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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Date: June 26th.. 2005
Sent to New York Times

Good leaders lead by example.
The image (Sunday Jun. 26, p A8) of Donald Rumsfeld sitting inside the secure shell of a heavily armored Rhino Runner while the troops he leads travel in unarmored Humvees says a lot about what is wrong with our prosecution of the Iraq war.
Good leaders share the risks undertaken by their subordinates. Good leaders accept responsibility when things go wrong. Good leaders ensure that their subordinates have the resources needed to get the job done. Good leaders clarify what needs to be done to achieve the goal.
The top echelon of the Bush administration have failed in each of these aspect of leadership.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Date: June 22nd. 2005
Sent to "Frontline"

According to Frontline there are 120,000 contract employees working in Iraq in support of the coalition forces. Let us be blunt there is a second army of mercenaries working for the United States.
There are four problems with this state of affairs:
  • First, there is the pay inequity between regular troops and the $1000-a-day mercenaries who are doing the same work as the soldiers. Underpayment inequity leads our troops to be resentful of their better paid colleagues. Resentful troops cannot be expected to put in as much effort as those with high morale.
  • Second, there is a lack of flexibility. A soldier doing KP can be turned out in the night to take up a defensive position or go out on an aggressive patrol. You cannot make contract employees do that. So we don't have enough people do to the job properly.
  • Third, there is an appalling lack of coordination. Contractors and their employees aren't under the direct control of the military so inadvertently they may interfere with the operations of the army. This does not make for good tactical presence on the ground. It is hard enough coordinating the regular troops; it is virtually impossible to coordinate their activities with the mercenaries.
  • Finally, we are not getting what we are paying for. As well as the overbilling, we have the hygiene problem: according to NBC news late in 2003, "Pentagon inspections of mess halls run by KBR are finding a mess in some of them... In the main Baghdad dining facility where President Bush surprised the troops on Thanksgiving, inspectors found filthy kitchen conditions in each of the three previous months. Complaints filed in August, September and again October report problems. Blood all over the floor of the refrigerators, dirty pans, dirty grills, dirty salad bars, rotting meats and vegetables. In October, the inspector writes that Halliburton's previous promises to fix the problems have not been followed through and warns the company serious repercussions may result, due to improper handling and serving of food." [NBC News, 12/12/03] In the old days, a good hard-boiled Mess Sergeant would have got a mess like that cleaned up in a day or so -- and the whole crew would have been on extra detail until the kitchen equipment shone like the Excalibur sword.

It seems that we have lost a great deal with the privatization of the military's support functions to the likes of Halliburton who obviously do not care about doing a good job. It is unconscionable that coalition troops should be at risk from the lack of flexibility, lack of coordination, and food poisoning that are the downside of privatization.
Solving this with regular troops will not mean we need to double the boots on the ground; it will mean tripling them -- an appalling prospect.

Monday, June 20, 2005

1130 words A nation of laws not of men. Martin G. Evans Professor Emeritus, Rotman School, University of Toronto. This is a nation of laws not of men. This fundamental bedrock of American society in under attack by the very men and women who make our laws: the state and federal legislators. This must stop. Both major parties are guilty of changing and bending of the rules in order to serve their own political ends. Fortunately, the most recent of these attacks was (partially) turned back at the last minute: the filibuster rule is safe for the time being. L Massachusetts: Law abolishing senate seat vacancy to be filled by selection by Governor. Democratic initiative In the summer of 2004, Massachusetts Democrats had high hopes that by the following January there would be a senate vacancy following the election of Senator John Kerry to the Presidency of the United States. Alas this was not to be. Under Massachusetts law when a mid-term vacancy occurred, the senate seat was filled by a person of the Governor’s choice – it could even be the Governor! With the Massachusetts Governor’s office filled by a Republican, and with large Democratic majorities in the State Senate and State House of Representatives and with the US Senate closely divided, the Massachusetts Democrats introduced a law to change the way in which Senate vacancies should be filled. The proposal was to have a special election for the Senate office. In general this would be a good idea – allowing the people to decide. It is the applicability to the current election that I am objecting to. The law was designed to apply to a particular vacancy: that of John Kerry, with intended benefits to particular incumbents. It should have been drafted so it applied, not to the current potential vacancy, but to vacancies that occurred after the next Senate elections. In that way, the potential Kerry vacancy would have been treated under the rules in place when he was elected, and future vacancies would have been treated under the new rules. That would have been much fairer. L New Jersey: At the request of the democratic Party, the New Jersey State Supreme Court overturned the rule that said the deadline for candidates to file was 51 days before the election. This enabled Frank Lautenberg to run for the United States Senate after Robert Toricelli withdrew as candidate about 36 days before the election. His withdrawal was not due to ill-health. It was not due to family issues. It was not due an appointment as ambassador or cabinet secretary. No, he withdrew because he was losing to Republican, Doug Forrester. This was the most egregious self-serving action taken by the Democrats in recent memory. The rules 2 are there to be followed. One could understand the rule being set aside in the case of death (though in Missouri the dead Mel Carnahan defeated the very much alive John Ashcroft). One could understand the rule being set aside if Torricelli had been appointed to a cabinet position or an ambassadorship. But there is no justification for changing the rule because he withdrew from the race because he was losing. Where is the fairness in that? The Court argued that after Torricelli’s withdrawal, a substitute was required to ensure that the electors of New Jersey had a “full and fair ballot choice” [SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY. A-24 September Term 2002. 53,618]. They had a perfectly good choice until Torricelli withdrew because he was losing. That is not a reason to change the rule. Of course, if after serious consideration, it was felt that the rule was too onerous. The legislature could have changed it; but to be fair, the change should not apply to this race but only to future races. L Texas: redistricting despite no new census. Republican initiative In 2001 the US Census Bureau issued its decennial census report. This triggered a round of redistricting for congressional and state offices in every state in the union. In Texas, the normal bilateral consensus on districts did not emerge so that the districts based on the 2001 Census had to be drawn by a three judge panel of the Federal Court. Following the 2002 election, the Republican-dominated State Legislature decided that the judicially crafted plan was inadequate and developed its own plan. After much excited jockeying with Democratic lawmakers hiding out in Oklahoma (and with the Texas Rangers trying to herd them back to the legislature), the new redistricting plan passed into law and was the basis for the 2004 election. This plan was recently upheld in the District Court. If the plan is overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court, who knows what will happen. Once again, there is an underlying unwillingness to abide by the rule and wait for redistricting until after the 2010 census in 2011. L Federal: abolishment of the filibuster for judicial nominations. Republican initiative. Last month we saw the cliffhanger in the Senate with the Republican majority threatening to use the so-called “constitutional option” or as the Democrats prefer the “nuclear option.” This apocalyptic phrase describes the intent of the Republican majority to remove the opportunity of the minority Democrats to filibuster the President’s judicial nominees. To overcome a filibuster by invoking cloture, 60 votes are needed. However a little used procedure could be invoked by asking the Vice-President in his role as presiding officer of the Senate to declare filibustering judicial nominations as unconstitutional. Upholding the chair’s ruling on such a request requires a simple majority of the Senators present. This is a double attack on the rules. First it destroys the filibuster rule, second it undermines the Senate’s rules for changing its own rules. Changing Senate rules requires a 67% supermajority so requires a large measure of agreement between all members. The constitutional option reduces the bar for change considerably. Once again, this attack goes into effect instantly. A better model would be for any rule change not to be effective until the next congressional session. This would reduce the opportunity for self serving rule changes and allow for deliberate second thoughts to occur – something very lacking, at least until May 23rd 2005 in today’s feverish climate. Fortunately, cooler heads did prevail and a deal was struck that kept the filibuster for judicial nominations intact (but with reduced potency) and allowed the confirmations of some judicial nominations in 3 the Senate. This rush for the immediate application of rule changes is a dangerous one. We see this in much legislation that is sloppily drafted due to the perceived need to act in haste. This speediness is in line with the North American desire for immediate gratification. The best things come after mature deliberation. Both sides should reduce their focus on immediacy and consider the long term implications of their actions

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wrokforce Training

Date: June 14th. 2005
Published in Boston Globe, June 15th, 2005

I strongly support your call for workforce training for the new industries that are growing in Massachusetts.
But let us not forget something much easier and quite current. Over the last weeks we have heard Mayor Menino complain about the lack of summer jobs for high school students and last week the operators of hotels and restaurants on the Cape and in New Hampshire have been complaining about the lack of immigrant labor for their summer operations.
Can't Boston's unemployed students fill these gaps?
I suggest that we start planning now for next year's summer. Let our high schools offer evening programs in waiting, bussing, and room cleaning - perhaps Boston's hotels and restauranteurs can offer experts to staff the courses and sites for students to practice. Then next year we will have a trained labor force ready to fill those dormitories on the Cape with willing and capable workers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Date: June 7th. 2005
Sent to but unpublished in New York Times & [later] to Boston Globe

Who could have imagined in 1984 that many of the predictions in George Orwell's 1948 masterpiece, "1984," would have come to pass 20 years later in George Bush's America.
To be sure we do not have the three mega-countries in a state of continuing open warfare with shifting alliances; but much else is on track
The virtual Ministry of Truth is hard at work spinning the Administration's views. Propaganda pieces developed by the hired hands of the Administration are presented by news organizations as if they were produced by independent organizations.
The administration in the words of Colin Powell, rules a country that is the most accountable in the world. Such is that accountability that no senior level administration official has been held to account for the widespread breakdown in the laws of war that has disgraced America in the eyes of the world. The failure to hold senior officials accountable has exacerbated the problem.
Then there is the way in which language has been distorted to suit the purposes of the speakers, and the use of slogans to hide the reality (the first is from Orwell, the rest from Bush):
  • War is Peace (1984)
  • No child left behind (But there is a lack of funding to provide the extra staff required to fulfill this promise)
  • Homeland security (But there is a lack of funding to proved an increased personnel for first responders and chemical plants are as unprotected as they were on the 9/11)
  • A culture of life (Yes, but for a life lived in poverty and distress for many)
  • Environmental protection (But this has meant a reduction in standards for sewage discharge, for mercury in the atmosphere, and for acid rain emissions)
  • Social Security (The dismantling of the insurance features of the plan)
  • Faith-based Initiatives (the dismantling of the barriers between church and state and the creation of the theocracy anticipated in another great novel: Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaiden's Tale"

And then there is the worst thing in the world. For Winston Smith in 1984 that was a room containing a rat; that rodent caused Smith to break and affirm his love of Big Brother. For the Moslems in Guantanamo Bay, the worst thing in the world was the desecration of the Koran. That was to soften them up so that they would betray their comrades. What an exquisite and subtle form of torture for the devout Moslem!