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.
"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.")