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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Condoleeza Rice at Boston College

Date: May 23 2006

Sent to but not published in the New York Times

In her address to students at Boston College yesterday, Dr. Rice wisely stated, "But at those times you're absolutely sure that you are right, go find someone who disagrees. Don't allow yourself the easy course of the constant 'Amen' to everything you say (New York Times, May 22. 2006, page A19).

What a pity she has never been able to persuade her boss, President Bush, to do that. Instead he has consistently surrounded himself with the mindguards of Group-Think.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mistreatment of Detainees

May 18th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

Why have we become a nation characterized by callous indifference? Over the last year the United States has dealt with a number of foreign individuals with an incomprehensible disregard for their well-being.
Today, the Boston Globe reported on the fate of 5 Chinese Uighurs (Globe, May 18th, page A8). These were people captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and interred at Guantanamo Bay for several years. They had all been cleared of terrorist connections by a military tribunal but were kept, as innocent people, at Guantanamo because the could not be returned to their native China which they were fleeing.
Why could the United States not have generously have resettled these people here in the United States? Instead they kept them at Guantanamo until two weeks ago when the courts were about to hear their appeal to be released; they were then shipped to Albania where they are living in a Refugee Center in that impoverished country. One would think that after disrupting their lives, the United States would be eager to make amends by resettling these people in safety in the United States. Now we hear that China is pressing Albania to turn these people over to the tender mercies of the Chinese Government.
But this is not the only case of irresponsible treatment by the United States. Consider the fate of  Mr Kahled el-Masri who was the victim of a mistaken identity.  He was seized by the CIA in Macedonia, held by the CIA for five months in a prison cell in Afghanistan to which he had been rendered, and when it was discovered that the CIA had the wrong man he was returned to Macedonia and dumped on the side of an abandoned road. Note that: dumped on the side of a road, not taken to a decent hotel, not fed and given clothes, and not given help in re-establishing his life. To add insult to injury, his lawsuit against the CIA was dismissed today on national security grounds. Who decided on this treatment. Is it just some insensitive lower level bureaucrat or did the decision emanate from the highest levels of the CIA? That is a question General Hayden should be asked.
Then there is Mr. Maher Arar, a Canadian of Syrian descent. He too was unjustly arrested, when in transit between Tunis and Ottawa while returning via New York from a holiday with his wife and children. In his case, after interrogation at Kennedy airport, he was rendered to the Syrians were he was kept in appalling conditions for a year until it was decided that he had no links to al-Qaeda. He was then returned to Ottawa. Unlike the Canadian Government which is holding an inquiry as to the role Canadian Police and Consular officials may have played in his arrest, a United States court also dismissed his case against the United States Government on National Security grounds.
All these people deserve better. The Uighurs should be brought from Albania and settled in the United States - if we can host 11 million illegal immigrants, adding five refugees whose lives we have upset is the least we can do. Mr el-Masri and Mr. Arar deserve to have their day in court or, failing that, there should be an inquiry (with some evidence given in secret) as to the reasons for their appalling treatment.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Postponment of Constitutional Convention

May 11th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the Boston Globe

To the Editor:
With stunning disregard for the convenience of some of their constituents, the Legislature announced the postponement of the Constitutional Convention (Boston Globe, B section, May 11th.) which should have begun at 1.00 pm on Wednesday.
They paid no attention to the fact that both the supporters and opponents of many of the measures on their agenda had been preparing for this day. Supporters and opponents had spent time and money in lobbying their contacts to put pressure on the members of the Senate and House to vote one way or the other. Many of them timed their efforts to peak just before the Constitutional Convention was to meet.
This effort is all for naught and the effort will have to be repeated in early July when the Constitutional Convention is supposed to meet again. (But given their past performance, this too is an uncertainty.)
A schedule, publicized by the Legislature is, in these days of open, responsible government, a contract between the legislators and the people that they represent. The Legislators of the Commonwealth have broken that contract. I hope they will not do so again.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

May 9th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

The President receives a letter from the President of Iran -- the first high level contact initiated by Iran since 1979. How does the administration respond? Condoleeza Rice says that there is nothing concrete in the letter (Iranian Writes to Bush. New York Times, May 9th. 2006).

I expected better from Dr Rice who is, after all, a distinguished scholar of US-Soviet relations. At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the Americans noticed that two kinds of messages were emanating from Moscow -- harsh and uncompromising letters and those with a more conciliatory tone. The analysts concluded that Hawks and Doves in the Kremlin were jockeying for and temporarily gaining positions of influence. The US responded with a subtle psychological response, reinforcing the conciliators with responses and extinguishing the influence of the hawks by ignoring their messages. The outcome was a success for world peace.

It maybe that a similar struggle is going on among the higher echelons of the Iranian government. But the US is responding with a knee jerk rejection of the overture -- there is nothing concrete here.

Nothing concrete! The very existence of the letter, however philosophical in tone, is a concrete indication that someone in Iran wants to talk. Let us seize this opportunity not reject it out of hand.
There is no hurry. The Iranian crisis has dragged on for a year or so. There is still work to be done at the United Nations to get our allies on board in the Security Council. A few more months of careful negotiation might result in a satisfactory outcome for all.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Boots: On the Ground and in Space

May 5th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

This administration is always misjudging the number of boots required: Too few boots on the ground in Iraq; too many boots on Mars.

The scientific research for the Mars program can be done much more cost effectively with robots.

Heal Insurance Cartoon

May 5th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New Yorker Magazine

I am afraid that your May 1st (New Yorker, page 36) cartoon, "I couldn't afford health insurance, so I became a Christian Scientist," has done us all a great disservice.

I fully expect this theocratic and pharisaical administration to unroll this suggestion as a solution to the problem of the under-insured.

Hearing Loss

April 5th. 2006
Sent to but not published in the New York Times

How insensitive of Maureen Dowd (Two Worn-Out Diplomats, One Fold-Out Bed, Times, April 5th, 2006, Page A23) to chide Walter Cronkite for complaining "that women on TV talk in 'too high a register.' "
Is Ms. Dowd unaware that with age, hearing in the higher registers declines sharply?
As an aging Canadian, my hearing is perfectly good in the lower registers, but at the highest registers it is only about 60% of normal.
However, I support strongly the opportunity for women to move into any jobs they wish -- including Television Anchoring. The women in my life are an Astrophysicist, an Emergency Room Physician, and a language developer for voice recognition software.
For Cronkite and me, there is an easy technological fix: the hearing aid.