Screwball Priorities


The screwball priorities of our leaders are amazing. While they’ve been fussing over filibusters here are a few more pressing items from recent news articles.

* Shipping containers coming into the U.S. are still so poorly secured that would-be immigrants have been shipping themselves here.

* The administration has not filled the top anti-terrorism post at the State Department for eight months.

* Because the world has still not paid the relatively small price of stopping genocide in Darfur in Sudan, the people cannot plant crops. We will soon need to pay a much bigger price in massive starvation relief.

* Recently two leading think tanks from the right and left held a joint news conference. They warned that if the government doesn’t get serious about mounting debt, by 2040 all the U.S. will be able to do is make interest payments. Not a single law maker showed up.

* Recently the National Coalition on Health Care laid out four scenarios for reforming health care that would save between $300 billion and $1.1 trillion in the first 10 years. That day Senators were busy congratulating themselves about a compromise on filibusters.

* In Niger drought and locusts have left millions facing starvation. Leading relief groups say $16 million is needed. For comparison, since becoming speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert has managed to send $24 million in special funds to his home town.

* You may have read (including in this column) how pensions are in trouble. Those reports focused on single company pensions. Adding to that are the under funded, and under insured multi-company pensions (that cover groups, such as truckers and construction workers), and other pensions that are not insured at all.

* World health officials say a flu pandemic is immanent and we are unprepared. They are asking for $1.5 million for strategic planning as one step in preparation. For comparison $1.35 billion was lost just in recent scares about animal virus infections in three countries alone. A human flu pandemic is expected to infect over a billion people.

* Even though Bush and Kerry agreed on one thing, that nuclear proliferation was a number one threat, U.S. assistance in securing Russian stockpiles is going excruciatingly slow. Many stockpiles are virtually unguarded. Recently the international meeting on the non-proliferation treaty collapsed without a plan.

* Aid that richer nations have already promised to assist poorer ones is $20 billion behind. The Europeans are doing better than most on meeting those promises. What could be a better deal to lower the likelihood of terrorism in the future than helping poor countries now? We can’t afford to fix everything, but for comparison the talks on a pentagon budget are in the $440 billion range. That doesn’t count indirect defense spending or the approximately $200 billion in special war appropriations.

With all these freight trains headed at us -- global warming, a pandemic, deficits, Medicare under funding, security still slack in areas -- the administration chose Social Security accounts to be their top priority. The leaders of my party, the Democrats, do no better at getting solid alternative proposals out there.

This vacuum of leadership begs to get filled. If it is not filled by people of good intentions and a modicum of wisdom, then it opens the door to opportunists, as have popped up in Europe in recent times, who rise to power on bigotry and fear and other base ways of appealing to voters.