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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Date: October 26th., 2005
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

So Tom Birmingham wants to reduce Massachusetts Income Tax rates to 5%. He is living in a fool's paradise if he thinks that the current economic good times can last. With appallingly high deficits (both internal and international, the U.S. is going to face a recession fairly soon. That money in the rainy day fund will be needed to maintain public services.

I have an alternative suggestion, let us simplify the Massachusetts tax code. That would add three or four days of productive work to every Massachusetts tax payer and much more to companies that prepare tax slips for their employees.

What I have in mind is relating the Massachusetts Tax rate to the Federal Taxes paid. This would render the Massachusetts tax system more progressive rather than the current flat tax rate and align Massachusetts policies with those of the Federal Government -- it is not helpful when they tug in different directions (as with taxes on Capital Gains and Dividend Income).
I see the Massachusetts Tax Form as containing four lines:
  • 1. Taxable Income (from US 1040)_________________________
  • 2. Tax paid to Federal Government (from US 1040)___________
  • 3. Multiply line 2 by 0.25 (or whatever % is required to be revenue neutral)____________
  • 4. Amount sent to Massachusetts Department of Revenue _______ OR Amount to be Refunded _________

A copy of the Federal Return would be filed is support of this four line Massachusetts form.
This would make the lives of Massachusetts taxpayers much simpler. Think of all the laws that could be wiped from the books! The only decision to be taken each year is what the rate should be.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Softwood Lumber

Date: October 20th., 2005
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Thank you for Tom Oliphant's informative piece (How Bush muddied relations with Canada, October 20th. 2005, page A15) on the softwood lumber dispute.

But why are we surprised at the Bush Administration's reluctance to abide by the NAFTA Disputes Panel's findings? This is the way that this Administration deals with every domestic or international agreement that it finds, shall we say, inconvenient. This action is on a par with the torture memoranda, the withdrawal from Kyoto, the failure to ratify the International Criminal Court, and the US withdrawal from the obscure Vienna Protocol that ensures that jailed foreigners have the right to talk to consular officers.

The Bush administration just won't play by international rules; rules that it wants everyone else to play by. How sad!

Friday, October 7, 2005

Lack of Planning

Date: October 7th., 2005
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

It really is time for this Administration to go. Not because it makes mistakes, all Administrations do that; but because it fails to learn from its mistakes.
I read in today's "Bush addresses GOP Unease over Nominee" (October 8th, pages 1, 16) that "the White House was working to assemble a dossier that would back up its case about Ms. Miers' record of accomplishment, her legal qualifications, and her conservative credentials."
Why are they only now working on dossier? What information went into the initial decision?
Like with the Iraq war, planning in how to deal with resistance must have been minimal. This Administration just doesn't understand Murphy's law: that if something can go wrong it will. As a result the Administration does not prepare to deal with the worst case scenario: something that all MBA's learn early in their program.
It really is time to get rid of the cronies and replace them with competent professionals in the White House, in the Defense Department and throughout the government.

Roberts and the Three Umpores

Date: October 7th., 2005
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

All this talk about Supreme Court Justices resembling baseball umpires reminded me of the old story of the three umpires talking about balls and strikes.

  • The first says, "I call them as I see them."
  • The second says, "I call them as they is."
  • The third says, "They ain't nothin' till I've called them."

It is this last umperial role that Supreme Court Justices enjoy. Before they rule, the laws and precedents are conflicting, confusing, and ambiguous. After they have ruled, they have created a new reality. The law is clear.

Monday, October 3, 2005

Path Dependence in the Iraq War

Date: October 3rd., 2005
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

The present strategy and tactics for the prosecution of the war in Iraq are not leading to victory. A number of commentators (notably Andrew Krepinevich) have argued that we can turn the current situation around if we employ more troops and change our strategy to the "oil-spot" strategy. This involves pacifying a small segment of the country (or City of Baghdad) and then gradually expanding the perimeter of the pacified portion until more and more of the country is pacified. This means occupying and holding ground rather than the current tactics of smash and grab that have characterized the US's approach so far.
I fear that this is too late. Success in war, as in most things, is path dependent. That is, the viable options available today are constrained (either practically or psychologically) by the decisions made in the past. In practice, there is nothing (except Shinseki's 200,000 troops) to stop us adopting the oil-spot strategy, but psychologically the situation is very different.
Both Americans and Iraqis have been strongly influenced by the Bush administration's decisions of the past two years. Americans have been devastated by the reliance on inaccurate intelligence information that led to the declaration of war. We all remember the administration telling the inspectors "we know exactly where the WMDs are." We couldn't understand why they didn't tell the inspectors the locations (The administration argued that it was because intelligence sources would be compromised). We now know they didn't tell the inspectors because they couldn't. There were no WMDs. Americans were disappointed by the UN's decision not to replace its destroyed mission with a bigger and better one; the flight of the UN represented an early and major victory for the insurgents. Americans were devastated by the prisoner abuses of Abu Ghraib; they are outraged by the lack of accountability for this abuse at the highest levels in the military and the government and the seeming approval of this abuse by the now-Attorney General; those that know are disgusted by the administration's resistance to Senator John McCain's demand that prisoners should be treated according to the principles laid down in the Geneva convention and the torture treaties which are embodied in the US Army Field Manual.
The Iraqis who welcomed the Americans as liberators were outraged in the first days after the war as coalition troops stood by (except for guarding the oil ministry) as Iraq was looted. They were aghast as the National Museum was broken open and its irreplaceable treasures were scattered to the four corners of the earth. They were distressed as reconstruction contracts were given to foreign contractors using foreign employees rather than to local businesses who had the capacity to undertake most of the work and who would have employed local labor. Like Americans, Iraqis were outraged at the abuse of prisoners. Any moral high ground occupied by the Americans in comparison with the regime of Saddam Hussein was lost the night those soldiers took their incriminating digital photographs and distributed them around the world.
Neither Americans nor Iraqis have much confidence left in the Bush Administration. After all that is gone before can we believe the oil-spot strategy? We have an Army that cannot even keep the green zone bomb free. We have a presence on the ground in Iraq that cannot control the road from downtown Baghdad to its airport. Surely that is the test of the futility of adopting the oil-spot strategy. If we could do it, we would at least have done it in that small corner of Iraq. Or if it could be done, we would have expanded the areas around Iraqi police stations and recruiting centers, but we haven't done that. It seems that we are incapable of implementing the strategy on the ground in Iraq. Can anyone provide convincing evidence that it can work? Can anyone estimate the number of troops that it will take to make it work?
Perhaps prior to the discovery that Iraq lacked WMD, the oil-spot strategy might have worked. Perhaps prior to the looting, the oil-spot strategy might have worked. Perhaps prior to Abu Ghraib, the oil-spot strategy might have worked. Now, after all that has happened, I fear that this oil-spot strategy will generate yet another stain on America's honor with the implementation involving a scorched earth policy with inhabitants confined, not to the safety of their ancestral villages, but to concertina wire surrounded concentration camps. That, no doubt, is the way we would do the implementation.