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Monday, January 29, 2007

Steps to Citizenship [very long post]

The Application

On May 5th of 2005, after a wait of three years (my spouse is an American Citizen so I only had to wait three years rather than the usual five), I became eligible to apply for United States Citizenship. In preparation, I had downloaded the application forms from the Homeland Security website and started to fill them out. Most questions were easy, though some gave me pause – would contributing to John Kerry’s campaign render me a member of a subversive group? What about being a card-carrying member of the ACLU – almost a requirement for those of us living in liberal Massachusetts? Or even Common Cause? And what about working for the gubernatorial candidacies of Robert Reich and Deval Patrick – they’re all about upsetting the status quo. Does that make me a subversive? I decided not and I hope that Homeland Security comes to the same conclusion. The next question that gave me trouble was to fully enumerate the times that I had been outside the United States in the past five years. For the first two of those years I had lived in Toronto while commuting frequently to Boston for conjugal visits with my wife and I had worked here for a couple of summers on a “NAFTA visa.” Fortunately, every year my wife and I throw our old diaries into a sock drawer so I was able to reconstruct the thirty-nine trips that I had taken out of the US (for a total of 469 days, fortunately only 86 were in the three-year period that I had been an US resident). I then had to assemble the needed documentation – marriage certificate and my wife’s birth certificate.

After this burst of activity, the forms sat on our dining room table for months – to the despair of my wife who likes things tidy. I was deeply ambivalent about forswearing allegiance to those foreign powers who had nurtured me in my youth (Wales) and which had been the background of my life for more than thirty years (Canada). It was not easy to take that positive step of renouncing allegiance to Canada – a country where “peace, order and good government” supercedes rugged individualism, a country where national health insurance is a privilege of
residence, and where civil life in Toronto rivals that of Boston. I also wondered whether I wanted to join this country that has, in recent years, “lost its sacred honor” through the waging of unprovoked war, through its extra-legal detention center at Guantanamo Bay, through the White House torture memoranda and the excesses at Abu Ghraib, through the broad-based wiretapping of citizens, and the appalling level of groupthink evident at the highest levels of government. My vacillations took nine months to resolve and I finally decided that living here I wanted to have influence through my vote on the political well being of the country – though one more Democratic vote in Massachusetts is unlikely to be highly influential.

So I got my photographs taken, wrote my check to the Federal Government, and sent off my application. A week later, it was returned. I had miscalculated the fee for the application and the fingerprinting and had come up ten dollars short – it must have been that ambivalence still at work. So I rewrote the check and sent the application back. That goof cost me two weeks in the queue of aspiring citizens.


After two months, I received a letter from Homeland Security inviting me to the Boston office so that I could be fingerprinted. My appointment was for 2.00 p.m. and when I arrived the room was packed – there were at least 140 people ahead of me including about 30 in line to give their names to the receptionist and get a number to put them in line for processing. The line moved forward fairly rapidly – it took about 20 minutes before I was seated on one of the uncomfortable plastic airport seats filling out the required questionnaire – more vital statistics: height, weight, hair color, that was easy, it’s grey, eye color, more difficult they are grey blue, but I opted for blue and hoped I had done the same thing on my application! Then came the interminable wait. I was finally called at 4.00 p.m. I guess the government, unlike business, hasn’t heard of just in time scheduling, or maybe there were just a lot of people –like me – whose prints were very difficult to capture with the new technology. I with several others then moved from the crowded discomfort of the waiting room to the high technology laboratory of the fingerprinting room. Around the room were eight stations where fingerprinting technicians practiced their craft. At each station was a computer attached to a horizontal glass screen bright with a subdued red light.

After entering my vital statistics into the computer, the technician seized my left hand, vigorously scrubbed the four fingers and pressed them lightly to the horizontal glass screen -- my grey prints appeared on the computer screen. It seemed those were unacceptable as the technician pressed a button and they vanished. My fingers were scrubbed again, the horizontal screen was polished, my fingers were pressed to the screen. This time the grey images of whorls and loops were deemed acceptable. My left thumb then received the same treatment. The left hand then was scrubbed and scrutinized and the prints recorded for the FBI. Ah, it is over I thought -- but no, the prints from individual fingers had to be captured on screen. This involved the technician holding the right side of the finger to the screen, starting the scanner, and then rolling the fingertip so that the whole tip had been pressed to the glass plate. This took a long while -- it took two or three attempts to get the print from each finger to be scanned correctly -- sometimes the right-hand side and the center would be clear but the left-hand side would be blurred, sometimes, the center would be smeared, and sometimes the attempt would be terminated in mid-scan.

By 4.30 p.m. I was out on the Boston street and thought “Ah. My application is one step closer to acceptance.” I was wrong! Six weeks later I received another summons from Homeland Security. It curtly told me that the FBI had been unable to process my set of prints and that unless I returned for a second visit, my application would be considered to have been abandoned. At least they did not charge me an additional fee.

This time my appointment was at 8.00 a.m. and the preliminaries went very smoothly. When I arrived at 7.40, there were already 20 people ahead of me in the queue -- about half of them oriental of some sort. I'd not be able to say whether they were Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, Singapore Chinese, or Thai or Indonesian. I have always been cautious about inferring nationality from appearance ever since my embarrassment in one of my classes when I said condescendingly to a group of students "I expect the issue of women in management is very different in your culture." To which, one of the students replied "What does you mean our culture? I am from Singapore, he is from Hong Kong, she is from Indonesia, and he is from Korea!" The rest of us were a mixed bag: blacks, Hispanics, and whites in equal proportions. All in line to become United States citizens. Although our appointments were for 8.00am, the staff had opened the doors early and started processing us at 7.45. I only had to wait about 10 minutes to reach the receptionist and another 10 minutes seated in the waiting room with its
uncomfortable plastic seats locked in ten unyielding rows -- I know because, when standing in line, I tried to pull one of the seats out to sit on it.

Then my number was called and I went to be fingerprinted. Alas, I failed the first hurdle, my hands were grey with printer's ink from that morning's Globe. After an ignominious banishment to the washroom and a good scrubbing, I was deemed clean enough to proceed to the fingerprinting laboratory.

The process went very much as last time – whole hand, thumb and individual finger prints were taken. The first two sets of print taking went smoothly, though with lots of hand cleaning and screen polishing. But the individual fingers took a long time: as before, it took two or three attempts to get the prints scanned correctly -- either I was pressing too hard, or I was not relaxed enough, or I was resisting the technologist as she rolled my fingertip to get a full picture -- whatever it was, it took the technician, and the supervisor a full 15 minutes to get a perfect -- I hope -- set of prints.

I was out of the office by 8.30 -- a really remarkably swift passage through the INS bureaucracy. Now I sit and wait, for what? More fingerprinting or a taxing examination on the American way of life: now just what is the 23rd amendment to the Constitution? Oh yes, that is the one giving the District of Columbia three Electors in the Electoral College.

The Citizenship Test

My test was scheduled for 11.30 in the JFK building – which I discovered from the map was on Cambridge Street in Boston (not Cambridge Street in Cambridge) and was nowhere near the other building named for JFK: the Library on Columbia Point in the Harbor. I was glad I found that out well before my appointment.

Before leaving the house and setting off, I do a final check that I had everything – including three years worth of Federal Tax submissions. I had forgotten those until the previous evening and, as always happens, I had a nasty, panicky half an hour trying to clear a paper jam on our copier/printer. But they were all copied in time. My check revealed that I had my tax forms, my passport, my drivers license, and my Green Card. Fortunately I didn’t need any money as all my fees were paid in advance.

It was a beautiful warm July day as I strolled along the Freedom Trail (wait, I didn’t see any sample Citizenship test questions about Paul Revere. Where did he ride from, and to?). The tourists crowded Kings Chapel burying ground, but the local coffee shop was open so I quickly got a shot of liquid to see me through the coming test. City Hall Plaza’s 1960's brutality was softened by the local Farmer’s Market with good-looking produce on display.

Unlike my previous interaction with the INS, the JFK building was heavily guarded so we all had to go through security scans before entering the building. Then walked for what seemed to be a mile until we reached the room where the dreaded test was to be administered. I arrived to a full room filled with people in their best clothes sitting in those uncomfortable plastic airport seats that the Federal Government provides. The receptionist, busy on the phone, took my invitation/command letter and briefly told me to take a seat.

Looking around the room, one wall was dominated by giant photographs of the President and the vice-president. Other walls had instructions in English and Spanish about what to do: hand in your letter, then sit and wait. Finally over the receptionist’s desk was a tiny photograph, well I guess it was an 8 by 10 print, but compared to the Presidential display it was tiny, of the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff (Hmm, I hope they don’t expect me to spell that on the test!).

As I sat waiting, I reviewed what people had told me. My friends to a man and woman said: don’t be cute! If they ask who the President is, don’t say Dick Cheney, but George Bush is his front man. Don’t get into a big discussion about how the Electoral College needs reform. Remember that the most recent states are Alaska, Hawaii, and Arizona – the last is easy, If Barry Goldwater had been born a few years earlier in the Arizona territory he could not have run for President. There are 50 white stars on a blue ground, there are thirteen stripes, six white and seven red. They represent the thirteen original states – and they were formally colonies ruled by an earlier King George.

After engaging in these musings, I was called to my examination – only a thirty minute wait. I was very impressed by how short the wait had been. My first interaction with the young lady who was my examiner, discombobulated me. I had expected to sit down across the desk from her, but she asked me to stand in front of the chair and to raise my right hand – I actually managed to get that correct, though when I am driving and am told to take a left turn I often have to think which is left and which is right. I then swore to tell the truth in my answers.

Then I was asked to produce my Green Card, My Passport and my Drivers License. I got the first and last from my wallet easily, but my passport got stuck in my coat pocket and I had to empty its contents, a couple of pens, a bit of paper with the directions to the JFK Building, and a large wadge of paper with my printout of the Constitution and its amendments which I had been studying on the subway, and finally the recalcitrant passport. Needless to say by the time I got everything on the desk in front of her, I was sweating and my hands trembled.

She then asked if I had brought in my tax forms. I had and gave them to her. She started perusing them line by line. Eventually she looked up and asked why I was getting pensions from Canada. I told her that we’d lived and worked there for 35 years.

Then she started to go through my application: how did I meet my wife. I told the wonderful story of how a girl I’d dated in Graduate School had been in High School with Nancy and how, with both of us moving to Toronto in the same month – Nancy for Graduate School, me for a junior faculty position – she had suggested we get in touch. We did and it is almost forty years since that fateful day of our first date.

Pretty soon she moved on to our complex Canada/US commuting arrangements while Nancy
worked as an research scientist in Cambridge and I continued teaching and research in Toronto, Canada. We had over thirty trips in the two years before I immigrated to the US. Fortunately I had spent enough time in the US since immigrating to qualify for citizenship.

Next came the interrogatory: had I ever spent money on a prostitute? No. Had I advocated the overthrow of the US Government? No. In accordance with my friends’ advice I did not qualify my answer with: This Administration, Yes; the Government, No! Had I ever been in prison? No. Had I ever been a Communist? No. Had I been associated with Nazis? No. And so on.

Then came the test. When was the constitution ratified? 1781. WRONG, it was 1787. What is the head of a city government called? The Mayor. Who succeeds to the Presidency if both the President and the Vice-President are incapacitated? Fortunately I had looked that one up last week, the President pro tem of the Senate (and I added as a bonus that Ted Stevens was the current incumbent). She smiled for the first time. How many Senators are there: Fifty? No, a hundred.

This was followed by an English test. I was required to read a simple sentence and then take dictation on another simple sentence. That I could do.

Finally, I was told that my application could not yet be given preliminary approval. The FBI was still on my case and had not yet given clearance. I asked how much longer that would take. She replied that they couldn’t really tell, some people were cleared in a few week, others took several months. They’d let me know when it was done. I had to be satisfied with that answer and walked out into the Boston sunshine, bought a fresh loaf at the Farmer’s market and went home, one step nearer my goal of U.S. citizenship.

Waiting, waiting, ...waiting. And finally taking the Oath of Allegiance.

My test and interview had been in June. My swearing in was in November so I waited for four long months to hear whether I had been successfully cleared by the FBI. Despite the wait, I think that from applying in March to being accepted in November showed the INS at its expeditious best.

While waiting, I carried on with my usual weekly schedule: volunteering with Deval Patrick’s campaign, reading for the blind, attending research seminars at Harvard, MIT, and Brandeis, and volunteering at Common Cause.

There were a couple of low points. The INS has a wonderful on-line system whereby an applicant can track the progress of his/her case. Sometime in August, my case disappeared from the on-line files, so being a worrier I started worrying about what might have happened – failed the FBI screening, a lost case file, or something worse: immanent extraordinary rendition back to Wales. My fears were set at rest by a casual conversation with an immigration lawyer that I met. He said that this happened all the time: just a computer glitch.

The second low point was when President Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act in mid-October. This removed habeas corpus protections from aliens who were deemed to have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States”. As I write extensively, but rarely get published, about politics with a strong level of opposition to the current administration, my worry turned to paranoia. As I said in an unpublished letter to the Boston Globe:

“Call me paranoid if you like but I am getting a little bit scared. I am a Green Card Holder and am, I hope, in the last stages of getting my U.S. citizenship. I also frequently write letters to the newspapers, mostly unpublished, decrying the actions of the current administration.

Today the President signed into law a bill that removes Habeas Corpus safeguards from Green Card Holders if they are deemed to "give material aid" to terrorists.

If I write that terrorist suspects should receive the benefits of Habeas Corpus, is that giving material aid?

If I write that the US reliance on the State Secrets defense in the Arar and el-Masri cases is misguided, is that giving material aid?

If I write that retrospective legislation indemnifying US agents against war crimes is odious (Boston Globe, August 13th. 2006), is that giving material aid?

If I write that this administration has shown a contempt for international law, for the Geneva Convention, and for the Vienna Protocol on consular relations, is that giving material aid?

I hope not. But I am no longer sure and that is why I am just a little bit scared.”

Fortunately my worries were for naught and just a week later I received my summons to attend a Citizenship ceremony at the Hynes Center in Boston. The Hynes – that’s huge, they must be going to induct a whole lot of people. Yes, as I read on, I was told to arrive at 9.00 am and that the ceremony would last six, yes six hours. That does sound like a whole lot of people. To our surprise there was no information in the letter about whether or not one could bring guests and what accommodations would be made for them. The INS would be a whole lot more welcoming if they provided a flyer giving that information.

We had little information from the INS about the role that guest might play, but we assumed that guests would be permitted to attend, so my wife drove me into Boston for the Citizenship Ceremony. We arrived at the Hynes at about 8.50 for our 9.00 am appointment. We entered into a large hanger like exhibition hall were we were triaged into three groups: Line 1, Line 2, and family. To our surprise, family members were shunted upstairs to the balcony of the auditorium while the citizens-in-waiting joined the long lines snaking across the exhibition hall – alas no exhibits on display to distract us. We were also told that the swearing in ceremony would not begin until 1.00pm or perhaps 1.30. My wife, who has a busy week at work, like all her weeks, elected to go back to work and return to see the ceremony at 12.45 p.m.

We were told to have available our letters calling us to the ceremony and our Green Cards. My line moved fairly rapidly and led me to an escalator up to the next floor. We were instructed to get out our forms and our Green Cards. Prior to coming to the Ceremony we had each filled in the forms swearing that we had not become Communists or criminals in the past four months. Then up the escalator to a walk along a passage that ran the whole frontage of the Hynes Center. At the end there was a cluster of people with clipboards, each of us was quickly assigned to a clipboard burdened employee and had our forms briefly reviewed and we were “checked in.” Then we were directed to the Table to which our form indicated. Several people sat at the table
and one person stood at the end nearest the queue and greeted us by asking to see our Green Card. She then called out the Alien Registration Number; one of the people sitting, checked the card number and responded with a “Yes,” then the greeter seized my Green Card and threw it unceremoniously into a bin!

By 9.20 we were through the complete check in and entered the Hynes auditorium. We were guided politely but firmly to our row of seats – no gaps allowed, no saving places for friends, just sit where you are told and we settled down for the wait until the 1.00p.m. ceremony. The Hynes auditorium still had the enormous flag from the previous evening’s Deval Patrick victory rally – we didn’t attend because we had to make an early start for my Oath Taking. As we sat waiting, the occasional piece of confetti from the night before gently floated down on to the heads of the waiting crowd.

Fortunately we did not have to sit there all that time, though as far as I could tell most people did. By 12.15 with two additional influxes of citizens-in-waiting, there were 1804 of us sitting in the room. But before that, I took advantage of obtaining a “restroom pass” and spent a little time phoning Nancy and wandering around the mall.

Most of the people sitting waiting quietly were dressed in Western clothes, through there were a few Indians in Saris, Arab women with modest head scarves and African men in dashiki shirts. During the time we were waiting, names were called for people whose check in process had gone awry – fortunately not mine.

At about 12.30, we were called to order and told what to expect. Shortly the District Court Judge would arrive and her presence would turn this enormous auditorium into a branch of the Court. We were all to rise on the call of the clerk and we weren’t to leave until the INS personnel told us to -- and that wouldn’t happen until all the guests had left the building. He also mentioned that in the guest section were a bunch of children from a local school, smartly dressed in their school uniforms, who had come to the ceremony to support one of the school’s food service staff who
was becoming a citizen.

Soon after this, the judge and her procession entered the auditorium. It included the clerk of the court, an INS representative and two small children.

The Ceremony was soon under way. First the INS representative introduced the fact that about 350 people wished to change their names and that these wishes had been investigated and did not represent a security threat to the United States. The judge allowed the name changes to proceed.

Then he stated that 1804 people wished to become US Citizens, that we had been investigated and deemed to be worthy citizens. We then rose and repeated the oath of allegiance, line by line.

We then were shown how to pledge allegiance to the flag by the two children in the procession and we then did that too.

Then the judge made a few remarks about her family’s immigrant background, about the service men who were getting their citizenship, and the opportunities that were opening up to us in the years ahead. Unfortunately, as the ceremony began at 12.40, and as Nancy did not get back to the auditorium until 12.45, she did not see me take the oath or the pledge and just caught the last half of the judge’s remarks. We were a bit upset at the misinformation we had received about the time of the ceremony.

That was it, the judge’s procession left the auditorium. No calling of country names to identify the polyglot group that we surely were -- my neighbors in my row of seats were from Morocco and from Columbia; no political big wig to welcome us to the country – all, no doubt exhausted from the recent campaign.

We then waited to leave the auditorium and pick up our Citizenship Certificates. Fortunately they used the FIFO system: first in, first out. So we 9.00 am veterans got to leave first. But we were carefully enjoined to go back to the same table where we had checked in. There we handed in our forms, which most had been clutching throughout, and received our Certificates of American citizenship.

Then I passed out of the auditorium and into the mall for lunch with Nancy and into a new life in an America that was a lot bluer than it had been the evening before.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Wisest Fool in Christendom

As the years go by, George W. Bush begins to resemble King James I of England (and VI of Scotland).

It was said of King James that he was the "wisest fool in Christendom" because he "never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one."

Mr Bush's words and deeds are totally disconnected. He spoke eloquently of the rebuilding of New Orleans but never raised a finger to help. He talked of making sacrifice in Iraq but never did anything to impose those sacrifices on Americans except for those in the military and their families.

And Mr Bush certainly believes in the "divine right" of Presidents.

What a disconnect; what a wise fool!

Sent to Washington Post, January 26., 2007.

Partition Iraq

(Note: something similar was first posted in June 2006)

I must commend your columnist, David Brooks (New York Times, January 25, 2007) finally coming to accept the fact that the only solution in Iraq is some form of partition accompanied by soft ethnic cleansing.

The main stumbling blocks to the tripartite partition of Iraq are multi-ethnic neighborhoods, oil, and money. As Sunni-Shiite conflict increases, people are fleeing their multi-ethnic neighborhoods. If they can afford it they are moving abroad, if not they are moving to an area of Iraq where their co-religionists are dominant. Instead of trying to fight the insurgents let each faction have its own country and then deploy the US troops and the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish militias to facilitate large scale movement of people from their multi-ethnic neighborhoods to the parts of the country where they wish to live. Troops (and a large computer database) could ensure that Sunni families could "swap" the houses they owned in the Shiite part of the country with houses that Shiites owned in the Sunni section. Once all those people who want to move have been moved, the U.S. can withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Oil unfortunately is only found in the Kurdish and Shiite parts of the country, so that sharing the oil revenues is a source of friction between the three sectors of Iraq. I suggest that we do not try to engage in finding a correct formula for sharing those revenues between the three hostile faction. Rather, I suggest that the Shiite part keep all its oil revenues, that the Kurds keep all their oil revenues, and that the US step in to ensure that the Sunni part is financially viable by agreeing to pay a subsidy of $22 billion per year (roughly equivalent to five-twelfths of Iraq's oil revenues at current prices; and much less than the $95 billion annual economic cost of the war) for a twenty year period. By providing this subsidy at this level, each of the three pieces of current Iraq will do rather better out of the oil revenues than they would if Iraq were kept together in an uneasy federal system.

This separation of Iraq into homogeneous religious and ethnic states will undermine the raison d'ĂȘtre of the insurgency. It will give the inhabitants of the three states the opportunity to develop indigenous democratic systems. It will give them the option, if they so desire, to build a federal state in the future. Most importantly it will enable the U.S. to extricate itself from Iraq and leave behind three states with a high potential for stability.

Sent to New York Times, January 25th., 2007.

More Deafening Silences

Yes, Jeff Jacoby is right (Democrats' silence on jihad is deadly, Boston Globe, January 24th., 2007: A9) when he calls on Democrats to show a stronger concern about the War on Terror.

But Mr Jacoby is silent too. He fails to point out that it was President Bush who dropped the ball in the war on terror: failure to pursue Osama bin Laden into the hills of Bora Bora; withdrawing troops from the Afghanistan front on the war on terror to pursue an ill-advised side show in Iraq that has become a drain on American resources, human and financial. It is President Bush who has failed to allocate funds for checking cargo being imported into the USA. It is President Bush who has failed to insist that Chemical Plants incorporate sound protection against terrorist attack. The Bill of Particulars on the President's failures in the war on terror goes on and on.

Mr Bush, not surprisingly, was also silent on the Administration's need to undo other errors of the past years: the torture memoranda, the removal of habeas corpus, the warrantless spying program and, most recently, the Administration's attack on Lawyers. Mr Jacoby was wrong in not condemming Mr Bush's silence.

Sent to Boston Globe, January 24th., 2007.

Deafening silence from CEO's on Stimson

Your editorial (Apology not accepted, January 19th, 2007) talks of the President's deafening silence on Cully Stimson's comments about lawyers defending the suspected terrorists interned at Guantanamo.

Another group that have been silent are the CEO's of America's biggest companies. I have not heard any outcry from these CEO's or the organizations representing them stating their refusal to succumb to Stimson's attempt to blackmail them.

That I find truly worrying.

Sent to New York Times, January 21., 2007.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Attack on Lawyers and updating "They Came for Me"

First came Deputy Assistant Secretary Stimson's remarks suggesting that Corporations should cease to patronize law firms which did pro bono work for suspects held at Guantanamo. This was followed by the administration's firing of U.S. attorneys who, in some cases, have pursued corruption cases too successfully.

These attacks on lawyers must be resisted. The situation today is all too reminiscent of the situation described in the poem Martin Niemöller is said to have written in 1946:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The attack on lawyers is just one more chapter in the overall attack on civil liberties by the Bush administration which can be reflected in an update of the poem:

"First they came for the enemy combatants, and I did not speak out -- because I was neither an enemy nor a combatant;

Then they came for those seeking or providing abortions, and I did not speak out -- because I neither sought nor provided abortions;

Then they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Muslim;

Then they came for the gays and lesbians, and I did not speak out -- because I was neither a gay nor a lesbian;

Then they came for the buyers and borrowers of books, and I did not speak out - because I neither bought nor borrowed a book;

Then they came for the remaining non-Christians; and I did not speak out because I was not a non-Christian;

Then they came for the non-Evangelicals, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a non-Evangelical;

Then they came for the lawyers, and I did not speak out - because I was not a lawyer.

Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Really civil liberties are inseparable -- an attack on any of these groups is an attack on us all.

Sent to Boston Globe

Stem Cell Research

Yuval Levin omitted one important fact in presenting his argument against the harvesting of embryonic stem cells because harvesting could not be accomplished without destroying the embryos (A middle ground for stem cells, New York Times, January 19th., 2007: A27). The missing fact is that the embryos used are created in the course of fertility treatment and will be destroyed in any case.

So the moral argument cannot be based on the fact of the destruction of the embryos but must be based on some other grounds. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what those might be.

Sent to New York Times

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Attack on Iranian Consulate in Arbil (or Erbil)

Even as George W. Bush was speaking on Iraq last night, American forces engaged in a unnecessary offense against International law.

They attacked the Iranian consulate in Arbil, north of Baghdad and arrested five people.
An attack on a Consulate is a violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Once again George Bush is taking the law into his own hands, once again our enemies now have an excuse to treat us and our missions abroad in the same way.

The attack was unnecessary, the way of dealing with suspicious (read supporting insurgents) activity in a consulate is clearly defined by the Convention. The Iraq government merely had to declare the members of the Consular staff to be “persona non grata” and the Iranian government would have had to withdraw them.

Why, oh why, does this administration always go about things in a way that destroys international cooperation rather than trying to build it? That I will never understand.

Sent to New York Times, January 11th, 2007

Op-Ed: Troop Deployment

One of the things that we teach in Business Schools is that the Human Resources strategy has to be consistent with the business strategy. As the business strategy shifts then so to the Human Resources strategy has to shift.

We went into the Iraq war expecting that once the fighting was over there could be a rapid handover to the Iraqis who would have welcomed us with smiles and flowers. The honeymoon lasted for about three days and we were soon embroiled in trying to reconstruct the Iraq infrastructure and trying to contain an insurgency.

Our Human Resource strategy was based on the initial strategy of handing over things to the Iraqis. Our human resource strategy involves rotating troop into Iraq for a six month tour of duty and then having six months or so in a safe haven to retrain the servicemen and women and refurbish equipment.

These six month tours of duty are too short to meet the needs of the current military strategy of builing security and rebuilding the infrastructure. And it is even more unsuited to the forthcoming strategy of “seize and hold.”

The reason is that in Iraq trust is established between people, rather than between institutions. In many of the books about Iraq that I have read, young officers complain that it takes three or four months for them to build up rapport with the local population and the local leaders; during this time they do not get much cooperation on security and without security there is little chance to rebuild infrastructure permanently. They then have a couple of months when they can actually get things done; the local people help to maintain security by cooperating with the Americans and water plants and sewers and electricity stations can be built with little chance that they will be destroyed. But then the six months is up! Under the current strategy, the troops are likely to be withdrawn and gradually the neighborhood slides back into sectarian violence or anarchy. Under the new seize and hold strategy, a new regiment may take over the area but the bonds of trust between commander and local leaders and between troops and local people have been severed. The ties that had been built up were between individuals, not between role holders.

If the President is going to put more troops into Iraq he must also formalize a new Human Resource strategy – a strategy that will be costly on our individual service men and women because they will have to have much longer tours of duty. Troops will have to stay in Iraq until the job is done. This will be enormously difficult for the men and women involved but I cannot see any other way to ensure that troops and Iraqis develop and maintain the necessary level of trust. If we cannot do this then we cannot continue the war with any hope of success.

If we are going to pursue this war, we have to take it seriously as a war and not fight it half-heartedly as the Bush administration is demanding. We have to have financial sacrifice at home; we need to convert at least part of our economy onto a war footing so that the troops have the equipment that they need and receive timely replacement; and we have to make sure that the decisions about strategy and deployment are wise ones. There is little in the actions of this President to give me confidence that they are – the decisions about whether to surge, to retain the status quo or to withdraw, or to put in an even larger number of fighting men and women should be debated in a secret session of Congress not decided behind closed doors by George Bush and a small number of like-minded advisors – that is something else we teach at Business School: the dangers of “GroupThink”

Sent to New York Times, January 8th. 2007

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Minimum Wage and College Expenses

Jeff Jacoby (The Debate shifts to the left, Boston Globe, January 7th., E9) argues that the minimum wage does not need increasing because many of the minimum wage earners are young people living at home with their families.

But these young people may well be working in order to pay for or save for a college education. According to the College Board the average amount (in constant dollars) actually paid (after taking into account scholarship support) has increased 29% at Public 4-year Colleges (and almost 26% at Private 4-year Colleges) over the past 10 years.

Over the same period, the value of the minimum wage has eroded from being worth $4.75 in 1996 to being worth $4.04 in 2006 -- a decline of almost 15%.

To maintain the affordability of College, we should be increasing the minimum wage to about $8.00 rather than to $7.25.

Sent to Boston Globe, January 7th., 2007

More troops for Iraq

It appears that President Bush is about to perpetrate a fraud on the American people and our long-suffering troops.

According to the Army Manual on Counter-Insurgency we would need about two hundred and fifty thousand troops to successfully pacify and rebuild Iraq.

The additional twenty thousand that the President proposes will just add more casualties and do little in the cause of pacification.

The President must not be allowed to put more of our troops in harm's way. He should begin withdrawal now; there is no way that we can field sufficient troops to make a real difference to creating stability in Iraq.

Sent to Washington Post, January 7th, 2007

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Patrick and Gay Marriage

Your columnist, Eileen McNamara, decries the ineffectual intervention of Deval Patrick in the gay marriage debate (This battle's worth a fight, Boston Globe, January 3, 2007). Part of the problem might have been in his assertion to use "whatever means appropriate" (which presumably includes voting for adjournment) rather than focusing on getting legislators to vote down the substantive question.

A vote to adjourn was a dead letter after the Supreme Judicial Court said that failing to vote on the substantive issue would violate the legislative oath to uphold the constitution. He should have focused on the substantive issue; he should have lobbied hard with the 62 who supported the amendment.

But that's easy to say with 20/20 hindsight.

I agree with the principle that the Constitution is designed to protect the rights of minorities, not to restrict them. Democracy easily turns into demagoguery and it is demagoguery to insist that our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors should not have the right to marry.

We must work hard over the next two years to ensure that all members of the legislature come to accept that message.

Sent to Boston Globe. January 3, 2007

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Iraq Troop Levels

The evolving decision by the administration to send 20,000 or 30,000 more troops to Iraq is the worst option the President could choose. Such a small number would make little real impact on the ground in terms of taking and holding territory. As General Shinseki advised, several thousand troops would be required to pacify Iraq, so an additional 100,000 or more would be needed.

I would advocate early withdrawal with no surge.

The president is perpetrating a fraud on the American people and destroying our military.

Sent to Boston Globe [paraphrase], Jan 2, 2007.

Executive Compensation

One omission from your discussion of Executive Compensation (Compensation Experts Offer Ways To Help Curb Executive Salaries, New York Times, Saturday, December 30, 2006) is the establishing of the contribution to success of managers and employees. If CEO compensation is based on firm performance relative to its peers, then everyone in the organization CEO, janitor, research scientist, and assembly line worker has made a contribution to that success. It follows that although there must be big differentials in base pay to reflect the differences in the complexity of the work, there should be no difference is the bonus paid to each individual as a percentage of base pay. Typically top managers receive bonuses of 100% or more of base pay while lower level workers receive about 8% of base pay.

In this way all who contribute to the success of the firm share fully in the rewards. The adoption of this policy as an organizational "best practice" would do much to curb the excesses of present day CEO compensation.

Sent to New York Times, Jan 1, 2007