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Tilting at windmills: lacy underthings * the big number * terrorism: the marriage solution competition for the CIA * clientitis in Pakistan.

"MARRIAGE INHIBITS ANTISOCIAL behavior among young adult males. Crime rates, for example, are highly correlated with a high percentage of unmarried young males in the population," reports the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. This same appears to be true of terrorists, almost all of whom are single. I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough about Islamic culture to know why at least some of them have unusually large numbers of young, single males, but it seems clear that figuring out what can be done about this problem should rank high in our national priorities. Solving it might do more good than bombing rubble.

The Washington Post RECENTLY published the floor plan for the George H. W. Bush Strategic Information Operations Center at the FBI. I noticed that about one-sixth of the total space is devoted to briefing rooms. One of them, the Executive Briefing Room, looks like a small theater. This reflects the fact that in the federal government nothing is valued higher than briefing skills. If you're a star with the pointer and the flip chart (or these days, with PowerPoint), your prospects are unlimited in both the civilian and military bureaucracies. You can even survive a name like Stufflebeem.

JUST AFTER WE WENT TO PRESS with this column's warning about the hazard of private planes being used by terrorists, along came two news stories illustrating the danger. From Preston, Idaho, the Associated Press reported "a man stole a single-engine plane ... and dropped a homemade pipe bomb that did not explode." And from Jackson, Mississippi, The Washington Post reported, "Emergency management officials took samples from a Mississippi tug boat and a pleasure craft after a low-flying crop-duster sprayed them with an unknown substance." In both these cases no harm was done. But they do show how easily harm could be inflicted if these planes fell into competent hands.

IN THE MEANTIME, THE DANGER from commercial planes continued through September, October and well into November, because the House and Senate were unable to agree on an airport security plan. Finally, after a series of horror stories about Argenbright Security, Inc. --"Just seven knives and a stun-gun? Let him through"--culminating in the news that Southwest, United, and AmericaWest airlines had just hired Argenbright to provide security at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the Senate finally won on Nov. 16 when both chambers passed a bill federalizing airport security.

The House bill should not be forgotten, for it was notable in its radical departure from the GOP's customary antipathy towards regulation. Republicans argued that tough regulation of private business was the best solution to threats to airline passengers' safety. Democrats should remind their colleagues of this argument the next time a health and safety issue comes up.

Another important thing to remember about the new bill is a lesson about government that this magazine has long sought to teach: However laudable a bill may be, it means nothing unless it is effectively implemented.

In the past, Congress has told the FAA to make safety reforms with only the slightest perceptible result. In 1990, 1996, and 2000, bills were passed requiring background checks for airport security workers, but the airline lobby--which even hired former FBI and CIA director William Webster--either killed or watered down these efforts, sometimes aided and abetted by Congress itself.

So it is essential that the media follow the implementation of this bill closely to make sure the reforms are actually made. For example, will the secretary of transportation really use the unusually broad discretion the bill gives him in hiring and firing screeners to hire the able and get rid of the incompetent? If Norman Mineta uses this authority skillfully, it will have important implications for the rest of government where the need for better people is not as extreme as in the case of airport screeners but is still an unhappy reality.

A RECENT BROOKINGS SURVEY OF 1,051 civil servants throughout the federal government shows that on average they believe 23.5 percent of their fellow employees are not up to par. "We've got a very good federal work force," says Brookings' Paul Light, who conducted the survey and reported it in Government Executive magazine. "But we have a substantial number of poor performers." For me, the two greatest needs of the public service are more power to get rid of bad apples, and much more emphasis on attracting high-quality new hires.

Smart people can help by applying for government jobs. Here's a chance for them to express in a meaningful way the patriotism they say they feel.

FOR ALL OF THOSE WHO HAVE fretted, usually futilely, about the tendency of Washington journalists to forgo important subjects in favor of scandal and the horse race between candidates, a recent episode of The West Wing had a line that captures the problem: "Getting political reporters to write about issues is like getting children to eat their vegetables."

CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER MATTHEW Dalleck recently told Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker, "One of the things I've been most struck by since I came here is that this place runs in a day-by-day, week-by-week fashion. You don't know what's going to happen, we respond to events."

I would add that in my experience the same is also true, perhaps even more so, of the White House. Each day's news dominates staff attention to the detriment of other important issues, and whatever leadership or pressure the White House exerts on the executive branch it oversees usually has far less to do with the proper long-range concerns of the agencies than with how-do-we-respond-to-this-or-that-piece-of-news? The result is that both Congress and the White House for most of the time I've been in Washington have paid little attention to making those agencies work better.

MORE BAD NEWS FROM THE BUSH administration. It has reversed a Clinton policy that gave the Secretary of the Interior the authority to veto permits for mines on federal land if the mines could cause substantial and irreparable harm. Why on earth shouldn't the secretary have such authority? Shouldn't we the people be able to protect ourselves from the gold-mining industry that dumps cyanide into our streams? The good news is that the EPA has finally decided to adopt the Clinton standards for keeping arsenic out of our drinking water. I guess the Bush people figure they're being evenhanded: tough on arsenic, tender on cyanide.

SPEAKING OF TENDERNESS, Harvey Pitt, the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, says that the SEC is going to be a "kinder and gentler place for accountants," adding that "somewhere along the way, accountants became afraid to talk to the SEC, and the SEC appeared to be unwilling to listen to the profession. What Pitt is doing is signaling to the accountants that the Bush administration is backing off the modest reforms Arthur Levitt, Clinton's SEC chairman, had proposed for an industry where pulling the wool over the public's eyes had become commonplace. Just recently, two of the biggest accounting firms paid multimillion-dollar fines for what The Washington Post calls "grossly misleading" corporate audits. This is an industry that definitely needs not softer but sterner regulation.

If you've been following the Enron story, you will know that its auditor, Arthur Andersen, a major accounting firm, let Enron get away with accounting practices so misleading that their gradual disclosure has led to the company's stock dropping from $90 a share to $8 in just one year.

IN OUR LAST ISSUE I PRAISED THE press for the quality of its reporting in the first weeks after September 11, but since the anthrax scare began, I've begun to worry that we're returning to the days when camera crews seemed permanently fixed outside the apartments of Monica Lewinsky and Gary Condit, with a kind of obsessiveness about the tiniest detail and a ceaseless repetition of previously reported facts.

ALTHOUGH SOME OF THE ISLAMIC hatred of the United States seems irrational, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to climate the reasons for the hatred that we do understand. The most important step for us to take is to pursue a peace agreement that guarantees a Palestinian state as well as the security of Israel. I would like to see news almost daily about this country's effort on behalf of a just solution in the Middle East, and to help both Muslims and Jews understand that the real threat to such a just solution is not the United States but the extremists on both sides: the Jews who killed Yitzak Rabin and the Arabs who blow up some poor Israelis every time peace appears close at hand. I keep remembering that when Clinton asked Arafat why he wouldn't go along with the agreement--seemingly favorable to Palestine--that Clinton had negotiated with Barak last fall, Arafat replied he was afraid that if he signed on he would be shot.

WE ALSO NEED TO FREE OURSELVES from dependence on Saudi Arabia, whose regime is deeply offensive to idealistic Muslims. How do we liberate ourselves from the Saudis? Energy independence, of course. Instead of driving around waving flags from their SUVs, every patriotic owner of these gas guzzlers should trade it in for an energy-efficient car, which could fly the flag just as well. We also should dramatically increase the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Bush is taking a first step by adding 70 million barrels to the current 543 million. But I agree with Newsweek economic columnist Robert Samuelson that the target should be more like 2 billion barrels, which means greatly expanding government storage facilities that currently have a capacity of only 700 million barrels.

"ANTHRAX MENACE EXPOSES Badly Coordinated Defense," reads the October 28 headline in The New York Times. The same week similar stories were appearing in almost every other newspaper and magazine. It's too bad the media and Bush administration officials had not paid attention to Joshua Green's article "Weapons of Mass Confusion: There's Anthrax in the Subway. Who You Gonna Call?" in the May issue of this magazine, which made crystal clear the nation's unpreparedness for bioterrorism.

SOMETHING THAT HAS BEEN making me nervous is that the CIA is relying, because of its own linguistic incompetence, on Pakistani intelligence for information on what's going on inside Afghanistan. Since the Pakistanis, to put it gently, have divided loyalties, wouldn't it be better to find some other way to deal with the agency's shortage of those fluent in Afghan languages? For starters, why doesn't the CIA recruit from those members of the American Afghan community who are known opponents of the Taliban? Right here in the Washington area there are at least 3,000 Afghans, and some estimates put the figure as high as 80,000. Another source of people who know Afghanistan are the many people at the State Department, USIA, AID, and Peace Corps who have worked there over the years. Some of them actually learned the languages. And what about their hundreds of sons and daughters who lived in Afghanistan while their parents were working there?

ONE EXAMPLE IS THE FORMER Peace Corps volunteer who, The Wall Street Journal reports, is helping the army with its psychological warfare program in Afghanistan. Another example comes from the son of two foreign service officers who served in Pakistan, Michael Schaffer. Also a former Washington Monthly intern, Schaffer's recent article in U.S. News & World Report on ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, is among the most revealing I've seen. He says the ISI was the sponsor of the Taliban "whose members shared the Pashtun ethnicity and Islamic fundamentalism of many ISI agents." Many in the ISI, Schaffer says, became victims of "clientitis," identifying with the Taliban. "Elements of the ISI are reportedly helping the Taliban smuggle badly needed fuel and ammunition over the border from Pakistan." To top it all off, Schaffer says, the ISI has ties with Osama bin Laden's al Queda network, "using its terrorist camps to train violent insurgents for missions against archrival India." This, of course, is the same ISI that the CIA is said to be relying on for intelligence about Afghanistan.

THERE MAY BE A MODEL FOR PEACE in the Middle East in what has happened in Northern Ireland. The leaders of Sinn Fein have finally asked the IRA to disarm. One of the reasons they have done so is pressure from Irish Americans whose money has supported them. Coupled with pressure British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been putting on Ulster Protestants to be reasonable, disarmament by the IRA could mean the end of a long and bitter civil war. Similar pressure on the Palestinians and Israelis by moderate Arabs, American Jews, and the U.S. government just might produce a similar result.

WHEN YOU GET A GLOSSY mailing announcing a new magazine, you can be sure the copy has been tested so that the mailer knows that readers will respond to it. So it is not reassuring to contemplate a new mailing for Lucky magazine. The envelope copy for which reads,

"If `sexy high-heeled shoes' are four of your favorite words ...

"If you believe a gift can never have too many handbags, dresses, t-shirts, or lacy underthings ...

"If you know that shopping is one of life's most fabulous pleasures, then ..."

Receiving this mailing just a few weeks after the World Trade Center tragedy reminded me of why I'm offended by the consumerist binge that is being urged on us as the path to economic recovery. We had prosperity in World War II without a consumerist binge. That prosperity came from spending for public purposes. As I pointed out last month, there are great needs for public spending today, not only for antiterrorism but for education, health, and infrastructure rebuilding. The kind of national service draft that Charles Moskos and Paul Glastris recommended in our last issue would spend money and be a hell of a lot better for the nation's morale than shopping until you drop.

AS FOR THE NEED FOR MORE money for education, consider the case of preschool in just one city. David Hornbeck, Philadelphia's former school superintendent--you may have seen that PBS special about him--says, "Them are 20,000 kids in Philadelphia who are eligible for Head Start by income standards but do not have any access to pre-K because there is no pre-K for them. Then we ask ourselves when they get to kindergarten, why is it that they're two years behind their peers?"

DID INTERIOR SECRETARY GAIL Norton mislead Congress? Recently, as she was making the case for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, she told a Senate subcommittee that caribou calving had been concentrated outside the proposed drilling area for 11 of the last 18 years. The opposite was true, according to The Washington Post's Michael Grunwald, who adds that her testimony omitted scientific data that had been supplied her by the Fish and Wildlife Service indicating that caribou could be affected by oil drilling.

SOME BAD NEWS FROM CALIFORNIA, or to be more precise, news that's not as good as we would have hoped. It concerns Proposition 36, the law that mandates treatment instead of prison for first- and second-time drug offenders. The problem is that there have turned out to be far more severe addicts than had been anticipated. In Sacramento County, seven of 10 addicts were expected to be casual drug users who would need minimal treatment, but, according to Fox Butterfield of The New York Times, "More than half have turned out to be hardcore addicts needing maximum treatment." That means 12 to 18 months per addict at a minimum cost of $75 dollars per day. This adds up to at least $26,375. Interestingly enough, the California board of corrections says the costs of keeping a prisoner incarcerated is $25,605, which still makes treatment seem like a pretty good deal. Unfortunately, the state's annual appropriation allows for only $2,000 per addict.

OF THE MANY FAILURES OF THE CIA, the most dismaying for me was its inability to find out about India's plan to test a nuclear bomb in 1998 that Loch Johnson described in our July/August issue. India is an open democracy, not a closed dictatorship like the Taliban's. You can travel where you want. People are not afraid to talk to you. And lots of people had to be involved in the planning and execution of a nuclear test. But the CIA did not find out about it until after the event. It's not easy to reform an organization that screws up like that and takes eight years to spot a traitor in its midst even when he is drinking heavily and spending well beyond his income, even driving a Jaguar to work.

The CIA not only needs new people at the bottom, it needs new people at all levels of the organization. During World War II lateral entry into the upper levels of both the military and the civilian agencies was common. This meant an infusion of new blood throughout the bureaucracy. Since then, the practice has fallen into disuse. It should be revived immediately.

AS A LAST RESORT, WE SHOULD start a new intelligence agency. FDR would use this approach when he thought the old agencies couldn't deliver. And remember, the CIA's parent agency, the Office of Strategic Services, was started fresh during World War II. You couldn't let the new organization compete with the CIA in running operations--that would be chaotic--but competition in the search for information would be healthy.

YOU MUST READ STEVE NEAL'S new book Harry & Ike. It not only reminds us of how good Truman and Eisenhower were despite their faults, but of how typical they were. If you grew up in small town America, you knew other fellows like them. And that says a lot about why this country is great, despite all its faults.

ON PEARL HARBOR DAY I HEARD the first bulletin around 2:30 p.m. Anxious to hear more news, I called my friend Jack Sears with whom I was planning to play some one-on-one basketball that afternoon, and asked him if he could bring a radio outside so we could listen while we played. But as we were shooting baskets, we became increasingly frustrated by the lack of news. Incredibly, the radio stations--remember, there was no TV--continued their regular schedules interrupted by only occasional news bulletins. Commercials continued as usual. Only one network devoted as much as one hour to coverage of the event. By contrast, according to the Associated Press, "after the September 11 attacks, the CBS television network went 93 hours covering the disaster without a commercial break."

Of course, back in 1941 we did have "extra" editions of the newspapers. They had become common early in World War II. I remember my father sending me downtown to find a news boy selling the extra that announced the Nazi invasion of France. But those extras often involved remaking only two pages of the paper, which still left you panting for more news. And for more than one or two pictures of the events you had to wait for the movie newsreels or Life magazine, both of which usually came a week after the event. We may have too much news on television today, but back then we had far too little.

THE BIG STORY LOVES BIG NUMBERS. How else can we explain the repeated use of 5,000 as the number of dead from the World Trade Center, even after The New York Times revealed on Oct. 25 that it could not get the count above 2,950. Even New York City officials who had made the original estimate of more than 5,000 and stuck to it for quite awhile had gradually reduced their own figure to 4,300 by the first week of November. But in the November 12 issue of U.S. News & World Report, to take just one example, you'll find "more than 5,000" on page 47.
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Author:Peters, Charles
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
Words:3328
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