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Sunday, January 30, 2005

January 30th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Your op-ed writer, Abner Mikva (Globe, January 30th, page A11) claims that Bush needs a new lawyer.
President Bush and his colleagues know exactly what they are up to. What Bush needs is a new sense of direction. He needs a sense that the Government can be a positive force for society rather than the destructiveness (of National honor, of accountability, of the rule of law, of trust, and of the Nation's financial stability)  and incompetence  (in Iraq, in Social Security reform, in Medicare (Part D) and in the Gulf of Mexico) displayed by his administration.
Will we see a change of heart in Tuesday's state of the Union Address? I hope so, but the record thus far does not look promising.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Bush, Socal Security, and the Big Lie

Date: January 27, 2005
Sent to but not published by Boston Globe

George W. Bush is an expert in playing the game of accusing his opponents of the sins that he himself is guilty of. He is quoted as saying in yesterday’s press conference (Boston Globe, January 27, 2005: A 3) that “those who want to derail a Social Security agenda ... by scaring people.” It is Bush and his minions who are going around scaring people with the big lie that the Social Security system is in deep trouble. Most assessments of the System agree that “minor modifications” of the system are required -- a modest change in the income level on which Social Security taxes are levied will do the trick. The draconian changes proposed by the President are completely unnecessary.
Instead of engaging in a sensible reform program, which we agree is necessary, he is determined to destroy the system while claiming to be saving it. Private accounts have three major flaws -- flaws that have been amply demonstrated by the disastrous privatization undertaken by the UK’s Thatcher government in the 1970's (and it was a disaster for both pensioners and for the insurance companies providing the pension benefits). These three flaws are the problem of volatility; the problem of individual plan costs; and the problem of transition costs. The first two accrue to the individual, the last to the country.
Any one who has lived through the past five years knows that share prices can go down as well as up; as can bond prices. Individuals with their private plans can win or lose in these two markets. As a result the capital they amass may or may not be sufficient to compensate for the reduction in Social Security benefits. The nice thing about Social Security benefits are that they do not run out – individual privatized accounts do not have similar longevity.
The Social Security trust fund has microscopic administrative costs (about 0.3% of its assets and many of these costs are not incurred for the administration of the trust fund but for assessing eligibility and making payments to the 40 million beneficiaries -- retirees and disabled employees). Privatized plans operating through brokerage houses, mutual fund companies, and insurance companies have much higher expense ratios – only TIAA-CREF and Vanguard have expense ratios in this ballpark for their Asset Allocation funds; funds in this class have average expense ratios 1.28% (according to Lipper). These administrative costs will reduce the capital that accrues in the individual’s account. Social Security enjoys enormous economies of scale that the individual cannot duplicate.
If funds that are currently paid into the Social Security trust fund are diverted to private accounts, the country will have to make up the difference. This means that we will start dipping into the trust fund next year rather than 20 years from now and it means that the trust fund will be exhausted in about seven or eight years rather than in 40 or 50 years from now. It is estimated that an additional $2 trillion debt will be incurred by the US; debt that international capital markets will be very chary about funding.
These are real costs that Bush and his yea-sayers do not mention. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, so watch what Bush and his spokes-people are saying as the volume of their scary talk increases over the next stage of the Social Security debate. And ask the tough questions that they ignore.
The past election was supposed to be about morality, what Bush is saying about Social Security is not moral; what Bush intends to do about Social Security is not moral.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

January 25th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Your editorial today (January 25th.) on Canada's "partial turn" has, I think, a more accurate description of the state of affairs in the body of the editorial where you talk of a repudiation of the Liberal Party. Although the right wing Conservative (Tory) Party gained 25 extra seats, the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) also gained 10 seats.
It is hard to imagine a long-lasting coalition between these two parties. Yes, there will probably some agreement around good government issues, but on social and economic issues the two are far apart. The Tories want to cut taxes, increase the level of private health care and turn back the law allowing gay marriage. The NDP has the opposite view on each of these issues.
One area where there might be room for cooperation, if the Tories remember their history, is to move the country to some form of Proportional Representation.With 17.5% of the popular vote the NDP has only 9% of the parliamentary seats. In the 2000 Election, the Tories had 12.19% of the vote but only 4% of the seats; the Alliance party which later merged with the Tories was also slightly under-represented: 25.49% of the popular vote but only 21.6% of the seats in parliament. So both parties have an interest in a system of Proportional Representation
Such a system would provide a better reflection of the wide variety of views held by the Canadian population and better represent its geographic diversity.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Broken Promises: Iran and Alito

January 14th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Washington Post

Iran's move toward resuming nuclear research is likely to result in a full court hearing at the UN Security Council. Judge Samuel Alito's failure to recuse himself in the Vanguard Mutual Fund Case is getting a free pass.
Yet these cases are identical.
Under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty countries are entitled to undertake non-military nuclear research. Under the conflict of interest laws, Judge Alito had insignificant ownership in the Vanguard Fund Management Company (even though he, like me, had investments in Vanguard Mutual Funds) so was not required to recuse himself.
Nevertheless, Iran had promised France, Germany and the United Kingdom that it would not undertake any nuclear research while negotiations on Iran's Nuclear Program were under way. Similarly, Judge Alito, during his confirmation hearings for an seat on the Appeals Court promised to recuse himself from any cases involving Vanguard. He put no time limits on this promise.
Why are these two identical cases getting such different treatment?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

January 13th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

In 1985, Samuel Alito stated on his job application for a promotion in the Justice Department that he was "a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton University, a conservative alumni group."
He now has no recollection that he belonged to this group. Examination of the records of one of the group's founders has no mention of Alito in the group's minutes (Alito sidesteps Democratic punches, January 13th. A1, A14). Perhaps his recollection is correct and he was never a member.
This raises the question: was he padding his resumé in order to increase his chances of getting the job he sought?

January 14th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Lehrer News Hour

In yesterday's Brooks and Shields segment, Mark Shields suggested that Judge Alito had never been a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton group but had added this incorrect information about his membership to his job application in order to create a positive impression with the hiring team.
This is called resumé padding.
In most organizations such behavior makes one liable for dismissal. If Mark Shields is correct, why is Judge Alito getting a free pass?

Senators Deference to Bush

January 13th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

I agree with your editorial (Pro-Choice Senators and Judge Alito, January 13th, 2006. A22) which states that Judge Alito has tipped his hand with regard to his anti-abortion views. But there is one very high hurdle that Senators Specter, Chaffee and Collins will have to overcome if they are to vote against confirmation: that is deference to the President's wishes. This is especially strong when President and Senator share the same party affiliation.
To help overcome this hurdle, I would argue that the President has, over the past five years, forfeited his right to claim compliance with his wishes from the Senators. His actions have systematically undermined the rule of law in this country. His use of warrantless spying on Americans will I am sure be declared unconstitutional and it is so unnecessary as under current law NSA can undertake surveillance without a warrant for 72 hours. Surely that allows NSA to move swiftly and surely. Secondly his repudiation of the McCain amendment on torture in his signing statement is a direct violation of the intent of Congress. Thirdly, his failure to hold anyone, other than low level "grunts," accountable for the actions at Abu Ghraib is unconscionable.
Finally there is his appalling ignorance. Despite his years of education at Yale and Harvard, he doesn't understand the first thing about the managerial decision making process. His decision to go to war in Iraq was marred by group-think and uncertainty absorption (the removal of data about the level of confidence the CIA had in its information about weapons of mass destruction), and perhaps willful misinformation by his subordinates (It's a slam-dunk, Mr President). A well-informed leader would not have allowed this perversion of the process.  Additionally, despite a well founded understanding that torture does not produce valid information, the President insists on reserving the right to have his agents torture suspects to extract information. This is a totally unnecessary right to retain.
I believe that these actions on the part of the President release his Senatorial colleagues from the obligation to defer to his nomination by voting for confirmation of Judge Alito.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

John Dean and George Bush

January 6th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

In the recent ACLU advertisement in your pages (January 5th, A15), John Dean puts the wrong question when he asks, "What asserted powers will Bush use next?"
The real question is what powers is he already using that we haven't learned about yet. Carry on New York Times with your voyage of discovery! You owe it to the nation.