Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Playing politics with weather

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum doesn't go along with Mark Twain's admonition that "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it."

Santorum not only is doing something about weather, he's making it pay—for him.

Santorum, the two-term Pennsylvania Republican who's an early favorite of the far, far, really far Christian Right in the 2008 presidential lineup, has written a law restricting the type and amount of information the taxpayer-supported National Weather Service can provide free to the public.

What, you gasp in disbelief, restrict free weather information—information generations have relied on for planting crops, planning vacations, starting their day, deciding whether to carry an umbrella?

It's perfectly logical to Sen. Santorum, who parades as a high-minded and ethical politician: He wants to protect the business income of 14 private, commercial weather information services based in Pennsylvania, such as AccuWeather. Not coincidentally, AccuWeather employees have donated $5,500 to Santorum's political campaigns since 1999, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

Santorum's legislation specifies the weather service can provide only data not provided by commercial services.

If passed, the law would effectively force newspaper, radio, television and Internet services to buy commercial information for newscasts, rather than find it in the government database.

If Santorum can successfully restrict government weather data, imagine what the future holds, for example, when taxpayers call the Internal Revenue Service for help with preparing their tax returns.

"Sorry," a recorded IRS voice might say, "we are not allowed to provide help. Please call your local tax accountant for fee-based assistance."

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