March 30, 2003

Vermont's Act 60 Dilemma

As Vermont struggles with how to fund its K-12 education system, proposals to use the sales and use tax and/or the income tax to supplement or replace the property tax have generated considerable interest. I favor continuing primary reliance on the property tax because it is relatively stable, albeit with some dificulties in fair administration and statewide property value appraisal.

Heavy reliance on the income tax, already too high, will drive mobile Vermonters away. Sales and use taxes hold some attraction, but they can vary substantially with the economic cycles.

The legislature must think long and hard about proposing radical changes, particularly without any coherent overall tax strategy for the state.

As important as the revenue source is cost control. We cannot afford a continuation of the 40% increase in education spending, whatever the drivers, that we experienced between 1997 and 2002. These increases are not sustainable. Left unchecked, they, along with escalating costs of health care, will create an unsustainable demand for revenue and surely dampen economic development and job growth.

March 29, 2003

James Webb's Somber Appraisal of the War to Date

Mr. Webb has a background in Vietnam that qualifies him to make this assessment, particularly in light of the suicide taxi bombing today that killed four soldiers. If the Iraqis fight to defend their homeland or if the irregulars and Fedayeen Saddam are able to threaten and intimidate the populace to prevent an uprising of the Shiia, then this will be a tough go. Nevertheless, if there are WMD, then we must do it. If WMDs are not found, this will be a tragic mistake.

March 28, 2003

War is Not Pretty or Surgical

CWO Pat Woellhof is expressing the truth. Mr. Kristof may not like the stark reality of war, but here it is. Saddam uses these tactics. His people bear the pain. America takes the bad rap. Where is the logic here? Should the Marines not shoot to kill? Use rubber bullets? Walk away? What, Mr .Kristoff?

From NY Times' self-proclaimed dove, Nicholas Kristof :

"My intrepid Times colleagues Dexter Filkins and Michael Wilson are with U.S. marines who were in a firefight in which Iraqi fighters hid among women and children. After 10 Americans had been killed, the marines became less meticulous about avoiding civilian casualties."

"It's not pretty; it's not surgical," Chief Warrant Officer Pat Woellhof told them. "You try to limit collateral damage, but they want to fight. Now it's just smash-mouth football."

March 27, 2003

Facts Wrong

From the NY Times, 3/27/03

I think two tons is a bit of an understatement!!

With American troops deep in Iraq, one of the biggest challenges is keeping them supplied with fuel, water, food and ammuntion (sic). A 20,000-person division can go through two tons of supplies in a day.

To keep up, hundreds of trucks each day make the the 14-hour trip from Kuwait to forces at the front in Iraq, where they unload their supplies, change drivers, and head home again.

March 25, 2003

Iraq's Republican Guard

These guys won't fall easily, but continuous pounding, particularly at night should wear them down to defeat. The most difficult part will be when they discard their uniforms and form a guerilla force in Baghdad. Undoubtedly they have plenty of small arms ammo and grenades stashed throughout the city.

March 23, 2003

NY Times Editorial Right on Target

America and the coalition must pursue for a very long time the sources of both materiel and intellectual capacity that can be used to produce chemical and biological warfare agents. Unless this top priority goal is accomplished, and soon, the Iraq war cannot be considered complete. It will be insufficient to destroy the existing stocks of these agents, but the capacity to produce them must also be contained.

March 22, 2003

America's Military

General Tommy Franks first briefing portrays policy as well as military results.

"Asked about Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, which was under siege by U.S. and British forces Saturday, Franks said: "What we have seen is that the Iraqis are welcoming" allied forces as they move through the country. He said they expect the same reaction when Basra falls.

"This is about liberation not occupation," the U.S. general said."

America's military might is on display for the whole world to see in real time. Any doubts about what our military technology in the hands of highly skilled and motivated Americans can do will now be dispelled.

The challenge for American foreign policy after Iraq is to convince the world that we do understand good and evil and will not equivocate on the basis of bankrupt theories of relativism so prominent in our culture and in other parts of the world. America intends to preserve it's way of life and freedom. The recently heralded failure of American diplomacy at the UN and elsewhere, while serious, cannot dissuade us form protecting ourselves.

I challenge the world to solve the North Korean mess with diplomacy. The French, Germans, China and South Korea and Japan seem the logical partners for the effort if they believe the US cannot do so.

March 21, 2003

Thank You, Tony Blair

I have enormous respect for Tony Blair on two counts:

1/ He is a man of principle (as is President Bush), rather than a 'finger in the wind' politician. He recognizes good from evil, right from wrong and is willing to risk his future on his beliefs.

2/ He is a true friend of America.

This link suggests that he did a masterful job in parliament earlier in the week: I don't know where you come down on the war with Iraq, but I am a 110% supporter of Bush's position. He is doing the right thing. Chirac is a Gaullist retread and a menace to solidarity in the Western Alliance. (Schroeder in Germany is a second rate politician steeped in the pacifiist movement). The sooner Chirac is removed from office or collapses from old age, the better.

The only circumstance that would change my mind on Iraq is if no weapons of mass destruction were found there. My suspicion is that if such weapons are found, both France and Germany may wind up in embarassing straits. If they are not found, then I must rethink my position on President Bush.

James Black's Gratitude

Thank you, James Black!

London Daily Mail, Thursday, February 13, 2003

Dear America, you quirky mix of 280 million misfits that have somehow blended into the strongest nation in the world, I write to offer you
four apologies and two vows.

I, James Black, a European passport holder whose parents are Scottish, whose wife is English, and whose four children are free to be whatever
they may want to be (directly because of the sacrifice of your nation), am ashamed for pointing out to a colleague while visiting your country a few days ago that Winston Churchill was wrong when he said the biggest difference between Britain and the United States was the fact we both spoke the same language -- and instead, telling him that the real difference between our peoples was actually about 100 pounds per person.

I, James Black, who work as a journalist with the Daily Mail, one of Britain's national newspapers, and (directly because of the sacrifice of your nation) is able to say exactly what he wants whenever he wants without fear of death or imprisonment, also apologize for saying to the same colleague that many of the Americans I met were far less sophisticated and worldly than Europeans.

I, James Black, a man born free of social or physical shackles and chains, who is able to travel around the world and visit other countries and
who (directly because of the sacrifice of your nation) is able to converse, discuss, even argue with people from other nations, would like to
apologize for mocking your president and your political system. Your president may not be the sharpest knife in the cutlery set, but I now understand he and the good people of the United States operate not just from a high intellectual stance, but also from the heart -- a heart
that knows the difference between good and evil. And importantly, your president was smart enough to have picked the best to sit with him at the world table.

I, James Black, whose friends, family and colleagues are allowed to set up home, take a job, even run for politician, in any part of the European Union (directly because of the sacrifice of your nation) without being rounded up because of their religion or shot on the spot for their place of birth would finally like to apologize for the biggest mistake the people of my continent have ever made -- their total lack of respect for the greatest friend they will ever have -- the United States of America.

My anger at some of my fellow Europeans is more than palpable. I hear the self-centered, cowardly, and just plain annoying words thrown out by
old-minded -- old world -- so-called leaders of the Free World. I may have made fun of America and Americans, but deep down I know
this is only friendly banter between the greatest of friends -- and friends who should give their all to each other when called upon to do so.

So I, whose grandfather fought in both World Wars and had the good humor to suggest the Americans were late for both events, but the sense to
point out they ensured victory when they finally did show up, make my first vow:

I will never forget or dishonor the amazing and courageous sacrifice of the people of the United States in coming to the aid of the world over
the past ten decades. The men and women who left peace and prosperity in a land of plenty to face bullet and shrapnel on the beaches of Normandy and around the World.

I will honor the debt my small island nation owes for your unswerving devotion to aiding our continued freedom. Your help when we stood
small and alone against the plague of Nazi aggression. Your assistance in making us strong when the battle was finished and the peace began, and your protection from a colder enemy in the decades that followed.

I have stood, and I will stand again, with my own family,in places such as the cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, an eternal resting place for over 10,000 teen and twenty-something Americans who gave over ALL their future so that I and my children could have a future today, and I will again pledge my eternal gratitude.

I, James Black, a man who simply wants his children to live in a future where all good and constructive things are possible, a future where we
can discover, invent, enjoy, without fear of fanatics or madmen or the weapons and pain they may wreak, pledge my assistance to the United States in its fight against evil.

This is not brainwashed verse, but based on the honorable history and proven friendship the United States has with Europe. Further, it is based on the fact that the people and leaders of the United States have the foresight to see the world, even life itself, is futile without someone to love, things to build and create, and things to look forward to -- and none of these things are possible in a world awash with nuclear, chemical and biological arms controlled by those who despise the life we lead.

I am one person, but there are millions like me who thank the USA and wish your nation and your people all the best over the next few months -- and will be there by your side when the times get tough.

Yours with all my gratitude,

James Black
Wychwood Park, Cheshire, England

P.S.: It is said that today is the tomorrow we worried about
yesterday. You should be proud as a nation that you have something to do with the
fact it didn't turn out so badly after all -- nor should it again.

[James Black handles the Daily Mail's Answers to Correspondents column. e-mail address is]

March 19, 2003

Thank You, Mr. Bennett!

We seek to liberate Iraq today, not only because for Saddam torture is not a method of last resort in Iraq, it is often the method of first resort, according to Kenneth Pollack, President Clinton’s director of Gulf Affairs at the NSC. We seek to liberate Iraq because after Sept. 11, 2001, we were put on notice. We were put on notice that civilized people can no longer live in a bubble and hope for the best. We were put on notice that there are fanatics and tyrants who want nothing from us but our death. And this notice requires action: the action of the brave, the action of the unthanked, the action of the free.

"In Iraq as in other contemporary situations, the responsibility to act has been ours because the ability has been ours. The responsibility has been ours because oppressed people look to us for their deliverance. There is a duty in being the nation that Abraham Lincoln, speaking of our Declaration of Independence, called "a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression." That is who we happen to be. And it is an honor."

March 18, 2003

TIME Will Tell

This excerpt from a much longer piece published today by TIME goes to the reality of the timing decision made by President Bush. Anyone who has been to war or understands the realities of war knows that troops cannot be moved, massed and held in abeyance for months. There is a limited window in which to move or go home. In Iraq, the other relevant factor is the weather. Once decided, this war must commence now or 'wait until next year.' Waiting would not be politically wise.

"The administration's actions, however, were even more important than its words. Even as it pursued the UN route in the hope of maximizing international support for a war, the Bush team began moving swiftly and without pause to assemble an invasion armada capable of delivering a swift military victory over Saddam's regime. The "moment of truth" arrived not because of any crisis in the inspection process or any act of provocation by Iraq, but because the invasion force is now ready to fight and the window of optimal weather conditions for a ground war is closing fast. In the end, military logic has determined the timetable of diplomacy, rather than vice versa."

March 16, 2003

Why We Fight

I have begun reading William Bennett's book, Why We Fight Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. In it he quotes John Stuart Mill:

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of a moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight-nothing he cares about more than his own safety-is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

More later on the issues raised in Bennett's book first published in 2002. Suffice to say I am an admirer of Bennett because he has consistently exposed and argued against the theories, politics and philosophy of the 'peace party,' that umbrella of loosely linked advocates of a variety of causes from PETA to the anti-globalization, no-growth groups.

March 14, 2003

UN Wrangling

The charade is over. The Security Council has shown itself ineffective as a forum to stop tyrants and dictators with dangerous weapons. The UN cannot make hard decisions not have they the stomach for tough decisions. Do it Mr. Bush. Enough attempts at diplomacy with fools. Fight the war or send the troops home and leave the mess in French hands. They are a peace-loving nation, apparently comfortable with Saddam, Chirac's old friend.

March 12, 2003

Thank You, Senator McCain!

Articulate rationale for taking the war to Saddam now, the UN notwithstanding.

An excerpt...
Our armed forces will fight for peace in Iraq — a peace built on more secure foundations than are found today in the Middle East. Even more important, they will fight for the two human conditions of even greater value than peace: liberty and justice. Some of them will perish in this just cause. May God bless them and may humanity honor their sacrifice.

March 10, 2003

Safire Speaks to UN's Fractious Reality

Safire's column is a 'must read' for an articulate opposing view of the defenders of the United Nations as a force for peace. That it is not! People place false hope in the UN and that's unfortunate because it cannot deliver the goods when the chips are down.

Chirac is Out to Lunch

"Our position is no matter what the circumstances, France will vote 'no.' Because we think tonight there is no cause for war to achieve the objective that we fixed - the disarmament of Iraq," Chirac said in a televised interview.

Jacques is living in a dream world. wouldn't it be neat to know the real motivations driving the leaders of the countries opposed to disarming Hussein by force?

March 8, 2003

Friedman Again Mostly, Not Completely, Right

Friedman believes we should not go it alone in Iraq and he makes a good case, primarily concerning the aftermath of war. He says this is a war of choice. It is, based on Bush's policy of preemption enunciated many months ago, last summer, I think.

If Saddam has WMD and won't give them up, they must be taken away from him, sooner rather than later. If taken by force that must be done before the summer season. It would be ridiculous to stage 250,000 troops and logistics support in that part of the world and do nothing for an extended period of time. Friedman apparently does not understand the basics of warfare. You go when you have the advantage, not when the advantage slips because of weather, morale, or other factors.

If Saddam doe not have WMD, then Bush is making a serious mistake to mount an offensive. However, our intelligence must be correct or he would never take this gamble.

He's right that rebuilding Iraq is a task that would benefit from international help. However, the help Russia, China, Germany and China would provide would be 'to help themselves' and to protect or expand their investments. We have no economic investment in Iraq, so our motives on that score cannot be impugned.

March 7, 2003

The Holocaust is Real

Thanks to Emily Guziak, Free Press correspondent, for excellent coverage of the story and the clear, incisive comments in Friday's Burlington Free Press (3/7/03) and to Henry Greenbaum for continuing to tell the true story of the Holocaust and his experiences at Auschwitz in the early 1940's. This reality must be kept continually before our eyes and our consciousness. Thanks to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, which I visited last year, for carrying the truth to our age and supporting this seminar at UVM. Those who would deny the Holocaust are misguided bigots. We cannot let their venomous lies go unrefuted. The truth must be told these days and forever.
Applause for Mr. Greenbaum for sharing your experiences! I hope the Vermont teachers who attended this event at the University of Vermont will bring the truth to their students. Genocide is not a relic of a bygone era and cannot be ignored. It must be confronted because it has happened many times (Serbia, Cambodia, Rwanda, etc.) since WW II. This crime against the human race is a travesty of evil that the United Nations is practically ineffective to prevent.

How can thinking people deny the obvious fact that evil dwells in the heart of man? Of course, good is present within people, too, but left to the devices of the heart, the sin of man will flourish unless evil is called it's true name and challenged for what it is at every turn. Our society would like to deny the reality of evil and attribute its revelation to bad upbringing, a disadvantaged youth, no chance in life, deprivation, genetic predisposition, drugs, capitalism, communism, and myriad other excuses. The suggestion that Man will evolve to a better state if provided all the correct stimuli is a myth. The only salvation for man's inherently evil heart is salvation through Jesus Christ!

March 6, 2003

Vermont's Act 60 is Dead Meat

After 40+ towns defeated school budgets on Town Meeting Day this week, the message must ring clearly in Montpelier: Act 60 is a failure both as a funding mechanism and as an incentive to increase the quality of our public schools. The data I've seen reported is the bill for K-12 public education in Vermont has risen from $600 Million to nearly $ 1 Billion in a half a decade years while enrollment has declined and quality is flat.

This unsustainable trajectory leads to fiscal carnage. Our children aren't benefited in any substantial way, though in some towns who have spent substantially more on education than before Act 60, I'm sure some improvements can be demonstrated.

Governor Douglas is right to call for control of expenditures in any replacement or Act 60. Re-crafting Act 60 into something that works for both students and taxpayers must be the Legislature's highest priority. Failure to deliver on this difficult challenge should be considered failure by the people of Vermont.

Since local control of school funding and performance is a myth, perhaps it's time for one 'Vermont school district.'

Million Dollar Salaries

If true that each of these guys will be paid a million dollars for 10 45 second spots on 60 Minutes, we have once more crossed the bridge to absurdity. However, I suppose Viagra is expensive and legal bills have mounted up...


March 3, 2003

A Kurd From the Great Beyond

Safire brilliantly captures the post-war dilemma posed by the ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq and Turkey. Intriguing how insignificant are political borders in the centuries-old ethnic and religious struggles.

March 2, 2003

Freep Says NO on Act 60

Today's Freep editorializes that folks should veto school budgets locally to force the Legislature to fix Act 60. If people respond to this appeal, most certainly action will be needed. As I've written before, Act 60 is broken. Enrollment declines, property taxes in support of schools continue to rise, education quality does not improve commensurate with the money spent on small class sizes and other enhancements. The problem must be fixed.

We Vermonters must cap school costs. Many ideas are surfacing to help with this, e.g., Statewide this, that and the other. Local control of education is a myth. Local control cannot accomplish the Supreme Court's ruling which led to Act 60.

Is Vermont small enough to have one school system? I wonder. What harm in modeling it publicly, openly, inviting full debate? Not political rhetoric, or special interest bleating, but a thoughtful look by pragmatists at what such a system would cost and what it might potentially deliver. Such work could be of more value than most Legislative Summer Study committees.

Friedman's Analysis...The Long Bomb

Insightful commentary by Thomas today. As usual he's mostly right, but not completely. The Iraq war and its following experiment in democracy is a big gamble and could only be conceived on two bases: first, Saddam must have WMDs, or we'll be the laughing stock of the world. Our intelligence must not fail us this time. Second, Bush has chosen Iraq for his attempt at nation-building precisely because it is not a place dominated by radical Islamic extremists. The switch from a tyrant to freedom and 'the rule of law' may have a good chance for success.
Nevertheless, the adventure is fraught with risk and uncertainty and our policy will take years to demonstrate success.

On balance, assuming the intelligence is correct, it's a risk worth taking. The best results are: Saddam and his henchmen are gone; WMDs are found and destroyed; oil is pumped freely from a modernized infrastructure, hopefully Iraq is not part of OPEC; people are free and their creative energy can be focused on capitalism and living their dreams. This is the right, principled thing to do.

This is a big risk, but more power to the Bush administration for taking a breakthrough approach to counter the backward cultures in that part of the world created by misguided, power-hungry Islamic zealots.