The Dogs of War Are Howling – Woe to Us

áOriginally published September 15, 2001

War: a word most of us don’t really understand, but suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of one. The first war of the 21st century says president Bush. Just a year and change into the new Millennium and already a war. A big one. World War III some are saying.

The images of the World Trade Center’s last moments sure looked like war, not the Pearl Harbor or Persian Gulf kind, but war nonetheless. Except what happened September 11, 2001 is not at all comparable to a Pearl Harbor or the start of any other war, and we have to be very careful about how we label these recent terrible events and make sure our reaction does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The day after Pearl Harbor, Congress declared war on Japan, then soon after Germany on the U.S., then the U.S. on Germany. On September 12, 2001, America was still trying to figure out the enemy. No telltale Japanese fighters this time. These kamikazes suicided in jet airliners.

A few days after this “act of war” there are prime suspects and an alleged mastermind. There is a country that harbors that mastermind. There is a network of terrorists around the world. But who exactly are we warring with? Throwing this word “war” around is dangerous. Some people know all-to-well what war is, but Americans around for Pearl Harbor are mostly gone now. Back then it was really obvious what had to be done and who had to be fought. Today, more Americans are alive who were born after Vietnam than before it.

This time the enemy is a multinational terrorist network and countries that support them. Osama bin Laden’s network is reported to have cells in 38 countries, and an organizational structure designed to survive the loss of almost all senior leadership. No kidding this is a “new kind of war.” I have never heard of a war where the enemy is everywhere and nowhere at once. We must be careful that this war does not spread across the globe or get beyond our ability to contain it, because the flames of rhetoric can start all sorts of unexpected fires.

Governments around the world can use state security as a reason to go after anyone they want. Once hunting season opens on terrorists, Pandora’s Box has more unpleasant surprises. Loud and clear the U.S. sent a message:áif you’re not with us, you’re against us. Cooperate or else. That sounds ominous, only it’s not just leaders in Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iran who should be listening carefully, it’s everyone. It’s people inside America and out. It’s terrorists or anyone that looks like one. It’s Colombian rebels and Chechnyan paramilitaries and Palestinian street fighters. It’s Kurds in Turkey and Iraq, and ethnic minorities around the world who are at odds with the powers that be. Lots of innocent people could get caught in the crossfire. Manyácountries will not cooperate as the U.S. wants them to, either because they won’t or they can’t, and according to the evolving U.S. strategy, those countries are going to get whacked. This is a dangerous road, one that will end with everyone fighting everyone.

There are some realities to consider here before breaking out the whup-ass. Iran’s reformers have the popular support of their people, but extremists who support terrorists have effective control of the country. They’re not handing anyone over. Syria and Jordan have new leaders that are barely in control of their countries. Egypt and Saudi Arabia only pretend to dance to America’s tune. Those countries and many others across the Middle East and Africa are facing the prospect of war with America and its allies, or war with the Islamic adherents within their countries. That might seem like a no-brainer, but what are America and its allies going to do, bomb into oblivion? If they take out the governments, what’s going to replace them? All the West will accomplish is creating more breeding grounds for terrorists.

Israel’s hard-line government that has been itching for the chance to take out Yasser Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian government; America’s talk of war sounds like a go-ahead. That will definitely start a war –áa big, big war.

It’s understandable yet surprising that the Bush administration with its high-flying and much praised security team would flagrantly fan the flames. Obviously a strong response is needed to prevent future terrorism –áin America or any other cooperative country. But is a “war” necessary? Isn’t anyone in the White House suggesting other options? Could it be that with a former general as secretary of state, and a former secretary of defense as vice president, and many other hard-liners around him, President Bush is hearing a lot of one-sided advice?

Another question. Maybe this is beside the point, but maybe it is the point: Why is the coming storm being called “the first” war of the 21st Century? Sounds to me like someone thinks this situation is the start of something much bigger. Step back from the brink and consider what we’re really talking about here, and how we should go about making the world safer. First of all we have to acknowledge that the U.S. government creates its Frankensteins like bin Laden and Hussein and Noriega. The government used them in a global game of chess with the Russians, and when pawns rise against their kings, we get wars. CIA spooks taught bin Laden his tactics so he could fight the Russians in Afghanistan, and now he is using what he learned with horrific effect against the people who basically got him started. Obviously, terrorism against America is not what anyone in the CIA had in mind when training bin Laden, but if we want to really learn from what has happened to avoid future tragedies, we have to realize how misguided policies create these monstrous enemies.

Second, we should be really asking why the Russians and Chinese are so eager to see America go down this path. Could it be that they see easy cover to take care of their own problems? Like chess, multiple reasons are behind every move, so while the Russians and Chinese say crackdown on terrorism, they have their own ideas. Russia is still waging a grueling conflict in Chechnya, and China is systematically eliminating Falun Gong followers and other “dissidents.” In fact, the country is awash in its own blood right now, with more executions in the last year than the rest of the world combined. America’s rhetoric sounds like a green light not just for Russia and China, but for Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, and other countries dealing with security issues, to push back the boundaries of civil and legal rights. There has to be a clear, and limited, enemy. There has to be due process. And the U.S. has to be careful about what kind of signals it sends to anyone who follows along on this crusade.

Third, anyone targeted as a terrorist has to be convicted in a court. America can not run around being judge, jury and executioner. Fourth, a united effort on many fronts — legal, economic, political — should be made before missiles are launched or bombs are dropped. Fifth, the freedoms and liberties cherished in America have to be upheld as much as possible while effectively dealing with terrorism, at home and abroad.

And finally, we should ask if the war rhetoric and comparisons to other wars are doing more harm than good.War? If we’re not careful we might just find out what war really means.

War: a self-fulfilling prophecy

War: a word most of us don’t really understand, but suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of one. The first war of the 21st century says president Bush. Just a year and change into the new Millennium and already a war. A big one. World War III some are saying.

The images of the World Trade Center’s last moments sure looked like war, not the Pearl Harbor or Persian Gulf kind, but war nonetheless. Except what happened September 11, 2001 is not at all comparable to a Pearl Harbor or the start of any other war, and we have to be very careful about how we label these recent terrible events and make sure our reaction does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The day after Pearl Harbor, Congress declared war on Japan, then soon after Germany on the U.S., then the U.S. on Germany. On September 12, 2001, America was still trying to figure out the enemy. No telltale Japanese fighters this time. These kamikazes were flying jet airliners.

A few days after this “act of war” there are prime suspects and an alleged mastermind. There is a country that harbors that mastermind. There is a network of terrorists around the world. But who exactly are we warring with? Throwing this word “war” around is dangerous. Some people know all-to-well what war is, but Americans around for Pearl Harbor are mostly gone now. Back then it was really obvious what had to be done and who had to be fought.

Today more Americans are alive who were born after Vietnam than before it. This time the enemy is multinational terrorist networks and countries that support them. Osama bin Laden’s network is reported to have cells in 38 countries, and an organizational structure designed to survive the loss of almost all senior leadership. No kidding this is a “new kind of war.” I have never heard of a war where the enemy is everywhere and nowhere at once.

We must be careful that this war does not spread across the globe or get beyond our ability to contain it, because the flames of rhetoric can start all sorts of unexpected fires. Governments around the world can use state security as a reason to go after anyone they want. Once hunting season opens on terrorists, there are all sorts of other surprises in Pandora’s Box.

The US has sent a loud and clear message: If you’re not with us, you’re against us. Cooperate or else. That sounds ominous, only it’s not just leaders in Afghanistan, Sudan, and Iran who should be listening carefully, it’s everyone. It’s people inside America and out. It’s terrorists or anyone that looks like one. It’s Colombian rebels and Chechnyan paramilitaries and Palestinian street fighters. It’s Kurds in Turkey and Iraq and ethnic minorities around the world who are at odds with the powers that be. In this war lots of innocent people could get caught in the crossfire.

There are also a lot of countries that won’t cooperate as the US wants them to, either because they won’t or they can’t, and according to the evolving U.S. strategy, those countries are going to get whacked. This is a dangerous road, one that will end with everyone fighting everyone.

There are some realities to consider here before breaking out the whup-ass. Iran’s reformers have the popular support of their people, but extremists who support terrorists have effective control of the country. They are not handing anyone over. Syria and Jordan have new leaders that are barely in control of their countries. Egypt and Saudi Arabia only pretend to dance to America’s tune. Those countries and many others across the Middle East and Africa are facing the prospect of war with America and its allies, or war with the Islamic adherents within their countries.

That might seem like a no-brainer, but what are America and its allies going to do, bomb these countries into oblivion? If they take out the governments, what’s going to replace them? All the West will accomplish is creating more breeding grounds for terrorists.

Then there’s Israel’s hard-line government that has been itching for the chance to take out Yasser Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian government. America’s talk of war sounds like a go-ahead. That will definitely start a war, a big, big war.

It’s understandable yet surprising that the Bush administration, with its high-flying and much praised security team, would flagrantly fan the flames. Obviously a strong response is needed to prevent future terrorism, in America or any other cooperative country, but is a “war” necessary? Isn’t anyone in the White House suggesting other options? Could it be that with a former general as secretary of state, and a former secretary of defense as vice president, and many other hard-liners around him, President Bush is hearing a lot of one-sided advice?

I have got another question, and maybe this is beside the point, but maybe it is the point: Why is the coming storm being called “the first” war of the 21st Century? Sounds to me like someone thinks this situation is the start of something much bigger. We have to step back from the brink and consider what we’re really talking about here, and how we should go about making the world safer.

First of all we have to acknowledge that the U.S. government created bin Laden just like Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega and a bunch of others. The government used them in a global game of chess with the Russians, and when pawns rise against their kings, we get wars. Bin Laden’s was taught his tactics by CIA spooks so he could fight the Russians in Afghanistan, and now he is using what he learned with horrific effect against the people who basically got him started.

Obviously, terrorism against America is not what anyone in the CIA had in mind when training bin Laden, but if we want to really learn from what has happened to avoid future tragedies, we have to realize how misguided policies create these monstrous enemies.

Second, we should be really asking why the Russians and Chinese are so eager to see America go down this path. Could it be that they see easy cover to take care of their own problems? Like chess, multiple reasons are behind every move, so while the Russians and Chinese say crackdown on terrorism, they have their own ideas. Russia is still waging a grueling conflict in Chechnya, and China is systematically eliminating Falun Gong followers and other “dissidents.” In fact, the country is awash in its own blood right now, with more executions in the last year than the rest of the world combined.

America’s rhetoric sounds like a green light not just for Russia and China, but for Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico, and other countries dealing with security issues, to push back the boundaries of civil and legal rights. There has to be a clear, and limited, enemy. There has to be due process. And the US has to be careful about what kind of signals it sends to anyone who follows along on this crusade.

Third, anyone targeted as a terrorist has to be convicted in a court. America can not run around being judge, jury and executioner.

Fourth, a united effort on many fronts — legal, economic, political — should be made before missiles are launched or bombs are dropped.

Fifth, the freedoms and liberties cherished in America have to be upheld as much as possible while effectively dealing with terrorism, at home and abroad.

And finally, we should ask if the war rhetoric and comparisons to other wars are doing more harm than good.

War? If we’re not careful we might just find out what war really means.

Something to keep in mind as you spend those tax checks

Now that tax checks from the Treasury are arriving in mailboxes around the country, it is time for a check of another sort — a reality check.

The money arriving from the government — “Bush Bucks” a friend calls his share — is an advance on 2001 tax returns. ThatÆs right, the IRS calls it an “Advance Payment,” words taken from irs.gov. The money will be subtracted from returns next tax filing season. Even another friend who works for the IRS in data entry didnÆt know that the check he got — which helped him make his car payment — was an advance and not a give-away.

Come early 2002, reality is going to sink in, and it will be interesting to see the publicÆs reaction. Not that early returns are such a bad idea, unless the cost to the government and wisdom of the policy are considered. First the question begs to be answered, whatÆs the point?

A clue is written right on the checks: “Tax Relief for American Workers,” a motto lifted straight from President BushÆs presidential campaign.

Reality check: This “tax relief” is a political gimmick, one of those tricks thatágrease elections and lube the contribution pipeline. A lot of people are saying the Prez isnÆt such a bad guy if heÆll put some cash in my pocket, and thatÆs the point. Slick move.

And expensive. Just mailing the millions of the “rebate” notices cost $33.9 million, then tack on the expense of the checks themselves, complete with campaign motto. The White House has been quick to add that printing a few extra words on the checks didnÆt add to the cost, and really the amount of money we’re talking about here is comparable to forking over a buck for a soda. ItÆs pocket change for Uncle Sam.

But other costs loomáfor the nationÆs finances. Already Democrats are beating the drums over the dwindling budget surplus. The money-gusher has been capped, and even Bush coyly says “Surplus? What surplus?” when asked what happened. He wants to sink billions into missile defense but the money is simply not available, and that means other priorities like Medicare and education are not going to get a badly needed infusion of cash. Republicans say they “took the money off the table” so it couldnÆt be spent “for liberal pork projects.”

Reality check.

What theyÆve done is reverse the lastácommander’s chief accomplishment with the economy. Wise management of the nationÆs finances restored the confidence of the markets in the governmentÆs ability to handle its budget, spurring the greatest period of growth ever in the mid and late 90s. Strangely enough, the gold rush began after Bill Clinton passed a budget-balancing and politically risky tax hike as one of his first major accomplishments.

However, President Bush subscribes to the old school of supply-side economics and the notion that the rich know how to best use money. ThatÆs really what this tax cut is about. The pocket change arriving in peopleÆs mailboxes is pennies to dollars compared to what the richest American taxpayers got out of the deal. IÆm afraid weÆve been down this road before and results wonÆt be much better this time.

Last time down the supply side of the economic road, starting ReaganÆs first year, the budget drove off a cliff into huge deficits. With the government borrowing heavily to pay its bills in the 80s and early 90s, credit markets were sucked dry, making less money available for private financing for everything from homes to businesses. The economy was in a doldrums û it had no wind. Clinton turned all that around by weaning the government off of deficits, making lots of cheap financing available for Internet ventures and SUVs. The government even paid billions off of the national debt and ran up record surpluses.

Those days are over.

It remains to be seen if huge deficits are the result of this latest tax cutting experiment. All it takes is for some more of those rosy economic projections to come in below expectation for the money well to sputter dry and the budget to go into the red. Then all of the creative accounting in the world wonÆt do a bit of good, and itÆs exactly the sort of gimmickry used by the White House lately that contributed to the last recession and the marketsÆ loss of confidence in the governmentÆs honesty.

The first real reality check comes this fall when thereÆs no money to pay for Democratic priorities like Medicare and extended unemployment benefits. Reality strikes again in April as people realize they didnÆt really save much money from the tax cut as they thought they might. Some people might feel a little duped that these early checks came with a price, but many wonÆt care, like my friend who made his car payment. As long he doesnÆt have to pay anything back, Bush is a good olÆ guy.

Finally, the ultimate reality check comes as the government deals with tight budgets and a sluggish economy. If the tax cut doesnÆt create growth as advertised and the economy sinks like a lead balloon, Bush and his buddies in Congress will get a reality check of their own.

Bush Pres. Part II, First Week, First Scandel, ElectionGate

By Jason M. DeBord
November 2000

The Honeymoon is over and the bride has woken up wondering exactly who she married. Does Bush really love me, or am I just a tool for his ambitions? Did he cheat to win me?

Father is the former head of the CIA and President of the United States, brother is the governor of the state that is deciding the election under the most questionable of circumstances. America, I’m afraid you don’t really know who has been courting you.

The countryáwalked down the aisle with Bush Jr. even with lingering doubts about who he really is and what is his real agenda. He seemed nice enough until the ring slipped on the finger, seemed ready for the Big Marriage, and sure enough those doubts coalesced on the altar. When the people actually pulled the lever, more of them voted for Gore, showing how the voters rethought their decision during the moment of truth.

Bush was leading in the popular vote by three to five points in polls the day before the election. Not one analyst I know of publicly said that Gore might win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College. Some predictions had the scenario vice-versa, with Gore taking the Electoral College. Shows how those doubts about the groom played a role in the outcome. Shows how badly the media messed up.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The media, and the public, won’t be fooled again –áhopefully.

Day one of the Bush Lite presidency and the first scandal has taken root. ElectionGate has ended the two year honeymoon Jr. enjoyed. He rode right into the White House after an easy courtship. Now it’s the morning after and he can’t get any lovin’, because the bride is wondering what’s going on. A lot of strange business went on during the wedding night and he doesn’t seem so trustable anymore.

Sure he said you can trust me, so many times. I won’t bang any interns, you can count on that, but I didn’t say anything about rigging the election. Whether or not Jr. or Jeb or daddy or Cheney or anyone else actually rigged the election doesn’t really matter. It sure looks that way, and we know from the last eight years how appearances turn into investigations. Time for the Republicans to get a taste of their own medicine, and Jr. is the patient witháa probe aiming for the tender spots.

Until the matter is resolved, probably by the courts, Jr. can’t claim the prize. He has no authority without the people’s consent. That’s why he looked so eager the day after the election to claim victory. Momentum is lost. Scandal and doubt have begun, and it’s not too late for an annulment. That day may never come, because there is no telling what details could come out about the vote in Florida, and until the matter is resolved, fully, Bush and Company are the jilted suitors.

The question for the conspiracy theorists is, how did the Bushes do it? Of course, their Plumbers insulate them so no direct link is likely to be found. If so, the sons didn’t learn anything for Poppa Bush. Maybe the sons tried to play ball in his league but didn’t count on the election coming down to a few votes in Jeb’s state and the intense scrutiny that has ensued. Maybe the sons did nothing and the irregularities will turn out to be nothing substantial. Until then doubts will linger, and a heavy cloud will hang over the country.

On election eve the skies opened over Texas after a long drought and poured forth with fury. That fact could end up being the symbol that sums up ElectionGate if the truth ever comes out. No matter though, at least the bride came to her senses at the last moment. If Jr. ever becomes president he faces a wizened public and divided Congress with no mandate or popular authority to lead. What a wedding present.

Maybe daddy’s shoes are too big.

We are about to get to know the real person at the altar, the one who was evident to close observers during the primaries but who reemerged afterward with the cocky smirk wiped off his face and the Alfred E. Newman-meets-Dan Quayle campaign pictures replaced, before voters had a chance to take a hard look at the person filling that expensive suit. Jr. is smug, dull, unprepared, and dangerous, much like Dan Quayle. Not exactly the groom America thought was courting it, but then again, many women have tales of how nice guys can end up being creeps.

As his presidency goes down in scandal and indifference, watch for Jr. to do something major to get some respect, like start a war. There will be plenty of opportunities. Just look at all the old pals from the Bush War Room he’s surrounding himself with. They are itching to go after Saddam, and it will only be a matter of time before the wars start.

Instead of taking the steady, dependable Al Gore, America decided to take the guy with the wild side, only it turns out the guy might be a little wilder than thought. He has already lied about his past (the DUI), inflated his accomplishments (claiming credit for laws he vetoed in Texas), and has now possibly stolen the election.

First week, first scandal: ElectionGate. Just wait until Jr.’s past business dealings are looked into to. Maybe a special prosecutor will be needed. Welcome to Washington George, hope you liked the honeymoon.

Bush Lite vs Clinton Lite: Taste’s Great vs Less Filling

As America begins a big yawn this presidential season that lasts until the party conventions in August, our choice for President has whittled down to tastes great or less filling; a choice between Bush Lite or Clinton Lite.

Actually, both George jr. and Al Gore are less filling, jr. just has better wrapping. GeorgeÆs dad the ex-pres. certainly seems to have a lot more substance than Junior, whoÆs trying to fill daddyÆs shoes with feet that are too small ù to be expected when father spent most of a lifetime in government and son spent much of his at parties.

Gore has little of ClintonÆs speaking ability or charm and is a textbook politician. At times heÆs about as interesting to watch as moss creeping. If ever a politician was too earnest and eager, itÆs Al, whose idea of a good time is a late night pouring over policy papers.

So here we are America with lighter versions of their recent predecessors as our offerings from the two major political parties for president. Throw in Pat Buchanan for laughs and I see a presidential election about as exciting as Saturday night at the retirement home counting hairs. Junior is aiming to drive up GoreÆs negative perception by repeatedly saying Gore will say anything to get elected, and he will, but so will junior — who canÆt speak from the heart cause he gave it to Jesus. Neither of those attacks are likely to hurt Gore much come in November. Fatigue from Clintonesque politics probably wonÆt hurt Gore much either because people have recognized — or will eventually — that junior plays the same way. And itÆs the best game going.

With no clearly dominant candidate like Clinton in Æ96, and the current candidates running even, the choice in November is likely to be decided by which candidate “tastes great” to more people. Or better yet, which tastes the least offensive to the most people. Gore isnÆt exactly refreshing, but junior is as stale as a bag of potato chips still lying around from his Yale daze. HeÆs got the self-righteous smirk of an old alcoholic who gave up the bottle and swung to the opposite side. He has an amiable personality, but thatÆs about all thatÆs different from his fatherÆs style of politics, and that brings up a bad aftertaste.

JuniorÆs partying days shouldnÆt be held against him; heÆs just a classic case of Dan Quayle Syndrome — not big enough to fill the expectations, but try anyway and make a fool of yourself. If the elder BushÆs psyche was probed about his fateful decision to make Quayle his running mate, the dark secret could be that Quayle reminds the elder Bush of his eldest son. Both Quayle and junior have that caught-in-the-headlights look, both are sandy-haired and moderately handsome. And both are also light on details and prone to gaffes.

Junior unfortunately might make it to the White House. Odds are even at this point. If the economy stays afloat, Gore has an edge. But junior has a secret weapon: Elizabeth Dole. This clear choice for Vice-President will evaporate GoreÆs lead among women and push Bush ahead in the race. SheÆs one the few candidates from the primaries who actually inspired anyone, and her attractiveness as a running mate is undeniable. Plus sheÆs Bob DoleÆs wife, and Bob and Pappa Bush go way back.

Judging by the way she dropped out of the race so early, IÆd say sheÆs already in the bag. She immediately endorsed junior then started campaigning for him, and has made all the right moves since then. From so many angles sheÆs the best choice, and the votes she could sway could make the difference.

Gore will be pressured to find a ringer to counter the Dole effect if sheÆs chosen to run with Bush, and his best bet is a new-generation Kennedy. Question is, is one ready? Michael Kennedy is a leading Democratic fund raiser and party personality. There might be other Kennedys out on parole and looking for something to do.

Bush Lite or Clinton Liteùneither choice tastes so great and both are less filling.

Tobacco Settlement: A Pack a Day to Keep the Bill Collector Away

As the first payments from the $206 billion tobacco settlement are delivered to state governments, it looks like the money will not be used where it could do the most good: to help people who want to quit using tobacco.

State governments for the most part are planning to use the money on pork projects or tax reductions. Only eight states out of the 46 who sued are planning comprehensive smoker education programs, and these programs are aimed more at preventing smoking than helping those already hooked to quit.

There are two reasons why tobacco users are getting no help. First, the states sued the tobacco companies to recover costs from treating tobacco-related illnesses and to punish the companies for years of deceptive tactics. The settlement never really was about the people harmed. The second reason is because people have to keep buying tobacco for the companies to continue paying the settlement.

That’s right, helping people quit smoking means less money for the states. If tobacco sales decline so do the payments. John and Joan Q. Smoker have to keep puffing so state politicians can keep porking.

Advances in treating nicotine addiction could help many people break the habit. One hindrance is the expense. A month on the patch costs more than $100 on average. A prescription like Zyban costs about $120 a month plus a visit to a doctor. It costs more to quit than to smoke for some people in the short run.

State governments could easily subsidize the cost of nicotine treatment with the billions they’re getting from tobacco companies. In the long run helping people quit would save some of the costs of treating tobacco-related illnesses. And with fewer people using tobacco, tobacco companies would slowly be forced out of business.

Sounds like the best punishment to me.

Don’t expect politicians to see past the dollar signs though. Not only would settlement payments be reduced with cigarette users, so would state taxes from the sale of tobacco. A pack of cigarettes costs about a quarter to produce. By the time the cigarettes are sold the cost is about $3 in Ohio, with a majority of the difference going to taxes.

The attorneys general who sued the tobacco companies drummed up public support by promising that a large portion of any settlement would go towards smoking-related programs, but as the money rolls in only eight percent of the first payments have been budgeted for anti-smoking efforts. Turn the card over and it’s not the queen of hearts, it’s the ace of spades, and guess who collects the pot?

God not Guns: DeLay’s Answer to Columbine

“God, not guns,” is House Whip Tom DeLay’s answer to gun violence. Presumably his catchphrase is a better alternative to the modest gun law reforms in response to Columbine that he killed legislatively; another victory not for God, as he claims, but for the NRA.

Instead of a meaningful law to help prevent felons from getting guns without background checks at gun shows, America got a law to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public schools, right where the Columbine killers could have seen them. “Thou shall not kill,” they could have been reminded as they mercilessly hunted down their classmates with illegally gotten weapons. DeLay is exactly right when he said guns don’t kill people. People with guns kill people.

God not Guns is our new slogan to help solve the problem of gun violence, another bright idea like “Just Say No.” Like morals can be instilled by any slogan. Like this pandering to special interests is going to solve the problem.How many more tragedies like Columbine have to occur before something is done about the easy availability of guns in this country? DeLay and those who worked with him have done something terribly immoral and will hopefully account for it. What’s moral, and better yet, sane, is to respond to a national tragedy by doing something about it other than make slogans. What’s immoral is to work in the dark, in the name of power brokers like the NRA, to protect the needs and enforce the will of the few. It’s another example of how money and narrow interests have corrupted American politics. And an example of how some politicians wrap themselves in self-righteousness to justify unrighteous actions.

After a schoolyard shooting in England a few years ago, that country’s politicians responded by passing stricter gun laws than they already had, and the laws worked to prevent more such incidents. Some people and groups with a lot of money and influence opposed the laws, but the British people asked for a response and they got it. There haven’t been any more school shootings, but in America the bloodbath continues. The American people asked for a response to Columbine and they got it: “God, not guns.” Give us more of what doesn’t work.

It became obvious we were going to get this kind of response when the House leadership first delayed voting on the bill to close a loophole that allows firearms to be purchased at gun shows and pawn shops without background checks. The delay allowed the NRA time to pass around a lot of money — more than a million dollars — and twist a lot of arms (Ol’ Tom is the master of Delay). Then the leadership split off the gun provisions from the larger juvenile crime bill to be voted on separately, with the intention of killing the gun reforms while still claiming to be doing something about juvenile crime by passing harsher sentencing laws on juveniles.

As the political stew cooked, the odor of corruption filled the Washington air. News reports filtered out about what was going on, but nothing could stop the foul result. The people stirring the pot can cook up one thing and serve another to the unwitting public and get most of them to swallow it, showing a sort of contempt by getting away with something because they can. As long as they come up with some plausible explanation, it’ll prevent such an uproar that Congressional phones light up, or journalists raise a huge fuss.

Another reason why even modest gun reforms like those proposed after Columbine fell like a shot duck is too few congressman had the guts to stand up to the NRA. Democrats lost control of the House in 1994 after passing a ban on certain assault rifles, partly because the NRA gunned hard after vulnerable Congressman who supported the law. Like a crack in the night the message resonated through Washington: oppose us and we’ll make it harder for you to be reelected — a lot harder. So when gun reform came around this time, fewer politicians had the stomach to vote for it, even though polls showed strong support. The answer we get is “God not Guns.” Keep praying, Mr. DeLay.

A few politicians made some good suggestions while the debate about gun control caught the nation’s attention, like presidential candidate Bill Bradley. He called for registering and licensing guns like cars, and banning hand guns, an unnecessary weapon for home defense. A tight registration system and even a preliminary ballistics test would help to track weapons and discourage the kind of free-flow that is the environment today. Maybe it would discourage people from buying guns for minors, which is how the Columbine killers got most of their weapons. Only about 50 percent of guns used in crimes can be traced these days, because of laws written by the NRA that prevent the ATF from tracking firearms and firearm crimes. That’s right, no one is counting because they aren’t allowed.

A ban on handguns makes sense because most of the 10,000 or so yearly deaths in America from firearms are caused by people using handguns. Besides, a shotgun is a much better weapon for home or personal defense and is much harder to conceal. And we need to close the loophole that prevents a felon from buying a gun in a store but allows them to buy one (or many) at gun shows or pawn shops. Such a modest proposal, such a simple request — such an impossibility as long as DeLay and the NRA are running the show. Preventing sanity in gun laws is only delaying the inevitable. I just hope inevitable isn’t much longer.

Politicians For Sale: All Bidders Welcome

áFor Sale: All levels of American Government. Cost depends on what buyer wants.

Protect your interests even at otherÆs expense by spending money where it counts. On politicians! With a big election coming up nowÆs the time to be thinking about protecting that pile of gold, and thereÆs no better way than favorable treatment from your very own politician. Just consider some recent successes:

HMO reform died on the table after insurance companies flexed their money muscle.

Gun reform got so many holes shot in it by the NRA and gun manufacturers, you’d think it was some new kind of cheese.

The estate tax is on the way to being repealed even though it mainly benefits the richest two percent of estates. Talk about buying influence!

These are just a few recent examples at the national level. Everyday Big Money compromises public interest in states and towns like yours. All it takes is a few checks sent to the right places, bundled together with a few of your friends. You might even get your picture taken with someone famous!

But why think small when you could buy a stay in the beautiful Lincoln Bedroom in the very heart of Washington D.C.? Or imagine a local congressman, even a senator, taking your call on the spot — what a story for the golfing buddies!

Got a corporate interest to protect? Just look at how Big Money protected computer companies from costly class-action lawsuits stemming from Y2K. Angry consumers have no choice but to go along, even though the problem easily could have been corrected years ago!

No guarantees of course, but corporate interests are well protected with the Republicans controlling Congress and Big Bill in the White House. Washington has a big For Sale sign hung over it.

Big Money has ways of twisting legislation to protect its interests — your interests! If an unfavorable bill is introduced in Congress or a statehouse, it can be “killed in committee.” This aptly named figure of speech refers to the practice of stalling or changing legislation so that it dies behind the scenes.

If that doesnÆt work, Big Money politicians will use tactics like holding up debate and adding senseless amendments. If the legislation gets to a full vote in an unfavorable form, Big Money spreads around a bunch of cash to buy votes. If the legislation passes anyway, thereÆs always the governor or president to stop it from becoming law.

And if needed, Big Money will turn to the airwaves, like those “Harry and Louise” commercials bought by HMOs — who turned healthcare into the same scary vision that was used in the commercials to scare the public. Now instead of Clintoncare thereÆs Corporate care!

But Big Money doesnÆt just stop legislation, it makes legislation. Big Money sits in when politicians get together to write laws, and sometimes Big Money even writes laws for the politicians, saving them the burden of doing their jobs.

There are so many ways to buy influence and favoritism from politicians: give candidates (preferably safe incumbents) campaign money hire their friends and relatives: fly them around on private jets and ride them around in limousines: get your friends, neighbors and employees to give them money: give money to PAC organizations, who give it to politicians: give money to the political parties: give hard-money, soft-money, drug money, any money. Just keep giving.

In return you get a government that protects your interests. And donÆt worry about the system changing anytime soon. Even though voters say they want campaign finance reform, they have no idea what that means. And the politicians arenÆt likely to agree on anything; almost all of them feed at the money trough. The ones who donÆt are pushed aside by the stampeding herd.

So donÆt miss out on this sale. ThereÆs a big election coming up and Big Money just hollered, “Here piggies!””

The terrorists are coming and we aren’t prepared

Originally published in The Citizen, Cincinnati, OH, July 1999

Recently a government commission on terrorism revealed a little known secret that raises goose bumps: The threat of a major terrorist strike against America is probable enough to take seriously. Very seriously.

What the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction actually said is that America is not ready if Washington D.C. or New York City disappear in a fiery cloud. The commission based the report on the fact that nuclear, biological and/or chemical weapons have gotten out into the hands of groups who will use those weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. America is not ready.

It’s not a crazy scenario, but one that government planners have accepted as probable enough to react with haste, at least, that what the commission recommends. The threat is real, and we need to get prepared for it like we’re waitin’ on the return of Jesus.

The government is starting to take the threat seriously, but will they react in time to prevent catastrophe. It’s no longer a question of if weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of terrorists, but how many and what kind. Case in point: Russia’s former Defense Minister and 1996 presidential candidate Aleksandr Leded claimed that several dozen suitcase-size nuclear bombs that any idiot can set off are missing, as well as other weapons of mass destruction. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened to those bombs.

There’s a way to inflict major pain on America, but is there a will? Could some terrorist group actually pull off a major attack? The answer: Yes, it’s possible. Is anyone planning on doing it? There are people who hate the U.S. enough. Other societies feel threatened by America raining missiles around the globe and spreading its culture like a cancer (how they view our culture). Yes, someone could be planning a major attack.

Destroy most of the federal government by taking out D.C. when the president and congress are in town and you’ve cut off the governmental head. Destroy the financial centers of New York City and you’ve cut off the financial head. Then what’s left of the three-headed “beast” is the military-which is too diffuse to destroy-but most of those soldiers would have a reason to stay at home. You want to change the world, start with two or three nuclear bombs.

The chances of this terrible scenario happening are significant. There’s the will and the way; it’s no longer a Hollywood plot. Someone in the government worked out the odds and raised the alarm, leading to the commission’s report. A ranking military officer said privately that the talk around the Pentagon has changed from if a major terrorist attack could happen to when it will happen. It’s not inevitable, but there’s an old rule of statistics that applies: if there’s any probability of an event, eventually the event will occur.

The probability is much greater than most people realize. There are plenty of financed, organized and armed terrorists out there who want to cripple America’s ability to project its power around the world, and now some have the weapons to do it. And those weapons aren’t going to sit around like fine art.

So ask yourself what you would do if you woke up one morning and the world was changed: if you picked up the phone and there was no dial tone: if you turned on the faucet and there was no water: if you looked out the window and there was no country.

Readiness is the best deterrent. If America is prepared for the threat of little people with big bombs, the terrorists might decide they could inflict more damage elsewhere. Thus a new commission is being formed to work out contingency plans. But the average person should be prepared too, like the old drills in school when everyone went to the bomb shelter. Only we aren’t looking to the sky for missiles, it’s rented trucks, suspicious packages and concentrations of radioactivity. We’re looking for something that will be awfully hard to spot ahead of time. It’s no secret anymore, no longer whispers among intelligence analysts. The threat is serious and we’re only beginning to face it.