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Friday, December 21, 2007

Bush and JAG Promotions

The President, or is it the Vive-President, is inexorable in his determination to remove the checks and balances that are a great American tradition (Bush seeks control of military lawyers' promotions, Boston Globe, December 15, 2007: A15).

First in the Justice Department, career lawyers were over-ruled by political appointees in a number of redistricting cases. Now in the military, Bush seeks to emasculate career military lawyers by making their promotion contingent on agreement with his political appointees. Surely a President (or a Vice President) interested in justice would wish to marshal multiple views on the legality of an issue rather than encourage "groupthink." That is what he will get if he is successful in gaining a veto over the promotion of career legal officers.

And, of course, the country and our troops will suffer as these legal officers are those who put themselves on the line to protest the torture memoranda produced by the political hacks in the Pentagon and Justice Department.

Sent to Boston Globe

The Telecoms and Retroactive Legislation

Mr McConnell has it wrong (Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecoms, New York Times, December 16, 2007: A1, A30). Nobody wants to hobble the ability of the U.S. to identify terrorists. I do want the U.S. to use its anti-terrorist tools in a legal manner.

There always has been sufficiently strong legislation to allow the spy agencies to do their work as long as they did so in a proper manner. Doing the job properly meant subjecting their requests for surveillance to the FISA court for approval -- it was even possible to obtain ex-post approval so that agencies were not constrained from following up their suspicions in a timely manner. It is here that the agencies fell down by failing to submit their requests to court oversight.

The legislation under discussion must restore the checks and balances that are needed to maintain a democratic society.

As far as the Telecoms are concerned, I find that all retroactive legislation is unwarranted -- whether it creates a crime or absolves actors of a crime. After all, Qwest refused to honor the government's overly broad request -- the other could and should have done likewise. To allow them to escape the consequences of their illegal actions would be wrong.

Sent to New York Times

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One more thing to thank George W. Bush for!

President Bush still hasn't learned to take responsibility or to apologize.

In his statement yesterday (Bush Troubled by Steroids in Baseball, New York Times, December 15, 2007) about the use of steroids in baseball there is no acknowledgement for his own culpability. For nine of the twenty years of the "Steroid Era" in baseball, he was owner of the Texas Rangers.

In his comments, there was no apology for his role as one of many owners who let a culture of drug use develop in the baseball leagues. Is it that he lacks memory of those dys, or is it that he has never, until now, had to take responsibility for his actions?

Yes, we must move on, but with a new commissioner who, like Kenesaw Mountain Landis, is independent of the team owners. Any votes for George W. Bush taking over in January 2009. I think not!
Professor James Thurber gives CEO's a bad name when he states that "[Bush has] taken a CEO approach to the Hill, which is offensive because people on the Hill want to be collaborators" (A Dealmaker He's Not, but Bush is Getting His Way, New York Times, December 14, 2007: A23).

That is true of company employees as well and it is a wise CEO who encourages his or her subordinates to contribute their ideas to the decisions of the firm. After all, like Mr Bush, most CEO's do not have the "technical expertise" to decide things alone. Nevertheless, Mr. Bush is a loner -- he's "the decider." I fear that Mitt Romney is a more intelligent version of the same autocratic type.

Sent to New York Times

Climate Goals

George W. Bush professes to want to halt global warming. However the refuses to do much about it, either in his bully pulpit or through legislative action.

This is surprising because, by the time Bush graduated from Harvard Business School in 1975, it was clear that one of the most robust findings in the psychological literature was that behavior was powerfully influenced by setting specific and hard goals and having people assess their progress toward these goals. This is true of the individual, the group, and the organization.

The young Mr. Bush must have learned this at the Harvard Business School. Why does he ignore this time tested insight?

If President Bush really wants to ameliorate the crisis in global warming then he needs to set tough goals for our country -- it not enough to sit on the sidelines and talk about the need to set goals or merely urge us "to do our best." That is a recipe for failure.

Sent to New York Times

Candidates supported by Former Republican Governors of Massachusetts

It is clear that one cannot believe the former male Republican governors. Bill Weld extolls Romney's Massachusetts tax cuts (Romney is the kind of leader we need, Boston Globe, December 14, 2007: A17); Paul Cellucci claims he raised taxes (Rudy will shake up Washington, Boston Globe, December 14, 2007: A17).

Who is right?

Sent to Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Where is the Oversight?

Whatever happened to the Democrats' increased oversight of the administration. They seem to be complicit in its crimes.

Nancy Pelosi was among those briefed about the CIA adventures in waterboarding (C.I.A. Official in Inquiry Called a "Hero," New York Times, December 10, 2007). She apparently did not protest at the time and allowed these crimes to continue.

When are the Democrats going to stand up for the decent values of this country that have been so distorted by this Republican Administration?Sent to New York Times

CIA's Video Tapes

Let me see if I have got this right, Porter Goss when he was in the House of Representatives and a member of the intelligence committee recommended to the CIA that the interrogation tapes be preserved (C.I.A. Was Urged to Keep Interrogation Videotapes, New York Times, December 8, 2007: A1).

After Porter Goss becomes Director of the CIA, one of his senior subordinates orders the tapes destroyed without getting clearance from his boss. Once again, the CIA is out of control -- I am old enough to remember the Church Committee's findings. Once again, the Congress will have to take proactive action to reign in this rogue agency.

Alas, I expect the constraints that will have to be imposed may reduce our security in the short term but in the long run they will help reestablish the trust that Americans must have in the CIA and the trust that the world must have in America.

Sent to New York Times

Incurious Bush

You claim that President Bush may have "established a new standard for presidential incuriosity" (The New Intelligence on Iran, Boston Globe, Wednesday, December 5th, 2007).

There are however other explanations for his behavior other than laziness. First Mr. Bush is a crafty person. There were things that he did not want to know, and any minimization of Iran's nuclear work was one of those things. If he did not know that Iran's behavior had changed, he could go on telling the world how evil Iran was.

A second, more flattering explanation, is that Mr. Bush is a very good intuitive psychologist. He knows that early impressions anchor one's position so that a false early impression could be detrimental to wise decision making. As the August information was of the anecdotal, unconfirmed kind, it would be sensible not to know its details so that later decisions would be free of inappropriate influences.

My bet is that he was just lazy.

Sent to Boston Globe

Thursday, December 6, 2007

I will never leave Guantanamo

Thanks to Sabin Willett for putting a human face on our detainees in the Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp (I will never leave Guantanamo, Boston Globe, December 3, 2007). Joseph, a pseudonym, has been found to be innocent but he is still imprisoned after six years until "the military could find a country to take him."

How about the United States?

Surely after six years of detention, we owe Joseph something. At the very least we should provide him entry as a legal refugee with a Green Card. But that is not enough. Most states now require some form of restitution for prisoners who are held improperly (he was found innocent in 2002). Let's see, what else do we owe Joseph?
1. We owe him compensation for his time behind bars. Let's see: six years is about 2190 days; let's assume he has been awake for 16 hours a day, that means he has suffered 3,540 hours of torment shackled in his cell, at $10.00 per hour, that means we owe him about $350,400.00 in compensation.
When he comes to the U.S. half of that should be placed in a locked-in IRA, the rest paid to him to support him until he becomes self-sufficient.
2. We owe him intensive language training along the lines of that provided to Peace Corps volunteers. This will rapidly bring him up to speed so he can function well in English, the language of his new home.
3. We owe him psychiatric counselling for the Post Traumatic Stress he is likely to be suffering.

That is what we owe Joseph, and that is what we owe all those at Guantanamo Bay who are found to be innocent. They all deserve better than what we did earlier to the innocent Uighurs who, to our shame, were dumped in an Albanian refugee camp without any other support.

Sent to Boston Globe

Limits on Contracting Out

Your story about the contractors at the Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in Vermont and California (Immigration Contractor Trims Wages, New York Times, December 2, 2007: A20) led me to wonder about what the limits of government out-sourcing should be.

It seems to me that hiring contractors by government should be reserved for two kinds of assignments. First, contractors should be employed for tasks requiring highly specialized skills which are not normally part of the government's repertoire. Second, contractors should be employed for short term one-off assignments. Work with long term prospects should be brought in house as soon as possible. The clerical work at the Immigration offices seem to require little specialized skill, just aptitude to internalize a long list of procedures, and seems to be a task that will continue long into the future given the number of legal immigrants becoming eligible for citizenship.

Similarly, now the war in Iraq is almost in its fifth year, we should have reduced the number of contractors on the ground, expanded the military, and brought most contractor jobs under military discipline. Our failure to do that has resulted in errors of omission (failure to maintain clean eating facilities) and commission (possibly unjustified shootings of Iraqi civilians).

Sent to New York Times

The Capitol's Rich Afterlife

Contrary to your editorial (The Capitol's Rich Afterlife, New York Times, November 30, 207), there are some congressional veterans who do take up positions as "civic-minded partisans."

Former congressman, Bob Edgar, has recently taken up the Presidency of Common Cause. This is John Gardner's "peoples lobby." It is fighting to take private funding out of elections, for fair districts, for a paper trail vote, and to prevent media concentration.

I wish him well. Winning these battles is essential for our democracy.

Sent to New York Times