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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Try not to do this when YOU volunteer.

Piece on the travails of volunteering in Cambridge Chronicle.

How the GOP Can Fix Health Care

The GOP must be truly bereft of ideas on health care if the commentary on your op-ed page is the best they can do (How the GOP Can Fix Health Care, New York Times, February 22, 2010: A17).

Former senator Bill Frist starts out strongly advocating that we pay for quality care. However he fails on the crucial tests: How is quality to be assessed; How much do we pay for it? Instead he segues into a non-sequitur advocating decentralization of payment decisions. As far as I can tell he means that "he who wields the scalpel should control the purse," which may be OK for the surgeon but may not be for the other 55 members of the team.

Mr. McClellan has some sensible ideas around Medicare; but why didn't he implement them when he was in charge of Medicare?

Mr. Pinkerton has little to offer; after all most medical research is already funded through the research councils using Federal Government funding.

One of Mr. Kolb's suggestions (health exchanges and ending tax exemptions) has already been rejected by the GOP.

Mr. Gingrich is focused on tort reform; but states that already engage in malpractice damage limitation do not have lower health costs than those who do not.

I do hope that better ideas emerge at next week's conference on health care.

Sent to New York Times

Report Faults 2 Who Wrote Terror Memos

Shame on your headline writer (Report Faults 2 Who Wrote Terror Memos, New York Times, February 20, 2010: A1, A9). They were Torture Memos not Terror Memos.

Shame on the Justice Department for arguing that the context of the times justified sloppy legal arguments. It is when we are under attack that we should hew most strongly to our ideals.

Sent to New York Times

Dr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Enrich do not go far enough (State should yell "cut" to film tax credit, Boston Globe, February 19, 2010: A11).

Giving tax breaks to big business to encourage them to locate in a given area is a beggar-thy-neighbor proposition. Often, as in New London, CT, the jobs never materialize.

Right now a bill going through the legislature is proposing an inter-state compact to bypass the Electoral College to ensure that the President is elected by all the people. We urgently need an inter-state, inter-city, inter-town compact that will disallow these ridiculous handouts to the wealthy top managers of corporations seeking tax breaks.

Where do you think that $4m or $10m or $20m tax rebate will go: right into the pockets of the CEO and top management through their profit related bonuses.

It is past time to say "No" to the corporate welfare bums (Quote from former Canadian New Democratic Party leader, David Lewis).

Sent to Boston Globe

A Hand in a House of Cards

The legal efforts to punish the rating agencies are insufficient (A Hand in a House of Cards, New York Times, February 16, 2009. We need to do something so that going forward the agencies' conflicts of interest are reduced.

Let the agencies' paymasters be the investors. Each financial transaction would have a small fee attached to it, like a Tobin tax. These fees would be used to pay the rating agencies; to keep them honest, a portion of the pay would be tied to achievement, that is the medium and long term accuracy of their ratings.

Such a system would eliminate the current conflict of interest faced by the rating agencies who are paid by the very firms/issuers they rate.

It is a great shame that Congress has not yet moved to correct this situation.

Sent to the New York Times

Liberty Mutual sets Hub expansion

I sent this letter to Mr. Edmund Kelly CEO of Liberty Mutual today.

I hope you will publicize it.

Since 1964 I have been a policy holder and owner of Liberty Mutual. I am distressed that at this difficult time for our cities and the Commonwealth our company is seeking $16M in tax relief from the City of Boston to help fund the expansion of our head office.

Think about the opportunity cost of that tax relief to the city in terms of teacher salaries, help to the disadvantaged, policing, and maintenance of the city's infrastructure.

I am ashamed that a profitable company like ours should come begging to the city which is facing major financial constraints. We need to pay our fair share. We had earnings of $259 million in the last quarter alone. We can afford to do the right thing.

I hope you will withdraw your request. It is the responsible thing to do.

Sent to Boston Globe

Gentle Diplomacy with Iran will not Work

Mr. Jacoby may come to regret what he wishes for: an armed attack on Iran (Gentle diplomacy with Iran will not work, Boston Globe, February 10, 2010).

Neither Mr. Jacoby nor I know what is going on in behind the scenes diplomacy, so to label it a failure is premature and unhelpful. What is clear is that like the Cold War Soviet Union, there are hawks and doves in Tehran; a fact never mentioned by Mr. Jacoby. That the mixed signals coming out of Tehran about their nuclear program provide an opportunity for skillful diplomacy to reinforce the doves and undermine the hawks in order to reach an acceptable agreement.

It seems to me that opening a third war front by an attack on Iran would be virtually impossible. Yes, an initial attack might be successful but what of the aftermath?

I am one with Winston Churchill on this one: "Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War."

Baker Left Facts Behind

It seems that Mr. Baker has been quick to pick up the first rule in the Republican play-book: lie and then retract (Baker left facts behind, Boston Globe, February 7, 2010: B1).

It was after all George H. W. Bush who famously said during his campaign for President: "Everyone remembers the lie, no one remembers the retraction."

It is going to be a long campaign. Let us hope it is not too nasty.

Sent to Boston Globe