The Pentagon, On The Mulder Beat

The New York Times is reporting that the Pentagon recently created a highly classified project to examine claimed UFO sightings.  The project, called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, came into existence in 2007 at the urging of former Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who in turn was reacting to conversations with a friend, a billionaire aerospace company founder, who believed in UFOs and alien visits.

i-want-to-believe1The secret program, which was funded with “black” money and was never discussed during debate on the floor of the Senate, also was supported by other senators, including Ohio Senator John Glenn.  The AATIP studied video and audio footage of “close encounters,” including an incident where a Navy jet was surrounded by a glowing object of unknown origin traveling at a high rate of speed, and interviewed people involved in the encounters.  The program was shuttered in 2012, and a Pentagon spokesperson explained:  “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change.”  According to the Times, however, the Pentagon is still involved to a certain extent in investigating new close encounters.

Is it worth checking out credible reports of close encounters with UFOs?  Sure, why not?  I’m not sure I believe there are aliens among us — if they are, why haven’t they stepped forward and shared the advanced technology that allowed them to get here in the first place? — but there is certainly enough room for doubt to justify investigating such incidents.  UFO report investigation is at least as worthy of funding as many of the boondoggles the federal government is involved with.

But here’s the disturbing thing — the thing that might cause Fox Mulder on the X-Files beat to nod knowingly.  The program was funded with “black” money and kept totally secret from the American public.  Why were the Senators involved unwilling to allow the people to know what was going on at the time?  Did they really think the American public wasn’t ready to hear about a UFO investigation unit, and what it concluded from its investigations?  It smacks of appalling paternalism, at least — and Mulder and Scully might detect a whiff of deep-state conspiracy, too.  It also makes you wonder:  how many other super-secret programs are out there, being funded with “black” money at the direction of our elected representatives, that we don’t know about?

About Those Olympic Uniforms . . . .

Should we care, deeply and passionately, that the uniforms worn by athletes of the U.S. Olympic team were made in China?  Should we, following the angry suggestion of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — who has shown more vigor about this issue than issues of lesser importance like, say, the budget deficit — take all of the U.S. team uniforms, put them in a pile, and burn them?

I’m surprised that the U.S. Olympic Committee didn’t anticipate this kind of over-the-top political reaction and make sure to use a U.S. manufacturer for the uniforms, no matter how much it cost.  My guess, however, is that the person in charge of the uniforms decided to get what they could at the lowest cost, to make the budget stretch a little farther.  That meant looking to China.  There’s nothing unusual about that, of course.  My guess is that, on a daily basis, most Americans wear clothing that for the most part was manufactured, sewn, or assembled in China, because Chinese garment makers tend to provide good quality at a much lower price than their American competitors.  Capitalism gives us the right to make these sorts of decisions in our personal lives, and many of us do — whether it’s Chinese clothing, Korean cars, or French wine.  Protectionist political impulses aside, why should the U.S. Olympic Committee be treated differently?

The real issue with the uniforms, instead, should be with their appearance.  What, is every one of our athletes participating in a yachting competition?  These guys look like they should be holding a cold Vodka Collins rather than an American flag and should speak with the same affected, upper-crust accent that we heard from Thurston Howell III and “Lovey.” Do you think those sparkling white shoes have little gold buckles on them?  And what’s with the hat, by the way?  Is it supposed to be a beret, or an extra-large skullcap, or something that also could serve to cover an oozing head wound in a pinch?

Cowboy Poets And Harry Reid’s Passions

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the grim outward demeanor of an undertaker.  But internally, beneath the dull-as-dishwater exterior, he burns with blazing passion about certain topics — one of which apparently is cowboy poetry.

Yesterday, in a speech on the Senate floor, Reid railed against the”mean-spirited” budget proposed by House Republicans.  As an example of such hardheartedness, he lamented that passage of the Republicans’ budget proposal would eliminate National Endowment for the Humanities funding for an annual cowboy poetry festival in Elko, Nevada.  Reid believes that the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and similar programs, create jobs.

Reid’s citation of funding for the cowboy poetry festival epitomizes the challenges involved in bringing our out-of-control federal budget back into balance.  There are countless examples of locally targeted federal funding in the budget, and every one probably has its ardent congressional defenders.  The question is not whether cowboy poetry is good or bad, but whether our federal government can afford to subsidize every local festival, every poorly conceived, over-budget weapons program, and every geriatric drug purchase — among countless other federal departments, programs, and projects.

I applaud those hardy souls who feel the poetic muse around the campfire on the open range, and people who want to celebrate their doggerel.  But getting our “fiscal house in order” will require tough choices.  If we can’t make the easy decision to cut federal funding for Elko’s cowboy poetry festival, and similar programs, we have no chance of closing our trillion-dollar budget gap.


How Will History Judge?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now describing the current Congress as the “most productive Congress in the history of the country.” He numbers among its accomplishments the “stimulus” legislation, the “health care reform” legislation, repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, new financial regulations, and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

When you are in the moment, it is difficult to assess what the ultimate judgment of history will be.  I doubt that many Americans would put the current Congress up among the great Congresses of the past, however.  After all, voters just gave the boot to many of the Representatives and Senators who passed the legislation Reid touts, and Congress’ approval rating is a dismal 13 percent — its lowest level in decades.  And those people who are critical of Congress no doubt will point to the things that Congress didn’t do, like passing appropriations bills or making meaningful cuts to the federal budget.

History will make its judgment, as history always does.  In the meantime, there is something unseemly and profoundly unattractive about Senator Reid’s excessive pride.  His hubris exemplifies a significant problem with the current uninspiring crop of legislators:  they are oblivious to how they are being perceived outside the Beltway.

An Ohio Sweep And A National Message

Although there are still some races that are too close to call, the general outlines of the 2010 election are clear. It was a bad night for Democrats at the hands of voters who wanted to send a message — and did.

In Ohio, the entire slate of statewide offices went RepublicanJohn Kasich ousted Governor Ted Strickland in a very close contest.  I think Strickland was generally perceived to be a good man who was caught up in larger forces not of his making, and the fact that the contest was as close as it was reflected that.  Now Kasich will need to grapple with the state’s pressing budget issues.  The Republican sweep means that Republicans will control the state redistricting process and also means that other capable officeholders, such as Attorney General Richard Cordray, will be leaving office.

In federal races, the results in Ohio mirrored those in America as a whole.  The Republicans handily won the race for the U.S. Senate seat in Ohio and knocked off a number of Democratic incumbents in contests for seats in the House of Representatives.  Nationally, the Republicans picked up at least six Senate seats and 60 House seats.  Although some Democratic Senators, like Majority Leader Harry Reid, managed to hold on to their seats, a series of long-time Democratic Representatives went down to defeat.

The voters have served their message to their representatives, and the ball is now in President Obama’s court.  He will begin to respond at a press conference today, although the real test will come when the talking ends and the governing begins — and that includes the decisions that are made in any post-election, “lame duck” session of the current Congress.

I hope the President avoids the temptation to rationalize the results as a reflection of a “know-nothing” electorate or to blame the results on economic conditions caused by others and instead sincerely accepts the undeniable fact that American voters are not happy with the direction in which the President is steering this country and want him to change course.   They think he has overreached.  His challenge now will be to find areas of common ground with the voters and members of Congress who are worried about overspending, explosive growth in our national debt, and intrusive government.

The Nebraska “Compromise” (Fin)

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson — who agreed to vote in favor of cloture of Senate debate in exchange for a number of special provisions in the “health care reform” bill, including one that required the federal government to forever pay Nebraska’s share of increased costs attributable to proposed expansion of Medicaid — has retreated in the face of a firestorm of criticism.  Nelson has sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying that the deal has been misunderstood and misrepresented, that Nelson never intended Nebraska to get special treatment, and that the provision should just be eliminated from the bill to avoid any further misunderstandings.  Reid, who struck the devil’s bargain with Nelson in the first place in order to secure Nelson’s vote, probably chuckled when he got the letter.

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson

This development brings to a close the sorry spectacle of what I have called the Nebraska “Compromise” and what others have called the “Cornhusker Kickback.”  By contending in his letter that it has all been a misunderstanding, Nelson shows himself as duplicitous as well as being an unprincipled hack who was willing to peddle his vote for some special deals for his home state.  He ends up with the worst of all worlds — his crass political machinations were exposed, he was harshly criticized in Nebraska and elsewhere for his crude opportunism, and ultimately he was forced to beat a sniveling retreat and give up on the special deal that made him the target of irate comments in the first place.  Presumably he will now meekly vote for a bad bill, because to do otherwise would demonstrate that his prior vote was, in fact, contingent upon the existence of the provision requiring special treatment for Nebraska.

The only good thing about the sordid story of the Nebraska “Compromise” is that it revealed for all to see the culture of corruption found in Washington, D.C. and showed that a public outcry can force a change.  It is useful to send politicians the message that American taxpayers are paying attention to their shenanigans.  Let’s hope that Nebraska voters remember the embarrassment their Senator brought to their state and vote Nelson out of office if he decides to seek reelection in 2012.

The Nebraska “Compromise” (Cont.)

The Nebraska “Compromise” (Cont.)

The Nebraska “Compromise” (Cont.)

The Nebraska “Compromise”

The Nebraska “Compromise” (Cont.)

There are a host of reasons to question the devil’s bargain that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid struck to get the vote of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson for health care “reform.”  In exchange for Nelson’s vote, Reid agreed to a provision forever exempting Nebraska from the increased Medicaid costs that will have to be borne by other states.  Many people now are considering the constitutionality of that provision.  In this piece, Colorado’s Attorney General raises questions about whether the provision would tax the states unequally and without rational basis, in violation of constitutional restraints on Congress’ taxing power.

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson

I think the uproar about the Nebraska “Compromise” will continue to grow until Congress is forced to delete that provision from any eventual health care “reform” package.  Every day, there seems to be fresh outrage about Nelson’s crass politicking and Reid’s willingness to go to any lengths to get 60 votes for his back-room bill.

At bottom, Nelson’s deal undercuts the arguments of those who contend that the health care “reform” package is a positive.  If the bill is so great and so defensible on its merits, why must Reid nevertheless so blatantly buy Nelson’s vote?

The Nebraska “Compromise” (Cont.)

The Nebraska “Compromise” (Cont.)

The Nebraska “Compromise”

The Nebraska Compromise (Cont.)

A lot of people apparently are as appalled by the unseemly vote-buying in the Senate as I am.  Here’s another take on the shenanigans surrounding the vote of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson on the “health care reform” legislation.

For me, the reaction of certain Senators to the outrage many of us feel is just adding insult to injury.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and some others, are saying that “compromise” is what legislating is all about — as if we are hopelessly naive in expecting our Senators to actually vote on the merits of issues, and occasionally on their consciences, rather than on the basis of the crass political or monetary advantages they can extract from those on one side of an issue or the other.  I despise that kind of insider attitude, which I think is a significant part of the problem with our money-addled, hyperpoliticized, and often fundamentally corrupt elected bodies.  If Harry Reid honestly thinks that cutting a deal which makes Nebraska immune, in perpetuity, from part of the shared costs of Medicaid is simply part of how business should be done in Washington, D.C., that attitude just confirms that he is no longer fit to hold his office.

The Nebraska “Compromise”

According to news reports, Senate Majority Harry Reid apparently has secured the 60th vote necessary to pass a “health care reform” measure — whatever that measure may be.  It is difficult to know exactly what the bill ultimately will include because, as the full Senate has debated one bill, Reid evidently has been cobbling together the real bill in the form of a “manager’s amendment.”   As I understand the procedure, once Reid is certain that he has the necessary 60 votes he will offer his amendment to substitute for the bill then being debated, seek a cloture vote to end all debate, and then have a vote on the just-introduced amendment.

The 60th vote evidently is Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson.  The price for his vote, among other items, is a provision stating that the federal government will pick up Nebraska’s share of the cost of expanding Medicaid, which is one of the other provisions of the sprawling bill.  In short, thanks to Nelson’s coy game of hard-to-get, Nebraska taxpayers will get a free ride and taxpayers in Ohio, and Tennessee, and New Mexico, and other states will pick up Nebraska’s share of the tab.

I don’t care which side of the “health care reform” debate you are on:  this kind of crass political bargaining should disgust everyone.  The polling results show that a majority of Americans are opposed to the hash-house “health care reform” legislation — and now we learn that the price for having this unwanted bill crammed down our throats is that we also get saddled with subsidizing Nebraska (and, according to the article linked above, a few other states as well).  As of November, the unemployment rate in Ohio was 10.6 percent; in Nebraska it was 4.5 percent.  Why in the world, then, are Ohio taxpayers paying a portion of Nebraska’s share of costs?

This latest development just shows that there is no barter too crude, no back-room deal too base, and no “compromise” too appalling for Majority Leader Reid to entertain in his headlong rush to gain passage of his “manager’s amendment” by Christmas.   The end result of the legislative payoffs to individual Senators and their states is a rank, costly disaster that is slowly emerging from Congress like waste product emerges from the butt-end of the digestive tract.

Sausage Making

Right now we are getting a glimpse into the reasons why the legislative process has been compared to watching sausage being made.  In the Senate, five committees deliberated and produced bills, and then Senate leaders went behind closed doors and produced a proposed bill that includes an “opt-out” government plan that, so far as I can determine, wasn’t in any of the five bills.  The obvious reason for the “compromise” was to try to come up with an approach that placates liberals who are demanding that the legislation include a government plan but also has the chance to attract the votes of moderates who are leery of a “public option.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now trying to make sure that Senate Democrats have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and pass a health care reform bill — and it seems that, at this point, Democratic leaders would be happy to pass just about any bill that could be called a health care reform bill.  So, he is making further modifications to the bill that are specifically designed to get the votes of hesitant Senators, one by one.  According to the linked article, Reid has agreed to cut a tax that would have had a special impact on a company in Indiana, apparently in an effort to get the vote of Senator Evan Bayh.  We can expect to see more of this kind of unseemly, individualized wheedling and horse trading.

In the House, where passage of a bill with some kind of non-opt-in public option seems assured, the debate is over how the public option will set the rates to be paid to doctors and hospitals for care.  Should it be done by government fiat, or by “negotiation”?

There is one significant difference between legislative politicking and sausage-making.  Although the process and ingredients used to make a sausage may upset the tender sensibilities of some people, the end result usually tastes pretty darn good.  The legislative process, on the other hand, can produce a monstrosity filled with unfunded mandates, poorly conceived and ill-considered requirements, objectively nonsensical exceptions, and phony budget impact estimates — to the point where purported “reform” legislation is more appalling and Frankensteinian than the existing reality.