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Building Bridges

A tribute from Saudi Arabia. Infrastructure politics. Islam outloud. Founders and incorporation. Plus much more.

8.13.07

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VIA DIPLOMATIC POUCH
Re: Quin Hillyer's The Victims of Communism Memorial:

We are writing regarding your superb recent article, "The Victims of Communism Memorial," by Quin Hillyer. As Foreign Service officers who have spent much of our 23-year careers fighting Communism and other forms of totalitarian oppression, including in Poland, the USSR, Turkmenistan, and Iraq, we were deeply moved by this noble initiative. Too often it is forgotten that Communism, just as Nazism, was a horribly brutal and often successful effort not only to tell man what to do, but even what to think. We are sure it has not escaped you that the date of the unveiling, June 12, is also Russian Independence Day, proclaimed by the late President Boris Yeltsin from the Soviet Union. How appropriate!

Bravo to Ambassador Lev Dobriansky who conceived of this deeply honorable Memorial, and has now brought it to fruition. May his name live forever on the side of the truth-tellers, when so many others averted their eyes.

Yours sincerely,
-- Tatiana C. Gfoeller-Volkoff
U.S. Consul General
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

-- Michael Gfoeller
Deputy Chief of Mission
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

IN PERMANENT DISREPAIR:
Re: Randal O'Toole's Infrastructure Gridlock:

Randal O'Toole brings up interesting and appropriate points regarding the sorry condition of our nation's highways and I agree with his statements about the long lag time for government to take action to repair our roads and bridges. I also get to see every day the results of elite, environmental do-gooders plans and approaches to impede the development of an efficient and cost effective automotive based transportation system. In southern New Hampshire the do-gooders at the New Hampshire Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), which is really an offshoot of Massachusetts PIRG, have worked diligently for many years to block the proposed expansion of Interstate 93 in southern New Hampshire, which is one of the principal thruways to the metropolitan Boston area.

This highway has been subject to traffic jams for years during the morning and evening commute by average folks trying to get to work. The do-gooders at PIRG are the sons and daughters of rich liberals and they know better than our transportation experts the solutions that should be provided to improve transportation in the area -- light rail! If they knew anything about transportation engineering and the diverse manner of residential development in the southern New Hampshire area, they might understand why light rail will not displace any significant portion of those average folks who must use their automobiles to commute to work. Unfortunately, the Board of Directors of PIRG do not have to live and deal with clogged rush hour traffic on I-93 since they live in the Boston area (except for those Friday afternoons when they drive to the mountains and lakes of New Hampshire to enjoy peace and quiet at their mansions). Rather, they can litigate and appeal approvals granted several years ago on a project which is not even located in the state in which they live, thus delaying this much needed project and increasing its cost significantly -- all without fear of retribution for their ill-conceived and elitist thinking. All they care about is stopping development while thinking that they know what is best for average folks who are just trying to make a decent living.
-- Patrick R. Spooner, P.E.
Windham, New Hampshire

Good article by Mr. O'Toole. The examples of foolish government decision-making regarding infrastructure are numerous:

* Boston, 1960s. The lively, working-class West End was deemed "blighted" (Kelo, anyone?) by the legislature to make way for "urban development." Tens of thousands of residents were displaced as pork-laden demolition and construction contracts were doled out. Today the area is a sterile, lifeless zone of high rise apartments and the nation's ugliest government office building, the still-unfinished Hurley State Office building.

* Boston again, 1960s -1970s. Instead of creating a "loop" interstate like most major American cities have around their periphery the state decided to "invest" in public transportation. The Orange Line elevated street railway was sunk underground and the area where the trestles stood were made into "green space." The project failed spectacularly to relieve traffic congestion, necessitating the much more expensive ($15 billion), corruption-ridden "Big Dig" to put the Central Artery under the city.

* New York City/New Jersey Transit today. NYC has a subway and New Jersey a commuter rail system that ceases to operate during the rain, but Mayor Bloomberg wants to impose "congestion pricing" to reduce traffic. But New York will make a lot of money the next time folks need to drive in because the subway and trains aren't running due to weather. In the meantime the city wants to be a landlord and spend half a billion dollars on housing while the sewer system blows up. Priorities, please.

* New Jersey today. Hudson/Bergen Light Rail system that doesn't go into Bergen County because that part of the project has been abandoned to instead fund a third commuter rail tunnel from NJ to NYC. This tunnel should have been built years ago, as anyone who commutes into New York via New Jersey Transit rail knows all too well.

* United States Air Traffic Control. Grossly under-invested by the government in regards to equipment, stuck with decades-old radar systems and 1960's mainframe computers, the Federal Aviation Administration is a political football kicked around by both the executive and legislative branches. Privatization of ATC is okay for Canada, Germany, Australia and the UK but not here?

And some people want the government to run health care?
-- Paul DeSisto
Cedar Grove, New Jersey

I am a child of the 1940s and as I grew up many huge infrastructure projects were underway: The National highway System; sewer systems and water treatment plants everywhere. At least in part, these activities must have fueled the economic boom of the 1950's.

Then in the early 1960's everything changed. President Johnson finagled the welfare system through a democrat congress and economically enslaved millions of Americans. The focus then changed forever. Democrats now had a captive constituency and they intended to keep it. Billions went to "improving" the lives of our poorest citizens. And to be sure they stayed poor Mr. Johnson required that fathers not be in evidence in the home. Thus ended the family in the African-American household.

That's why there is a backup of infrastructure needs. Go to New York City. Quite literally everything in the city is between 50 and 100 hundred years old. Why? The politicians who have run it all this time spent money on poor people. This always has the same result: more poor people come to your door. Then more money is spent on poor people and so it goes.

I grew up in the northeast and it was a prosperous place. I moved to the south after the military and now when I go back "home" I find many of the cities and towns are reminiscent of Hue after the Tet Offensive. I just drove through Syracuse this summer and its central city would be best used for salvage of 100 year old bricks. One has only to look at the people loitering in alleys and doorways to see why this once lovely city is ridden with decay.

Universal healthcare will make this much worse. The healthcare program will be a political leash on citizens. It will be run, not to provide medical care but to keep politicians in office. In 15 years it will eat, digest and defecate every single penny the government has and benefit us not at all.

Watch the bridges then.
-- Jay Molyneaux
Quit, Cut & Run, USA

The beginning of the end of effective transportation systems will eventually be attributed to the Clinton Administration and those that went along with the idea that there should be Metropolitan and Rural Planning Organizations. These groups are required by law to exist and are the perfect infiltration route for the eco-freaks and any other group that seeks to have a disproportionate influence on transportation policy. As a group they lack the technical expertise an inclination to pick a good project from a bad project, especially from a financial or taxpayers standpoint.

The MPO and the RPO took away much of the planning process of the local state highway department. That system was not perfect and never seemed perfect until this system of politicians took over the setting of priorities. We still suffer with the Clinton Administration's version of cost-benefit analysis that allows any and all feel good aspects of public policy to acquire a dollar amount of worth no matter how intangible the concept or improbable the calculation. That process is still within OMB Circular 94.

Many states, desperate to control costs and frustrated with project selection have tried to mandate objective project selection so that the biggest bang for the buck could be obtained. Every one that was ever invented never lived long enough to do any good after the economic development crowd demanded special privileges. Usually the culprit is a loathing of one type of transportation to compete with the other. This means that the losers get to move in and dine off of the state trust fund even thought they do practically nothing for transportation as a whole.

The most dramatic proof of the failure of the cost-benefit proxy system of project selection is in the government statistics that show that allegedly safer roads have had little or no impact on the cost of buying insurance and the accident and injury rate. These inflation adjusted costs are going up while the cost of gas is stable.

Our city cousins in Tennessee will be asked to pay 15 cents per vehicle mile as tolls to get rid of the congestion in Nashville or Knoxville that is caused by over building country roads with excess capacity and in general ignoring urban needs. The country cousins expect to use their economic development highways at a little over 2 cents per vehicle mile. Everything wrong with transportation is wrong with socialism. There is no plan for the time when the rich tire of the income transfers.
-- Danny L. Newton
Cookeville, Tennessee

TELLING IT LIKE IT IS
Re: Christopher Orlet's Canned Koran:

In 950 words, Mr. Orlet has summed up the frustration and anger most thinking Americans feel when faced with political correctness and the double standard applied to most Americans' religion. Who says Islam is equal to or better than Christianity and when does the madness stop?
-- Judy Beumler
Louisville, Kentucky

Thanks for the article about Muslims and the double standard. This country better get real! I am a Christian and NOBODY cares about my "feelings" or my religion! I am so sick of Muslims and their hateful religion and the stupid liberals who buy into this crap!

Please, please, please, more articles on the beheaders nonsense and the pending ruination of America as we USED TO KNOW IT.
-- Carol A. Milanese

Finding Christopher Hitchens cited in AmSpec is surprising: admittedly, he is well versed in the subject of religion, but his position is vehemently hateful and biased in the extreme. Yet Mr. Orlet's citation of Hitchens' position is a sagacious one; Orlet uses one of the Left's brightest voices to score a point for the Right: the Constitution makes no judgment on which religion is most valuable. Hitchens, like the Constitution itself, is fair and balanced in regards to the value any particular religion. Neither gives more credence to the Torah, The Bible, Koran, Bhagavad-Gita or any other holy writing. Clearly The Constitution maintains one position when it comes to religion: legal neutrality.

Just as Jacob was unwise and unkind to favor Joseph over his brothers, legislators who favor the Qur'an and Islamic holy artifacts over other religious objects are also doing a disservice to all other religions. While a practitioner of a religion, by his actions, declares one religion to be of greater value than all others, he does no damage and bears no malice to other religions, unless it is part on his religious creed. But if the government singles out and protects one religion over others, it does more than the individual can; it adds enforcement to its beliefs. With the United States' strong religious roots, the writers of the Constitution could have easily legislated America into being a Christian nation, but they wisely chose to leave religious conviction to the conscience of individual citizens. Those legislators who wish to protect the Qur'an over all other religious objects deny the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. Further they demonstrate no understanding the natural entailments of creating special classes of laws to protect Muslim dignity and religious materials.

If legislators wish to legalize the obligation to treat a particular religion's materials as sacred, then a categorical imperative is set up: all religion's holy objects are to be treated as being sacrosanct. If this happens, the First Amendment is seriously weakened. No more flag burnings, no more painting or sculptures of Jesus or Mary made of excrement, no more Piss Christ. Or another course, though non-legislative, is to practice common courtesy and respect, also known as the Golden Rule. Since I wish my holy artifacts to be treated well, I will do the same for yours; while The Constitution may allow for the desecration of the national ensigns and holy objects, human decency does not. In the end, we may still lose flag burnings, crap art and the destruction of Scriptures, but we would do so because people chose to do what it right and not just what is forced upon them. Is that such a bad thing?
-- Ira M. Kessel
Rochester, New York

Find a willing subject who will simultaneously burn a Bible, Koran, Saudi flag, American flag, cross, crescent, etc. and see how the criminal justice system reacts. If the bureaucracy only responds to the destruction of foreign religion artifacts that should be rich fodder for a hostile legal response.
-- Mark Bruenger

Christopher Orlet's "Canned Koran" is perfect journalism. Excellent!... Excellent!!
-- R.G. Lawrence
St Joseph, Missouri

PERMISSIVENESS BREEDS DEPRAVITY
Re: Richard Kirk's More Freedom, Less Freakonomics:

This from the book review by Richard Kirk on John Lott's, Freedomnomics :

Lott argues, by contrast, that the Supreme Court's legislative fiat in 1973 (Roe v.Wade) actually increased crime by boosting out-of-wedlock births and single-parent households. These crime-correlated statistics exploded in the 1970s and '80s as social sanctions against extra-marital sex disappeared and as the legal but odious option of abortion was rejected by millions of now-pregnant unmarried women.

Huh? If author John Lott actually makes this argument, it is preposterous. My hope is that Mr. Kirk somehow poorly worded this paragraph in the review. How Roe v. Wade would boost out of wedlock births is a mystery. In fact, the statistics easily show the opposite. This whole paragraph is counter intuitive, completely illogical and unsupported by the actual statistics. As Kirk is a very bright man and good writer, either there is something left out here -- or it is yet another case in my life of not noticing the train that just rolled past me unnoticed.
-- Bill Margeson
Dundee, Illinois

BEST LAID PLANS
Re: David Hogberg's Healthcare from the Hash Mark:

Woe to all of us who fail to see the warning of Walter Reid's (and other government military treatment and care facilities) disgraceful treatment of our combat wounded. With the compassion of the IRS and the efficiency of the U.S. Postal Service -- we go marching into the sunset of Single Payer (Government) Healthcare.

God help us all.
-- Mike Horn, LTC, AUS, (Ret.)
Tracy, California

David Hogberg may well be disappointed with Giuliani's Health Care Plan as well as Huckabee's, Romney's, Clinton's, Obama's and Edwards' plan, but unfortunately there is no, I repeat NO, completely free-market solution to effective health care. Just like law enforcement and the armed forces, one must spend the money efficiently and with an outcome-based approach, penny-pinching and not allowing big business to dictate to the American individual. I sometimes shudder at the disrespect the Republicans have for the personnel in the police and armed services, and the lack of quality pay they offer when they are in government, and of course the same goes for healthcare. Giuliani offers a $15,000 tax credit for healthcare, but if you are on $12,000 a year, which millions are, food and rent is of more importance. Rudy's plan would work brilliantly for those over say $60,000 a year, but for the unemployed, the chronically ill, the under privileged, the have-nots, Republicans and Right-leaning individuals need to ask themselves on what is money better spent; Healthcare for Americans or guns, explosives, planes and tanks for Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt?
-- Nathan Maskiell
Melbourne, Australia

Geez, guys, you've got Rudy looking like Alan Alda. Barf!
-- Mike Showalter
Austin, Texas

IMAGINE THAT
Re: Lawrence Henry's In Praise of Yuppiedom;

Author Lawrence Henry's article, "In Praise of Yuppiedom," has simply got to be a satire, perhaps unintended, on yuppies.

Henry concludes his article: "For our part, we courted, got married, learned to make a living, and had children. We are mostly still here, doing the same thing. Not bad, my friends, not bad."

Just what does he think other generations have been doing since the time of recorded history and will be doing long after we are all dead and buried?
--- Buck Donham
Little Rock, Arkansas

Lawrence Henry gives no credit to the significant number of gay men who have, over the decades, gone into blighted urban areas and renovated derelict houses and buildings. Naturally, he would ignore their contributions to the gentrification of American cities. The efforts of gay men have gone unrecognized and unappreciated by the kind of people who read The American Spectator.
-- William McNeill

NEWSWEAK
Re: Paul Chesser's Newsweek: Armed by Deniers:

Sharon Begley's recent Newsweek article citing the 4th report by the International Panel On Climate Change drives Paul Chesser to ask, "what has the IPCC really said?" He answers: "If you haven't read it yourself you don't really know because Begley doesn't dig into it." I am curious to know when Chesser, who frankly does not write like a great aficionado of the Journal of Geophysical Research began his own reading, and when he expects to finish it offline, for the bulk of that Proustian tetralogy's 4000 pages are still in the press.

Newsweek of course, is more generally accessible as is the Wall Street Journal. Had Chesser followed the climate wars in the latter as closely as he does Newsweek, he would know that from the turn of the century until this spring, the Science Journal section of that premier conservative newspaper was written by none other than Sharon Begley.

He also tells us, "The truth is, read any legitimate scientific study on climate, including the IPCC report ...and you will discover dozens of qualifiers like "could," "possibly," "potentially," and "may." For all the certainty and consensus that global warming fear-mongers assert, those sound a lot like weasel words."

Really? Since when is candid acknowledgment of science's limitations not a necessary and legitimate part of the process of peer reviewed publication? It would do Chesser no harm and TAS credibility some good to subject the substance of such articles as his to the same rigors before venting them here. That custom proved disarmingly useful in vetting the science underlying climate models like 'nuclear winter ' before writing about the hazards of their polemic abuse in the WSJ, and if Chesser wants to play hardball on contemporary science issues, he'd better be prepared to "dig into it" as well?

As to "making the undiscerning believe that global warming skeptics reject the clear evidence that the earth is warming" the unfortunate cohort of TAS authors who have added the singularly un-weasel words "Myth" and "Hoax" to their past titles are hoist on their own petard.
-- Russell Seitz
Cambridge, Massachusetts

INCORPORATION AND THE FOUNDERS
Re: Doug Bandow's Conservative Judges, Liberal Crisis:

Doug Bandow makes reference to the "contemporaneous evidence" that supporters of the post-Civil War amendments "desired" that the Bill of Rights should apply to the states. Perhaps they did, but it is odd that no one thought so until everyone who debated and voted on the amendments was dead. As late as 1900, the U.S. Supreme Court was of the opinion that the first ten amendments "were not intended to and did not have any effect upon the powers of the respective states." (Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581)

It was 1925 when the U.S. Supreme Court first suggested that freedom of speech and of the press were fundamental rights protected from infringement by the states. But it wasn't until 1968 that the right to trial by jury was elevated to that stature.

Whatever the desires of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment may have been, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that they intended the partial or selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court has simply declared that "fundamental" rights may not be infringed by a state without a "compelling" reason, and there is no way around the fact that these judgments are, in the words of Justice Felix Frankfurter, "merely subjective."

I invite you to read my essay tracing the history of the Incorporation Doctrine, "How the First Amendment Came to Protect Topless Dancing."
-- Susan Shelley
Author, The 37th Amendment: A Novel

LEFT CONTINUITY
Re: Hal G.P. Colebatch's Orwell's Bad Republicans:

A truth has surfaced, seemingly known to only those few of us who have had the privilege to study in Spain. Truth was submerged by the American media, together with a compliant W.D.C. left-political community that dominated our 1930s and beyond to the present understanding of the issues and outcomes of the Spanish civil war. The radical-left elements that existed in the U.S and Spain still survive; especially in amongst the U.S. political elite.

I am old enough to remember the abuse and killings of priests and nuns in Mexico during the period just preceding the Spanish civil war. It was not until the 1960's clericals could travel openly in Mexico wearing their identifying habits. Whatever became of the American free press? Well, that's our national joke, isn't it?
-- James Atkinson

PALEOLIBERAL
Re: Michael Roush's letter (under "Newsweakling") Newsweakling Reader Mail:

I not only enjoy reading the articles in TAS, but trying to determine if those who claim to be conservatives are conservatives. Most who claim to be "Reagan conservatives," based on Reagan's record and their positions on the issues, aren't while others are just mystifying, because time and again they seem to be parroting the liberal party line albeit less aggressively. One contributor, Mike Roush of North Carolina, sometimes seems to be a paleoconservatives (conservatives who've totally repudiated Reagan and are best exemplified by one of the media's token conservatives Pat Buchanan), but at other times he seems wedded to liberalism with his Cindy Sheehan position on the war in Iraq.

His allusion that mankind is potentially to blame for global warming/climate change, because of pollution (not solar activity, emissions from volcanoes or historically documented natural cycles) seems to clinch it -- he's a closet liberal. If not he needs to be far more skeptical of the partisan media (aka drive-by or mainstream) in this country or he's going to be duped over and over again. Conservatives need to remember that liberal, liar and journalist are synonymous in 21st century America.
-- Michael Tomlinson
Jacksonville, North Carolina

I found the letters in response to the Newsweek article on climate change fascinating. The observations consisted of: (1) kill the messenger (Newsweek), (2) Clinton did it. Presumably, nothing bad has happened in the last seven years, (3) we can't do anything about it and (4) I'd rather see waves covering Mt. Everest than concede anything to "liberals."

The "left" has nothing on the "right" when it comes to lunacy.
-- Mike Roush
North Carolina

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