Search This Blog

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Unfair Comparisons

Date: March 13, 2005
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

Unfair Comparisons

In comparing American combat readiness with that of the Europeans, Thomas Friedman (Week in Review, March 6th., 2005) engages in a columnist's subtle sleight of hand. He says, "only about 5% of the European troops have the training, weaponry, logistical and intelligence support and airlift capability to fight a modern, hot war outside of Europe. (In the US it is 70% in crucial units).
He is comparing apples and oranges – the whole of Europe's armies with "crucial" US army units. This is the same army with over 2 million persons (I hesitate to say "under arms") which cannot sustain a force of 150,000 in Iraq without imposing stop loss orders on those who have completed their commitments.
It sounds to me as if the US is approaching the European state of unpreparedness.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Abandionment of Consular Rules

Date: March 10th., 2005
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

International Standards

Yesterday, the United States took one more step in its rejection of international standards of behavior. The United States withdrew from an Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that ensures that jailed foreigners have the right to talk to consular officers.
This has two chilling effects, one domestic and one international. On the domestic front it is a direct repudiation of the Supreme Court's reasoning that international standards should apply when considering the applicability of the death penalty. Clearly the Bush administration does not agree.
Internationally it represents just one more repudiation of international law and the wrong insistence that the US is accountable to no one but itself. It follows three similar actions:
  • the repudiation of the International Criminal Court.
  • the US pressure to sign bilateral agreements with 50 countries to exclude US citizens from the rules of the ICC treaty.
  • the withdrawal from the Kyoto accords.

We will I fear regret these actions as foreign nations begin to apply our rules to us. The Congress should take steps to pass legislation incorporating the optional protocol on consular relations into United States law. Surely both Democrats and Republicans can agree on the necessity of due process.
This latest action reinforces what I find so despicable about the current administration's actions: it's unwillingness to live by the same rules that it insists that others follow. How sad.

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Reforming Social Security

Date: March 5th., 2005
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

George W. Bush needs to stop his exaggerations and distortions if he wishes to develop a convincing plan to reform Social Security. At present his position is so unconvincing that the support he has will continue to erode.
There are three major issues that he has to put forward with complete accuracy:
  • There is NOT a crisis in Social Security funding; but there IS a moderately serious financing problem. I will suggest one way of dealing with it later.
  • The suggestion that creating privatized accounts will solve the problem is false; other steps will have to be taken. Privatized accounts, by taking money OUT OF the Social Security system will acerbate the problems.
  • The suggestion that there will be money remaining in those privatized accounts for one's heirs is also false. People will be compelled to purchase an annuity. An annuity yielding enough to top up one's social security benefits to current levels will cease on the death of the individual.

Any solutions that are put forward have to be based on these truths, not on the administration's current scare tactic distortions. They misled us once on the Iraq war, shame on them; if they mislead us now on Social Security and we believe them, shame on us.
We can solve the underfunding problem with some modest changes to the current tax regime: remove the cap on individual income (not the employer portion as that might prove to be a job killer) which now stands at $90,000. Doubling the cap would solve the problem for the foreseeable future; removing the cap altogether would add additional funding to the program and would remove the regressive nature of the current Social Security tax.
This additional funding could be used in one of two ways: reduction of the tax rate or to increase benefits for poorer persons. Right now the Social Security formula for computing one's pension depends on Average Lifetime Earnings. Now Social Security pays you 90% of the first $627.00 of monthly income, 32% of income between $628.00 and $3,779.00, and 15% of income above $3,779.00 to the cap of $7500.00 ($90,000.00 per year). It would make sense to increase the lowest bracket to about $800 which is the poverty level for a single person in the US today. It would also make sense to reduce the percentages at higher average incomes. If the cap were doubled, then two new brackets should be added so people earning between $3800.00 and $9,999.99 a month would be paid 10% of that tranche while those between $10,000.00 and the cap at $15,000.00 would be recompensed at 5% of that salary. If the cap were to be totally removed then those earning over $15,000.01 per month would be paid at the rate of 1% of that income; or perhaps an even lower rate.
These suggestions show that there is a relatively simple way out of the problem facing us. It is essential that these actions be taken now before the problem turns into a crisis. As for private accounts, we have them now, the 401(k). These are useful supplements to Social Security, they should not be its core.

Friday, March 4, 2005

Lebanon and Iraq

Date: March 4th., 2005
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Speaking of Lebanon today (March 4th.), President George W. Bush stated that the country could not have a fair and free election while the country was under occupation by a foreign power (Syria).
Is the same true of Iraq?

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Subway Congestion and Flexible Working Hours

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

The problem of peak hour congestion is unlikely to be solved by a surcharge on MBTA fares (Letter, Eric V. Loewenstein, Globe April 1st, 2005). Most people do not have a choice in their hours of work, these are set by their employers. The problem must be addressed through a solution requiring a systemic change involving Boston firms and the public services provided by the MBTA and the police. The solution is the widespread adoption of flexible working hours. In addition to firms increasing their flexibility in working hours, infrastructure changes will have to occur simultaneously with the changes in working hours. The MBTA will have to change its train and bus schedules: rush hour schedules will have to be extended for an hour or two each side of the morning and evening peak hours. The police department will have to put more police on the street during these extended commuting hours. Only if commuting is made easier in these off peak hours will there be a major shift in individual commuting behavior.
Can Boston’s firms, police and politicians muster the energy required to make such cooperation work?

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Was Churchill a Neo-Con

Date: March 1st, 2005
Published in the New York Times Book Review, March 20th. 2005. p 6.

Churchill a neo-con (Jacob Heilbrunn, Book Review, Feb 27, page 27)? I don't think so.
He famously once said "jaw-jaw is better than war-war!" A proposition decisively rejected by the neo-cons.
He also served in the Liberal Government of the early 1900's that introduced Old Age Pensions and Unemployment Insurance and Labor Exchanges -- all anathema to today's neo-cons.
Link to New York Times