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with Charles Peters
Why do the rich want to get richer? A new television commercial for the Scudder Fund explains a reason. It asks: "What if your son gets into Harvard? What if your mother has to go into a nursing home? What if they both happen at the same time?" This kind of fretting can go on and on---what about the grandchildren? How much money will they need? What will Harvard cost then? So the million or so that you had always thought would be all you could need gradually turns into 10 million, then 20, then 100 as your imagination goes into overdrive with new visions of enormous drain on the family purse.

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If, as Tom Brokaw says, the World War II generation is the greatest generation, what's the worst? That's easy, writes Paul Begala in the April Esquire, it's the Baby Boomers. Selfishness, he says, is their primary characteristic. An example is supplied by a recent article in The New York Times describing the Nimby---"not in my backyard"---battles being waged by today's comfort class. It used to be that these fights were about garbage dumps and hazardous waste sites, writes the article's author David M. Herszenhorn; today they are about things every community needs---ball fields, libraries, school buildings, churches, and housing for their elderly---just as long as they are not too near the houses of the affluent. Residents of The Beresford, a celebrity-infested apartment house on Central Park West, fought the construction of the nearby American Museum of Natural History's new planetarium. Now they're protesting a proposed monument to Alfred B. Nobel. They say the people who might come to see the monument would crowd the sidewalk. Wealth breeds a sense of entitlement explains Rosalyn Baxandall, a professor of American studies. "People of a certain class think they have these rights and that they have earned them"---and that no one else should have them.

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"Report Clears First Lady and Others in FBI Files Case" read the headline in The Washington Post over the story that Robert Ray, who succeeded Ken Starr as independent counsel, had found "no Œsubstantial or credible' evidence that Hillary Rodham Clinton or any other senior White House officials sought confidential files of Bush and Reagan political appointees." In other words, the Filegate scandal was a phony. The Post put this story on page four. You have to wonder how many stories it had run on page one that strongly implied that Filegate was a major scandal.

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One of the less attractive traits of the market economy is the way it takes advantage of the innocent. A cruel manifestation of this characteristic was the practice of charging blacks more than whites for life insurance. When James D. Crane joined The Independent Life & Accident Insurance Co., his boss handed him two premium books: "You write the white people out of this and the niggers out of this." The premiums in the second book were about 25 percent higher.

Under pressure from the civil rights movement, insurers stopped this practice in the mid-'60s. That is they stopped it for new insureds. But not for those who were already insured, reveals The Wall Street Journal's Scot J. Paltrow. Some of the companies continue to charge them the old rate. What's saddest about all this is that most of this overcharging is for what is called burial insurance. Even the poorest elderly blacks try to keep up their payments on this insurance in order to spare their families the cost of a funeral.

I'm usually in the cynics' camp when it comes to class action suits. I suspect that most of them are brought to enrich the lawyers involved. But some are laudable. And that would certainly be the case if a suit is brought on behalf of all the blacks who have been cheated since the rates were supposed to have been reduced in the '60s. The very possibility must make the insurance companies tremble. And if most of the damages went to the black victims, with the lawyers accepting only modest fees, it could be lovely.

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Judicial Watch, a right-wing group that has been hounding the Clintons, recently took advantage of the failure of the news about Hillary's innocence to overtake all the stories implying guilt. After the Post story was published, one of our readers received a mailing from Judicial Watch soliciting contributions to fund a class action suit against the Clinton White House in which Judicial Watch chairman Larry Klayman proclaims "I believe major criminal convictions will flow from this trial." Would Klayman be able to raise one dollar for this campaign if the letter recipients understood that Ken Starr's successor had cleared Hillary Clinton of the Filegate charges?

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My old friend Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles.com has challenged me as a former Peace Corps official to defend Al Gore's use of the term "volunteer" to describe his sister Nancy's service at the Peace Corps. I can't defend it. The term volunteer in the Peace Corps refers only to those who volunteer to serve overseas for two years at low pay. Nancy was a mid-level bureaucrat in the Washington office who was paid a respectable government salary. So Al Gore shouldn't say she was a volunteer. But I can understand why he wants to brag about her. She was a good and kind person who cared about the Peace Corps. She was my friend. I miss her.

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I was a fan of Joe Klein's Primary Colors, so it will come as no surprise that I like his new book about a senatorial political campaign. It's called The Running Mate. I agree with the columnist Matthew Miller who says "Klein's novel joins the NBC series ŒThe West Wing' as a lonely outpost of empathy in a culture dripping with cynicism." Miller quotes former White House spokesman Michael McCurry as saying "there's an unwritten code among political reporters that if you write anything that is even semi-flattering or Š empathetic that you're not living up to the true calling of the journalist." Do you recall Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes? It was the last empathetic account of political campaigns I can remember. And it was written eight years ago!

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One of The Washington Monthly's least successful crusades has been to get better reporting about government agencies--- about whether what they're doing is needed, whether they're performing their mission well or poorly, and how they can be improved. An example of the kind of reporting we want is Steve Pomper's article on the FDA last month. But outside our pages, there's not a lot to talk about. The Washington Monthly and a handful of other publications are the only ones that make a substantial effort to do this kind of story. I've become so worried about the problem that I've established a foundation called Understanding Government to try to encourage more of this kind of reporting.

But there are a few rays of hope. In the latest round of Pulitzer Prizes, two went to reporting about the performance of government agencies. One went to Katherine Boo for a report on how the District of Columbia agencies mishandled the mentally retarded in their care. Another one went to Tom Ricks, now of The Washington Post, for stories on the problems of the Pentagon written by him and his former colleagues at The Wall Street Journal. Jason DeParle of The New York Times won a Polk award for his reporting on how state and local government agencies are handling welfare reform. Journalists tend to notice the kind of articles that win prizes and often try to emulate them. Let's hope that's the case with these awards. And that the emulators take careful note of how the pieces were reported---by going to the action points where policy becomes reality: with Boo the homes where the retarded were ignored or mistreated, with Ricks the troops in the field, with DeParle the welfare offices and the homes and worksites of the welfare recipients. Look at what's going right or wrong at the action points and then track the causes back through the bureaucracy and the legislation. That's the magic secret.

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Further evidence of the dysfunctionality of the D.C. government described by Boo comes in another Post article headed "Brianna Report Cites Chaos in 7 D.C. Agencies." Even top administrators who are supposed to clean things up become part of the problem. It develops that all those utility cuts in the street that have been disrupting District traffic for months can be traced to the man who is supposed to be saving us, Mayor Tony Williams. It was he who, while serving as the District's chief financial officer, "repeatedly stalled," in the words of the Post's Carol D. Leonnig, efforts to get the utilities to pay for those cuts. And consider Vivianne Hardy Townes who was hired to be an advocate for the city's mentally ill and disabled. According to an audit, again reported by the tireless Leonnig, she misspent $725,000, including $54,000 in charge slips that "tell a tale of shopping, meals, and vacations for herself and her husband: a tour of Africa, shoes from Saks, dresses from Nieman Marcus, dinners at Houlihan's and Lauriol Plaza."

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In April, two Republican legislators in South Carolina switched to the Democratic Party. This reverses a 30-year trend in the South during which Democrats have become Republicans. Do the two South Carolinians signify that the tide has turned? They may. The reason is that Republican religious conservatives are leaving no room for moderates. "They just seem to have lost touch with people on important things like education," Margaret Gamble, one of the switchers, explained to David Firestone of The New York Times. She gave as an example a "First Steps" pre-school program that she said Republicans blocked because they believed mothers should be taking care of pre-schoolers.

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Mandy Grunwald is doing it right. I refer to the flat rate she is charging Hillary Clinton for her services as a campaign consultant. As you may recall from last month's "Tilting," I am not an admirer of the customary practice by which consultants are paid commission. This gives them an almost irresistible motive to incur the maximum campaign expense so that they will be paid the maximum fee. It is thus a significant factor in the escalating cost of political campaigns. Which means that politicians have to raise more money---and that means they have to be even nicer to the people who have money.

This point is finally getting the attention it deserves. Just a few days after the Tilting item appeared, The Washington Post published a series of articles highlighting the dangers the commissions represent.

I was disappointed to see that Slate's Jodi Kantor made fun of the Post for suggesting that money matters too much to the political consultants. "But hey, those are the goals that motivate every industry," writes Kantor. I have known consultants for whom the primary goal is getting good candidates elected. Sure they want to make a decent living but their driving passion is not money. I just wish there were more of them, which is what Jodi Kantor should be encouraging instead of cynically dismissing the possibility of idealism.

The Post series is laudable for another reason. It reveals the stake television stations have in excessive campaign expenditures. Every dollar that is spent buying the time for political commercials is money in the bank for them. The reason I praise the Post's Dan Morgan for having the courage to be tough about this problem is that it is one most newspaper owners don't want to face. They own television stations that profit from campaign spending, so they have little passion for any campaign reform that will reduce spending on these commercials. Consider the stations in just one city---Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1998 they earned $16.5 million from political ads.

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Speaking of cynicism, it is spreading everywhere. Consider "Reporting Point," a news-letter put out by the Southwest Pilot's Association, which explains why the Association has funded the SWAPA Political Action Committee. "To some the idea of Œbuying' influence sounds distasteful. But in Washington, this is the way the game is played." The sad fact is that the pilot's cynicism is realistic.

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I owe Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker a partial apology. In our March issue I said "read pages 284-85 of [Jeffrey Toobin's A Vast Conspiracy] for a devastating demonstration of the high percentage of falsehood and misleading innuendo in a February 5, 1998 story by Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker in The Washington Post." The words "devastating," "high," and "falsehood" were ill-chosen. Their story was totally defensible as accurate reporting.

Toobin's book, on which I relied, was wrong in stating that there was no internal inconsistency or evidence of Clinton's culpability in Lewinsky's late January proffer of testimony. He was also wrong to state that Lewinsky had not asked Linda Tripp to lie.

On the other hand, two other points Toobin made were right and demonstrate the overall point he and I were trying to make: That the Post and much of the rest of the media became tools of the independent prosecutor by often implying that he had more than he did---thus enabling Starr's office to bluff witnesses into saying what it wanted them to say before the immunity train left the station.

In their story, Schmidt and Baker offer this juicy tidbit: "Starr's office questioned a Justice Department lawyer who told a colleague he was aware of an agent who reportedly has said he guarded the door at the White House movie theater last summer while Clinton was inside with a young woman." Let's get this straight: A lawyer had told a colleague that he was "aware" of what an agent had "reportedly" seen. This was, I'm sure, true reporting of what Starr's office said, but it left the reader with what turned out to be an erroneous impression that Starr's office had another bombshell to toss at the President. And if the reader was in any doubt, Schmidt and Baker added: "Starr's decision to reject the proffer may reflect confidence in the rest of the case he is building."

Of course, it developed that Starr not only didn't have the agent but he didn't have a case. The train wasn't going to leave the station without Lewinsky's testimony which, by late summer, he made a deal to accept pretty much as originally proffered.

Schmidt and Baker aren't bad reporters. They were never inaccurate. But they were used.

That being said, I was still wrong to use those ill-chosen words and for them I offer Baker and Schmidt my heart-felt apologies.

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In response to a recent series of articles on the Corps of Engineers by The Washington Post's Michael Grunwald, Army Secretary Louis Caldera proposed management reforms that would bring the Corps back under control of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. Three senators immediately objected. And they weren't just any old senators---they were Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, Armed Services Chairman John Warner, and Public Works Chairman Robert Smith. Because the Corps has been run by the Iron Triangle of its own bureaucrats, the lobbies, and the Congress, it has been an indispensable source of premium pork. That's what the three senators really meant when they said the reforms "threaten the interests of Congress." If the secretary of defense actually tried to run the Corps he might derail the pet projects of the Congressmen.

The generals who run the Corps know that Congress is the source of their appropriations. The lobbyists are all for the present arrangement because it means more projects for their clients to profit from. And most of the press and public ignore the problem because they don't realize the importance of having a civilian secretary of defense appointed by an elected president in charge. But that's the way it's supposed to be under our Constitution. The Congress should legislate, the courts should adjudicate, and the president should run the executive branch.

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Recently The Washington Post ran a story reporting that the federal income tax burden "has shrunk to the lowest level in the last four decades." The 50 percent of the population that earns under $30,000 a year pays only two percent of all income taxes. All good news but J.D. Foster of the Tax Foundation points out, "It's like doing a story on the price of bread going down but ignoring that the prices of milk, eggs, butter, and other groceries have gone up." In other words, there are lots of other federal, state, and local taxes that people pay in addition to the federal income tax. For lower and middle income taxpayers the most burdensome of these is the social security tax. "The amount paid in payroll taxes," reports the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, "exceeds the amount paid in income taxes for 74 percent of the population."

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Presidential appointees are having to wait too long to be confirmed. The confirmation process not only takes too much time but it has turned into an ordeal for the appointee. He must fill out different forms for each senate committee that considers the nomination---and I've heard of appointees who had to deal with three separate committees. He also has to fill out long forms for the White House and the FBI. Then he waits and waits and waits. More than half of the appointees confirmed between 1984 and 1999 waited five months for the Senate's blessing, according to a recent report funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. By contrast, just one-sixth of the appointees confirmed between 1964 and 1984 waited that long.

The major reason is that senators, who used to let the president choose cabinet and sub-cabinet members who shared his views, now will drag their feet or even vote no when confronted with an appointee whose views they don't like. This deprives the people of the government they have chosen in a presidential election. It may be at least partially defensible in the case of Supreme Court justices, and other officials like the FBI director and the heads of the Federal Reserve and the General Accounting Office, whose appointments are for longer than the president's elected term. But it violates the separation of powers, not to mention the will of the people, in all those cases where the appointee serves at the will of the elected president.

One way senators express their displeasure with an appointee is by putting a "hold" on his nomination, which means the appointee cannot be considered without the senator's consent which is sometimes withheld permanently. It used to be that holds were merely a courtesy granted by the majority leader that made sure a senator with a doubt about a bill or an appointee would have a chance to explore his concerns before a vote was taken. It was not intended to serve as a device by which one member could veto a nominee. But that is what it has become.

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Exhausted truck drivers cause accidents in which almost 800 people die annually, according to estimates by the Department of Transportation. Drivers now are permitted to drive 10 hours in a row, and after getting eight hours off for sleep are permitted to drive for 10 more. Since common sense suggests that those eight hours aren't all used for sleep, the possibility of fatigue seems very high. So the DOT has proposed that drivers get 12 hours off each day. In an attempt to sweeten the pie for the trucking industry, the DOT is agreeing to let the drivers drive the other 12 hours in a row so long as they don't drive more than 60 hours a week. This seems the most modest of reforms---whatever happened to the eight-hour day and the 40-hour week?--- yet the trucking industry is indignant. "The DOT's proposal would force today's sophisticated e-commerce, point-and-click, just-in-time delivery back to old economy inefficiency," says Walter B. McCormick, Jr., the president of the American Trucking Association. He doesn't mention the lives it would save.

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Here's some good news. "The ranks of teachers are swelling with former pilots, lobbyists, and lawyers" reports Mary Lord of U.S. News and World Report. I don't know about the pilots but it's great to see those lobbyists and lawyers find a more decent line of work. More than half of the students admitted to graduate teacher training programs are career-switchers. Most of them, says Libby Hall, the director of one of the graduate teaching programs, "are drawn by the chance to do meaningful work; they want to do something that really makes a difference."


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