Terror briefings, term limits, budgets

Friday, May 24, 2002

The following is a summary report of recent meetings in Washington with both sitting and former members of Congress along with Washington media insiders and Dr. Kenneth A. Duncan, chairman of the Community Counterterrorism Board, and Ambassador Francis X. Taylor, coordinator for counterterrorism -- U.S. Department of State.

"Terrorism is a cheap way to make war. It uses symbolic violence and exploits the media. It is estimated that the attack on Sept. 11 cost the terrorists $500,000. We can't calculate the cost in human lives and suffering. The economic costs are in the billions of dollars. Experts feel that terrorism has changed. Up and through the 1980s, it was largely state-sponsored terrorism. Even though it was terrorism, the states had limits over which they would not go because of the fear of retaliation. Now, it is different. There is no red line. There are no limits. The terrorists today have more rigid views, and you can't challenge them on moral grounds. ... Osama bin Laden, who most people feel is still alive, has not changed his goals. He doesn't want Americans to feel safe anywhere. ...

"The United States has had some success. It has shown the world that it has great resolve and can move more quickly and effectively as it did in Afghanistan. The loss of Afghanistan hurts bin Laden because of the personal nature of al-Qaida. It was part of the ritual for people joining al-Qaida to travel personally to see bin Laden in Afghanistan and pledge loyalty to him. ...One of the real practical problems is the warning system. There is a need for people to know but in doing so, you may reveal how you got the information. It's easy to warn about a potential attack, but it is extremely hard to say when the threat is over. The country also faces the problem of warning fatigue.

"The United States understands that terrorism goes beyond bin Laden especially because terrorism is low cost and causes high damage. Terrorists will continue to get inspiration from Sept. 11. There is no question that we will face chemical and biological attacks in the future and a dirty bomb if we are not successful. Most experts are more afraid of chemical and biological attacks than of nuclear. It's also clear that we are not winning the war of public opinion. We need more outreach from the United States in global diplomacy. ... Intelligence sharing has gotten better. The CIA has gained incredible information from captured documents in Afghanistan. There have been arrests in twenty different countries and leads in forty different countries. The coalition is still together and the United States has appropriated more money for military defense and homeland security. We are moving ahead. The question is, is it quickly enough?" -- Lou Frey Jr., past President of Former Members of Congress

It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens. -- Woody Allen

After the above terrorism analysis, most other issues don't seem too important. After all, if you, your family and your friends have their health and the benefits of living in this free country of opportunity (not CUBA, for example) ... one is blessed!

Term limits: Every newly elected Missouri representative has the opportunity of serving eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate.

Eighty-five legislators are term limited this year: 12 state senators and 73 House members.

Twenty-five House members, most of them term limited, are vying for Senate seats.

You'll see more Senate races. Example: When state Sen. PETER KINDER is term limited two years from this fall, there will probably be three or four experienced Republican House members vying for the job.

Rather than the lobbyists having undue influence, it's more likely they will have less influence ... especially in the House with its less experienced members.

That was my observation this year of the Missouri General Assembly, where I spent the last two days of the session.

States' vast budget gaps bring higher fees and emergency cuts: Faced with a large, unexpected drop in income-tax revenue, states across the country are trying desperately to plug wide budget gaps in ways voters can abide in an election year.

Some are raising cigarette taxes and various fees. Some are cutting spending on the edges or using bookkeeping devices to make the deficits go away. A few have taken drastic measures to avoid raising sales or income taxes or cutting popular programs like education.

Missouri, for example, is so short of cash that it stopped sending out income-tax refunds. More than 400,000 taxpayers who filed returns on their 2001 income are owed nearly $170 million.

Wisconsin is considering issuing bonds secured by the 30 years of annual payments from the national settlement with tobacco companies. The effect would be to spend all 30 years of the state's share of the tobacco money this year and next.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported last month that at least 40 states and the District of Columbia were being forced this year to make emergency cuts in their budgets totaling $27 billion. ...

Circumstances in Indiana are more typical. Just three years ago, the state was sitting on a $2 billion surplus, about 10 percent of the whole state budget. Feeling flush, Gov. Frank L. O'Bannon and the legislature approved deep tax cuts and undertook an ambitious plan to raise school standards.

But times changed almost overnight. Indiana's deficit is now more than $1 billion. ...

Nowhere is the situation more dire than in California. Gov. Gray Davis has proposed closing a shortfall of $23.6 billion, one-third of the entire budget, by raising vehicle license fees and cigarette taxes and making steep reductions in health programs and aid to local government. ...

In the prosperity of the late 1990s, the states acted as if good times would always roll, slashing taxes for individuals and businesses and spending with abandon.

When the economy turned sour, revenue fell sharply, higher spending was locked into place. ...

The problem is complicated by the elections this fall. Budget-cutting invariably requires bitter medicine, and few politicians are willing to risk re-election to administer it.

Twenty-nine states are considering cuts in higher education, 25 in prisons and 22 in Medicaid, the conference found. At least 10 may lay off state employees. -- Excerpt from article by David Rosenbaum in The New York Times

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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