Clinton in this light. I wish I had thought to cite the case of Franklin Roosevelt. The greatest president of the past century may have had sexual relations of one kind or another not only with Lucy Mercer Rutherford, but also with his secretary Marguerite Lehand, Princess Martha of Norway, his distant cousin Daisy Suckley, and Dorothy Schiff, then publisher of The New York Post. Suppose that during the darkest days of the depression or World War II, a reporter revealed one of those relationships, and Roosevelt lied about it for the same reasons that Clinton did. Can anyone imagine that the resulting damage to his authority would have been good for the country?

The latest Florida poll shows Kerry beating Bush 46 percent-44 percent–without Ralph Nader. With Nader included, and garnering 5 percent of the vote, Bush and Kerry are in a dead heat. And we all know what that means: Considering that the Florida governor’s office and the U.S. Supreme Court are still in the same hands, the importance of getting Nader out of the race becomes more urgent every day.

If he wasn’t embarrassed by the news we recently reported that Republicans were contributing to his campaign, he is not likely to be bothered by the recent revelation that they are working to have his name placed on state ballots. But I can still take one last shot at convincing Nader to get out, thanks to a reader who notes that the consumer advocate is in danger of being ranked by history as another Harold Stassen. Nader is old enough to remember how Stassen, like him, enjoyed wide respect during his early years. As the youthful governor of Minnesota, he was selected to give the keynote speech at the Republican national convention in 1940. And when he ran for president in 1948, his candidacy was taken seriously. But when he ran again and again, without a realistic hope of winning, he became a laughingstock.

Rolled call

Senate Republicans have discovered a new way to torment John Kerry: Schedule a vote on an important issue that coincides with a Kerry campaign event, and confront the Democratic candidate with the choice of missing one or the other. On June 23, an amendment guaranteeing federal funding for veterans’ health care was due to come to the Senate floor for a vote. Kerry flew back to Washington, disappointing New Mexico voters who were waiting to see him, but ready to vote. Majority leader Bill Frist, however, then refused to allow the amendment to come to the floor. Can’t you see the smile on Karl Rove’s face?

NOC out

I have often complained about how few real spies the CIA has. Called NOCs for “non-official cover,” the real spies operate outside the comfort and protection of U.S. embassies enjoyed by case officers. James Bamford, whose recent book, A Pretext for War, reveals that the CIA failed “to recruit a single source within bin Laden’s growing Afghanistan operation,” supplies a more precise definition of what I meant by the word “few.” At their highest point during the 1990s, according to Bamford, there were only about 150 NOCs compared to about 2,500 case officers.

Why were there so few? The CIA’s excuse is that NOCs cost too much and are too likely to be caught, with the danger of an embarrassing diplomatic dust-up for the government and of death for the agent. I suspect that an understandable fear of being caught and shot was the main reason, followed closely by a preference among agents for the comforts and perks of embassy life. Even many of the real NOCs–Bamford says most–use a business cover which permits them to live well. Living well is no sin, and one can understand how sometimes doing so would not be inconsistent with spying. Arriving at an al Qaeda camp at the wheel of a Jaguar, however, seems unlikely to be an effective technique for clandestine penetration.

Unscreened

Another gap in aviation security involves the people who work in airports. Although the Transportation Security Administration screens passengers and luggage, it does not require, reports the AP, “airport employees to be screened before entering secure areas.”

Funny money

Riggs Bank, a Washington institution for ages–its flagship branch is actually depicted on the $10 bill–was recently fined $25 million for failing to report suspicious transactions in the accounts of the embas-sies of Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea. It seems that possible violations of rules against money laundering by Riggs had been discovered as early as 1997. Why then did the government take seven years to act? Your guess is as good as mine, but you may be interested to know that the comptroller of the currency’s examiner-in-charge from 1998-2002 became a vice president of Riggs when he left the government.

Doesn’t this remind you of the woman who became a Boeing executive after leaving her job at the Air Force, where she had awarded Boeing an unusually lucrative contract?

Religious left

Our campaign to take religion back from the right recently became less lonely. “More than 350 political liberals of many faiths gathered in Washington,” reports The Washington Post, “to begin what some pollsters say is a quixotic task: restoring the voice of the religious left in the nation’s political debate.” The gathering was brought together by John Podesta, Clinton’s last chief of staff, who now heads the Center for American Progress.

One of the speakers was Taylor Branch, the author of Parting the Waters and one of the most distinguished of the Monthly‘s alumni. Branch explained that the great surge of the Christian left that was a major factor in the civil rights revolution fell apart and lost its steam over the issue of abortion, with most liberals becoming rabidly pro-choice. To reach out to moderate Christians, Branch argues, the left must move beyond polemics:

“Not many people who call themselves pro-choice actually want to celebrate abortion, and not many of those who call themselves pro-life want to put women in jail for having abortions. It’s more of a show than a debate with polarizing options that aren’t real. Both sides profess that they love children, but you really don’t have the two sides doing very much to cooperate to reduce the number of neglected and unwanted and abandoned children, or to care for them.”

Branch’s speech reminded me of a 1972 article by Suzannah Lessard we published while he was here entitled “A Legal Right, A Moral Choice.” Its point was that liberals were justified in insisting that abortion was a legal right, but that all too often they were wrong in not acknowledging the gravity of the moral decision involved.

A similar absolutism keeps many liberals from acknowledging that abortion may cause pain to the fetus. As Steve Chapman recently pointed out in The Chicago Tribune, surgeons seeking to correct birth defects now operate on fetuses, and when they do they use anesthesia, not just for the mother but for the fetus as well. Chapman goes on to quote pediatricians who say fetuses can feel pain. Maybe they’re wrong, he concedes. But why not err on the side of caution and seek to find ways to terminate pregnancies in the most humane ways possible for both the woman and the fetus?

Smoke signals

“Tobacco Makers Want Cigarettes Cut from Films.” I couldn’t believe this headline in The Wall Street Journal. The article reported that, “because state authorities in California have begun to inform tobacco companies that they are obliged to police the use of their brands in films,” cigarette makers are now writing to movie studios asking that their products not appear on screen.

The trouble with the story is that the Journal reports it without its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. For years, the tobacco companies have plotted and conspired to get their cigarettes smoked by the stars, with the brand identified on screen if at all possible. A “product placement” industry grew up in Hollywood to cater to this need. Fees were paid that might strike the average person as bribes–all for the purpose of exploiting the example of glamorous movie stars to lure the impressionable into smoking and into using a specific brand. It defies belief that the tobacco industry could now fight to undo something it has fought so long for. I would bet my last dollar that these letters are pro forma and nothing more.

Playing monopoly

In 1997, Congress passed a law designed to prevent concentration of the control of oil and gas leases on federal land. Nevertheless, according to David Pace of the AP, “a single New Mexico family and a dozen big oil companies, including one headed by Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, now control one-quarter of all federal lands leased for oil and gas development in the United States.”

How could this be? It seems that the Bureau of Land Management keeps extending the deadline for putting the law into effect. It also fails to exercise its power to cancel leases that exceed the cap. Why are BLM officials such reluctant warriors? For one, they “rely on the companies to provide accurate records of their holdings.” For another, and I somehow doubt that this will surprise you, “Companies and people who dominate federal oil and gas leasing have been major financial supporters of the Republican party and President Bush.”

Verbal methadone

“Nuance” is a word that crept into vogue about a decade ago. Since then it has flourished, like “ambiguity” and “dichotomy” during my college years, as a sign of the writer’s intelligence. Too often it is used to suggest that there is something understood by the author but too complex for you to understand or him to explain in the limited space available. At the Monthly, we used to have a list of similar faddish words posted on the wall under the heading “VERBOTEN.” I recommend a similar fate for “nuance.” Writers in need of a verbal methadone to help break the habit might give “subtlety” a try.

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

The latest Florida poll shows Kerry beating Bush 46 percent-44 percent–without Ralph Nader. With Nader included, and garnering 5 percent of the vote, Bush and Kerry are in a dead heat. And we all know what that means: Considering that the Florida governor’s office and the U.S. Supreme Court are still in the same hands, the importance of getting Nader out of the race becomes more urgent every day.

If he wasn’t embarrassed by the news we recently reported that Republicans were contributing to his campaign, he is not likely to be bothered by the recent revelation that they are working to have his name placed on state ballots. But I can still take one last shot at convincing Nader to get out, thanks to a reader who notes that the consumer advocate is in danger of being ranked by history as another Harold Stassen. Nader is old enough to remember how Stassen, like him, enjoyed wide respect during his early years. As the youthful governor of Minnesota, he was selected to give the keynote speech at the Republican national convention in 1940. And when he ran for president in 1948, his candidacy was taken seriously. But when he ran again and again, without a realistic hope of winning, he became a laughingstock.

Senate Republicans have discovered a new way to torment John Kerry: Schedule a vote on an important issue that coincides with a Kerry campaign event, and confront the Democratic candidate with the choice of missing one or the other. On June 23, an amendment guaranteeing federal funding for veterans’ health care was due to come to the Senate floor for a vote. Kerry flew back to Washington, disappointing New Mexico voters who were waiting to see him, but ready to vote. Majority leader Bill Frist, however, then refused to allow the amendment to come to the floor. Can’t you see the smile on Karl Rove’s face?

I have often complained about how few real spies the CIA has. Called NOCs for “non-official cover,” the real spies operate outside the comfort and protection of U.S. embassies enjoyed by case officers. James Bamford, whose recent book, A Pretext for War, reveals that the CIA failed “to recruit a single source within bin Laden’s growing Afghanistan operation,” supplies a more precise definition of what I meant by the word “few.” At their highest point during the 1990s, according to Bamford, there were only about 150 NOCs compared to about 2,500 case officers.

Why were there so few? The CIA’s excuse is that NOCs cost too much and are too likely to be caught, with the danger of an embarrassing diplomatic dust-up for the government and of death for the agent. I suspect that an understandable fear of being caught and shot was the main reason, followed closely by a preference among agents for the comforts and perks of embassy life. Even many of the real NOCs–Bamford says most–use a business cover which permits them to live well. Living well is no sin, and one can understand how sometimes doing so would not be inconsistent with spying. Arriving at an al Qaeda camp at the wheel of a Jaguar, however, seems unlikely to be an effective technique for clandestine penetration.

Another gap in aviation security involves the people who work in airports. Although the Transportation Security Administration screens passengers and luggage, it does not require, reports the AP, “airport employees to be screened before entering secure areas.”

Riggs Bank, a Washington institution for ages–its flagship branch is actually depicted on the $10 bill–was recently fined $25 million for failing to report suspicious transactions in the accounts of the embas-sies of Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea. It seems that possible violations of rules against money laundering by Riggs had been discovered as early as 1997. Why then did the government take seven years to act? Your guess is as good as mine, but you may be interested to know that the comptroller of the currency’s examiner-in-charge from 1998-2002 became a vice president of Riggs when he left the government.

Doesn’t this remind you of the woman who became a Boeing executive after leaving her job at the Air Force, where she had awarded Boeing an unusually lucrative contract?

Our campaign to take religion back from the right recently became less lonely. “More than 350 political liberals of many faiths gathered in Washington,” reports The Washington Post, “to begin what some pollsters say is a quixotic task: restoring the voice of the religious left in the nation’s political debate.” The gathering was brought together by John Podesta, Clinton’s last chief of staff, who now heads the Center for American Progress.

One of the speakers was Taylor Branch, the author of Parting the Waters and one of the most distinguished of the Monthly‘s alumni. Branch explained that the great surge of the Christian left that was a major factor in the civil rights revolution fell apart and lost its steam over the issue of abortion, with most liberals becoming rabidly pro-choice. To reach out to moderate Christians, Branch argues, the left must move beyond polemics:

“Not many people who call themselves pro-choice actually want to celebrate abortion, and not many of those who call themselves pro-life want to put women in jail for having abortions. It’s more of a show than a debate with polarizing options that aren’t real. Both sides profess that they love children, but you really don’t have the two sides doing very much to cooperate to reduce the number of neglected and unwanted and abandoned children, or to care for them.”

Branch’s speech reminded me of a 1972 article by Suzannah Lessard we published while he was here entitled “A Legal Right, A Moral Choice.” Its point was that liberals were justified in insisting that abortion was a legal right, but that all too often they were wrong in not acknowledging the gravity of the moral decision involved.

A similar absolutism keeps many liberals from acknowledging that abortion may cause pain to the fetus. As Steve Chapman recently pointed out in The Chicago Tribune, surgeons seeking to correct birth defects now operate on fetuses, and when they do they use anesthesia, not just for the mother but for the fetus as well. Chapman goes on to quote pediatricians who say fetuses can feel pain. Maybe they’re wrong, he concedes. But why not err on the side of caution and seek to find ways to terminate pregnancies in the most humane ways possible for both the woman and the fetus?

“Tobacco Makers Want Cigarettes Cut from Films.” I couldn’t believe this headline in The Wall Street Journal. The article reported that, “because state authorities in California have begun to inform tobacco companies that they are obliged to police the use of their brands in films,” cigarette makers are now writing to movie studios asking that their products not appear on screen.

The trouble with the story is that the Journal reports it without its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. For years, the tobacco companies have plotted and conspired to get their cigarettes smoked by the stars, with the brand identified on screen if at all possible. A “product placement” industry grew up in Hollywood to cater to this need. Fees were paid that might strike the average person as bribes–all for the purpose of exploiting the example of glamorous movie stars to lure the impressionable into smoking and into using a specific brand. It defies belief that the tobacco industry could now fight to undo something it has fought so long for. I would bet my last dollar that these letters are pro forma and nothing more.

In 1997, Congress passed a law designed to prevent concentration of the control of oil and gas leases on federal land. Nevertheless, according to David Pace of the AP, “a single New Mexico family and a dozen big oil companies, including one headed by Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, now control one-quarter of all federal lands leased for oil and gas development in the United States.”

How could this be? It seems that the Bureau of Land Management keeps extending the deadline for putting the law into effect. It also fails to exercise its power to cancel leases that exceed the cap. Why are BLM officials such reluctant warriors? For one, they “rely on the companies to provide accurate records of their holdings.” For another, and I somehow doubt that this will surprise you, “Companies and people who dominate federal oil and gas leasing have been major financial supporters of the Republican party and President Bush.”

“Nuance” is a word that crept into vogue about a decade ago. Since then it has flourished, like “ambiguity” and “dichotomy” during my college years, as a sign of the writer’s intelligence. Too often it is used to suggest that there is something understood by the author but too complex for you to understand or him to explain in the limited space available. At the Monthly, we used to have a list of similar faddish words posted on the wall under the heading “VERBOTEN.” I recommend a similar fate for “nuance.” Writers in need of a verbal methadone to help break the habit might give “subtlety” a try.

Charles Peters

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly.