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Monday, April 30, 2007

Health of Congress: Conference Committees

I believe that another indicator of the health of Congress ( Is Congress on the Mend, New York Times, April 28, 2007, page: A 27) is the composition of conference committees.

My understanding is that in the previous congress, especially on the House side, the inclusion of Democrats in Conference Committees was at a minimum. What has happened after the Democratic takeover. Are Republicans well represented or are Democrats playing the "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" game?

Sent to New York Times

Lawyers' Access

Today's headline, US Asks Court to Limit Lawyers Access at Guantanamo (New York Times, April 26, 2007, A1, A20), underscores the urgency for repeal of that section of the Patriot act which removed the right of Habeas Corpus from the detainees.

Congress should act immediately before this administration further sullies America's good name and gives more fuel to those who wish our country ill. The current administration's ill advised forays into legal territory have seen the abrogation of our responsibilities under international law (the torture memoranda, the Geneva Convention) as well as bringing the administration of justice into disrepute domestically (the politicization of the role of US attorneys).

At least Congress should and can act in a timely fashion on Habeas Corpus.

Sent to the New York Times

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Supplemental Appropriations

There is much soul searching in the Press about who will be responsible if the Supplemental Appropriations Bill for Iraq fails to go into law (A Hostage Situation, New York Times, April 23, 2007, p: A21). Will it be the fault of the President who vetoed it; or will it be the fault of the legislators who insisted on placing deadlines for troop withdrawal in the Bill.

The answer is clear: the President will be responsible. As Nancy F. Kaplan wrote in your pages on March 30th (Letters to the Editor), When a Bill contains provisions that the President objects to, whether by whim or on constitutional grounds, he usually issues a signing statement that he will not abide by this or that part of the Bill. It seems to me that, on constitutional grounds (he is, alas, the only commander in Chief that we have), the President could legitimately issue a signing statement that he will not be bound by a timetable as this reduces his flexibility as Commander in Chief.

So why doesn't he just sign the bill and issue a signing statement? Why is he putting the funding of our, and his, troops in jeopardy?

By the way it is the responsibility of the media to hold the President accountable if he vetoes that Bill. It is he that is jeopardizing funding, not the Congress. The media must make sure that in this instance, perception matches reality.

Sent to New York Times

Massachusetts' Prisons

I agree with Scott Harshbarger: the State does not need another "blue-ribbon commission" to look into the problems of our prisons (State orders review over prison errors, Boston Globe, April 23, 2007, pp:A1, B3). His commission undertook a sweeping review two years ago. Most of its recommendations sit on the shelf.

The Patrick administration is avoiding the issue by proposing a new commission. It knows what the problems are. If it does not, it had no business asking the previous commissioner to leave her post.

The solutions to those problems are found in the report of the Harshbarger commission. The Patrick administration must take the tough decisions to implement those solutions.

Sent to Boston Globe

Helpful Iraqis Abandoned

Kirk Johnson is absolutely right (Hounded by Insurgents, abandoned by Us, New York Times, Wednesday, April 18, 2007). We must act expeditiously to help those Iraqis who helped us in the aftermath of the invasion. Our failure to do so imperils our current ability to win any other Iraqis to our side. No wonder the insurgency is blooming.

Alas, he places his trust in a weak reed. President Bush has, in the past few years, failed every test of leadership that he has confronted: the war, Katrina, Guantanamo, civil rights at home, stem cell research. In every case, his policies have been too little, too late.

In addition, with a few notable exceptions, he has filled the bureaucracy with ideologically sound placeholders rather than with experts. It is because of this that the bureaucracy runs so slowly, the placeholders aren't competent to make the kinds of decision that would enable them to really differentiate friend from foe and therefore be able to extend a helping hand to those sad Iraqis who cast in their lot with the United States.

Sent to New York Times

Monday, April 16, 2007

Wolfowitz Entitlements

I am appalled at the $60,000 pay raise that World Bank President Wolfowitz gave to his girlfriend (Patronage flap roils World Bank, Boston Globe, April 13, 2007).

He seems to have little or no sense of proportion. According to Oxfam, over a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. That sixty thousand dollars could have had a big impact on a small fraction of those people.

Sent to Boston Globe

Off shore sourcing

As we move more and more jobs off-shore, the US is repeating the "tragedy of the commons.' What is rational and sensible for a single firm in order to reduce costs, is a mistake for the Country as a whole. In macro-economic terms, if too many people in the US lose (or are afraid of losing) their jobs, who will be available to purchase the (cheaper) products of the companies?

It is also important to realize, that the full expected benefits of off-shore sourcing are rarely realized. That is because the managerial costs increase. Managing an off-shore operation is more difficult than managing a domestic operation so that additional (expensive) managerial resources have to be allocated to the task of coordinating offshore and domestic activities.

There are some alternatives to reducing costs other than off-shore sourcing:

1. Share the cuts across the organization. Rather than transferirrg 10% of the jobs overseas, all members of the organization (including top manages) can take a 10% cut in both hours of work and pay. This keeps the jobs on-shore but they are less well paid.

2. Develop a new compensation system: a base salary coupled with a bonus based upon profitability and exceeding performance standards. If the bonus in the most profitable year is about 20% to 25% of base salary, then in years that the firm is not profitable, a major cost saving can be achieved without layoff. This tactic requires a proactive stance by the organization. The new compensation scheme has the best chance of adoption when the firm is fairly profitable, not when cost reductions are imminent. This scheme may also reduce the large gap between top management and employee compensation.

Following on from this, with top management income at about 350 times that of the average employee, an awful lot of people could be hired with no loss profitability if that gap was reduced to the standards of the 1960's.

Sent to On Point, WBUR

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Regent University

Your article on Regent University (Scandal puts spotlight on Christian law school, Boston Globe, April 8, 2007) had a nasty whiff of credentialism about it.

To attack the competence of Monica Goodling because she graduated from a law school class from which only 40% passed the bar examinations at their first attempt is to taint her with guilt by association. Even in such a class, a handful of excellent lawyers could emerge.

If you want to attack her competence, you must do so through a careful evaluation of her actions and decisions, not because her law school colleagues were less than mediocre.

Sent to Boston Globe

Monday, April 9, 2007

Costs of War

Thanks to Joseph Kearns Goodwin for reminding us about how few are making sacrifices in the Iraq war (Unmobilized for war, Boston Globe, Friday, April 6, 2007). And for calling on us to change our ways and to take seriously our role in supporting the troops.

The most immediate and practical thing we can do is to start paying for the war. It is not enough to pile deficit upon deficit. That way our children -- those currently fighting the war -- will have to pay for it too. That is unacceptable. Those of us on the home front -- what an archaic sounding term that is -- have to pick up the cost. It is time that we shared in our soldiers' sacrifices and put up the money for the war. Over four years of war, this administration has made no effort to get our participation. No campaigns to sell war bonds so the debt will at least be US owned, no attempt to raise taxes, though that would be a prudent response, nor any attempt to do what the British did in World War II where forced loans -- called post war credits were imposed on taxpayers. These loans were credited with a modest rate of interest and were, in fact, not redeemed until the lender retired. This last model might help with the retirement crisis that is going to hit in less than twenty years time.

Whichever route is chosen, it is time for the American people to support the troops in a meaningful way -- by paying for the war.

Sent to Boston Globe

Board of the American Repertory Theater

The American Repertory Theater seems to have a very dysfunctional Board.

First they should have taken a leaf out of Deval Patrick's book and
accepted Kerry Healey on the board, saying with him, "Lieutenant
Governor you are better than your campaign."

Second the information about Healey's blackballing should never have
been leaked to the press.

Who would consider joining a board where such a risk existed.

Sent to Boston Globe

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Jeff Jacoby (Boston Globe, April 1, 2007) is absolutely wrong.

We who oppose the Iraq war are not irresolute. We are resolute and we are convinced that the current policy is making things much worse both for Iraq and for America in the war against terror.

As one who supported the Afghan war but opposed the Iraq war, the commitment of resources to Afghanistan and the commitment of energy and what remains of our limited prestige to securing a Palestinian Israeli peace settlement would do more to defeat the terrorists than the current surge in Iraq.

Sent to Boston Globe

Yes, I believe in Government

Michael Tanner has it wrong (Letters, Divining the Future of the G.O.P., New York Times, March 31, 2007. Page A26). I believe that an effective government could have dealt effectively with "Hurricane Katrina, the Walter Reed Mess, and potential Social Security and Medicare bankruptcy.

To do so, it would have had to have managers who were competent rather than the ideologically compatible placeholder that the Bush Administration has appointed in agency after agency. Did Mr Tanner know that under President Clinton, FEMA was acknowledged to be a highly effective agency - because it was run by disaster-relief experts.

To be effective in dealing with these crises, the government would also have needed financial resources which have been sorely diminished by the Bush tax cuts and by the diversion of funds and energies to the Iraq war.

I am sure that sensible solutions can be found for the Social Security and Medicare problems. But they will have to be collective solutions (based on insurance) not the privatized accounts for retirement and health care proposed by the current administration.

Sent to the New York Times


One of the important things that a top manager does in an organization is to ensure that the senior ranks are staffed by competent and committed people.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales seems, by his own admission (Gonzales Defends His Role in Firings, New York Times), curiously detached from the process of replacing U.S. Attorneys in key Federal Judicial Districts.

If this is the case then he has abdicated one of his most important managerial responsibilities and is unfit to serve for a day longer. Of course, if he is lying about his role he is also unfit to serve.

Sent to New York Times