What Did We Know And When Did We Know It?

Our intelligence agencies have been taking a terrific beating lately because of their pre-9/11 bumbling. The media has painted an unflattering portrait of the CIA and FBI that makes them look inflexible, bureaucratic, and gripped by institutional lethargy. However, all of this negative attention is having an effect and will ultimately make our intelligence agencies better. We’re now seeing more sharing of information between agencies, new law enforcement powers, and more emphasis on fighting terrorism.

While the reforms we’re seeing at the FBI and CIA are certainly welcome, it took an unprecedented terrorist attack and a blistering media assault to prompt us to act. Early on in the media storm we even had Democrats asking ‘what did the President know and when did he know it’ in an attempt to psychologically tie this intelligence flap to the Watergate scandal. Although most people have come to agree that question doesn’t apply to this current crisis, a few years down the road it will be a very apt question to ask to the entire American public because we’re going to have some explaining to do.

We’re going to be asking ourselves why we didn’t make any serious attempt to improve our failing education system. We’re going to wonder why we kept throwing money at the problem even though we already spent more per pupil than any nation in the world. Twenty years from now we’re going to ask why we turned our heads and we allowed our kids to be educated by inept public schools when we could of given them a far superior education in private schools for less money through voucher programs. In a country that’s growing more and more dependent on a high tech economy every day, our failure to deal with this issue today is going to have serious consequences down the road.

At some point we’re going to ask why we allowed our inefficient tax system and legions of parasitic lawyers to hamper our economy. In a time when even the Russians have a flat tax, we’re continuing to cling to an archaic and bloated tax code. Even though every dollar counts in the global competition for business, we’re losing American jobs and hampering our industries with a never-ending sea of litigation. According to legal expert Walter Olson our ‘liability insurance sector as a share of’GNP’ is ‘several times as much per capita as’other advanced industrial countries.’ But, we’re not interested in reforming our tax code or instituting tort reform.

The day will come when we’ll ask how a country founded by revolutionaries with an intrinsic distrust of government allowed jobs in the Congress and the Senate to nearly become lifetime appointments? How did we ever let our politicians create campaign finance laws and gerrymandered districts that guaranteed almost a 90% reelection rate for our Senators and Congressmen? Whatever possessed us to allow Congressional districts to be drawn that were so biased towards particular political parties that no one except the incumbent even bothered to run? Why didn’t the public at least demand that the Republican Party honor the ‘Contract With America’ back in the mid-nineties and implement term limits? Why aren’t we demanding term limits now?

At what point will we look back and regret our open borders? When massive amounts of drugs cross the border and countless numbers of people become addicted, die, or have their lives ruined? It’s too late, that’s already happened. What about when we have millions of people who don’t respect our laws slipping across our borders and burdening the American taxpayers? It’s too late, that’s already happened. What about when a terrorist sneaks across the border and plants a nuke in an American city? That hasn’t happened yet, but it may just be a matter of time. Then we’ll wish we would have increased the size of our border patrols and built a competent INS. But, who will answer for all of those lives needlessly lost?

In roughly a decade, the money paid in social security taxes will be less than the amount of social security we’re going to have to pay out. When that happens, who’s going to explain to the American people that the social security trust fund is just an accounting fiction that only exists on paper? As the gap between what we’re paying out and what’s coming in grows larger and larger who’s going to get screwed, the people depending on social security income or the taxpayers who’ll be footing the bill? Then what excuse are we going to give for not making social security solvent for a few more decades by privatizing part of it?

We should take a lesson from this latest intelligence flap. Either we’ll address these issues before they become crises or we’re going to pay the piper one-day for our failure to take these issues seriously. Fixing these problems today when they’re still relatively small is infinitely preferable to trying to fix them after an emergency. But, whatever decisions we as a people make about these issues let no one say that we didn’t know or that we didn’t have time to correct our course.

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