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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Frank's Redistricting Complaint

MetroWest Daily News op-ed; no longer on-line. Here is a version:


Redistricting and Barney's Version





Martin G. Evans





It was sad to hear of Barney Frank's retirement from politics. He has been a reliable liberal voice in the house for over 30 years.

It was even sadder to hear his complaints about the Massachusetts redistricting results.

For the first time in a generation, the Redistricting process in Massachusetts was open and transparent. Meetings were held by the Joint Committee on Redistricting across the state so that ordinary people could provide their fine-grained input about where sensible boundaries might be drawn. Common Cause even held a contest so that individual citizens could design maps using publicly available (at no cost) on-line software. The results can be seen here: http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=7751111

The Redistricting Committee had to consider several important constraints:

Districts had to be of equal size

Districts had to fulfill the Commonwealth's obligations under Federal law

Districts as far as possible should be:

 compact

not split other political divisions (e.g., towns or cities)

keep communities of interest together

Finally, in a perfect world, districts should not reflect the preferences of the incumbents

Frank is reported as saying that “If the district had been substantially similar, I would have felt obligated to run again.” 

This year, with Massachusetts having lost a Congressional seat, it was impossible to create districts that were substantially similar to those designed a decade ago. In the process, legislators and common people alike had the chance to argue for their preferred district boundaries.

This year the Committee did a good job of meeting the formal criteria

This year, these new districts give the public a chance to chose their Representatives rather than fulfilling the old cliché: “The Representatives choosing the voters they prefer.”

Gerrymandering is dead in Massachusetts..




Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

The I-word

Professor Rogoff does not make a persuasive case that all of us will be better off in the long run if inflation is allowed to rise to 6% per year (The I-Word, Ideas: Boston Globe, August 28, 2011: K1, K3.

It seems to me that two groups will be experience significant collateral damage. Poor people who have had stagnant real wages for over a decade will probably experience stagnant money wages for the next few years so will have to buy more expensive (due to inflation) necessities.

At an inflation rate of 6%, seniors see their assets depreciate by about 30% over the next six years. Many of these are the people whom Professor Rogoff hopes will engage in accelerated discretionary spending to help the economy out of its slump.

I would suggest that, after being battered by the Stock Market, these people will be more likely to increase savings to maintain their assets in real terms. Thus the foundation upon which Professor Rogoff builds the engine of recovery is flawed.

Sent to Boston Globe

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fairies, Witches, and Supply and Demand

Another way for Motoko Rich to frame the analysis of children's stories would be in terms of inculcating motivational tendencies in young readers (Fairies, Witches And Supply And Demand, New York Times Week in Review. August 21, 2011: 5).

David McClelland and his associates looked at themes in children's stories over a long period of time and showed that economic growth in a country followed several decades after that country's children were socialized using stories with themes reflecting high need for achievement.

My favorite achievement theme story is "The Little Engine that Could" by Watty Piper.

Sent to New York Times

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Supercommittee: Jockeying

So there is jockeying around who is to be appointed to the deficit reduction committee (Republicans and Democrats begin Jockeying Anew in Next Phase of Budget Fight. New York Times, August 4, 2011: A1, A14).

We know that many Republican legislators have taken Grover Norquist's No Tax Increase pledge. This should automatically disqualify them from serving on the supercommittee.

For the sake of the Nation, I would hope that all members of the Committee would sign a pledge that between now and the end of November they will not meet with, talk with, read e-mails and text messages from, or receive legislative suggestions from lobbyists.

Sent to New York Times

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Debt Deal

The time has come for the business owners and managers of America to stand up and prove that the "confidence fairy" skeptics like Paul Krugman are wrong. In his latest column, Professor Krugman says "Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn’t work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record." The President Surrenders. New York Times, August 1, 2011).

We all know that at present we are still on a continuing downward spiral. As the economy fails to improve -- microscopic increases in GNP and employment -- there is little consumer demand therefore firms are unwilling to hire new employees or take back those that have been laid off.

The economic cycle is however under our joint control. If, despite the lack of current demand, the businesses of America took a risk and started hiring, the income earned by these employees would trickle into the market and would result in increased demand. That would halt the downward spiral and soon result in the cycle reversing into an upward spiral of increased demand, increased employment, and rising GDP.

I can think of no better cause for the right to embrace than to "prove" the Keynesians wrong and that their model of improving confidence would result in improved economic performance.

How about it American business? It is time to hire.


Sent to New York Times

Monday, August 1, 2011

Leaders' Wives in NH.

I read with interest your piece about the Presidential and Vice-Presidential spouses visiting the homecoming of NH National Guard troops in Concord NH (Leaders’ wives urge support for military families, Boston Globe, July 25, 2011).

Then I wondered why one of them was not at the MA National Guard homecoming yesterday at the armory on Concord Avenue in Cambridge.

Then I remembered: NH is politically competitive, MA is not.


Sent to Boston Globe

Monday, July 25, 2011

Amazon Takes On California

Why do we have to deal with the internet sales tax problem in a piecemeal, state by state fashion (Amazon takes on California, New York Times, July 14, 2011: B1, B4)?

The Federal Government needs to invoke the inter-state commerce clause and require that retailers collect sales tax for all purchases that are incurred over the internet. Then brick and mortar retailers will not be disadvantaged relative to internet retailers.

And how does Amazon even think that failing to collect sales tax is a socially responsible act. They are just increasing the costs for the rest of us.


Sent to New York Times

Read My Lips: No New Taxes

Mr. Norquist is eloquent in telling us that spending is out of control (Read My Lips: No New Taxes, New York Times, July 222, 20111: A19). However he does not tell us where to make those cuts. Even Tea Party members want to bring the pork home to their states (Cost Cutters, Except When the Spending Is Back Home. New York Times, July 19, 2011)..

He also loses credibility in his crusade when he argues against reducing tax loopholes because he defines them as "tax increases." I, for one, would define removing loopholes as "spending cuts." It has the same effect on the deficit whether a dollar is sent in the mail to a social security beneficiary or whether it is deducted from the taxable income of an oil company.

It is the big subsidies to agro-business (corn, sugar), to hedge-fund managers, and to the oil companies that we need to cut, not the welfare of the inhabitants of Main Stree.


Sent to New York Times

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stagnant wages = foregone income taxes

Providence Journal, June 2011


This is no longer on the Providence Journal website. Here it is.


“Starving the Beast:” Let me Count the Ways.

Martin G. Evans

Since the 1980's Republican politicians have used every opportunity to cut tax rates in order to “starve the beast” and reduce government spending. There is, of course, strong evidence that, despite the Laffer curve, a low tax regime has resulted in lower revenues. However, tax rate reductions may not be the primary cause. At the same time that Republican politicians were cutting tax rates, corporate America disengaged the link between productivity and employee wages so that over the past twenty years, all the benefits of increased industrial productivity have gone to the top 5% of those receiving incomes with the income of the lowest 95% stagnating in real terms.

For the lowest quartile, income (in 2009 dollars) increased about 21%; for the top 5% it increased by 68%. If all income earners had experienced the same percentage increases as the top 5%, their incomes would have show dramatic increases: $11,000 for the lowest quartile, $22,000 for the second quartile, $32,000 for the third quartile, and almost $46,000 for the top quartile. Such increases in real terms would have enabled most families to avoid large debts while maintaining their previous lifestyle.

More importantly, the impact on tax revenues would have been dramatic. With such increases, some would have been promoted to a higher marginal tax rate and most would have increased taxable income. This would result in increased revenue for government As a result, the extra contribution to the Federal Government in 2009 from income taxes would have been over $100 billion dollars.

Enough to pay 2/3 of the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in that year.. More than enough to pay for preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds. Enough to rebuild much of the road and rail infrastructure over ten years. Or enough to provide tax cuts for all.

Stagnation in wages as well as leaving individuals unable to continue a middle class lifestyle without going into debt has also starved government of the tax revenue needed for its vital expenses (war, education, or even tax cuts).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For a Couple, Strauss-Kahn Is a Case for Silence

Re: For a Couple, Strauss-Kahn Is a Case for Silence, New York Times, June 20, 2011:A20.


I have one simple question: Why didn't the head of the law firm for which the husband works say to the client: I am sorry we cannot take your case, one of our partners is married to the lead prosecutor.

It seems to me that the couple should share recusals, otherwise defendants can play a game of choosing their law firm with the purpose of rendering highly competent and experienced prosecutors impotent.

States Want More in Pension Contributions

It is unfortunate that Steven Greenhouse perpetuates the myth that employees are not responsible for paying 100% of their pension contributions (States want more in pension contributions, New York Times, June 16, 2011:B1, B8).

A pension is merely cash compensation that has been deferred. Instead of an employee taking all the compensation in cash and then saving some proportion and managing those savings, it is cheaper and more effective for the employer to make those savings and manage the assets -- financial services are cheaper wholesale than retail.

The proportion set aside for pensions is negotiated through collective bargaining -- but all of it comes from the employees' pockets. here is a negotiated trade-off between cash pay and benefits. The proportion of the pension contribution that is formally deducted from the paycheck versus the proportion that the employer holds back (and supposedly sets aside) is merely a book-keeping convention.

The reason that citizens are balking at the compensation enjoyed by public sector employees is that their wages have been stagnant over the past 25 years (except for the top 1 percent of wage earners); while corporations have failed to compensate employees in line with productivity increases, they have also fed them a story about the excesses of the public sector.

These attacks on public sector workers are appealing to the rest of us who have lost our good pensions and health benefits, but they miss the target of restoring fiscal balance.

Lower levels of government need additional support from the Federal government. This should be paid for by a new tax on financial transactions. That is where the money is, that is where a tiny tax on each transaction would result in a flow of funds to the treasury without crimping normal economic activity on main street.

It is only right that Wall Street should help out at this time.

Sent to New York Times

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Horror!

Letter about Hockey in Toronto Globe and Mail [Scroll down to second Letter]

Friday, June 3, 2011

States Secrets Blocks Resolution of Contractors' Case

The two recent decisions by the Supreme Court not to intervene in State Secrets cases means we have to seek a legislative solution (State Secrets Block Resolution of Contractors' Suit, Justices Say. New York Times, May 24, 2011: A17).

The States Secrets Protection Act was introduced by a bipartisan coalition into the last two Congresses following the 2007 report by the American Bar Association on the misuse of the States Secrets Privilege.

The bill should be re-introduced and passed in a timely fashion by both Houses of Congress. The bill will allow judicial review of whether or not the States Secrets defense is justified. Instead of having to rely on the word of the Government, there will be appropriate judicial review. Such review is essential when we remember that the initial acceptance of the States Secrets privilege was built on a lie in the original 1953 Reynolds decision.


Sent to New York Times

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let Shareholders Decide

I strongly agree with John Bogle's view that shareholders should have the final say in how corporate funds are distributed for political purposes (The Supreme Court Had Its Say, Now Let Shareholders Decide, New York Times Week in Review, May 15, 2011: 9).

But shareholders are not the only stakeholders with an interest in this issue. As a consumer, I have a vested interest in whether the Corporation delivers its largess to causes of which I approve. It is therefore essential that there be complete transparency so that I can direct my purchases to companies whose political donations are only to approved politicians.

Each consumer contributes a tiny amount to the Corporation's cash flow. A small proportion of that cash flow gets diverted to politicians rather than contributing to profit. I should be able to direct whether that proportion goes to a politician, or to profit, or to a charity; and if to a politician, it should go to those of whom I approve.

Getting that enshrined in law will be a long and Quixotic quest.

States Loosen Insurance Rules

I cannot believe that the states are encouraging irresponsible behavior by the Insurance Companies (Seeking Business, States Loosen Insurance Rules. New York Times, May 9, 2011: A1, A3).

After the catastrophic collapse of the mortgage and insurance markets of the late 2000's, I would have thought that states would ratchet up the rules rather than loosen them. It is highly risky to allow captive reinsurers to operate with high leverage. Any reverses will ricochet destructively through the economy.

I lived in Maryland when the state chartered Savings and Loan Companies failed and the State reneged on its underlying commitment to insure the deposits. Many ordinary people lost their savings.

The states should ensure that the firms they charter undertake their activities in a prudent and responsible manner.

Books: Selling and Writing

RE: Don't I know you from the Dust Jacket? New York Times Book Review, May 8, 2011: 27.

But George Orwell hated every moment of the time he worked at a Hampstead bookstore.

Business Focus

Two stories in today's New York Times discouraged me. First was the continuing and long standing complaint that the Nuclear Regulatory Commisision was a captive of that industry and that important safety precautions were not made and those failures were not punished by the NRC (Nuclear Agency Is Criticized as Too Close to Its Industry. New York Times, May 8, 2011: A1). Second was the failure of major data archives to protect the identity of the data stored therein (There's No Data Sheriff on the Wild Web. New York Times Week in Review, May 8, 2011: 2).

In both cases, essential security features were not put in place because they were "too expensive."

When was it that American Industry turned from an emphasis on technical rigor and pride in doing an excellent job to the present focus on parsimony? Parsimony, that is, when it comes to providing adequate products and services but generosity in rewarding the top echelon of the managerial team.

We have to return to that focus on a job well done despite the cost or we will suffer unimaginable problems in the years ahead. Let's start with really tightening up the safety levels of our aging Nuclear Reactors. Apropos Vermont, lying about the existence of underground pipes should be a clear basis for not issuing an operating permit for another twenty years.

Preventing the Next Flash Crash

The op-ed by Ed Kaufman and Carl Levin (Preventing the Next Flash Crash, New York Times, May 6, 2011) calls for increased regulation of the financial markets to reduce the chances of a catastrophic fall in the stock, bond, and derivative markets.

Another way of slowing the amount of speculation in those markets is to institute a financial transactions tax. Doing this with a corresponding reduction in corporate income taxes would be a boost for Main Street at a cost to Wall Street.

That would be a winning trade off.

Furloughs, but Paydays for the Brass

Your story about the management excesses at Gannett at a time when the firm was laying off staff and insisting that the survivors take furloughs shows the disconnect between the executive suite and the ordinary worker in America today (Furloughs, but Paydays for the Brass, New York Times, April 11th., 2011: B1, B3).

But it is a disconnect that will come at a price. All the research on downsizing, except that following a merger, shows that the economic benefits of downsizing are unlikely to occur unless a firm's top management share the pain -- something that Gannett claimed would happen but then failed to implement (with top team bonuses totaling $3 million). We can therefore expect that Gannett will continue its inexorable financial decline.

There is one simple way to change the situation. Let differential responsibility be reflected in basic compensation. But let every employee share the same percentage bonus (based on overall firm performance) as that of top management.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Legality 1, Reality 0

What kind of mindset inhabits the brains of the senior officials of the Justice Departments (Detainees' Lawyers Can't Click on Leaked Files. New York Times, April 27, 2011: A1, A10).

We have moved from the Orwellian world of George W. Bush where torture was given the euphemism, "enhanced interrogation" to the Kafkaesque world of Barrack Obama where unindicted suspects live in legal limbo at Guantanamo and Leavenworth.

President Obama, that is not the kind of change I voted for.

Sent to New York Times

De Leo's Plan

The only vision that Speaker DeLeo's plan will instantiate is a world enjoying a downward spiral of inferior jobs, and inferior pay, and inferior benefits (Editorial, Boston Globe, April 21, 2011).

State and local government employees are not overcompensated compared with private sector employees. The perceived differences are due to comparing public sector employees who are mainly in professional jobs with private sector employees who are in entry level jobs.

Compensation is not simply pay, it is also pensions and health-care benefits. In previous contract negotiations, public sector workers gave up larger pay increases in order to purchase health-care and pension benefits. Let us be clear. They (the employees, not the cities, towns, and states) are paying for those benefits with deferred or redirected compensation.

The reason that the citizens of the Commonwealth are balking at the increased costs is that, over the past 25 years, private sector compensation has stagnated (except for the top 1% of the earning population).

Corporations have starved most of us; the motto starve the beast was directed at government but impacted us all. Now they want the public sector to join in the race to the bottom and are using ordinary people, who are struggling to pay their bills, to achieve their goals.


Sent to Boston Globe

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Prison that Won't Go Away

President Obama has decided to keep open the military prison at Guantanamo and will continue trial by Military Commission (The Prison That Won't Go Away, New York Times, March 8, 2011).

After President Nixon ordered his Attorney General to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliott Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelhouse resigned in protest.

Where are resignations from the Justice Department in protest against this misguided policy?

Why has no one raised a voice against a policy that will continue to damage the US in terms of its standing abroad, especially in the Arab world.

Because it is President Obama, from whom so much was expected, who has endorsed the Bush policy, it may be that the world's reaction will be even more severe than it was to the intial imposition of the policy.

It is a sad day for America.


Sent to New York Times

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Obama's new Gitmo policy

If there is one thing that George Bush did that destroyed America's image in the world, it was the sequestering of terrorist suspects in the prison at Guantanamo bay – America's Devil's Island. For a time, it seemed that with the Obama Administration in power, there was a chance that America's reputation might be restored (Obama's new Gitmo policy is a lot like Bush's old policy, Washington Post, March 8, 2011).

Alas, President Obama has accepted the George W. Bush mindset and has decided that laws and natural justice are irrelevant and that we will continue to hold suspects at Guantanamo Bay; and that we will continue to deny them trials in American courts, courts that have shown a remarkable capacity for providing fair trials to terror suspects; and that we will continue to hold some suspects indefinitely without trial.

The country and the world expected better of Obama, so the damage to our reputation caused by his “acceptance of the political reality” and abandonment of American values will be all the more severe.


Sent to Washington Post

Broke Town USA

There is of course a simple solution for the financial crises facing
states, cities, and towns (Broke Town, USA, New York Times Magazine,
March 6, 2011: 26-29). They desperately need Federal aid.

When New Orleans was devastated by Katrina, we had no difficulty with
pouring federal aid into Louisiana to restore and improve that city.
Today the States are facing the financial tsunami unleashed by Wall
Street. Most of them are facing budget deficits. Part of their
response is to cut aid to counties, towns and cities which put their
precarious finances in jeopardy - would that Watson could come up with
a costless solution!

What is needed is federal funding equivalent to about 25% of each
jurisdiction's 2007 budget. That money would remove the dangers of
drastic cuts to public services, to unemployment payments, to
medicare, and to the alleviation of poverty in a world in which 18% of
the working population is unemployed or underemployed.

Sadly, there is no political will to pour such necessary federal aid
into the states. A century from now, we will look back with regret on
that missed opportunity to stoke the recovery; just as today we regret
Roosevelt's attempts at budget balancing in 1937.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thanks to MoJo for breaking the rules

Here is my letter in the Boston Globe.

Here is the article I was responding to:

A fine weave of family, work

The fact is, Abortion is dangerous to women

Ms. Fraga is wrong (Letters, February 8, 2011).

She is implicitly comparing the current situation with an ideal world where there is no abortion. But that is not the world that existed before Rowe v. Wade. In those years, abortions were illegal and had much higher maternal death rates than occur today.

We should all agree on the necessity for good education about birth control and about the responsibilities of both parties to a sexual encounter so that abortion is rare.


Sent to Boston Globe

Schott Op-Chart: Vive la difference

I am sorry that Mr Schott (January 19, 2011:A 19) omitted the characterization of Canada that I learned when I first moved there 38 years ago.

Canada had the good fortune to be exposed to British political wisdom, French culture, and American know-how. It had the misfortune to adopt British know-how, French political wisdom, and American culture.


Sent to New York Times

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A response to the Citizen's United ruling

OpEd in the Providence Journal



This has vanished from their website, so here it is

A Citizen's response to the Citizens United Ruling

Martin G. Evans


The Supreme Court has, in its Citizens United decision, unleashed a flood of corporate and union money into the election process. In so doing, it has overturned a hundred years of precedent. It would appear that this has changed the face of elections for the future. We now have anonymous donations going to pay for advertisements supporting corporate and union agendas.

What can we do about it?

These are the issues on which citizens should focus their attention.

First we need to bring into alignment the tax treatment of individuals and corporations when it comes to political expenditures. If I give $500.00 dollars to my favorite candidate, this sum comes from my after tax income. The same should be true of corporations. Any money from their treasury expended on political activity should not be treated as a business expense so should come from their after tax income. Making this non -deductible will also enhance transparency as it will have to appear as a separate line in the Corporation's income statement. I would like to see similar treatment for their lobbying activity on Capitol Hill and in the Statehouses around the nation. The difficulty there is that some lobbying is likely to be a legitimate expense while other lobbying is purely political in nature; we may have to impose an arbitrary fraction of those expenses (say 30% as tax deductible while the rest comes out of after-tax income.

If allowing no deductions seems too harsh, we might adopt the system used in Canada. There, to encourage small donations to political parties, the first $400 of contribution receives a tax credit of 75%; that is one's tax bill is reduced by $300 if one gives $400.00. The next $350 receives a credit of 50%; the next $525 receives a credit of 33.33%. Donations over $1275 receive no tax benefit. These diminishing credits could be granted to both individuals and corporations to encourage broader participation in the financial support of politicians.

Second we need to bring the treatment of corporations and unions into alignment. Since the Supreme Court's decision in Beck v. Communication Workers of America (1988), Unions have had to rely on “voluntary” contribution from members to fund their political activities. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that Unions could only legally collect fees to cover their administrative and collective bargaining expenses; thus members could opt out of paying any additional dues that were used for political activities. As opting out was a fairly difficult process, it is not clear how many union members took advantage of the reduced union dues available under the Beck ruling. Nevertheless, this does place a potential constraint on unions' political expenditures: if too much is spent in this way, more members may opt out thus reducing the unions’ ability to play in the political arena.

The equivalent constraint for a corporation would be for shareholders to have the right to control corporate political activity. Such constraints might be imposed in two ways. First the shareholders as a body might be required to vote on the next year’s political activity budget and on broad lines on the issues on which it is to be expended. Given the lethargic shareholder governance that currently exists, this would leave the decisions on political expenditure where it is today: in the hands of top management. The second approach would be to give each shareholder the right to “opt out” of making a contribution to political activity. He or she could request that her/his proportion of the political budget be redirected to charity instead of being used for political activity. Alternatively, the individual shareholder could direct to which politician(s) his or her share of the political budget was to be directed. Equitable treatment of Unions and Corporations requires that one or other of these systems to constrain corporate spending be incorporated as quickly as possible.

On the legislative front, we need to pass the DISCLOSE bill that would insist that corporations and unions be open and above board in acknowledging their corporate expenditures. In the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court called for but did not mandate full disclosure. Just as individual contributions have to be fully disclosed, then as persons, corporate disclosure should also be mandated. One alternative route for disclosure might be for the SEC to issue a regulation that all corporations listed on US stock exchanges had to show in the quarterly and annual reports to the SEC a line item showing the corporation's political expenditures in the previous period. Another alternative might be for states (including Delaware) to insist that providing such a line item would be a condition of incorporation in the state.

Finally, transparency would permit consumer pressure to be brought on corporations. Just as, in the recent campaign (2010), Target was excoriated by many consumers and progressive groups for its support of a gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota who opposed same-sex marriage. It might also be feasible to start a campaign whereby consumers asked that their portion of cash-flow contributions that went to political activity be redirected to charity. Such consumer control is a long way off.

We need to work at both the state and federal levels to pass legislation that will expand shareholder and consumer rights in the domain of corporate political expenditures. Then democracy will be returned to the people.


He is Professor Emeritus of Organizational Behavior at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rating Agencies Struggle

Your discussion of the continuing failure of the rating agencies fails to mention the one real reform that would provide incentives to the agencies to provide accurate assessments (The Trade: Post Crisis, A Return To Old Habits, New York Times, January 6, 2011: B1, B11).

The agencies should be paid by the consumers of their information, not by the institutions whose products they are rating. There is no other market wherein the producer pays for a product's ratings.

What is needed is a small tax on every financial transaction. This tax would be used to pay the rating agencies. Pay would be based on performance. If a product received a higher rating than it deserved, the rating agency would forfeit its compensation.

This would remove the current conflict of interest in the market for ratings.


Sent to New York Times

Retreat on End of Life Counseling

It is a great pity that the Administration has rescinded the regulation allowing doctors to be compensated by Medicare for end-of-life discussions with their patients.

As you stated on December 26th:
"The final version of the health care legislation, signed into law by President Obama in March, authorized Medicare coverage of yearly physical examinations, or wellness visits. The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning," to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

Under the rule, doctors can provide information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive," stating how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are so sick that they cannot make health care decisions for themselves."

This retreat says much about the political incompetence of the administration (yes, I voted enthusiastically for Obama). Throughout 2009 and 2010 the Republicans vociferously denounced the proposal as the creation of "death panels" which would reduce a person's right to a long life. It appears that this outcry was insufficient to alert the Administration that there might be objections to its new regulation.

It is clear that the Administration did not prepare the public and the Congress for the introduction of the rule so that it, in turn, was unprepared to resist the objections to the policy that has occurred since it was announced.

It is incomprehensible to me that the Administration did not do the political and educational work required to explain this policy which in the past, as you note, has garnered bipartisan support.

This is not a good omen for the future political initiatives by the Obama Administration.


Sent to Boston Globe