Moral values are sweeping the countryor so we are being told. A smidgen of skepticism is suggested, however, by a poll recently conducted by Jane magazine. It asked its readers, women in their twenties, if they cheated on their boyfriends or husbands. Fifty-three percent replied in the affirmative, up from 34 percent in 1999. Of course it must be conceded that the readers of Jane may constitute a special subset of the general population. When asked What is your major recurring health problem? the one identified most often by Jane‘s readers was hangovers.
If you want a sample that is perhaps a bit more representative of red-state America, consider Churchill County in rural Nevada. It voted for Bush, of course. But it also, according to the AP, voted 2 to 1 to reject a ballot proposal that would have made prostitution illegal.
After the election, two things happened that I found close to heartbreaking. One came at the point in Kerry’s concession speech when he said, I wish I could take each of you in my arms…. There was something so touchingly genuine about him at that moment that I couldn’t help wishing that he had shown more of this side of himself during the campaign.
Another was when I read in Newsweek that, when it became clear that the lies in the Swift Boat ads were doing serious damage, Julia Thorne told her daughter Vanessa that she was willing to break her silence about her relationship with John Kerry and speak out publicly against the ads. She knew how Kerry had suffered, that she had seen the scars on his body and heard him cry out in his nightmares. But the geniuses that ran the Kerry campaign said not to bother, they were taking care of the matter.
One seldom-noted shortcoming of the Kerry campaign was its failure to use humor. It was Mad magazine, not the Democrats, that came up with this parody: The Bush Campaign’s TV Commercial If He Was Running Against Jesus.
Jesus of Nazareth says, ‘Judge Not that you be not judged.’ Jesus is soft on crime.
Jesus says: ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.’ Jesus will raise your taxes.
The greatest need of the Democratic Party is another Will Rogers. The cowboy comedian’s partisan sympathies were unconcealed: I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat. And he knew exactly why he wasn’t on the other side: I really believe that if it came to a vote whether to go to war with England, France and Germany combined or raise the tax rate on incomes over $100,000, [the Republicans] would vote for war.
Rogers could get away with saying things like this and still be regarded as the most beloved figure of his timethe ’20s and early ’30sbecause he spoke with gentleness and warmth. Acid never touched his tongue. And his points were always clear because they were always expressed in terms of down-to-earth common sense.
Unfortunately, as we all learned, clarity eluded Kerry even more successfully than humor. I remember that, on his third day of trying to blame Bush for the looted munitions dump in Iraq, Kerry was mired in trying to explain rebuttals and sur-rebuttals of his case. The audience looked perplexed. Even the party diehards on the platform behind the podium were furrowing their eyebrows as they cast puzzled glances at their neighbors.
An American doctor at the Landstuhl Hospital in Germany, where 16,000 wounded, injured, or sick soldiers from Iraq have arrived since the war began in March 2003, said this about the American public: They have no idea what’s going on here, none whatsoever. He was treating a 27-year old soldier who had been rushed to the intensive care unit.
Plugged to a respirator, the soldier lies naked in the bed, his pelvic area covered in a towel. A roadside bomb 12 hours earlier left deep burns on 20 percent of his body, a punctured lung, and a broken leg. His chances of survival are roughly 50-50.
His seared hands are sliced open to prevent the need for amputation due to swelling. His dead skin is scraped off, a gel is spread thick to prevent infection, and his arms are wrapped in thick, white bandages. I found this story in the Toronto Star. Why doesn’t the American press do more to tell the public about our wounded soldiers? We looked at the major newspapers from August through October, and could find only a handful of articles that give any idea of the extent of the suffering.
Turnout for the November election was, as we all know, very high. What is less well-known is that turnout for the primaries was very low. According to Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, Turnout in states which held primaries for both parties reached a record low. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. The presidential candidates we choose in the primaries are the ones we’re stuck with.
Pay-for-performance is a concept that has a novel definition in the federal civil service. According to the Merit System Protection Board, merit raises are now given to 99.91 percent of eligible employees. This, by the way, has been true for many years. I wrote about it in the first edition of How Washington Really Works, which was published in 1980.
If you were charged with bicycling on the sidewalk at night without a headlight, an offense that carries a maximum fine of $100, what would you think is a reasonable amount of bail? Judge Henry R. Bauer of Troy, N.Y., decided that $25,000 was just the right figure. When the defendant couldn’t pay it, the judge jailed him for seven days, until the defendant finally pleaded guilty. He also neglected, according to Andy Newman of The New York Times, to tell the man he had the right to a lawyer. It seems that there have been 26 separate cases in which bail of $10,000-$50,000 was required by Judge Bauer for similarly minor violations of law. This was too much for his fellow jurists, who are notoriously tolerant of the foibles of their brethren on the bench. The New York State Court of Appeals removed Judge Bauer from office.
I pray that a similar fate awaits Judge Judith Retchin of the D.C. Superior Court. She sentenced Jonathan Magbie to 10 days in jail for marijuana possession. A trifle severe, you say, but not bad enough to get exercised about. But wait till you hear another fact: Magbie is a quadriplegic with severe breathing problems. I should say was because he died in jail. A physician had asked Judge Retchin to issue an order to hospitalize Magbie. But she refused saying she lacked the authority to issue any such order. But she did have the authority to release him so that his family could take him to the hospital.
Last month, a deputy U.S. marshal was charged with murder. While off-duty, the marshal, Arthur Lloyd, had been involved in a Maryland parking lot dispute that ended when he shot the other party, Ryan Stowers, four times, first in the leg as they were standing in the lot and then in the back. Stowers did not pull a gun or any other weapon, and was shot in the back as he tried to drive away.
The marshal had kept his job for 28 years, despite a record of bizarre behavior. According to The Washington Post, he had once made a $10,000 payment to a federal prisoner to settle a lawsuit in a case in which he had tied the prisoner’s hands and feet, verbally abused him, and read him passages of the Bible. His wife had twice sought restraining orders against him, in one of which she alleged that he broke the kitchen door with her head. According to the Post, his son called the police to report his father had thrown him through a window. He had told his wife he could do anything he wanted because he is a US marshal.
Apparently the Marshals Service agreed. His only punishment was a suspension, even though added to his violent behavior was what the service itself called a shoddy attendance record.
We all know about the effort the GOP made to reach religious voters. But you may not have heard how far they went in West Virginia. A mailing to that state’s voters with the return address of the Republican National Committee showed a Bible with the word BANNED over it, and a photo of a man placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word ALLOWED over it, followed by Vote Republican to protect family values.
Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, in the great tradition of Karl Rove, told the AP he wasn’t aware of the mailing. But then, in a burst of candor, added it wouldn’t surprise me if we were mailing voters on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Last month we noted how it had taken the government three years after 9/11 to create a defense command to protect Washington, D.C. Now comes news of three other painfully slow responses to clear danger.
Almost immediately after 9/11, administration critics began to point out the need to protect air cargo from terrorists. Three years and two months later came this report from the AP: The government unveiled a plan yesterday to tighten air cargo security by checking the backgrounds of workers who handle freight, and to restrict access to sectors of the airport used in loading cargo.
Another obvious target for terrorists is nuclear power plants. It is known that potassium iodide pills protect against a dangerous contaminant that can result from such attacks, the one that caused the epidemic of thyroid cancer in Europe after the Chernobyl explosion of 1986.
11.5 million of these pills have been produced. One question is whether that is enough, but much more troubling is that we don’t have a plan for distributing them. Although the National Academy of Science has found that the pills should be available to everyone at risk of significant health consequences from the accumulation of iodine in the thyroid in the event of a radiological incident, no guidelines have been issued as to how the pills are to be dispensed.
Officials of the Department of Health and Human Services told Matthew Wald of The New York Times that guidelines are in the process of final clearance and will be shared with state and local officials for comment in the near future. One has to wonder how long it will take to get the final clearance, obtain those comments, and actually issue the guidelines. Delay is maddening because, to be effective, the pills must be taken within hours of exposure to radiation. They can’t be taken if they haven’t been distributed.
Another clear need after 9/11 was to complete a single, consolidated watch list for working-level government employees to use to identify suspected terrorists. Now, according to Robert Bladger and Gary Falk of The Wall Street Journal, dozens of agencies from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Federal Bureau of Investigation used lists that contain outdated or incorrect information, and even contradict each other.
The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security reports that efforts to consolidate the watch list have, in the Journal‘s words, badly foundered. The more you look at the facts, the more amazed you are at the public’s faith in the Bush administration’s ability to protect us against terrorists.
Last month we featured the Republicans’ power behind the throne, Grover Norquist, on the World War II generation as un-American. Now we have him holding forth on the Democrats as eunuchs. I’m not kidding.
Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’re fixed, they are happy and sedate.
An American Connection commuter plane crashed near Kirkville, Mo., in October. The pilot, first officer, and 11 of the 13 passengers were killed. The captain and the first officer were on their sixth flight of the day, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. They had been working for nearly 15 hours. Does this make any sense at all? It reminds me of the harm done by overworked medical interns and residents.
Remember during the debates when Bush was asked why he had blocked the importation of drugs from Canada, he replied, with his usual devotion to the truth, I haven’t yet. Perhaps he forgot that throughout his administration, his secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, has had the power to allow people to buy less expensive drugs from Canada, but has explicitly refused to exercise it.
Bush went on to say, it may very well be that in December, you’ll hear me say, ‘I think that there’s a safe way to do it.’ It is now December.
In addition to the merit raises mentioned earlier in this column, the Transportation Security Administration awarded cash bonuses to its staff last year. In a Republican administration, you may not be surprised that 76 percent of the executives were deemed deserving, but, reports The Washington Post‘s Stephen Barr, only three percent of the rank and file employees.
Speaking about how people at the top take care of themselves, it has recently been revealed that Riggs Bank provided its chairman, Joseph Allbritton, with a two-story apartment at London’s Savoy Court, chockful of precious artwork and antiques, according to The Washington Post‘s Terence O’Hara, with maid service, room service, and a standing order for flowers provided by the posh Savoy Hotel next door.
Allbritton was also provided with a Gulfstream V, at a cost to the company of $39.2 million, that he used to fly to London and to his homes in Texas and California. His son Robert also had access to the jet. In 2003, for example, Robert flew his entire wedding party to the Caribbean, and then used the plane for his honeymoon.
What can be learned from the great flu shot panic of 2004? Clearly the government must guarantee the manufacturer that the necessary number of flu shots will be purchased at a price sufficient to assure the manufacturer that he won’t lose money.
Beyond that, the FDA has to do a better job of checking with regulatory agencies in other countries. This time, the agency relied on a plant in England to tell it of any problems. If the FDA had asked its British counterpart, the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, it would have found out that there were plenty of problems. Why didn’t the FDA ask?
Another lesson is that where shortages are threatened, the CDC should have the power to order that shots be given first to the people who need them most and then according to a fair system of priority. It also should be able to allocate the vaccine so that supplies are available to meet those priorities. This year’s shortage was clear by early October. But the CDC failed to act, and on Oct. 16, a Washington Post headline told us Flu Vaccine Allocation in Area Haphazard, No System Exists for Haves to Share Supplies with Have-nots.
The CDC should also be responsible for telling people what’s going on. As late as Oct. 21, Gardiner Harris of The New York Times reported local and state officials are complaining that their federal counterparts have given them almost no information to deal with the shortage.
The problem is that the CDC did not want these responsibilities. Its director, Dr. Julie Gerberding, said imposing federal controls over this process would probably make a big mess. It was already a big mess, Dr. Gerberding. If government did not fill the need, who would? Some things simply have to be done by the government. The real question is not whether government should do them, but how to make sure government does them right.
Finally, on Nov. 10, Dr. Gerberding overcame her market principles and announced a plan for rationing the vaccine according to need. By this time, the CDC controlled only 10 million of the 50 million shots that were available in early October. Furthermore, the CDC is allowing freelancers like New York mayor Bloomberg to import the vaccine from abroad. Your ability to get a shot may depend less on your need than on the enterprise of your mayor. So far a lot of people have been getting the vaccine who are not exactly priority cases, including many twenty-something congressional aides, not to mention many of their healthier bosses.
Unfortunately, as a state official put it to The Washington Post‘s Ceci Connolly, several million high-risk Americans will not be getting it.
One reason to proceed with caution on tort reform is that good lawyers and sympathetic jurors sometimes provide the only way to get the bad guys. Here’s an example.
Jim Hoebeck was recently killed when his car was smashed into by one of those pickup trucks that have been jacked up by their owners so that they loom menacingly over ordinary vehicles. A jury found liable the driver-owner who had installed the suspension lift and the company that manufactured the lift kit. Since there are no laws forbidding these lift jobs, lawsuits are the only way we can protect ourselvesand we need protection.
In one state, Virginia, police statistics show that, according to U.S. News & World Report‘s Danielle Knight, fatality rates, on average, were 29 times as high for crashes involving modified pick-ups as for those involving ordinary trucks.
Last month we noticed how Fannie Mae had cooked its books by moving losses to another year so that generous bonuses could be paid to its executives, including chairman Franklin Raines. We neglected to report the kind of bonuses to which Raines has become accustomed. In 2002, the bonus was $3,300,000. According to a House subcommittee, his total compensation for that year, including the bonus, his salary, fringe benefits, long-term compensation, and stock options, was $17,732,650.
One of the television networks featured a profile of the most distinguishing characteristics of the Bush voter. He was male, white, Christian, and enjoyed an income of more than $100,000 a year. A study by Paul Nyden of my hometown paper, the Charleston Gazette, confirms the last finding, and adds another interesting fact: Voters in more affluent Kanawha County neighborhoods tended to vote in higher numbers and cast the majority of their votes for President Bush. The higher numbers meant victory for President Bush, who carried the county 43,777 to 42,231. Holz Elementary School, which serves the home of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), had the highest percentage of registered voters voting in the county. And I know the precinct well enough to know the senator is not surrounded by Kerry supporters.
Since 1975, South Carolina has lost nearly half of its African-American teachers, reports Gina Smith of Columbia’s The State. The downward spiral flies in the face of a growing body of research that says minority students do better in class when taught by teachers from their same racial or ethnic group. Smith illustrates the point with an African American named Quincy Samuel, who teaches his fifth grade students with rhymes about Juneau, Alaska, Dover, Del., and other capitals set to a thumping beat.
The reason for the decline in the number of black teachers is, of course, the same reason many brilliant women who taught when I was young do not teach today: Educated blacks have many other opportunities. There are two answers to this problem. One is the familiar one of better pay for teachers. The other, however, is not nearly as well known and it is just as badly needed. It is for us to get across to bright young people of all races that teaching can be much more interesting than many of the jobs that now seem more alluring to them. Consider the practice of law. Why doesn’t someone create a popular television show that depicts the hero struggling to keep his eyeballs from glazing over as he plows through one boring law book after the other looking for the answer to some abstruse question of tax or corporate law?
Common sense would suggest that The Wall Street Journal‘s readers are a bit better off than the average American, but in case you need evidence, a recent article by Sue Schellenberger offers this helpful hint on how to cope with the rising cost of child care: In another case, a family was able to hire a nanny for a lower salary by giving her free access to the family’s riding horse.