INDUSTRY STANDARD: When President George W. Bush announced his reorganization of homeland security this month, he resorted to a venerable Washington trope: an eminence- filled commission. The new Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) is charged with generating counterterrorism strategy and overseeing creation of the new department. As he surrounded himself with the newly minted HSAC--including UBS PaineWebber Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Grano Jr. and former Energy Secretary James Schlesinger--Bush announced, "You all can play a very useful role in this process. You bring a lot of heft and a lot of experience and a lot of know-how. " But one HSAC member, William H. Webster, brings an unusual kind of homelandsecurity experience--experience in stymieing it. In the 1990s Webster-- a former director of the FBI and the CIA--briefly served as a lobbyist for the airline industry. His main responsibility? Blocking legislation that would require background checks of airport employees and tighter screening of passenger baggage. The first idea, he complained to Congress in 1992, "would subject the industry to a very heavy diversion of resources." More importantly, Webster's counterterrorism bona fides lent a patina of credibility to the airlines' argument that the proposed reforms would not enhance security. In response to subsequent criticism, Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transport Association, wrote in The New York Times in August 1996: "The airline industry requires expertise in security, and that is why it turned to William Webster, the former FBI director, for guidance." Alas, Webster proved a very effective spokesman for his cause: The most stringent new security requirements didn't go into effect until after September 11. All of which raises questions not merely about why Webster is now sitting on a commission devoted to the very homeland security he helped undermine? It raises questions about why no one is sitting on a commission looking into Webster.
ANIMAL FARM: Usually, when members of Congress secure pork for their constituents, they brag about it to the folks back home. But the stinging critiques of this year's ridiculously bloated farm bill have made the members of the House Agriculture Committee, where the legislation was cooked up, a tad defensive. Which is apparently why the committee, not content with wasting billions of federal dollars on farm subsidies, has now produced a twelve-page color brochure defending the legislation. The brochure is mostly filled with quotes from the Founders paying homage to the humble farmer. But lest it be purely an exercise in nostalgia, it also offers a truly novel argument in favor of the bill: The farm bill--larded with the sorts of federal subsidies that would warm a Socialist's heart--is actually the ultimate tool of global capitalism. "U.S. farm policy under the 2002 Farm Bill," the brochure proclaims, "strengthens U.S. trade negotiators, making foreign countries reconsider their big subsidies and insurmountable trade barriers the same way the former Soviet Union was forced to reconsider the Cold War when then-President Reagan established the U.S. policy of `Peace Through Strength' that brought down Communism." Thank goodness the Ag Committee kept the United States from adopting a policy of agricultural free trade; the protectionist consequences could have been devastating.
CRYSTAL CLEAR: Members of Congress who voted for campaign finance reform last March could be forgiven for thinking they voted to outlaw soft money. After all, the very first section of the bill rather unequivocally prohibits "any officer or agent of [any] national committee, and any entity that is directly or indirectly established, financed, maintained, or controlled by such a national committee" from "solicit[ing], receiv[ing], or direct[ing] to another person a contribution, donation, or transfer of funds, or any other thing of value, or spend any funds, that are not subject to [hard money] limitations." The bill goes on to impose similar bans on state, district, and local committees and individual candidates for federal office. And just in case there was any residual confusion, a widely circulated summary provided by the bill's lead Senate sponsor, John McCain, states: "Taken together, these soft money provisions are designed to shut down the soft money loophole as comprehensively as possible." Alas, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the agency responsible for implementing the new law, reads it differently. In a series of rulings last week, a majority of the FEC's six commissioners invoked what can only be described as Clintonian logic to "clarify" several provisions of the bill not in need of clarification. A majority of the commissioners, for example, interpreted the word "solicit" as not describing the vast majority of ways politicians raise money--i.e., without asking for it explicitly. Similarly, a majority voted to allow national parties to funnel soft money into parallel organizations created specifically for that purpose--as long as they're created before November 6. (The confusion was apparently over whether any decision to gut the law before it takes effect violates the spirit of the law. Turns out it doesn't.) Referring to critics of the FEC's recent rulings, Commissioner Bradley Smith complained, "[P]art of their agenda, openly stated, is to abolish the commission and replace it with an agenda that will be subservient to their desires." True enough. And those desires amount merely to enforcing the law.
AND NOW THE COVER-UP: Readers of this space will note that we've paid special (perhaps obsessive) attention to President Bush's repeated claim that during the presidential campaign, "in Chicago," he declared he would permit a deficit only in case of war, recession, or national emergency. While Bush has maintained that he offered these three caveats during the campaign, no such statement can be found in the public record. This invented anecdote matters because it is connected to a larger lie: Bush's promise that the United States could enact a massive tax cut, new social spending, and still pay off the national debt. This week The Washington Post asked the White House Press Office--which has simply refused to return our calls on the topic--for evidence that Bush had made such a statement. And in response, the White House pointed the Post to Bush's remarks at two GOP debates in 2000, as well as to remarks he made at the White House last September. But at no time during those debates did Bush say he'd allow deficits in the case of war, recession, or national emergency. And Bush's White House remarks occurred not during the campaign but after he'd been in office for eight months and it was already clear he would break his budgetary promises. Moreover, none of these remarks happened, as Bush says they did, in Chicago. Perhaps the White House shouldn't have returned the Post's calls either.
HOPE DIES LAST: We're happy to announce that our Israel correspondent Yossi Klein Halevi's important book At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land has just been published in paperback by HarperCollins.