Congressional box scores

Every Sunday, our paper publishes a summary of recent votes in Congress, reporting how members from our region voted.

These reports, provided by the Roll Call Report Syndicate, are as matter of fact as possible — they're like the box scores in sports or the stock listings in business. Roll Call's job is just to summarize, as accurately and succinctly as possible, what was voted on and how members voted.

Yet despite this dry approach, the VIC isn't always dry reading. Consider this week's congressional box score.

There's this entry, with the unassuming subhead "Private Contractors":

Voting 54-43, the Senate on June 16 upheld the Pentagon's policy of using private contractors in the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. This shelved an amendment to the fiscal 2005 defense budget (S 2400) that sought to bar nonmilitary personnel from interrogating prisoners, detainees or combatants at any U.S. military prison. The bill remained in debate.

Fifty-four senators feel that top-secret interrogations of prisoners of war conducted to discover intelligence vital to our national security is the sort of tangential activity best outsourced to private contractors. Collecting strategic intelligence from the enemy is, apparently, not considered one of the Pentagon's "core competencies." What could possibly go wrong with that?

Employees of CACI International and Titan Corp. have been implicated in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

I'm not opposed, in principle, to private contractors supplying government services. I think the folks at Google, for example, ought to be brought in to fix the impending computer crisis at the IRS. But contracting out the interrogation of prisoners seems a bit over the line — even before considering that, in practice, this policy has already helped us to lose one war.

Then there's this happy little item titled "Tactical Nuclear Weapons":

Voting 42-55, the Senate on June 15 refused to halt the development of two types of tactical nuclear weapons. This preserved $36.6 million in S 2400 for further research into "bunker-busters," which would penetrate deeply into the earth and then explode, and "mini-nukes," which are envisioned as bombs of less than five kilotons that would be dropped in war zones. Strategic nuclear weapons, by contrast, are for use against large populations rather than localized targets.

"Mini-nukes" seems like one of the great oxymorons of the 21st century. The advantage of such weapons, apparently, is that after you drop one on a Chinese embassy, an Afghan wedding or that squad of Marines that headquarters forgot to tell you about, there won't be enough evidence left for the bleeding-hearts to whine about.

"Critics said that adding tactical weapons would expand the U.S. nuclear doctrine from only deterrence to first-strike capability as well," RCRS reports. "Supporters said, 'Yeah. So?'" (That's my paraphrase, RCRS actually said, "Backers said America must adapt its arsenal to confront rogue nations and non-state enemies."

Finally there's this paragraph, under the heading "Missile Defense Tests." It's like something from The Onion — if The Onion were edited by Marcel Duchamp. Perhaps the actual debate on the Senate floor contained enough flag-waving and obfuscatory abstraction to seem almost meaningful, but here, in the box score, where the actual vote is distilled to its essential, crystalline absurdity, it simply suggests that 57 senators have lost their minds:

Voting 42 -57, senators on June 17 defeated an amendment to S 2400 requiring the National Missile Defense to pass operational tests before deployment can begin. This left intact Pentagon plans to fully test the first phase of the ground-based system after it is assembled. The testing is to determine the accuracy of the system's interceptor missiles in destroying incoming ballistic missiles.

Deploy first, test later. Spend first, shop later. Is there nothing peddled in the name of "national security" that these fools won't throw billions of their grandchildrens' dollars at?

(Note also that the same senators who support "mini-nukes" because the Cold War is over and our arsenal must be adapted "to confront rogue nations and non-state enemies" have no problem spending scads of money on this untested, ineffectual relic which even its advocates admit is useless against "non-state enemies.")

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  • Legomancer

    It seems to me that the advantage of having interrogations done by private contractors is that they’re NOT military personnel, and therefore aren’t bound to the military’s code of conduct/military treaties. Our soldiers don’t violate any codes of war, civilians do. Civilians operating in a foreign country where the jurisdiction over them is somewhat cloudy. Seems like exactly who you’d want interrogating prisoners — if you plan on using questionable techniques.

  • Scorpio

    The Senate is singularly undeterred by facts. Living deep in Zone Red, my senators are among the worst.
    Didn’t the House decide not to fund the nukes? I thought I saw something about that last week.

  • Mike B

    “I’m not opposed, in principle, to private contractors supplying government services. I think the folks at Google, for example, ought to be brought in to fix the impending computer crisis at the IRS.” I know this isn’t your main point, but you should know that the problems at IRS are SO BIG that even Google would be buried under them. Having worked as a contractor there for nine years, my advice to everyone is simple: make sure you aren’t due a refund. When the system crashes, your employer will keep sending quarterly witholding to the Treasury, and the Government will continue to run; but taxpayers won’t be getting their refund checks on time.

  • Chris

    I like how everyone conveniently forgets the issue of fallout from mini-nukes. I’m sure that if you bury a nuke a few hundred feet under the ground and blow it up, quite a bit of radioactive dust is going to get spread downwind. So our new tactical doctrine will be to deploy all ground units up wind from any bunker and then make sure they have those lightweight radiation suits for when they move through all those contaminated areas. And don’t drink the water. Seriously.

  • obeah

    As nice as these vote box-scores are (our paper has them too), I’d like to see papers print a similar round-up of votes scheduled to occur in the next two weeks or so. I try to keep informed, but of the three votes you described here, I only knew about the tactical-nuke one.

  • Three days, three votes

    I liked Fred Clark’s post, “Congressional box scores”, concerning three Senate roll calls on three successive days: June 15, 16 and 17. I decided to check up on my Senators (and one other Senator), as well as compare how the Senate’s web site summarize…

  • Nick

    Fred, you display the lack of flexibility in your thinking that is typical of liberals in the New Security Environment. We have to be prepared for attacks from literally anywhere. Any place on the globe could be the source of a lethal attack, as could any point in time. Why, the Russians could launch their deadly arsenal — from 1957!
    You and your smarty-pants liberal buddies will look pretty silly when a raft of ICBMs comes through a rent in the space-time continuum.
    And he who stands against bunker-busting mini-nukes is against America and for the mole people.
    Are you for the mole people, Fred? Do you really love them more than your own family, Fred? Shame on you.

  • Keith

    I’d like to see a show of hands form these senetors as to how many think that these tactical nukes won’t end up in the hands of terrorists. They’re already using our stinger missiles, RPGs and anti-tank grenades against us. I can see Osma now, drooling over the weapons catalog and telling his operatives that what he really wants for Ramadan.

  • Chuck

    Fred, I agree with Nick; how dare you liberals question our government? If it wasn’t for the medling of you pinko commie liberals back in the 60s we would be on the verge of defeating the Viet Cong either this year or next. We need to start trusting our leaders because they have our best interest at heart!!!

  • SergeantHeretic

    Unless they’re plabul puking liberal democrats, then the leaders in question are evil secular humanist Commies in League with Nicolae Rocky Mountains to take our guns abort our kids and turn us all into africa-american lesbians!OH NOEZ ZOMG!