There’s a rule of bureaucracy that says: When confused, reorganize.
The Bushites and the Congress have just resorted to this timeworn bureaucratic dodge in a major way. Clueless about how to deal with the threat of terrorist attacks at home, they’ve reorganized the federal bureaucracy. They’ve taken 22 existing agencies with 170,000 employees and jammed them into a brand-spanking-new superagency they call the Department of Homeland Security, glomming the whole mess together with a 37 billion annual budget. This is supposed to make us safer?
Even the White House acknowledges that this newly conglomerated monstrosity will take years to get itself together. From moving furniture to waging turf battles, DHS officials will inevitably be so focused on shuffling organizational charts that they won’t have a whole lot left to devote to tracking terrorist threats.
But you’ll be glad to know that the Republican leadership quietly slipped some very useful amendments into the DHS bill — useful to their corporate campaign contributors, that is. For example, GOP majority leader Dick Armey attached a provision that gives blanket immunity to corporations that make faulty bomb detectors, gas masks and other anti-terrorism equipment. Thanks to Dick, victims won’t be allowed to sue for injury or death — even if the manufacturers intentionally made defective devices. Hey, Dick, how does this enhance our security?
Armey also used the DHS bill to undo a corporate reform previously passed by the House. It prohibited giving government contracts to runaway corporations — those cheaters that reincorporate as foreign companies, setting up phony offshore addresses in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Without a vote, Armey simply inserted a provision in the DHS bill reversing this reform.
Homeland Security may be a new agency, but it’s the product of the same old corrupt politics.
What would Willie do?
Is it possible that Tom Ridge doesn’t actually exist — that he’s really just a Saturday Night Live performer parodying himself? Or perhaps a computerized animatron created by Disney?
Real or not, Ridge is our current Homeland Security czar, and it’s a hoot to watch him furrow his brow, purse his lips and, in a deep and solemn voice, make absolutely silly pronouncements about how his agency is Johnny-on-the-spot to alert us to any terrorist threat and keep us safe from al Qaeda evildoers. Who does he think he’s kidding?
Maybe Congress, which is putting up a $37 billion a-year facade called the Department of Homeland Security. The main “security” the agency provides is for politicians, who can pretend that they’ve done something to protect us. The core of DHS’s terrorism warning system, however, is nothing more than a kindergarten-level, color-coded “threat barometer.” At present, says Ridge with a straight face, we’re at yellow. But, he explains (still deadpan), there are yellows and there are yellows: “We are at the upper end of that [yellow] range. Depending on the information we have available we could, down the road, raise it to orange.”
There. Feel safe? What the hell is he talking about? Do we hide under the bed, get in the closet, flee to the woods … what? We’re the richest, most powerful, most technologically advanced nation on earth, and all we get is this dour-faced caricature of a Homeland Czar occasionally popping out like some bird from a cuckoo clock, proclaiming, “Warning, citizens, it’s a mauve Monday!”
How about something a bit more descriptive? Willie Nelson says he once went to a doctor to get his thumb treated, and as the procedure began, the doc warned that there’d be some pain. “Wait,” said Willie, “is this going to be “grit-your-teeth’ pain or “wet-your-pants’ pain?”
Let’s boot Ridge and hire Willie! I believe he’d take the job for less than 37 billion … and he might even sing the warnings to us.
[Jim Hightower, twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of If the Gods had Meant us to Vote They Would Have Given us Candidates.]