Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Dual-Hatted Syndrome

Haven't we learned anything from past intelligence reorganizations?

Just two years ago intelligence reform efforts created the Director of National Intelligence and finally broke up the dual responsibilities of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI)/Director, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This long-standing position raised frequent issues due to the built-in conflict of interest, managed better or worse by successive incumbents. The DNI, currently retired admiral Mike McConnell, is expected to function as the actual head of our intelligence community, independent of potential conflicts of interest or loyalties to any of the intelligence agencies - THE intelligence czar. Meanwhile the Director of the CIA should be able to focus on optimizing the heavily-criticized performance of that agency, unhampered by other responsibilities. We'll see if all this works out as intended.

Last month the Department of Defense created, and congressional oversight committees approved, another dual-hatted intelligence position begging for conflicts of interest and chain-of-command confusion: designating the under secretary of defense for intelligence, currently retired general Jim Clapper, also as the Director of Defense Intelligence within the Office of the DNI. If anything, this seems to deepen the divide between the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. It begs the question of who will actually determine tasking priorities for defense agencies (DIA, NSA, NRO, etc) - the DNI or the Secretary of Defense? Based on the DoD press release announcing this new position, SecDef Bob Gates appears to envision this as an equal, not subordinate function to overall U.S. intelligence activities, supposedly directed and coordinated by the DNI. And Gates has experienced the pros and cons of a dual-hatted DCI and CIA director himself. So much for ONE intelligence Czar!

Perhaps more details will emerge soon and make this all appear more logical.

This initial perspective is based on the DoD news release of 24 May 2007 and intentionally without the benefits of any media "wisdom" on this issue.

Friday, May 25, 2007

SUV Bashing -- Enough Already!

We are all affected by rising gas prices and the current media feeding frenzy on this issue only confirms that. But could we be just a little more accurate? It has been fashionable to bash SUVs as gas-guzzling environmental fiends ever since they first became available to the public. The real issue is gas-guzzling vehicles, including trucks, vans, sedans, and SUVs. Why not refer to gas-guzzlers, instead of singling out only SUVs?

As an SUV driver, I am fed up with these ignorant tirades. Our 2002 Ford Escape actually manages 28 mpg for highway driving - hardly an "offensive" gas-guzzling performance. Since we do primarily highway and little city driving (the nearest Safeway store is 56 miles away), this vehicle serves our all-round transportation needs adequately. I use my 49 cc Honda Metropolitan scooter (105 mpg) for local errands.

Fuel efficiency statistics available from the April 2007 issue of Consumer Reports list a number of non-SUV gas-guzzlers not usually mentioned in the media (from family and luxury sedans to pick-up trucks and mini vans). Just some examples: Subaru Legacy (18 mpg), Buick Lacrosse (18 mpg), Chrysler 300 (16 mpg), Dodge Charger (17 mpg), Infinity G35 (18 mpg), Cadillac CTS (19 mpg), Audi A8 (17 mpg), BMW 745 (18 mpg), Chevrolet Montecarlo (17 mpg), Dodge Viper (15 mpg), Nissan Frontier (15 mpg), Honda Ridgeline (15 mpg), Dodge Ram (11 mpg), Kia Sedona (17 mpg, Dodge Grand Caravan (17 mpg), etc.

A thoughtful part of this debate should include holding vehicle manufacturers responsible for not applying existing fuel efficiency technologies to today's vehicles. While hybrids can serve many consumers, they are most beneficial for city drivers. More useful would be an industry-wide improvement of all vehicle fuel efficiencies. I owned a 1982 Honda 1300 FE ("fuel efficient") which achieved a respectable 50 mpg with highway driving. Clearly fuel efficiency technologies existed then and, if anything, should be even more advanced now.

Let's encourage manufacturers to apply these technologies to start producing more fuel-efficient vehicles for the good of all consumers and the country NOW!