When I wrote last month about the explosion of lobbyists during the 1970s, I wish I had known a statistic that subsequently appeared in Washingtonian magazine. In just the three years between 1972-1975, the number of the capitol’s lawyers doubled. In the 30 years since, the number has doubled twice more, but never has the growth been so intense as during those three years in the ’70s.
By the way, the present number of lawyers practicing in Washington is 81,548. That means that one person in seven you run into on the street is probably heading from their law firm to Capitol Hill, or to some federal agency, where it can be safely assumed that he or she will represent the interests of the average citizen, rarely if at all.
I was delighted when I read about Condoleezza Rice’s plan to transfer diplomats from Europe to understaffed posts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. One longtime problem with the foreign service has been that it was too successful in concentrating jobs where the living was easy, and where the real need for American diplomats did not justify the assignments.
Unfortunately, when I read the list of countries that will lose foreign service jobs under the Rice plan, I saw that only two of the reassigned diplomats will come from Britain, and none from France, Switzerland, Italy, or Spain, which have traditionally been the cushiest, most sought-after, and consequently most over-staffed.
John Boehner, the new House Majority Leader, recently told Tim Russert that he didn’t intend to rush into lobbying reform. You will understand Boehner’s resolve not to be hasty when you learn, as we did from The Hill, that more than 20 of his former staffers now work as lobbyists. And Newsweek’s Holly Bailey and Eleanor Clift note that just since 2000, “Boehner has taken more than $150,000 worth of junkets paid for by private interests, ranking him in the top ten of all members of Congress.”
Since 9/11, it has been crystal clear that we have needed more spies in countries where plots against us may be being hatched. Yet according to Bill Gertz of The Washington Times, even after all the talk about the need for better intelligence since 9/11, we have fewer than 1,000 intelligence officers “working in the field as spies and spy handlers.” US News & World Report puts the figure at 1,200.
Whichever is right, the figure represents a miserably low percentage of the 20,000 or so CIA employees. Certainly, it reflects poor leadership from the Bush administration. But as veteran students of bureaucracy know, it also reflects a truth about the CIA bureaucrats that is similar to why foreign service officers try to preserve the cushiest assignments in Europe. At the CIA, the institutional preference seems to be for the safety and comfort of a headquarters assignment at Langley.
Bill Gertz says that 200 of the CIA field officers are assigned to Iraq. And in Iraq, according to Linda Robinson and Kevin Whitelaw of US News, these agents are required to leave the Green Zone only in armor and with three cars. According to Bob Baer, the agent who was the model for George Clooney’s character in Syriana: “You can’t pick up an asset with three cars.” Can’t you see the potential Iraqi recruit lurking furtively in a doorway, praying his neighbors won’t see that he’s meeting an American, only to have the CIA’s three-car convoy roar down the road and screech to a halt right in front of him?
I could not believe it! Less than two months after embarrassing itself by running a snotty piece by Robin Givhan ridiculing Harriet Miers’s clothes and makeup, The Washington Post‘s Style desk turned Givhan loose on Martha Ann Alito. Givhan observed that the fabric of Alito’s suit was “like the upholstery that once covered La-Z-Boys,” and that the Alitos were dressed “in the manner of a family heading off to the Sears photo studio.”
Putdowns are rarely as artful as the author thinks. Givhan should realize that there is a danger that your own tastelessness will be revealed in the process–and that the worst targets for put-downs are unpretentious people like Miers and the Alitos.
It has now been almostthree years since George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. And still the Iraqi army is not strong enough to replace our own. Why is this? One clue comes from Major Gen. Paul Eaton, who was the first officer assigned to create an Iraqi army. He says he got the assignment on May 9, 2003, a week after Bush’s speech.
As an indication of just how seriously the Pentagon took the task even that May is the staff given Eaton. He explained to Thom Shanker of The New York Times: “I set out to man, train and equip an Army for a country of 25 million–with six men.”
When Brent Scowcroft told the New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Goldberg that he used to admire Dick Cheney, but that Cheney had so changed that Scowcroft no longer felt he knew him, I recognized the feeling. I have known Cheney for 25 years or so, his wife even longer. I knew that we disagreed on most issues, but I always found him reasonable and respectful of facts. I was actually pleased when George W. Bush chose him as his running mate. Since 2001, however, the vice president has seemed increasingly rigid and so indifferent to the facts that he misrepresents them repeatedly. It was as if he were the Manchurian Candidate, in whose brain Osama bin Laden had implanted a chip designed to make Cheney do whatever would inflame relations between Islam and the West.
Cheney’s change has had its impact on Dubya, who as governor of Texas was much more willing to listen to the other side than he is today. When Chris Matthews recently asked Paul Burka, the veteran Texas journalist, what had changed Bush, Burka replied: “Dick Cheney.”
But that still leaves us with the question of what changed Cheney. I have two guesses. The last time I had an extended conversation with his wife, Lynne, was in the early 1990s. I noticed then that she had become much more rigidly conservative. So perhaps Cheney was influenced by his spouse. The other possibility–considerably more fanciful but nevertheless, by my own guess, closer to the truth–is psychological. There is considerable evidence that Dubya thought his real father was wishy-washy. I suspect he was looking for a strong father, that Cheney perceived this need, and that Cheney realized that if he filled that role, he would practically become president himself–or at least have far more influence than most vice presidents. All Cheney had to do was be decisive, ignore the other side, and never waver.
Phillip Longman’s article praising the Veterans Administration in our January/February 2005 issue has recently received support from a study by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan, comparing patients’ ratings of care provided by the VA with that provided by private facilities. The VA got a rating of 83 on outpatient care compared to the private figure of 76. Even more impressive were the inpatient scores–76 for the private facilities, 84 for the VA. Another argument for socialized medicine!
The qualms about Chief Justice Roberts’s endorsement of the lawyer’s role as hired gun expressed in this column recently are shared by our alumnus Michael Kinsley. Pointing out in a column last month that Roberts told the Senate judiciary committee that “the position a lawyer presents on behalf of a client should not be ascribed to that lawyer,” Kinsley observes: “If the average potential juror knew that lawyers actually take pride in not believing what they say, it could wreck the whole [legal] system.”
“In all, the Bush administration abandoned or delayed implementation of 18 proposed safety rules that were in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s regulatory pipeline,” reports Joby Warick of The Washington Post. But there are signs that the folks at MSHA are feeling guilty. A couple of the mothballed proposals, including mandatory caches of oxygen tanks and breathing masks and expanding the number of rescue teams seem to have been put on the fast track for approval. MSHA also, reports the Charleston Gazette, recently intervened before a federal judge on behalf of having the United Mineworkers participate in safety hearings, a matter about which they had previously been less than enthusiastic.
This is the time for mine safety advocates to strike. Not only are MSHA officials feeling guilty, so are members of Congress. One state legislature, West Virginia’s, has already enacted new safety requirements.
Another reason the time is ripe for reform is that the coal industry is booming. With oil and natural gas prices sky high, “the fuel of the future is coal,” reports a Wall Street newsletter. This is important because many times in the past, mine owners have been able to plead hardship, saying that business was bad and that they could not afford safety measures. Sometimes even the mineworkers themselves would go along, fearing they’d lose their jobs if the expense of safety requirements caused a mine to close. Now that the mine owners have no such excuse, the moment for reform is here.
The teasers during a January “NBC Nightly News” kept promising to tell listeners what to do in the event of stroke. Since I’m a senior citizen, I got out my pencil and pad and prepared to take notes on what steps I should follow to save myself. When the report began, the reporter said to take a drug called ATP three hours from the onset of symptoms. But just as I was dutifully writing down this information, the reporter said, “Then again, if you take ATP, you may cause another stroke.”
The Wall Street Journal has performed a great service for beer drinkers. Veteran imbibers know that the fresher the beer is, the better it tastes. The problem is, how can you tell how fresh the beer is before you buy it? Now comes the Journal with an explanation of the code on the label that reveals the date by which the beer should be consumed. In the cases of three of my favorites–Miller Genuine Draft, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Pilsner Urquell–the codes are easy to understand: The month, day, and year come in order, so that 03-13-6 means March 13, 2006. Several others, like Sapporo, can be pretty tricky, with the month indicated by a letter of the alphabet–A for January, etc. That’s why I welcome the Journal article.
You may recall my items about the Robertson family’s frustration with Princeton University. In 1961, they gave the University $35 million to train graduate students at the Woodrow Wilson school to serve in the federal government, especially in international relations. But over the years, the family came to suspect that much of the money was not being used for this purpose, and, taking a step that must have made university presidents tremble and of course delighted me, the Robertsons sued. Now according to John Hechinger and Daniel Goldin of The Wall Street Journal, a smoking gun has been discovered.
It seems that in 2002, the university’s secretary, Thomas Wright, warned his president, Shirley Tigheman, that a document about to be sent to the Robertsons disclosed that money from their fund was being used to pay students outside the Wilson school and for other purposes. Tigheman, perhaps inspired by the example of Richard M. Nixon and Rosemary Woods, chose to delete the disclosure from the document given to the Robertsons.
This case is disturbing not only because of Princeton’s arrogance but even more because we desperately need to encourage and train bright young people to go into public service.
I’ve discovered a fact embarrassing to our side and, having just criticized Princeton’s president for nondisclosure, I’m afraid I have to come clean. In 1994, there was a story in The Washington Post by R. Jeffrey Smith headlined “Administration backing no-warrant spy searches,” which quotes Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick as believing the “President has inherent authority to conduct warrant-less searches for foreign intelligence purposes.” To Gorelick’s credit, she went on to support legislation providing for warrants. But nonetheless, she does seem to have endorsed the current administration’s theory.
The Wall Street Journal recently published a long article–36 paragraphs, to be exact–about the FAA’s Air Traffic Control system, and its head, Russell Chew. The article examined many issues, including on-time performance, salary demands by controllers, and outdated technology. But there was not one word about safety issues. Safety is, or should be, the primary mission of the control system. It does seem worthy of a mention.
Speaking of safety, did you see that television docudrana about Flight 93, the one with the brave passengers and crew who thwarted one 9/11 hijacking at the cost of their own lives? The movie reminded us that box-cutters were the weapon of choice of the 9/11 hijackers.
The morning after the movie, I woke up to a story in The Washington Times about the TSA’s decision to allow scissors up to four inches in length and screwdrivers up to seven inches. The TSA defended the decision with this explanation: “We believe that today’s greatest risk is explosives.” Since the 9/11 hijackers used box-cutters and not explosives, I find this explanation less than convincing. So, by the way, does the Association of Flight Attendants, which is fighting to restore the ban on scissors and screwdrivers.
I often rely on the reporting of The Washington Post‘s Stephen Barr for items in this column. So it is with reluctance that I find myself disagreeing with him. But he recently deemed “encouraging” a report from the Office of Management and Budget that found at least 72 percent of federal government programs work “at least to some degree” and that only 40 percent had management programs worthy of being called “good.” If Barr finds these statistics encouraging, I can only say that his expectations must have been modest indeed.
It should also be noted that the standards employed by the OMB study were not excessively rigorous. According to The Washington Post‘s Al Kamen, FEMA was rated as “adequate.”
“Martha Alito won America’s heart. What a warm and wonderful woman. I talked to her. You want to know what really caused her to cry at those hearings?
“Dick sat through the movie, didn’t say a word. We came out. After a while, he says, “Nice horses.” And I said ‘Yep.’ Then he became real quiet and serious. I knew something was on his mind. He turned to me and said…”
The Millennium Challenge Program is a Bush administration program that aims to make foreign aid more effective by funneling aid, in the words of the Post‘s Michael A. Fletcher and Paul Blustein, “only to poor nations deemed to have relatively honest governments.”
But the new organization ran into a problem. It sought to hire a “chief economist who would bring a well-regarded reputation in the development field. But the initiative fizzled when staffers could not find such an economist who was also a Republican.”
When I began my book Five Days in Philadelphia, my main motive was to restore Wendell Willkie to the place in history that he deserved by demonstrating his crucial role as the Republican presidential nominee who gave a Democratic president the courage to make politically dangerous decisions in an election year–decisions that were vital to the survival of democracy. As I was writing the book, however, I realized there were differences between the country in 1940 and the way it is today that I wanted to explain so that young people would understand that we can do better, a lot better than we’re doing now.
But I have failed. Although the book was generously reviewed, and I have received far more enthusiastic phone calls, letters, and emails from readers than for any of my seven other books, I’ve had to face the fact that except for a handful from younger Monthly alumni, these messages came from no one recognizably under 35.
So I ask for your help and advice in figuring out how to reach these young people and urge you to write me with your advice, care of the Monthly. The points I want to emphasize most are that we can have leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, and we can be willing to sacrifice by drafting ourselves into military service and paying higher taxes. We can have a dominant Christianity that supports liberal programs, and we can have a country where too many people are not trying to demonstrate that they are richer, smarter, and have better taste than the next guys, but where instead, they’re trying to find common ground with their fellow citizens. It can happen because it did happen.
We can not only do better, we can also be better. Not that we won’t still be recognizably human, with our share of failings. Even FDR and Willkie had their weaknesses. But they and we were able to rise to behavior characterized by considerably more idealism and generosity than is evident today.