Number losing unemployment benefits



Paperblog

Friday, February 29, 2008

How Do You Take Down a Great Soldier?

I could scarcely believe what I was reading in Sabin Willett's op-ed on a recent Appeal Court Decision (How do you take down a great soldier? Boston Globe, Wednesday, February 13th. 2008).

The Administration and its congressional allies have brought us to a pretty pass if a court can decide that the normal duties of those in the armed services include inflicting torture. Presumably the court decisions rest on the infamous "torture memoranda" that were promulgated by the Justice Department (and were in force when the atrocities occurred) but were subsequently withdrawn.

Relying on these memoranda, the distinguished generals and colonels who were the defendants in this case (Rasul v. Myers et al.) is akin to taking the Nuremberg defence: "I was just following orders." This defense was rejected at Nuremberg and it should be rejected here.

The Supreme Court should take up this case and rule that torture is never acceptable as a standard operating procedure in the United States Military.

Sent to Boston Globe

The Audacity of Hopelessness

Whatever has happened to Frank Rich? In yesterday's column he excoriates (mildly) Hillary Clinton for her vote on the Iraq war in 2002 (The audacity of hopelessness, New York Times Review of the Week, Februrary 24, 2002: 12).

There are two reasons not to blame Ms. Clinton or any other Democrat who voted to support giving the President the option of going to war in late 2002.

The first was outlined by Mr. Rich himself in a column on your pages on November 27, 2005. In this he excuses those Democrats who supported the President by pointing out that they lacked the information that the President had. He says that "They didn't have access to the President's Daily Brief that Mr. Waas uncovered [Waas stated in the National Journal that "the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the [9/11] attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda]. They didn't have access to the information that German intelligence officials spoke about to the Los Angeles Times [that Curveball, the defector who reported on Iraq's WMD capabilities, had been discredited and that this information was shared with the US well before the November 2002 vote].

The second is the timing of that vote. It is hard to remember at this late date the sequence of events from 2001 up to the present day. We need to be reminded that until November 2002 (that is until the President had the support of the Senate and the House) the Iraqis refused to allow UN inspectors to undertake inspections for WMD on Iraqi territory. By the end of November, inspections under the direction of Hans Blix were under way. The vote to grant the President war powers had achieved its purpose, the Iraq regime was being called to account for its actions.The vote was a magnificent piece of realpolitik

We have forgotten too that Hans Blix called on the US and Britain to give his inspectors the "hard intelligence" that they claimed to possess so that his inspectors could go to check out that information on the ground. The failure of the US and Britain to do so should have roused our suspicions that all was not well with the intelligence -- its invalidity has since been amply demonstrated.

Where we went wrong -- the Senate, and the House, and the country, and all of us -- was the failure to recognize the importance of the inspector's reports in mid February 2003 that there was no evidence of immanent danger from Iraq. That should have led to a re-evaluation of the war power resolution and its potential repeal based on the changed situation. We failed to do so and we are reaping the tragic consequences today.

So Senator Clinton can be blamed for not insisting on revisiting the vote in the light of the new information from the inspectors; she cannot be blamed, indeed she should be praised, for the original vote that put the inspectors back in Iraq.

Full disclosure: I support Barack Obama in the primaries, but believe the attack on Senator Clinton for her Iraq war vote is ill-advised. I also think that the New York Times should do better in explaining the historical context of that vote.

Sent to New York Times

Got a Problem? Ask a Super

Ms Ferraro's harangue about the role of the super-delegates fails the test of logic (Got a Problem? Ask he Super, New York Times, January 25, 2008: A21). If the Democrats wish to win the White House in 208, they will have to win the support of Independents and soft (in the sense of only weakly attached) Republicans. The very fact that in several primaries Barack Obama won the election with strong support of Independents and Republicans is the very reason that he should be chosen as the Democratic candidate.

Her call to allow the seating of the disenfranchised delegates from Michigan and Florida shows that her Clintonian partisanship has clouded her judgement. In Michigan there was no campaigning and only Hilary Clinton's name was on the Ballot; that is surely not a fair test of her strength in that State. In Florida there was no campaigning; once again it provided no test of the candidates' appeal to voters. The decision of the central committee -- those very super-delegates that Ms. Ferraro is appealing to on Ms. Clinton's behalf --should let their decision stand.

Finally, her sneering at the shift in allegiance of some super-delegates because "their constituents have spoken" has blinded her from being able to make a principled appeal to some of the super-delegates from Massachusetts (Kennedy, Kerry, Capuano, and Patrick) who all endorsed Obama. If Ms. Ferraro had appealed to that principle, they would have had to shift to the Clinton side.

I am a supporter of Barack Obama and have volunteered for his campaign.

Sent to New York Times

Retroactive Legislation

The President's intransigence on the issue of immunity for the phone companies is endangering the security of our country.

In my view all retroactive legislation is odious so that providing immunity from prosecution or legal jeopardy to the phone companies is wrong. It is especially damaging to those phone companies that refused to comply with the requests of the administration.

Those that did comply have legal protection in that the administration asked for their cooperation under the procedures outlined in the FISA act. If these procedures were not followed, it is not the companies that are at fault but the administration, and by extension, the people of the United States. In such a case, it would be reasonable for the US Treasury to make good any financial damages that they had to pay and for the President to pardon them, or their officials, for any criminal violations they committed.

The court procedures resulting from the absence of immunity would bring some needed transparency to the actions of the administration and would not set the awful precedent of requiring retroactive legislation.

Sent to Washington Post

Monday, February 18, 2008

When Women Rule

Mr Kristoff (Week in Review, NYT February 10, 2008: 13) is guilty of the same sin against which he writes: failing to give a woman due credit.

Many women may have repeated the quip that it wasn't too difficult to be twice as good as a man, but he should have told us that it was coined by Charlotte Whitten a former mayor of Ottawa.


Sent to New York Times

AG won't probe CIA

You quote Professor Dawn Johnsen of Indiana University as saying "People who rely on [sic] good faith on an Office of Legal Council opinion should not be prosecuted even if it turns out that the opinion was wrong" (AG won't probe CIA on torture laws, Boston Globe, February 8, 2008: A 2).

It seems to me that her position is dangerously close to the Nuremberg Defense that "I was just obeying orders." We should expect better of the men and women in our government. They, and that includes the President and the Attorney General, should know that torture should never be used.

It is discouraging too that the author of the so called torture memoranda, John Yoo still enjoys has law professorship at Berkeley whilst only the lowest members in the political and military hierarchies have suffered as a result of his "wrong" opinion: the soldiers of Abu Ghraib who also relied on climate created by the dissemination of these poorly reasoned opinions.

Sent to Boston Globe

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Value of Sub Prime Mortgages (NY Times-Web)

New York Times [web only], February 12, 2008.


The letter is the fifth one down at this website:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/12/opinion/lweb12banks.html?ref=opinion

It did not appear in the hard copy of the newspaper.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Kid Gloves for Romney (Scroll to Feb 7, 2008)

Today's wonderful Wasserman cartoon shows a crowd outside George W. Bush's office, some of whom bear the placard "No More Lies!", yet your columnists deal gently with former Governor Mitt Romney.

Scott Lehigh talks about him as a "newly minted conservative." H.D.S. Greenaway is more forceful in saying that he "coldly and calculatingly made himself over from a moderate to a hard right-winger."

Enough of euphamism: either Romney lied about his most cherished values in 1994 and 2002 when he ran as a moderate for the senate and the governor's office or he is lying now about those values in 2008. Yes, all politicians spin, but surely Romney has gone too far? How the Bay State Republicans came to favor Romney over John McCain (described by Jeff Jacoby as one of the few candidates showing "character"), I do not understand.


Sent to Boston Globe

Obama and Clinton's War Vote

I am a strong supporter of Barak Obama in the Democratic primaries, but he really must get the 2002 Iraq vote right (One on One Democrats, Set Aim at G.O.P., New York Times, February 1, 2008: A1).

The vote was designed to give the President leverage in calling Iraq to account before the United Nations. It exemplified realpolitik at its best. Senator Clinton and the other Senators voting in the affirmative were right to do so.

It is hard to remember the sequence of events from 2001 up to the present day. Until November 2002 (that is until the President had the support of Senate and House to use force) the Iraqis refused to allow UN inspectors to undertake inspections for Weapons of Mass Destruction on Iraqi territory. By the end of November, inspections under the direction of Hans Blix were under way. The vote to grant the President war powers had achieved its purpose, the Iraq regime was being called to account for its actions.

We have forgotten too that Hans Blix called on the US and Britain to give his inspectors the "hard intelligence" that they claimed to possess so that his inspectors could go to check out that information on the ground. The failure of the US and Britain to do so should have roused our suspicions that all was not well with the intelligence -- its invalidity has been amply demonstrated in the past years.

Where we went wrong -- the Senate, and the House, and the country, and all of us -- was the failure to recognize the importance of the inspector's reports in mid February 2003 that there was no evidence of immanent danger from Iraq. That information should have led to a re-evaluation of the war power resolution and and led to its repeal based on the changed situation. We failed to do so and we are reaping the tragic consequences today.

So Barak Obama should stop attacking Senator Clinton for her vote. He can chastise her for not reconsidering the issue in February of 2003.

Sent to New York Times

Dr. Groopman is at Harvard too!

Shouldn't the Book Review also have told us that Dr Groopman was, like the author, a Professor at Harvard University, albeit in a different Faculty?

Should the Book Review have given one Harvard Professor's book to be reviewed by another Harvard Professor? I think not!

Sent to New York Times Book Review

Borrowing against the Future

I don't think Jeff Jacoby is correct that dollars will first be taken out of the US economy and then dumped back in (Remember, there's no free lunch, January 23, 2008). The borrowing will be undertaken offshore so there actually will be new money injected into the US economy.

Of course, the debt will have to be repaid and foreign debt may be more constraining that domestic debt. It is unfortunate that when the economy was booming we did not try to hold back the debt we have incurred to pay for the Iraq war. That debt too will come due. I hope the next President will have a plan to pay it down. It would be unconscionable to pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

Sent to Boston Globe

Experiment on Teachers

I was appalled to read of the experiment that the New York Board of Education was carrying out in 280 schools in New York City (New York Measuring Teachers by Student Progress on Tests, New York Times, January 20, 2008: A1, A15).

In this, teachers in 140 schools are being evaluated on whether or not the pupils in their classrooms improve their test scores, while teachers in another 140 schools are to be used as a comparison group. According to the story you published, many teachers are not being told that they are part of the experiment because the issue is "so contentious." This is a grave ethical breach. For any experiment to be carried out on human subjects, the subjects of the experiment must provide informed consent. In this case, both the teachers and the students in the 280 schools should have been asked to give their permission.

Yes, gaining permission muddies the waters about whether any observed change might have occurred because people knew that they were being observed or whether the recording of progress was the cause of change; but the rule of informed consent must be followed if we are to maintain integrity in social science and educational research.

Sent to New York Times

Make up of Conference Committees in the New Congress

There was one piece of information not included in your otherwise informative comparison between different Congressional sessions (Jan 19 2007: A31).

How do the sessions compare in terms of the make-up of the conference committees where the final bills are drafted and decided on. My understanding is that in the 109th Congress, the committees were dominated by Majority Party (Republican members. Has this changed? Are the Conference Committees now balanced?

Sent to the New York Times

Paying for the Iraq War

One of the issues you avoided mentioning in your editorial is the important question about how the war is to be paid for (Unfinished Debate on Iraq, New York Times Week in Review, January 13, 2008: 11).

It would be unconscionable for us to pass the cost, with interest, on to our children and grandchildren. It would be unwise for us to continue to pass the debt off shore as that puts control of our economy in the hands of foreigners.

We must therefore start paying our way and we must bring the debt on shore. We should have done this three or four years ago when the economy was more robust; but despite the costs we must do it now. We must increase taxes (combine that with a government spending stimulus package) and we must force the richest Americans into a forced savings scheme to bring the debt home.

If we fail to do this we will be letting down the next generation of Americans.

Sent to the New York Times

Mitt Romney: A View from Massachusets

Now that Romney has withdrawn from the race I will post this as no newpaper will now be interested in taking it!

Mitt Romney is a man of great charm and style. Running for President, he is the only candidate, save Hillary Clinton, who actually looks presidential. But behind that style there is little substance, and what little there is shifting rapidly to accommodate the needs of his potential supporters and constituents. This lack of substance is a bit surprising given his background as an entrepreneur and turn-around artist.

In Romney’s case, he will value and support what the majority of his constituents supports. This has some advantages. If he were President, the Iraq war might now be winding down. But it has major disadvantages: you don’t know what you will get if you vote for him. He may agree with you (and the majority) on some issue today, but if the majority shifts its opinion and you don’t then Romney will shift too and leave you stranded with a President you thought you knew, but didn’t!

Let us look at his record. On taxes, his fellow Republicans disagree on whether he did or did not raise taxes. But on social issues there is no doubt: he flipped.

From childhood, Romney declared that he was pro-choice. In the 2002 election he boasted that he learned at his mother’s knee that women deserved control over their own bodies. He ran on a pro-choice platform that year and won election, in part, because of that position. In the past five years, Romney has, he claims, evolved rightward on a number of issues – I prefer to suggest that his thinking has been unintelligently redesigned. He now claims to be a pro-life candidate.

Along similar lines, he was brainwashed into vetoing the Massachusetts Emergency Contraception Bill of 2005. He was brainwashed into accepting bad science. The Emergency contraception pill does not cause an abortion. Like the uncontroversial IUD, the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the womb. It is a prevention of conception, not the abortion of a conceived fetus. He has been brainwashed into believing that the state has an interest in bringing to term any baby no matter how poor and unwelcoming the environment. If anything the state should be encouraging only the births of wanted children. He has been brainwashed into believing that it is merely an inconvenience for a woman to carry to term a child conceived through rape or incest.

He has also, despite earlier support, taken to claiming that he opposes stem cell research because it involves the destruction of embryos. He seems unaware that many more embryos are created during fertility treatment than are needed and that these embryos are routinely destroyed. A logical thinker would realize that the productive use of these embryos in research is more fruitful than flushing them down the drain. But such logic would conflict with the passions of his potential supporters, so may not be a fruitful strategy for getting elected.

Finally, in his election campaign for the senate in 1994 he out-Kennedy-ed Kennedy by claiming to support a stronger civil rights agenda for gay citizens of Massachusetts than the incumbent senator. This, of course, he has now disavowed with his opposition to gay marriage and even to Vermont-style civil unions. He bases his opposition on the rights of the child: every child deserves a father and a mother. Yet this right did not motivate him to increase family aid to the poor of Roxbury. On a personal note, the two ladies next door seem to be doing a fine job of raising their two adopted daughters.

He has also flipped on equally controversial topics that do not have religious undertones. Back in 2005 he went on record supporting the Kennedy/McCain compromise on immigration. Today he excoriates that approach. Despite employing a company that used illegal immigrants to do his yard work, he now is utterly opposed to the provisions in the compromise bill that would allow illegal immigrants to work their way toward legal residency and citizenship.

So on substance it is clear that Romney is a candidate in transition. The transitions he is experiencing are, he claims, the result of his increased insight and learning. Coincidentally, these shifts have occurred in the past four years. Coincidentally, the direction he is moving approaches the positions held by the radical right of the GOP; people whose support he needs in next spring’s primary.

Nevertheless, Romney has style and is a master at the photo-op. Unfortunately these photo-ops are all symbolic and have little of substance about them. The most appalling was his behavior after the collapse of part of the roof of the Big Dig tunnel. Romney presented himself as if he was an engineer with expert knowledge of the roof support and their problems. Fortunately this was a harmless act, but it detracted him from his major role – providing resources and support to the real engineers who had to work on the project. His endless inspections and commentaries were a distraction from the reality of the work that needed to be done. His feud with the Turnpike Authority chairman also consumed energies that would have been better focused on the problem not the person.

Then in July 2005 he rode the subway for one stop – just to show it was safe following the London terrorist attacks. Of course that ride, even if he had known the correct fare, would have done nothing to demonstrate that the subway is safe. What demonstrates its safety are the actions of thousands of commuters each day who ride the subway to work.

This symbolic silliness is of a piece with his actions as a candidate. Each week Mitt Romney worked for a day -- at least it was a day, not a five minute subway ride -- at a "regular "job. That "day at work program" by Mitt Romney (as a fisherman, as a burger flipper) provided for great photo opportunities, but it did not give time for the meaninglessness of much of that work to sink in: one is still in a learning mode. When I was a student, I only lasted a week on a donut assembly line: I could not get to sleep until I started up the line in my dreams. That is the reality of many assembly line jobs. The one day working at a menial job did not give Mitt Romney the insight into the reality of poor people's lives that he could have gained by reading Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich) or When Work Disappears (W. J. Wilson). As always for Mitt Romney, symbol trumps substance.

Two final flip-flops. Originally the Republican Standard bearer in the 2002 election was to have been Jane Swift. Romney promised he would not run against her in the primary, but when influential Republican power-brokers told Swift that she should withdraw for the good of the party, Romney had no qualms about taking up the candidacy and ultimately the governorship.

In 2006, Governor Romney and the leaders of the State Legislature, both Democrats, negotiated a deal for legislation proposing universal health care in Massachusetts. As soon as the bill passed both Houses, Governor Romney vetoed one provision that he objected to (the veto was over-ridden). This flip shows both his untrustworthiness and his love of symbolism! It does not bode well if he should be elected President.

Oh, and one more thing: the current president holds a Harvard MBA, so does Mitt Romney; that’s not a precedent we want to follow.

Although I am a Democrat, I do not understand how anyone, Republican or Democrat could trust Mitt Romney after the volte-faces of the past few years.