Search This Blog

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Lost War

Date: August 22nd. 2005
Sent to but not published by the New York Times

The war in Iraq is lost.
We lost the war when we entered it for false reasons.
We lost the war when we let Iraqis riot in the aftermath of the downfall of Saddam.
We lost the war when we failed to provide enough men and equipment to occupy the country.
We lost the war when the UN quit Iraq after the destruction of its staff and offices in Baghdad.

And our biggest defeat, we lost the war when we abandoned our principles at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
We should withdraw now from Iraq. With US troops there holding the circle, the Iraqis have little incentive to develop their own competencies in internal control. With the US still there, the Iraqis have little incentive to make the compromises needed to achieve a stable federal democracy. The Iraqis need to be left to stand on their own two feet.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cambridge Redistricting

August 18th. 2005,
Published in Cambridge Chronicle

I live in Ward 9 of Cambridge in the far western Cambridge Highlands. Politically, as far as the Massachusetts House of Representatives is concerned we are in Watertown which dominates the 29th Middlesex District. The district is barely legal even under the existing rules: there is only about 300 yards of boundary between Cambridge and Watertown where real people from the two towns live side by side. The remaining boundary (required to ensure contiguity) is made up of Mount Auburn Cemetery. I suppose in the bad old days when tombstones voted, the legality of the district was on more solid ground.
This district of mine is symptomatic of the mess that the Massachusetts redistricting process currently enjoys. A quick look at the map of the current boundaries of the Massachusetts Congressional Districts shows that important criteria are not met: districts do have roughly equal numbers, but they are not compact and they have little community of interest – what do the voters of preppie Needham have in common with the voters of blue-collar Fall River (or western Cambridge with Watertown for that matter).
Currently, district boundaries are drawn by the legislators. As we have seen, they have made a mess of it. Unless we devise a better method of setting District boundaries, our troubles will come back at the beginning of the next decade when the new Census is issued and the redesign of districts will have to take place. We need to think through an alternative to the Legislature devising the boundaries.
Think back to when you were a child, if a piece of cake had to be divided between you and a friend, you quickly figured out that the way to get a fair distribution was for one person to cut the piece of cake in half and for the second person to decide which piece to take. That kept the cutter honest and made sure that two equal pieces emerged. It is not like that when it comes to choosing the boundaries of political districts in Massachusetts, the big brothers and sisters on Beacon Hill design and choose the boundaries – it is almost like the politicians choose the voters rather than, as it should be, the voters choosing their representatives. As a result Massachusetts has almost the least competitive election in the US. It is very clear that redistricting is much too important to be left to the politicians who act as the political heirs of Elbridge Gerry to create districts to suit their convenience.
There must be a better, fairer way of setting the boundaries of electoral districts. There are several! Federalism is, after all, a source of experimentation so we can see a number of alternatives existing across different states.
Common Cause and its allies are suggesting a model based on the Electoral Commissions of Iowa and Arizona. A committee of 7 persons is charged with undertaking the redistricting every ten years. Four of these are partisan (selected from a pool of 20 generated by the Senate and House Majority and Minority Leaders) – but are NOT current, past or potential office holders, the other three are experts selected by the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Chief Justice. This small committee then designs one or more plans based on the usual criteria: equal numbers of voters, contiguity, compactness, community of interest, and adherence to the Voting Rights Act. One of these plans is then adopted by a simple majority vote.
This process of designing the boundaries has the advantage of allowing politically motivated input to the system – through the selection of the commissioners – but keeps the politicians at arm's length when it comes to the design and decision. The least of many evils!
We are five years away from the next Census and the need for redistricting. If we start now, at the pace at which the political wheels turn in Massachusetts, we might have just the new procedures in place for 2011. But we have to get started NOW. Common Cause is proposing a ballot initiative to ensure that the question of Fair Redistricting is taken up by the legislature.
Maybe then, Ward 9 in Cambridge will be grouped with other Cambridge Wards in its legislative representation.
See on line version in the Cambridge Chronicle.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Golden Parachutes

Date: June 16th. 2005
Sent to but unpublished in Boston Globe

The figures that have been bandied around about James Kilts' golden parachute mean little to the ordinary person. They need to be described in terms that we can understand.
The average salary in the Boston Metropolitan area is $48,232. Mr Kilts' golden handshake would pay the salaries of 3,421 average persons in Boston. That is the kind of purchasing power that is being taken out of the local economy by the largess thrown to Mr Kilts.
Think about it!

Date: June 17th 2005
Sent to but unpublished in New York Times

So the New York Times has appointed James Kilts to its Board of Directors.
Am I to anticipate that he will gain similar excessive emoluments as he did in his previous position at Gillette – if so, it bodes ill for ordinary employees of the Times.
The average salary in the Boston Metropolitan area is about $48,232. Mr Kilts' golden handshake from Gillette would pay the salaries of 3,421 average persons in Boston. That is the kind of purchasing power that is being taken out of the local economy by the largess thrown to Mr Kilts.
I hope his pecuniary rewards from the New York Times will be more modest.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Date: Aug 11, 2005
Sent to but not published in Boston Globe

with Nancy R. Evans

Like his father before him, Mitt Romney has been brainwashed, as evidenced by his veto of the Emergency Contraception Bill. This time by far right radical fundamentalists.
He has been brainwashed into accepting bad science. The Emergency contraception pill does not cause an abortion. Like the uncontroversial IUD, the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the womb. It is a prevention of conception, not the abortion of a conceived fetus.
He has been brainwashed into believing that the state has an interest in bringing to term any baby no matter how poor and unwelcoming the environment. If anything the state should be encouraging only the births of wanted children. The Roe v Wade decision, it is suggested, has caused the declining crime rates of 20 years later as unwanted fetuses could be aborted.
He has been brainwashed into believing that it is merely an inconvenience for a woman to carry to term a child conceived through rape or incest. This makes the Governor of the State of Massachusetts complicit in exacerbating the outcome of the rape of a citizen of the Commonwealth. That is not somewhere we like to see our Governor stand.
We encourage the Governor to rethink his position. It is hard to break out of the shackles of brainwashing but it can be done. We think the Governor will be well advised to return to the position he took four years ago when running for office.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Romney's evolution

Date: Aug 8, 2005
Sent to but not published in Boston Globe

Governor Romney claims that his views on abortion have evolved over the past three years.
I am sure he meant to say that his ideas had been unintelligently redesigned.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005


Date: August 2, 2005
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

President George W. Bush with his unerring talent for getting things wrong, managed to make a trio of bad decisions in the past day.
He made a recess appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN (Boston Globe, August 2nd, Pages A1 and A12). If ever there was a situation requiring a person with subtlety and strong persuasive, as opposed to bullying, skills, it is the US ambasssadorship to the UN. First strike against G. W. Bush!
He made a strong endorsement of Karl Rove as a "valued member of my team" despite his appeal to everyone to remain silent on the issue of Rove and the Wilson/Plame leak until all the facts were in (Page A3). Strike two!
Finally he announced that "intelligent design" should be taught in high school science classes along with the theory of evolution (Page A7). The problem is that scientifically, there is no controversy. Intelligent design has no empirical evidence in its support -- the theory of evolution does. The ideas of the proponents of Intelligent Design and their social implications can be taught in social studies classes but they have no place in science classes. Strike three!
Surely after three strikes in a single day, he should be out.