Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Not Factual Enough for The Tribune?

This week's column didn't run. The reason given by my editor is that the paper's "wire editors have opposed running your column because it doesn't jibe with a NY Times story last week detailing who put what in the Homeland Security bill. These folks are pretty thorough and don't often object to running an opinion column due to factual issues. You might want to check the Times archive."

So I did, and found the following:

"Even in the last week, Democrats became incensed at a last-minute move by House Republican leaders to include several pro-business provisions in the bill. Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, called the move "shabby government" and said the Republicans should be ashamed of such actions.

But the Democratic effort to strip the bill of the provisions fell short today on a 52-to-47 vote that came after extensive arm-twisting of wavering senators by President Bush. Three Democrats and three moderate Republicans said they were persuaded to vote the president's way after the Republicans promised to alter three of the most bitterly contested provisions early next year.

The three provisions would establish a university research center for domestic security, most probably at Texas A&M University; would allow many businesses that have left the country to avoid federal taxes to contract with the new department; and would provide legal protection to companies that make ingredients for vaccines."

David Firestone, "Senate Votes, 90-9, to Set Up Homeland Security Department Geared to Fight Terrorism," New York Times, Nov. 20, 2002.

The article notes that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) claims she has an "iron-clad" promise to "revisit" the offending provisions next year, but in my opinion that's bogus. Hence the column. Write your own headline. I'll add the "real" one if the column ever runs.


If Democrats has engineered the Homeland Security act that just swept through Congress, with its stupid premises, fundamental flaws, and special-interest giveaways, the din of outrage would split your ear. But because this puppy is George W. Bush’s, it basically gets a free pass.

Oh, sure, The Tribune editorialized last week about major conceptual problems with the act. It gives virtually total immunity to almost any company with a government contract. In addition to expanding the “government contractor defense” beyond recognition, the act also locks up private and public information, and authorizes collecting data on everybody, with only the scantiest connection to protecting against terrorism.

The act also gutted the ban on homeland defense contracts with companies that relocate overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. There’s a requirement that some government official find that contracting with such a foreign-based entity wouldn’t cost anything more. Now that’s reassuring -- Congress is firmly insisting that the government not pay more of our tax dollars for the opportunity to deal with corporations which leave the U.S. to avoid paying those taxes themselves.

There’s the basic conceptual problem that moving around boxes on the government organizational chart won’t accomplish much (and will cost plenty) without a lot of thought and care given to the substance of what this new department is supposed to accomplish. And the act manages to leave all that up in the air, to be determined later.

But there’s more. The act also contains a gift to pharmaceutical companies by giving them immunity from any potential lawsuits by parents becoming convinced that preservatives used in childhood vaccines -- but not tested on kids beforehand -- may have helped caused diseases and behavioral problems like autism. What’s that got to do with the war on terrorism? Nothing. But it has everything to do with rewarding an industry that dumped millions of dollars into last-minute “issue” ads designed to help the GOP win some tight House and Senate races.

The act also provides millions of dollars of “pork” to Texas A&M University, in the home state of the president, the House majority leader, and the House whip -- all GOP stalwarts. If this program were located at, say, the University of Arkansas, can you imagine how loudly, repeatedly, and vituperatively The Tribune and the right wing “Mighty Wurlitzer” would be decrying this perfidy by Democrats? But as it’s Republican pork, what we get is earnest, soft-spoken, and almost apologetic pleas that Congress “revisit” these issues next year.

The GOP will show as much desire to “revisit” these issues next year, and do it about as often, as George W. Bush showed up to do his draft-avoiding stint in the Alabama National Guard. First, you know that old comparison between making legislation and sausage? Actually, there’s an even more accurate analogy. The legislative process is more like digestion: Once something actually emerges, nobody wants to touch it.

But more importantly, those conservative voices oh-so-politely calling for a “revisit” just don’t understand that the Republicans got the Homeland Security bill they wanted. The giveaways aren’t some oversight, but rather Republican design. And they’ll stay in the bill unless all you right-wingers scream bloody murder -- just like you would have if Clinton had pulled these stunts.

This so-called “war on terrorism” has been such a convenient excuse for GOP pork-barrel spending and tax cuts for the very richest. Now it’s a way to reward the pharmaceutical companies, Texas A&M, and foreign-based companies. And if you oppose it, George W. Bush says you’re unpatriotic and care more about special interests than national security.

Apparently, unless we reward GOP contributors, the terrorists will have won.

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