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Friday, November 30, 2007

A tale of Two Waivers

Half of the money in Community Development Block Grants given to the Gulf States is supposed to be allocated to the poor (Poor are Lagging in Hurricane Aid, New York Times, November 16, 2007: A1, A29). The State of Mississippi asked for and received a waiver from the administration to disregard this restriction. As a consequence, so far less than 10% of the money has gone to help the impoverished in Mississippi.

We should note that Mr Bush is all to ready to issue waivers to help the well heeled. When it comes to the poor, no such luck.

Two years after Katrina, it is unconscionable that the President has not yet issued a waiver to local authorities in the Gulf Coast so that they do not have to contribute to the reconstruction funds. But we too are at fault for not demanding that he issue the waiver.

In the case of the poor people of the Gulf Coast, help delayed is help denied.

Sent to New York Times

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tuna Greed

Mr Connaughton and Mr Hogarth are fervent in their defense of the bluefish tuna and the failure of the international community, through the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, to protect them (Tuna Greed, Boston Globe, November 26, 2007: A15).

One could wish that our political masters were so fervent about other international obligations: the US still has not ratified the 25 year old Law of the Sea Treaty which is still opposed by right wing republicans and some commercial interests; though surprisingly supported by the President.

International obligations are not to be undertaken on a piecemeal basis; failure of the US to ratify obligations like Kyoto and our abandonment of Consular Rules (the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that ensures that jailed foreigners have the right to talk to consular officers) result in others being unwilling to ratify agreements that we feel are in our best interests.

We should move ahead with ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty which was recently reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, now that Australia appears likely to sign on to the Kyoto accords, we should do likewise. President Bush's voluntary efforts on greenhouse gas restraint having proved unsuccessful.

Sent to Boston Globe

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Business as Usual at Justice Department

It seems as though it is going to be business as before at the Justice Department (As AG takes oath, Bush vows a renewed trust at Justice Dept. Boston Globe, November 15, 2007: A7).

Bush claimed that Attorney General Mukasey will "bring clear purpose and resolve" to the Justice Department. I don't think anyone has argued that the present Justice Department lacked clear purpose and resolve; the problem was that the purposes were illegitimate -- the politicizing of justice.

The direction of this renewed purpose can be inferred from the President's other comments: that Alberto Gozales was a person of "integrity and decency." No one who approved the torture memoranda can reasonably be described as a person of integrity and decency; no one who called the Geneva Convention "quaint" can reasonably be called a person of decency and integrity.

So, if that is what the President thinks, I fear we are in for another fourteen months of disaster.

I hope that I am wrong. Attorney General Mukasey can prove me wrong by his future actions.

Sent to Boston Globe

Rationing Health Care (Scroll Down)

Your letter writer, Dr. Mark Solomon, is correct in saying that the other countries with single payer health care systems ration care (Letter on "An Ailing Health System: Feel Better!" New York Times, November 13, 2007: A28).

What he fails to recognize is that the United States also imposes rationing. Rationing is by price. If you can afford it, or have good insurance, the United States health care is the best in the world. If you cannot afford it, then you have no health care at all. The appalling health statistics for the United States are a consequence of this lack of coverage.

So the rationing argument is a red herring and should not get in the way of our designing a more inclusive system.

Sent to the New York Times

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bush Defends Mukasey

The President's defense of Judge Mukasey was not persuasive (Bush, Defending Justice Nominee, sees Unfairness, New York Times, November 2, 2007: A1, 16). Two sentences would have got Judge Mukasey off the hook and increased his chances of being nominated.

The President could have said, "Waterboarding is torture. We don't do torture."
His silence on this point speaks eloquently to the policies of this Administration.
Sent to New York Times

Angry Voices (Scroll down)

I applaud the subterranean actions that Chris Pawloski and others in the Judge Advocate's office have undertaken to negate the effects of the Administration's "torture memoranda" (Letters, New York Times, October 5, 2007. A26).

Nevertheless it seems to me that this is additional evidence that we are moving inexorably to a government of men rather than laws. However despicable, the torture memoranda represented government policy. For individuals to undermine them was to invite anarchy.

If Chris Palowski and like-minded colleagues object to the policy they should have openly confronted it rather than privately undermining it.

Like the Generals who only spoke out on Iraq after retiring, these lawyers have been enablers of this Administration's disastrous policies.

Sent to New York Times (back in October)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Over There.

Richard Rubin is wrong (Over There -- and Gone for Ever, New York Times, November 12, 2007). They are not gone for ever.

Even though my father never talked about his experiences in the First World War, I remember and honor him to this day. He emigrated from Wales to New South Wales in June of 1914. He returned to fight in the trenches on the Western front; he was gassed on the Somme in 1917, recovered and returned to the front in 1918 where he served until the Armistice. He was repatriated to Australia in 1919. He was not demobilized until New Years Day 1920, and returned to Wales shortly afterwards.

Much of this I found out when I saw his service records at the Australian archives and read about his unit's activities at the Australian National War Museum.

Like his colleagues who died in battle, his life was shortened by his war experiences. Of him like them, we may say with Lawrence Binyon (To the Dead):

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Sent to the New York Times

Primary Elections

No! The parties should not control the primary process (Into the primary pile-up, Boston Globe, Nov 12, 2007: page A10).

The Democrats and Republicans are just one of many parties contesting for our votes. Accordingly we, the people of Massachusetts, should control the process. The suggestions by the Secretary of State and his colleagues that we have regional rotating primaries makes good sense. Better still might be randomization each election cycle with five states drawn for the privilege of holding their primaries every two weeks from early February to early June.

Another good suggestion would be to rank order the states in terms of voter participation in the previous presidential election. Those states with high voter turnout would be assigned early primaries -- though an early state could, if it wished, swap its place in the queue with a later state. That would create an interesting strategic element to the process.

In any case, what is clear. The primary process is too important to be left to the two biggest political parties. Let us all support Secretary Galvin in his search for alternatives.

Sent to Boston Globe

Impeach Cheney

There is a move afoot in Congress to impeach the vice president, Dick Cheney.

Although it is clear to me that the lies that got us into the Iraq war meet the criteria of being high crimes and misdemeanors, it is less clear that we should start an impeachment inquiry.

The argument against is that it will consume valuable congressional time that could be spent on more important issues.

The argument in favor is that it will defang Mr Cheney and render him impotent for the next year or so. This is a state much to be desired as he appears to be cheerleader in chief for some kind of attack on Iran.
Such an attack would be a disaster for the US which, at present, cannot successfully manage the two fronts in the battle against terrorism that are currently open: Afghanistan and Iraq.

On balance I support immediate impeachment.

Sent to Boston Globe

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

US Judge Questions Lawyer on Suit by Tortured Canadian

Thank you for continuing to follow the case of Mr Arar (U.S. Judge Questions Lawyer On Suit by Tortured Canadian, New York Times, November 10, 2007: A5).

Once again the US government is trying to evade its responsibility for what happened to Mr Arar who was arrested while changing planes at Kennedy airport and suffered extraordinary rendition to Syria where he was tortured.

As well as trying to hide behind the States Secret defense, the Government is now said to be arguing that Constitutional protections do not apply to Mr Arar because "the Constitution did not apply to noncitizens who suffered injury abroad."

I am no lawyer, but surely this is a specious defense. The first injury that Mr. Arar suffered was his arrest at Kennedy Airport. That surely is US territory so surely the Constitution applies?

I would call upon the US to do as Canada did and give Mr. Arar his day in court. In addition, at some point the US Supreme Court should take upon itself a review of the States Secrets defense. It was created illegitimately and needs thorough judicial review.

Sent to New York Times

Agency is Queried on Reservist Jobs

I thought we were all in this war together: but it seems not. Your story about reservists returning from Iraq being unable to take up their previous jobs saddened me (Agency Is Queried On Reservist Jobs, New York Times, November 9, 2007: A17).
I can see the difficulty a small employer might have in re-employing a returning veteran if the employer cannot afford to take on an additional person and does not want to fire the person who was hired as a replacement. Surely the our country could afford to pay the employer for the additional worker for some period of time so that personnel levels could adjust over time to an affordable level through attrition or turnover.
Once again, the brunt of this war is being born by our service persons and, in the case of reservists, by their employers. It is time that the government asked us to bear our share.Sent to New York Times

Friday, November 9, 2007

Discovery of France

I enjoyed Caroline Weber's review of "The Discovery of France" by Graham Robb. It looks like a must read!
Her quotation about the localities from which different experts were drawn reminded me of the time just after the Second World War when the Breton onion sellers tramped the South Wales mining valleys selling their long strings of onions.

And how frustrated my mother was, who had been a French teacher, when she found they could not understand her Parisian French (via the University of Wales) while my Welsh speaking father could with difficulty converse with them.

Sent to New York Times Book Review

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Safety Agency refuses more Funds

I think that Ms Nord's refusal of extra funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (Bigger Budget? No, Responds Safety Agency, New York Times, October 30th., 2007: A1) sinks to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor. She should be impeached.

The failure of suppliers to provide a safe product (leaded toys, contaminated pet food, etc.) is clear evidence of market failure. It does not pay suppliers to provide safe products. When this occurs, then government regulation -- however much Republicans dislike it -- is the only solution. We see similar market failures in the financial sector: Deregulation of S&L's and more recently deregulation in the mortgage market. I hope there that Secretary Paulson will not be so stubbornly ideological as Ms. Nord is proving.

Oh yes, if convicted she should be forced to spend a week with a group of two year old children who have just had their red (lead) painted Thomas musical caboose taken away.

Sent to New York Times

Primary Dates

I disagree with Jonathan Soros (Vote Early, Count Often, New York Times, October 30, 2007: A27) when he says that proposed solutions [to the rush to hold upfront primary elections] "mistake randomness for fairness."

He is wrong, when there is a scarce resource, like Tuesdays in the first two months of the year, the fairest way to allocate this scarce resource is through randomization. What Mr Soros's intriguing proposal (A June 1st primary deadline with open voting from Jan 1st) does is to remove the resource constraint. Now every day in the first half of an election year is voting day. The inhabitants of Pinkham Notch can still gather at midnight on New Year's Eve and cast all their votes at one second after midnight so that they can be the leading edge of the leading State of the primary season.

I am sure that there will be complaints that this will be technically infeasible, that it will be difficult to keep ballots safe for a six month period, and that politicians will have difficulty deciding where to campaign. I am sure such mundane details can be worked out. His suggestion is worthy of careful consideration.

Sent to New York Times

Bush on New Orleans and San Diego

In his remarks about Katrina and the California fires, the President claimed that California did not have a corruption problem. How can he have forgotten the recent scandals involving members of the San Diego City Council? How can he have forgotten the crimes of Duke Cunningham who came from a nearby congressional district?

The President has a very short memory!

Sent to Boston Globe

Second Acts

I enjoyed Ellen Goodman's piece on second acts (Boston Globe, October 19, 2007: A17).

I used to be a Professor and a Researcher. Since relocating from Toronto to Cambridge -- I figure there is enough research going on here -- I have reinvented myself as a volunteer and gadfly. A few years ago, one of my friends went partially blind. During his recovery he used taped versions of his academic journals. I therefore record for the blind a couple of mornings a week. I also volunteer a day a week at Common Cause because I have always been impressed with the energy expends to keep politics honest and open -- that's a task that will long be with us.

In my gadfly mode I write op-eds and letters to the editor -- mainly about politics and managerial issues. Now if only I could figure out a way to get more of them published!

I hope that others of my generation will join me in these activities.
Sent to Boston Globe

New Orleans and San Diego

We cannot compare what occurred in New Orleans with what occurred on the outskirts of San Diego (A Firestorm, a Deluge, And a Sharp Political Dig, New York Times, October 27, 2007: A11). To see the differences, you just need to look at the map.

The core of New Orleans and its hinterland were destroyed by the storm and the subsequent flooding. There were few or no resources to be drawn on immediately from surrounding communities. In San Diego, the core of the city was untouched, the fire raged in the outer suburban areas. With the advantage of internal lines of communication -- fanning out from the city to the suburbs -- authorities in San Diego could rapidly bring help to the people displaced by the fire. The authorities in New Orleans did not have that advantage: the center was under water, the resources were unavailable.

For the President to claim credit for the superior results in marshalling aid that were due to geographic advantage is preposterous! Sent to New York Times