POWER OUTAGE

IT'S "ENERGY WEEK" AT THE WHITE House. That means President Bush is traveling the country to talk up his new alternative energy initiatives. His Energy Week speeches emphasize the cutting-edge--even startling--nature of his plans to revolutionize power and fuel supplies in the United States, and his rhetoric combines the futuristic with the family-oriented: "Think about how your children or your grandchildren may be able to spend a President's Day in the future," he rhapsodized at Johnson Controls, a Milwaukee auto-parts supplier. "If you're planning a trip to visit relatives, you can plug in your hybrid car the night before…When you finally make it to where you're going, you can sit at a house that is lit by clean coal, or wind energy, or [a] solar-powered roof over your head."

Sadly, the fiscal year 2007 budget request Bush submitted to Congress on February 6 doesn't support his Energy Week rhetoric. He asked to increase the Department of Energy's funding by an insignificant 0.1 percent, diminish the amount of discretionary funding available to the department's appropriations subcommittee by $700 million, and fund energy programs significantly below the benchmarks established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

"The most versatile of [available] fuels is natural gas…In other words, there's a lot of uses for natural gas," Bush explained in his lengthy Johnson Controls address. But his budget cut funding for natural-gas research. "[W]e're spending money--your hard-earned money--on research to develop a vehicle that…won't produce any pollution whatsoever. And that's through hydrogen," he proclaimed. But his budget provided only a third of the money the 2005 bill authorized for hydrogen research. With maneuvers like these, that imaginative scene Bush conjured of an energy-friendly, all-American road trip is likely to remain science fiction.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, a $28 million budget shortfall resulted in 32 employees at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory losing their jobs. Mysteriously, $5 million was suddenly transferred back to the lab, and the laid-off workers were reinstated just days before Bush made a high-profile visit there to celebrate Energy Week. "I recognize that there have been some interesting--let me say mixed--signals when it comes to funding," Bush acknowledged at the lab on Tuesday. No kidding--and there's no sign they'll get any clearer in 2007.

08n1.jpgGeorge W. Bush


PAT ROBERTS: VERTEBRATE?

WE TAKE A LOT OF SHOTS AT PAT Roberts, the White House water carrier who moonlights as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. After all, whenever there's a call by Senate Democrats to investigate a particular allegation of abuse by the Bush administration in the national security arena, the Kansas Republican quickly responds with an insinuation that congressional oversight is the favored tool of Al Qaeda. For instance, earlier this month, when Democrats raised the question of the administration's controversial warrantless surveillance program during a committee hearing, Roberts bristled that "some of my Democrat colleagues used this unique public forum to make clear that they believe the gravest threat we face is not Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but rather the president of the United States."

But now it's time to give Roberts his due. Last week, the White House began to cave to congressional pressure to craft a bill authorizing the surveillance program. But the administration's preferred legislative fix is a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine to exempt the program entirely from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), thereby transferring oversight of the program--and responsibility for preventing its abuse--from an experienced court to an after-the-fact review by congressional subcommittees. On Friday, Roberts publicly dissented, saying that the program "should come before the FISA court." Good for him: Not only did Roberts's support for amending FISA to accommodate the legitimate aspects of the surveillance program push the White House toward a reasonable solution, it came just days after Dick Cheney implored GOP senators to essentially shut down inquiries into the program's dubious legality.

Of course, Roberts did adjourn his committee without agreeing to an investigation. But he indicated he was using the deferred inquiry as leverage to bring the program under FISA, telling The New York Times, "It was our activity that brought [the administration] along to this point, plus the possibility of an investigation." And, according to the Times, what apparently brought Roberts to this point was his being "stung by accusations that he had caved to White House pressure." We'll take that as a compliment.


SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND

CRITICS OF THE BUSH administration have always been quick to latch onto revelations of political pressure on intelligence agencies--and significant disagreement among them--over Iraq's WMD capabilities. They see them as proof that the president's decision to go to war with Iraq was based not on concrete evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction but on blind faith. This charge has always seemed a bit simplistic--well, until now.

Bill Tierney, who served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq in the late '90s, told National Review Online this week that he would look to God to direct him to possible WMD sites. "God is my intel," Tierney told NRO. His belief in the existence of a uranium-enrichment plant near Tarmiyah was supported, he said, by the fact that a friend had seen it in a dream. This facility has not yet been discovered, but Tierney complains that other weapons inspectors didn't take his intel seriously, and he believes history (let's call it the Final Judgement) will vindicate him. Just as cowboy boots became the mode du jour in Washington following Bush's election in 2000, expect the proliferation of bumper stickers around town now: god is my weapons inspector.

Tierney also said that, as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. military, he had sought God's help in triaging the hundreds of daily threat reports that would come across his desk: "So I'm sitting there going, `Alright, God, I need help. Thank you for showing me which one of these things is important and which one is not.'" We don't mean to belittle anyone's religious convictions, of course. With a war on and the threat of terrorism unabated, these are dark days, indeed. For many, God can be a source of comfort, inspiration, and guidance. Spiritual guidance. Besides, at this point, it will take more than a prayer to find Iraq's missing WMD.


This article originally ran in the March 6, 2006, issue of the magazine.