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Posted on Nov 16, 2007
James Harris and Josh Scheer
Harris: “So where should we be going?” is the question.
Weinberger: Here’s the question. In my opinion, regardless of where one stands on being for weapons spending or against weapons spending, I think what both sides of the debate would agree on is, is that if we’re going to spend money on these things, we want to spend things on credible science, on credible technologies. We don’t want to be investing in boondoggles, we don’t want to be investing in pseudo-science, or bad scientists or in charlatans. And the issue is, we need to have a system of reviews, of checks and balances—even if it’s high-risk research—that people agree is a good system. In basic science that may be peer review. There may be times that we may fund things that don’t get stellar peer review, but at least let’s know when we want to do that. If it’s technology, let’s, again, have standards. How many years? How much funding? What do we want to put into it? Can we have credible outside reviews? There’s no silver-bullet solution, but I think outside scientific and technical reviews is a healthy thing. I think having the highest level of scientific and technical expertise within the Pentagon is a good thing. And, basically, oversight from Congress also has to play a role.
Harris: That’s an elaborate process. We can’t even fix the walls after Hurricane Katrina. We can’t even figure out what to do and not to do in Iraq. It seems to be very ideal.
Weinberger: A system that in many ways is broken right now.
Harris: Absolutely. So to request that these things be fixed on the scale that you are, is it far-fetched? It’s hopeful, and we need people like you, but is it so far-fetched that our government could never comply?
Weinberger: Well, it starts from the top. You need to have an administration that values experts. When it comes to New Orleans, that it values experts in engineering. Whether we’re talking about global warming or about defense or about technology, you have to be willing to listen—not always take their advice but at least to listen and value the people who have scientific, technical or maybe even political or social expertise in these areas. This country’s ...
Harris: Sharon, you just ...
Scheer: No, no—.
Weinberger: ... not lacking in experts.
Harris: You just threw three strikes at the president because he does none of those things. So we’ve got a long way to go.
Weinberger: I try to avoid being political. I would rather talk about the things that I would like to see an administration do.
Harris: Well, you mentioned the administration, and he’s the head.
Scheer: First of all, James, you were being mocking of the ideal, but there has to be an ideal. We have to go to that ideal. She’s saying some, I have some—. Yes, maybe the head of FEMA shouldn’t be in a position that the president just gives it to his friend who’s a failure in life, and then maybe we have someone who knows something about emergencies, someone from the Mississippi—.
Weinberger: I think, actually, that FEMA is an excellent example. Not to pick on any people personally, but—good Lord!—this is an important agency, particularly after 9/11. It’s important at any time, and you want to have people—. And maybe it’s not technical expertise; maybe it’s management experience, but it should be relevant management experience. You should value expertise over loyalty. Loyalty should not be the highest standard in appointing people.
Scheer: Not just loyalty, though, and also with the oversight question. Congress never does its oversight, never will, so there’s probably a system forever broken. So you need people who have that kind of ideal. I don’t know; maybe Sharon’s different than I am. I want someone who’s doing that kind of oversight and saying, there’s a woman in South Carolina who charges the Pentagon $700,000 for something that you or I can pick up at Home Depot for $15. And she talked about it from the beginning here: the $600 toilet seat. And James and I were talking about that right before this. A toilet seat shouldn’t cost $600, and there should be oversight, and if there was oversight through the Pentagon and Congress, which, again, these are idealistic. ...
Harris: But they are basic requirements, and I don’t disagree with what you guys are saying; I’m saying you’ve got a tall mountain to climb. If you really think that those things are going to happen and happen with any rapidity.
Scheer: I enjoy pissing up a rope. Just to let you know.
Weinberger: You see this as well now with the contractor scandal and the questions being raised about Blackwater. It’s good these questions are being raised, but, as a lot of people are saying, this problem didn’t start last year. It was made much worse by the war in Iraq. But why did it take this long for Congress to exercise its oversight role? You shouldn’t have a citywide disaster in New Orleans. You shouldn’t have a disaster and controversies over contractors to the point you have if Congress is doing its role. They’re not to blame totally, but they provide the money and they have a role of oversight that should be fulfilled.
Scheer: Thank you very much, Sharon. It was really enjoyable talking to you.
Weinberger: Great. I appreciate it.
Scheer: And, again, look her up on the Danger Room and with the book, “Imaginary Weapons.”
Harris: So that’s Danger Room, “Imaginary Weapons.” Sharon, it was a pleasure. Sharon Weinberger. Pick up a copy. Give it a read. “Imaginary Weapons” is the title. You can buy it at all the normal places. Thank you for spending time with us today.
Weinberger: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Harris: All right. For Josh Scheer, for Sharon Weinberger, this is James Harris, and this has been a very interesting Truthdig.
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