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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Clinton Facing Narrower Path to Nomination

A good test of a person's character is to observe how a person behaves when self-interest conflicts with principle.

Hillary Clinton has failed that test. Back in 2006 all agreed that Michigan and Florida should hold their primaries after New Hampshire. Back in January, the Democratic power brokers all agreed that the votes in Florida and Michigan should not count. That is a very strong statement of principle.

Today, Hillary Clinton and campaign stalwart, Harold Ickes, are saying that those votes should count (Clinton is facing a narrower path to the nomination, New York Times, March 19, 2008: A1, A16). They should count despite the fact that Ms. Clinton's name was the only one on the Michigan ballot; they should count despite the fact that none of the candidates campaigned in Florida or Michigan. That is self-interest.

If she wins the nomination, I will support her, but with diminished respect.

Sent to New York Times

Democrats, Florida, and Michigan (NY Times Website)

New York Times, March 22, 2008.

Letter on
New York Times website; no print version.

It is the second letter on page 2.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Weakened oversight

You are being too kind to the Bush administration. Your failed to juxtapose two important stories on the same page:

President weakens espionage oversight (Boston Globe, March 14, 2008: A1, A8)
FBI improperly justified privacy abuses, inspector finds (Boston Globe, March 14, 2008:A4.

The details of the second story indicate how important it is to have effective oversight mechanisms in place.

By weakening espionage oversight, President Bush has weakened the country.

Sent to the Boston Gobe


The White House claim that it encouraged dissenting voices in its war councils shows once again the disconnect between words and actions (Boston Globe, March 13, 2008: A13).

Is it so long ago that we have forgotten the sidelining of General Eric Shinseki because he (correctly) predicted that the pacification of Iraq would take several hundred thousand troops on the ground? That action by the Bush administration even cowed a tough character like Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni who later regretted that he had not stood alongside General Shinseki in demanding more troops for Iraq.

For me actions speak louder than words. The Bush White House practices Groupthink. The country is the worse off for it.
Sent to Boston Globe

Admiral Fallon leaves

It seems as though a thin line separating us from war with Iran has been removed by the retirement of Admiral Fallon (Top Mid-East Commander Retires, New York Times, Wednesday, March 12, 2008: A1, A10). It is to be hoped that his successor in the position will continue his practice of speaking truth to power.

First General Shinseki, now Admiral Fallon, two respected military experts have been devalued and ignored by the civilians manager in the Pentagon and the White House. It is particularly distressing hat the second ouster took place under Secretary Gates whom I always thought had a firmer grasp of reality than his predecessors and whom I expected to be able to stand up to pressure from the White House.

How can we stop this Administration leading into what would be an impossible war with Iran? I worry because there seem to be enough enablers in the House and Senate to allow the President to do anything, even another disastrous war.

Sent to New York Times

Geek Love

So girls don't play Dungeons and Dragons (Week In Review, New York Times, Sunday, March 9th 2008: 14).

No one told my two daughters.

I remember vividly my younger daughter complaining bitterly that her elder sister had said: "No you can't be Dungeon master until you learn to read!"

Sent to New York Times

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Contractors off-shore

I supposed I shouldn't be surprised at anything that our contractors in Iraq do. But I was flabbergasted to read that these upstanding corporate citizens, Kellogg, Brown & Root, were abetted and encouraged in their tax evasion practices by the Department of Defense -- 'officials said the move allowed KBR to perform the work more cheaply, saving Defense dollars (Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore, Boston Globe, March 6, 2008: A1).

What next?
Sent to Boston Globe

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Heparin Recall

I am disturbed at the spectacle of senior managers of the companies at every stage in the tainted Heparin supply chain blaming the company further toward the source as being responsible (A Blood Thinner May Be Linked To More Deaths, New York Times, February 29th., 2008: A1, A10).

One company and one company alone, is responsible for these tainted products entering the medical supply market: Baxter. Clearly Baxter failed to adequately inspect its incoming supplies. Clearly Baxter failed to inspect the products that it put up for sale -- and this after the Tainted Toy scandal.

The lesson is clear if companies are going to save money by carrying out their production activities off shore, they are going to have to spend money in the United States to ensure that the products meet the high standards of purity and safety that Americans expect.

In a regime of weakening regulation, companies must increase their own inspection activities. And if inspectors fail to do the job properly then the companies must pay the cost in legally imposed severe financial penalties. Companies that are crying out to put a cap on tort claims and for further deregulation cannot have it both ways. Absent strong regulation, they must suffer the costs of their failures in court.

Sent to New York Times

Retroactive Immunity

The President's intransigence on the issue of immunity for the phone companies is endangering the security of our country (Bush Says Us Not Headed into A Recession, Washington Post).

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

Senator Clinton's war vote

I agree with every word that Mr. Fountain wrote.

I would just add this.

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.

Sent to Boston Globe

Iraqi Refugees

The US government really cannot get its act together. For years we have been complaining that there are not enough Arabic speakers in government.

With the refugees now in America we now have a small but growing contingent of refugees who are left to rot in unemployment.

Let us count the ways they could be put to good use:
1. To provide intensive cultural and practical advice for troops before they are deployed to Iraq. They could even be assigned to populate a sham Iraqi town or village to train troops for search operations.

2. To work with NSA, other intelligence agencies, and the State and Defense Departments to translate intercepted messages. I realize that deeper security clearances would have to be given.

Sent to New York Yimes

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tax Surcharge Needed to Pay for the Iraq War (Providence Journal)

The Providence Journal Op-Ed is no longer on their website.
Please  scroll down


01:00 AM EST on Monday, March 3, 2008
IT IS MARCH 2008, and the Iraq war continues. I made a New Year’s resolution to fight to ensure that this generation of Americans pays for the war rather than passing the full cost to our children and grandchildren. They are, after all, members of the generation actually fighting the war. We owe them this.
It seems unlikely that the war can be ended during the rest of the Bush administration. Nevertheless, the administration can be persuaded to start paying for it. The Republicans used to be renowned for their fiscal discipline, so they can probably be shamed into passing legislation to begin to pay the horrifying financial cost of the conflict.
So far, the Iraq war has cost this country over $482 billion. None of this is being paid out of current revenue. Even worse, little of this is being paid for by domestic borrowing. The bulk of the funds used to pay for this war are generated by foreign borrowing. We are placing the viability of this country into the hands of foreign lenders.
It is imperative that this mounting debt be stopped and that the war be financed by a combination of increased revenue and forced domestic borrowing. Yes, we the people have to start making sacrifices alongside our troops.
A surcharge of 5 percent on each person’s taxes would raise revenue of about $41 billion (based on the IRS 2004 income figures, the latest available). This would add about $8 a year in income tax to those with under $10,000 in income; it would add about $150 a year to the taxes of a median income earner; and the precious millionaire whom Bush wants to spare from being taxed would have to pay another $37,000 in taxes. This tax increase would pay for about half the war’s ongoing cost. The rest would still have to be financed by borrowing.
Rather than borrowing from abroad, which, as we have seen with the decline in the dollar, places our whole economy in the hands of foreigners, the country must start borrowing from its own citizens. We could start by trying a voluntary approach through a celebrity supported “War Bond Campaign.” However, trying to raise another $40 billion may not be successful on a voluntary basis.
Therefore conscription of the country’s savings may become necessary. A good model for this is the Post War Credit scheme, based on the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, which was introduced by the British government during World War II to help pay for the war.
Forced saving would again be made as a surcharge on the income tax. The surcharge would begin at 2 percent for taxpayers earning $50,000 to $100,000 and would cost the average taxpayer in this range $130; for the next $100,000 the surcharge would be 4 percent and the additional tax burden would be $300; everything between $200,000 and $500,000 would be subject to a surcharge of 6 percent, with a $3,000 additional tax; for $500,000 to $1 million, the surcharge would be 8 percent and the additional tax would be $12,000; finally over $1 million, the surcharge would be 10 percent, with an additional tax of about $70,000.
The total savings extracted by this scheme would be about $38 billion. This would reduce America’s need to borrow for the war in the financial markets. Each individual’s savings would be credited to him or her and would be paid back once the war was over and borrowing requirements were reduced. Or we could do as the British did, hold the money until the person reached retirement age and pay it back as an annuity (perhaps even a small amount of interest could be credited each year to the account).
These two steps, increased taxes and a major saving effort (voluntary or forced) would benefit America. First, it would bring the costs of war home to each and every one of us. Second, it would prevent our imposing the costs of the war onto the next generation. We should be proud to do this. This indeed would be to support the troops. Both Democrats and Republicans should be willing to endorse this proposal.
Martin G. Evans is a professor emeritus at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (