Sunday, November 25, 2007

Money and Wisconsin Politics

Is there too much money in Wisconsin politics?

Many Wisconsin “good government” groups, like Common Cause, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the League of Women Voters, all advocate reforms in how election campaigns are financed.

It galls them that Wisconsin’s two-year state budget was 101 days late. They do not care that it was Wisconsin Assembly Republicans and Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch who went to the mat to avoid massive state tax increases on Wisconsin families. Never mind that Wisconsin government does not shut down when the budget is late, unlike most states. They see special interest groups behind everything the Legislature does.

They say that the full-time Wisconsin legislature does nothing and that a ban on campaign contributions from PACS, limiting campaign spending or public financing is the key to success. Some Wisconsin legislators, especially the minority and majority leaders of each chamber, are really full-time. Some have other jobs to provide for their families on the days in each week when they are not in Madison. Wisconsin legislators are paid about $47,500 per year plus a per diem of up to $77 per day on legislative business.

That sounds like a lot, but Wisconsin’s legislative salary is actually the lowest of nine full-time state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Let’s look at the legislative pay of our neighbors. Illinois pays legislators approximately $57,600 and they get a per diem of $125 on session days; Michigan pays about $79,600 per year plus a sum of $12,000 from which they draw a per diem.

There are three effects from banning PAC money, limiting campaign spending or public financing of elections. First, incumbency would be enhanced, because incumbents have an advantage in lists, official mailings to raise name identification and district connections. Potential challengers could not raise money to offset these advantages. Second, as legislators retire, they will be replaced by union activists, retired persons with pensions and millionaires who can all afford to run. The Wisconsin legislature would become more liberal and tax-friendly, run by people who would not serve long enough to develop expertise in public policy so lobbyists will become more influential, not less.

Finally, money is a type of free speech. That was the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo. When money is outlawed, only outlaws will have money. In-kind donations or secret contributions will soar. Disclosure of campaign contributions from any source and amount is healthy for a democracy.

When government reformers propose strong medicine to drive money out of political campaigns, watch your wallet.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Alabama Football Saint or Sinner?

High school and college football is a religion in Alabama. There are only two seasons: football season and talking about the next football season. So successful at winning football games, Hoover High School head coach Rush Propst has been a saint to many.

Hoover is a growing affluent suburb of Birmingham and Hoover High School is the older of two public high schools there. Hoover won four straight state championships from 2002 to 2005. In national rankings of elite high school football teams, the Hoover Buccaneers have been ranked as high as fourth. A number of former Hoover stars play on college teams now and a few have made it to the National Football League.

Due in part to this success, MTV aired two seasons of “Two-a-Days,” a documentary series focusing on Propst, Hoover players and their friends both on and off the football field. Think “Friday Night Lights” with real people, not actors. Requests for Hoover Buccaneer paraphernalia poured in from all over the country. Hoover’s game with elite John Curtis High School of metropolitan New Orleans was televised nationally on ESPN’s high school sports network.

Now Propst has apparently fallen from sainthood. In addition to forfeiting four games this year for using an ineligible transfer player, Propst abruptly resigned the coaching job he took in 1999. However, he said that he should remain Hoover’s head coach throughout the 2007 high school playoffs and then be an administrator paid his approximately $101,000 annual salary until the end of August 2008. Although the average teacher in Alabama makes about $40,000 per year, the Hoover School Board has often caved in to Propst and granted this request. They also agreed to give Propst a $141,000 annuity when he leaves.

What did Propst do to land in such hot water? Allegations include grade-changing for academically-challenged football players and spying on their rival Vestavia Hills Rebels at practice. Propst boosters tend to blame the charges on fans of the other Hoover high school, the younger Spain Park, which is not nearly as talented in football, and view the minority of school board members that does not want Propst to coach any more Buccaneer games as Spain Park Jaguar partisans.

Spain Park, however, has had nothing to do with Propst’s major public problem; he has fathered three children out of wedlock in another town. He denies being romantically involved with a current Hoover assistant principal. So far there has been no comment from Tammy Propst or the couple’s children in Hoover.

In tearful testimony to the Hoover school board, Propst admitted that he had made mistakes. However, he blamed the charge of grade-changing on a principal who got the boot this summer and a zealous assistant coach. He blamed another assistant coach for spying on the rival. Propst portrayed himself as the victim of turmoil, noting there have three Hoover school superintendents, six Hoover high school principals and three Hoover mayors in eight years as if he and his boosters had nothing to do with any of this.

When “Two-A-Days” aired, Propst apologized repeatedly for using salty language on the program. Apparently, swearing on MTV was the least of his transgressions.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Tiger Ghost of the Past

My parents, who live in central Florida, came to Marshfield this weekend for my mother’s 55th MHS class reunion so I drove up to see them. While I was there, I went to the Homecoming game on Friday.

I had not gone to a Marshfield High School football game in 30 years. I have some impressions of Homecoming. Marshfield is ablaze in fall colors. Trees near one end zone still drop leaves into Beall Stadium. Closing off the area under the stadium and a permanent concession stand were overdue.

First, there is no longer a Homecoming parade. Because I knew this, I left Madison for Marshfeld about noon. Second, the opponent was not from the Wisconsin Valley Conference. It was Medford, which I suppose was scheduled to guarantee an easy win for Homecoming. It is too bad the Red Raiders had not been informed of this arrangement.

Marshfield had superior athletes to Medford at almost every position. After spotting Medford to a 6-0 lead (Medford must not have a reliable kicker because they always went for a two-point conversion), the Tigers ripped off first down after first down as the huge Marshfield line opened running lanes en route to their only lead of the night, 7-6. The Tigers gave the ball away seven times on five interceptions, one of which was run back 88 yards for a touchdown, and two fumbles. The Tigers gained only 36 yards and one first down in the second half. Medford did not have as many skilled athletes as Marshfield but they did enough to win 26-7.

It reminded me of how unpredictable the Tigers were when I was a student and my friends were players. The Tigers were usually .500. The 2007 Tigers are 4-3 now and will probably miss the WIAA playoffs. It is a reminder that football is called “play,” that players are students and that they are fine young men who will benefit from discipline and teamwork throughout their lives regardless of the outcome.

Third, I was amazed that there did not seem to be Marshfield cheerleaders. I sat on the visiting side so admittedly my vantage point was not the best. Medford had no cheerleaders.

Fourth, I was surprised by the Marshfield High School band. The current drum major is a tremendous showman but the band members are not good marchers; some walk on their heels. Good bands walk on their toes. Admittedly, I am spoiled by living in Madison because the University of Wisconsin band is so good and high school bands here have former and current drum and bugle corps members.

The band left the field with more than five minutes left in half time. They did not play Marshfield’s alma mater nor did they play Medford’s school song. (Medford fans sang their own fight song a capella.) The drummers stayed on the field to play a cadence as the band left but the band did not march out to the waiting busses; they walked out.

Don’t get me wrong: I am glad I went to see my parents. I am glad I went to the game, especially because admission is still only $3, but it might be 30 years before I go again.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Michaelsen Children Now on Two Sides of the Pacific Ocean

Eric Paul Michaelsen, now 20 and a junior at Kalamazoo College, called me on the morning of August 31 to say he was leaving for Japan. He will be there through March 2008. This will be the third time he has been to Japan but the longest stay. He will be one of many Michigan students at the university in Hikone, which is a city in Shiga Prefecture.

The Japanese call their states prefectures. With Japan’s largest inland lake, Shiga has a sister-state relationship with Michigan and the capital, Otsu, has a sister-city relationship with Lansing, Michigan’s state capital. Shiga includes the historic Japanese capital, Kyoto.

Usually, I have to call Eric to talk with him. He will always be my younger child, glad to help, whether the chore is cleaning behind the oven, picking up dog droppings in the yard or serving as my chauffer when my car broke down in Lansing early this year.

Both of my sons, Jens and Eric, have worked, too. For several years, Eric was a paper boy in Lansing. He has delivered pizzas and worked retail. In the summer of 2006, he was a Park Ranger at a Michigan state park. Last summer, he was a janitor at Kalamazoo.

Eric has always been more like me than his older brother, Jens. Like me, he was an actor in high school drama productions, is a word and picture guy and speaks a foreign language. Like me, he is a fan of old movies. Like me, he has a tendency to act smarter than he really is, using big words when little words will do. A friend of Jens coined a phrase that stuck to Eric: EGB. Eric Genius Boy.

Eric is majoring in Japanese and English. My stated preference was that he should attend the University of Wisconsin to study Japanese, but Kalamazoo College was closer to his home in Lansing. Michigan State University was too close.

Jens is in Hawaii; Eric is in Japan. It is ironic that they are now separated by the largest ocean in the world after being nearly inseparable as children.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What Happens in Pascagoula Doesn’t Stay in Pascagoula

Last Thursday, a fire at the aging Chevron refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi, temporarily sidelined one of the 10 largest oil refineries in America. Although Chevron says most of the refinery is undamaged, it has not restarted yet.

I knew this because my oldest stepchild, John, is working on yet another expansion of the Chevron facility. John is an LSU grad in Construction Management so he, for example, can look at blueprints and calculate the volume of concrete needed. The firm’s employees were evacuated when the fire broke out. He’s OK but his truck smells like burning chemicals inside.

The Pascagoula refinery celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2003 so many of the pipes carrying crude are old. It makes gasoline and jet fuel, among other products, from crude oil. That transformation requires heat at approximately 1400 degrees F. As news of the fire spread, the price of oil jumped $2 per barrel to $71 on commodities exchanges.

Hurricane Katrina showed how shutting only a few refineries can make a large impact on prices American consumers pay for gasoline and heating oil. As the refineries and oil platforms near the Gulf of Mexico struggled to recover after Katrina, American politicians asked if we had enough oil refining capacity.

Because of stricter environmental standards, there has not been a new refinery built in the United States since 1976, while the number of oil refineries shrank dramatically from 301 to 149. Refineries which still exist have to try to run near full capacity to keep up with American demand. Some areas require special gasoline formulations to reduce auto emissions, which drives up prices everywhere.

Self-serving statements from the National Petroleum Refineries Association say that American oil refinery capacity has increased. “With the amount of new capacity U.S. refiners have added at existing facilities since 1994, it’s as though the industry has been building a new, world class refinery each year,” said Charles Drevna, executive vice president of the association. He says refining capacity has increased by 177,000 barrels per day.

If it is true, should not the price of gasoline and heating oil be lower? The U.S. Department of Energy tracks oil refinery output. While the amount of gasoline supplied by American refineries is about 285 million barrels per month, the amount of refinery capacity devoted to gasoline production has fallen by 10 percent from 1983. The amount of fuel oil produced by American oil refineries has fallen by five percent since the record high production of about 135 million barrels per month in 2001.

As we witnessed after Hurricane Katrina and the Pascagoula refinery fire, American refineries are fewer in number so a disaster at even one drives up crude oil prices. Even tiny swings in the price of crude oil increase the cost of finished products consumers buy. Expect candidates for President of the United States from both major parties to argue for more oil refineries or at least repeal of the laws of supply and demand.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wearing Politics on Your Sleeve

Without even thinking about it Monday, I pulled on one of my Mark Green for Governor campaign tee shirt to go to make a deposit at the credit union branch down the street in the Hill Farms state office building. Hill Farms is also the headquarters of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

One of the items I was depositing at the credit union was my Wisconsin income tax refund. Let’s reflect on how incompetent the Wisconsin bureaucracy is that I am getting my 2006 income tax refund in the middle of August 2007. However, maybe the slowness was deliberate. Slowness in issuing refunds might be a decision by political appointees to make the case that people who file paper returns should have to pay a higher fee: a tax on paying taxes. Under Wisconsin’s income tax laws, I could not file electronically in 2006 because I was a taxpayer in another state in 2005. Those who filed electronically got their refunds long ago.

When I needed to title my car at Hill Farms during the gubernatorial campaign, I waited about two hours until my number was called. Others were waiting just as long and were still waiting when I was done. It was all I could do not to go to my car and start handing out Green campaign literature to people who were grousing about how long they were waiting. Of course, it is not permitted to campaign on state property. Make Wisconsin great again, indeed.

But I digress. Everyone turned to look at my shirt; you could almost hear the vertebrae cracking, but no one commented. Contrast that experience to when I wear a Mark Green shirt to private businesses such as the grocery store. People will make unsolicited comments such as “I voted for him.” Because hardly anyone has seen a McCain sticker on a car, I often get comments about that, too. Navy veterans comment about the Navy Dad sticker.

Sometimes I go to the credit union near downtown at the corner of West Washington Avenue and Regent Street, where I often run into people I know. On one of those visits in early 2007, I ran across Chris Green, Mark’s brother, who works in Madison. Ironically, that very day I had eliminated Chris Green from my cell phone’s speed dial. I gave Mark Green 10 to 15 days in 2006, which is why I have a couple of Mark Green for Governor tee shirts.

Because it is Madison, I see a fair number of shirts for Democratic candidates for President and bearing anti-Bush slogans. Mark Green for Governor is politically incorrect.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I Came, I Saw, Iraq

Julius Caesar said about Gaul, “Veni, vide, vici.” I came, I saw, I conquered. It was elegant in simplicity. There is nothing elegant or simple about Iraq, however, nor do we seek to conquer it.

Americans and American politicians are polarized. Some want the troops pulled out of Iraq as soon as possible because our troops are targets and our very presence in Iraq creates a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists. Some want to stay the course and fight terrorists far from American shores. There is a disconnect between Democrat and Republican candidates for President of the United States. Democrats only talk about ending American troop presence in Iraq; Republicans only talk about the war on global terrorism, including al-Qaeda.

It is indisputable that American casualties in Iraq are far lower than in other conflicts such as World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam. That is cold comfort to the loved ones of those killed and wounded in Iraq’s random violence. It is almost a cliché to say that we won the war but are losing the peace. The shock and awe of the military campaign has given way to shock and awe by insurgents.

Might the troop surge work while the Iraqis prepare to fight their own battles? Of course it might. American troop presence certainly keeps Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions from wholesale slaughter of each other. Instead, it is only retail factional slaughter.

What if the troop surge does not work? If we pull out of Iraq, will there be a bloodbath between Shiites and Sunnis or led by neighbors such as a mostly Sunni Syria, a mostly Shiite Iran and an anti-Kurd Turkey? Will Iraq as we know it dissolve in the type of ethnic cleansing we saw between Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda, between ethnic Serbs and Muslim Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia or which is still occurring with disturbing frequency in Sudan?

Perhaps it will; perhaps it will not because a pan-Arab force or a stronger central Iraqi government will emerge. Perhaps Iraq should never have existed as a country at all. Iraq was one of the countries created by the British and the League of Nations from the defeated Ottoman Empire’s huge Middle East holdings after World War I. Americans should not shed blood without end to preserve an old mistake of geography.

We do not have to surrender in the war against global terrorism if we withdraw troops from Iraq. We will instead have the resources to respond disproportionately to terror threats wherever they arise. We will also have the resources to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. Veni, vide, cecedi. I came, I saw, I killed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Newtonian Laws of Legislative Bodies

A type of Newtonian law governs the actions and inactions of legislative bodies, such as the Wisconsin legislature and Congress. It is not Newtonian in the physics and gravity sense, although some of those laws about motion and force seem to apply, too. Instead, think of them as Michaelsen’s Laws of Motions.

During the course of a long career in higher education and government, I have observed some phenomena that fit proverbs often coined by others. Many are also true of organizations in the private sector.

1. Success has many parents but failure is an orphan

This is as true now as it always was and is independent of issues because in state and federal legislative bodies, coalitions rise and fall around issues. The corollary is there is nothing we can not accomplish if we do not care who gets credit.

2. Nothing focuses attention like a deadline

Don’t believe it? Consider state and federal budgets. The legislative branch of government will have long public hearings at which many people speak or read verbatim from prepared remarks and in which elected officials engage in long soliloquies. However, the budget has to pass before the fiscal year begins to avoid government shutdowns, payless government worker paydays and interruption of services to those who receive assistance. There is also a flurry of activity near the end of a legislative session. In the private sector, approaching deadlines often mean all-nighters or racing to meet express delivery deadlines.

3. Even a clock that doesn’t work is right twice per day

We all know people with whom we disagree most of the time or who never seem to do anything of value. Once in a while, those people are right.

Because we disagree with them and they have cried “Wolf” so often, we tend not to believe them when there is a wolf approaching. The corollary is that even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally, so even a nut is right sometimes.

4. You dance with the one who brought you

We are shocked, shocked when the organizations that helped elect legislators and members of Congress influence the type of legislation they sponsor or shape their positions on bills and amendments.

In the private sector, this means that the client base and the person who hired someone might influence his or her job performance. We take that for granted. Elected officials are no different in this respect.

5. We can disagree without being disagreeable

This is not a generational issue, as many think, nor is it necessarily going along to get along. Some Wisconsin legislators and members of Congress, associations, lobbyists and their ilk disagree vehemently on fundamental issues. There are members of the Wisconsin legislature who could not disagree more that are personal friends. Some agree on ends and disagree on means. Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan could not disagree more on means but they were great friends. Lobbyists that oppose each other are often friends, too.

It is nothing new that liberals and conservatives are at the throat of each other. Disagree with one of the less amiable members and they will label you stupid, a tool of the most evil opposition they can name and a waste of oxygen. Mean-spirited rhetoric is unfortunately nothing new in the public arena. Compromise is not in the lexicon of the self-righteous regardless of party label.

Contrast that with the private sector. People who are direct competitors have so much in common that they are great friends. They do not wish that their competitor’s spouse and children leave them, their house burns down and their pet dies.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Happy Disindepence Day

July 4 for many Americans is a beery day of sports, food and boating but I worked a few hours at a retail job in Madison. When I worked on July 4 in the American South, customers would often share a plate of food from home. Barbecued ribs, chicken and fish were common with baked beans, potato salad and some home-made sweet tea. Now that I am Up North again, I might have anticipated the offer of a bratwurst, kraut and an ear of corn but no such offer was forthcoming. Southern hospitality is not just a cliché.

I wished people a Happy Independence Day. It is such a uniquely American holiday, celebrating our declaration of independence from Britain in 1776 when it was a risky proposition. The response by most Americans was “you, too.” I pulled a chair outside to watch the Madison fireworks display against the night sky.

Madison is also home to many foreign-born students and workers. Most born elsewhere who are not naturalized U.S. citizens clearly were not expecting a holiday greeting and did not know what to think. Most probably date their independence to throwing off their home country’s colonial oppressors even though many traded one repressive regime for another. As the Who said: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

It was a hot day for Madison; it was sunny and about 85. I went to the grocery store for some items. As I left, a woman wearing a niqab walked in. A niqab is what Americans think of as a burka. It is full face covering with slits for the eyes. She was also wearing a full-length black gown. She bowed to how hot it was by wearing sandals. I see many hejabs worn even by native-born Americans (as a father, I am picturing this lecture: “As long as you live under my roof, you will follow my rules”) but I had never seen someone wearing a niqab before. She was leading a little bareheaded girl.

I did not wish her a Happy Independence Day. A religious society that requires her to wear a niqab in public does not believe in independence of thought and action. What kind of message does her public apparel send to the little girl?

America prides itself on being a free society with a division between religion and state. Are we too tolerant of the intolerant?

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Doctrinal Purity & Minority Status

Although I admire and largely agree with Republican Wisconsin legislators elected in the Wisconsin counties of Washington and Waukesha and the conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers who cater to them, they have been drinking their own wine.

Many are figuratively willing to throw more moderate Republicans elected in other counties under the bus, threatening to field more conservative Primary Election challengers to them. Instead of concentrating on the 85 percent of issues on which moderates and conservatives agree, they focus on the 15 percent where they disagree. Some have talked about toppling leaders they perceive as moderates.

They believe the lesson of the 2006 election Republican bloodbath is not a Newt-like Contract with Wisconsin of lower taxes, more opportunities and government reform, but more leeches. What elected them in Washington and Waukesha, however, is not always the same as that which elects Republicans in other counties. As Speaker, Newt understood this and did not always insist on doctrinal purity.

They have failed to consider three other inconvenient facts. First, backing an unsuccessful Primary Election against an incumbent is a risky strategy. If the incumbent is returned, retribution will be swift. Second, because Wisconsin’s primary is so late, fending off a primary challenge diverts resources from the General Election. It would be hard cheese if the Republican incumbent, with whom they agree 85 percent of the time, were replaced by a Democrat with whom they might agree 15 percent of the time. Third, if toppling leadership were easy, the U.S. Senate would no longer be led by Harry Reid. It is wrong to underestimate the power of caucus leaders to punish and reward.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Madison’s Vang Pao Elementary School: On and Off

In the mountainous region of Laos, the Hmong people were American allies during the Vietnam War. They rescued downed American fliers and attacked convoys moving supplies from North Vietnam to the Viet Cong along the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos. It is likely that Vang Pao’s “Secret Army” also carried out covert missions in neighboring Vietnam. Some Americans believe that Vang Pao financed arms and leadership though the opium trade with either the knowledge or complicity of the Central Intelligence Agency.

It is undisputed that the CIA recruited Vang Pao because he had already become legendary as a guerilla fighter against the Japanese during World War II and against the French during their ill-fated efforts. When the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam and the Communist Pathet Lao swept to power in Laos in 1975, the U.S. Congress cut funds to the “Secret Army” and many were killed by Communists. Vang Pao led survivors to Thailand and then to North America.

Public and private U.S. relief agencies settled many Hmong people in the Midwest. There are so many Hmong people in Wisconsin, they are the third largest minority group in the state and the largest in many individual state cities. Official Wisconsin state notices and signs are often in three languages: English, Spanish and Hmong.

To please the Hmong community, the Madison School Board voted unanimously to name a new elementary school for Vang Pao, who is regarded by older Hmong people as a cross between George Washington and Ho Chi Minh. Some other Madison public schools are named for Cesar Chavez, Samuel Gompers and Malcolm Shabazz. Hmong community leaders in Madison have already participated in the ceremonial ground-breaking.

When the Hmong people are seen as victims, the tendency by social liberals is to give them something symbolic but when they are viewed as U.S. allies in Vietnam, their anti-anti-Communist reflexes kick in. Misgivings by older Madison Vietnam war protestors about the possible Vang Pao history of drug trade, forced conscription of children and summary executions were ignored. Now 77, Vang Pao has raised millions of dollars among Hmong refugees in the U.S., issuing colorful certificates allowing the bearer to return to Laos in the future when the Communists are no longer in power.

Recent events have made the Madison School Board squirm. In early June, Vang Pao and eight co-conspirators were charged with trying to buy hundreds of AK-47s, shoulder-fired missiles, mines and explosives to topple the Communists who still rule Laos. Their mistake was trying to obtain the arms in California, where they were stung by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigators posing as arms dealers.

Among older Hmong people, attempted shipment of weapons from California to Thailand to be used by dissident Laotian soldiers and mercenaries against the Communists in power actually increases Vang Pao’s stature in their eyes. There have been polite rallies for Vang Pao in front of federal courthouses in several American cities.

About 10 days after the indictments, the Madison School Board unanimously reversed itself to not name the new elementary school for Vang Pao. They are considering naming the school for the neighborhood where it will be located or for retired Madison school administrators and or other celebrities who are still alive and have the possibility of embarrassing them, too. They forgot that most schools are named after someone who has been dead for decades.

If Vang Pao were already dead, the naming decision would have stood. However, he has cheated death many times on the battlefield and in assassination attempts in the U.S., probably ordered by Communists in Laos. For someone who has been so close to death so often, facing federal conspiracy charges is probably less troubling to Vang Pao than to Madison liberals.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

A Tearful Farewell

My older son Jens Michaelsen stopped to stay overnight with me in Madison on his way to Seattle, Washington. It was great to see him and hard to see him go. We were both choked up and we hugged several times.

Until he arrived late in the evening on May 31, I do not think I have seen him in person since he graduated from the United States Navy Nuclear Power Training Command “A” school in Charleston, South Carolina in 2004. During the four years that Jens was in Charleston, we talked about once per week by telephone. That is about to change.

United States Navy Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Jens Michaelsen will be flying from Seattle to Pearl Harbor to join the Pacific Fleet. He will be serving on a Los Angeles-class attack submarine; one of these, the USS Dallas, was immortalized in Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October.” Even the best cell telephone service does not have coverage underwater in the Pacific Ocean. He will celebrate his 22nd birthday at sea in about three weeks.

I can not think of either son without remembering what they were like as infants, toddlers, school children and the young adults they became. Jens was a far better athlete than I was. He was a great soccer and baseball player until the age of about 10, when he became a devoted inline skater. He became a very good swimmer in high school.

It was in math and science where Jens really stood out from his classmates, yet he never flaunted his academic success. I was sitting with some other parents at the swimming awards banquet. When he received a special award for having a 4.0 grade point average, the gasps were audible.

Now Jens is employing his math and science acumen for us. At the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command, Jens was exposed to instructors and classmates that were smarter than him.

How do you know when nuclear propulsion specialists are doing their job well? When there are no reactor accidents. The United States has not lost a nuclear submarine since 1963, when the USS Thresher was lost with all hands in the Atlantic Ocean when a seawater leak shut down the reactor.

Losing the USS Thresher was huge blow to the father of the nuclear fleet, Admiral Hyman Rickover. It was a bigger blow to the 129 hands that were lost at sea and their loved ones. It is a reminder to all submariners that service underwater is not without risk.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Increasing polarization between those who want to bring the ground troops from Iraq either immediately or say they want a time-table for withdrawal and those who want to stay the course and say a time-table tells the insurgents that they are winning alienates the American people who have conflicting feelings about the war. This polarization is exploited by candidates for President who play to their respective bases. Political posturing makes compromise difficult.

It is now indisputable that Saddam Hussein, his sons and his Baath party administration used rape, torture and murder to tyrannize the Iraqi people. Saddam behaved as if he still possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction after using nerve agents against the Iranians and the Kurds. After the first Gulf War, the U.S. encouraged the Shiites to rise up against Saddam and he put down this rebellion brutally. It was for this crime that he was hanged.

Hailed as liberators when we deposed Saddam, our attempt to be an occupying army has not gone well. Some of our children, parents and spouses have come home in boxes. Others have been severely wounded to come home to Walter Reed and other Veterans Administration hospitals that have poorly served them.

In the 24-hour news cycle, we have become so sensitive to immediate gratification. We think American losses as staggering but they pale in comparison to losses in World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. Iraqi civilians are killed in droves by what has been called a sectarian civil war but there are so many factions, it is more properly understood as civil strife. If we pull out of Iraq, this killing will intensify as rival militia death squads round up the usual suspects.

Only former Wisconsin Governor and presidential candidate Tommy Thompson has proposed a reasonable Iraq policy. First, the people of Iraq need to vote on a referendum if the U.S. military should stay or go. If they no longer want us, we should go. Second, Iraq’s 14 districts should elect governments so Iraqis will gravitate to Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish areas. Third, Iraq’s oil revenue should be divided between the federal government, provisional governments and the Iraqi people, like in Alaska.

In the early going, Thompson has self-destructed in remarks about gays and Jews. He will not be considered a running mate by a Republican nominee because he has yet to hit double-digits anywhere outside Wisconsin. It is more likely that Thompson will remain in the more lucrative private sector and asked to lead international and domestic missions.

The Iraqi parliament is already wrestling with the future of oil revenue distribution because Iraq’s current oil wells are in Shiite and Kurdish areas and pipelines are frequent insurgent targets. Polarization is even more dramatic in Baghdad than in Washington and compromise is just as elusive.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Expectation of Privacy vs. Duty to Warn

Those of us who have worked in full-service and self-service copy centers are expected to guard the privacy of customer documents.

After all, we would want people to guard our Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and trade secrets. I have often told those copying sensitive documents not to leave the copies face up, leave the originals on self-service copy machines or shred accidental or bad copies. It is not permissible to make color copies of money, bonds, stamps and ID cards or any copies of copyrighted material to which the person who seeks copies does not own the rights.

I have seen otherwise sensible people succumb to variations of the Nigerian Bank Scam, faxing their Social Security Numbers and bank account information to claim international sweepstakes they never entered or biting on the potential of getting rich with the help of a person they have never met in the Ivory Coast. If I see them about to do this, I feel a duty to warn them.

There were two cases in which I absolutely refused to help persons and warned them that what they were seeking was illegal. A foreign friend and naturalized citizen wanted help making two-sided color copies of airline tickets, which is sort of like making two-sided color copies of money. Hispanics who barely spoke English wanted my help scanning a vehicle title and changing the Vehicle Identification Number. Squealing to the authorities never entered my mind.

The six who conspired to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey ordered a VHS tape of people shooting guns and making jihadist statements converted to a DVD. When the employee who was charged with making the copies realized that these were potential terrorists, he contacted the authorities. Thus began a 16 month FBI surveillance of the Fort Dix Six.

Some employers would not celebrate this tip or guard the worker’s identity, as this particular employer did. Some employers would look for an excuse to terminate this worker for not guarding customer confidentiality.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wisconsin: A One-Plate State?

At the Joint Finance Committee, a motion to make Wisconsin join the list of one-plate state passed 9-6 yesterday. It made less news than issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants.

Opponents worried that law enforcement needs two license plates so that they can see from the front if a driver is wanted or a car is stolen. Rep. Kitty Rhodes said it made possible phoning in tips when a driver was driving erratically due to drunkenness or other possible distractions. Proponents said it could save money.

Current one-plate states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Of course, Wisconsin would move to a one-plate state after I moved here from living in a series of one-plate states and had to sink bolts into my front bumper because the holes on the bumper did not match the holes on the license plate.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The New New New Chrysler

News that Daimler Benz is selling money-losing Chrysler Corporation to private investment firm and turnaround expert Cerberus Capital Management fills me with mixed feelings. Chrysler lost about $2 billion last year. Cerberus will pay $7.4 billion for the company. Cerberus turned around the Merwin’s department store chain, Air Canada, GMAC, and the car rental firms Alamo and National. They have lave slashed employees and brought companies out of bankruptcy. This is their biggest deal yet.

I lived in Michigan for about 25 years. Everyone knows people who work for the Big Three or for the industries that supply them and decisions made by management and the United Auto Workers dominate Michigan news. Employee ownership plans means that Dearborn is full of Fords, Flint is full of Buicks and Lansing is still full of Oldsmobiles. The Detroit Red Wings have a wheel on their jerseys. The Detroit Pistons are named for an engine part.

The old Chrysler Corporation meandered from building muscular cars to building big, bloated gas-guzzling boats when the OPEC embargo nearly killed it. The New Chrysler was bailed out by federal loan guarantees and headed by Lido Iacocca when Chrysler introduced the K Car and the Minivan. The new New Chrysler was created by Daimler Benz acquiring Chrysler. Now the acquisition by Cerberus is the new new New Chrysler. I was hoping Detroit financier Kirk Kerkorian would buy the corporation.

Daimler ownership has been a mixed blessing. Chrysler and Jeep make distinctive vehicles with superior engineering. They are more fuel-efficient. Unfortunately, the best Chrysler executives retired or were forced out by Daimler. The time from concept to development became longer, not shorter, and the company became less nimble. Many were suspicious the Germans were running Chrysler into the ground because their focus was on making and selling Mercedes Benz models. Daimler selling Chrysler to Cerberus Management is an admission that they made a mistake when they acquired Chrysler. Good riddance to Dieter Zetsche.

I have owned four Chryslers which are a microcosm of the company. The best was my first car, a 1966 Chrysler Newport. My first car after college was a 1977 Plymouth Fury, which was a Wisconsin Department of Transportation car my father bought at a state vehicle auction. Even though the energy-saving speed limit was 55 mph, I would often cruise at 85-90 mph with the assistance of a radar detector. People thought I might be a state trooper because they drove Plymouth Furies and they all slowed down and moved to the right lane. The transmission let go near Elkhart, IN, in a driving rainstorm and the car was never right after that. When I sold it, I had owned it less than four years. In movies from that era, like the “Blues Brothers,” the appearance of late 1970s Plymouth Furies means a car pile-up is coming.

I bought a 1992 Dodge Spirit in 1997 because it was cheap and had low mileage. It got nearly 30 miles per gallon of gasoline. I totalled that car in an accident in 2000 and the insurance settlement was more than I owed. I replaced it with a 1995 Plymouth which was cheap, had been a fleet car and had low mileage like the Spirit. Like the Spirit, it was a newer version of the K Car. This car has needed one major repair after another. Gas mileage is about 25 miles per gallon but it fell as low as 10 miles per gallon before another major repair. I’ve taken to calling it the Disclaim. When I am rid of it, it will be the Exclaim. I hope to never own another Chrysler. Mail offering special financing on new Chryslers goes straight into my recycling bin.

My parents and I have mostly owned General Motors vehicles. My children have only owned General Motors vehicles. My next vehicle will probably be made by General Motors.

Friday, May 11, 2007

“A Nation’s Horse” II

NBC, having produced “Barbaro: A Nation’s Horse” and lined up advertisers, showed their documentary Saturday, May 5 in prime time.

Over a syrupy soundtrack was footage of Barbaro’s greatest wins, pulling up with a shattered leg in the Preakness, and slide from successful surgery to illness and death months later. Narrator Bob Costas, Roy and Gretchen Williams, trainer Michael Matz , jockey Edgar Prado and others must have called him a “special horse” and a “gifted athlete” at least 20 times. Barbaro was compared to Triple Crown winner Man O’ War.

It has been surprising to me how much interest has been expressed on websites about when the program would air on NBC and how many have tributes to Barbaro. It is such a relief that a DVD of this program is available from NBC Sports for only $19.95 so fans can beat a dead horse again and again.

The hero of this story is not Barbaro but Matz. Matz not only walked away from a fiery airplane crash but he saved three children in 1989. He went on to win a silver medal for equestrian jumping at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta and carried the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies. The documentary, because it was about Barbaro, does not mention it was the third Olympics and first medal for Matz, that the medal was a team medal shared with two others and said only he had retired from jumping to go into racing. Actually Matz was at the pinnacle of equestrian jumping; he was U.S. national champion six times and retired as the all-time money winner in jumping.

Captain Brian Freeman was not as fortunate as either Barbaro or Matz. A West Point graduate, Freeman trained with other Olympic hopefuls from the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. Freeman began as a bobsled brakeman teamed with Olympic medalists and then started competing in skeleton. He never made it to the Olympics and he never will. He retired from active service but his reserve unit was called up and sent to Iraq. At 32, he was killed in a firefight near Karbala.

A documentary of Freeman’s sports competition is not available from NBC Sports. However, it would not surprise me if “Seung-Hui Cho: America’s Killer” is in development for NBC’s Infotainment Division.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Graduating Class of 2007

Soon the University of Wisconsin-Madison will graduate its senior class. Drivers near campus will have to dodge young people in caps and gowns. Some of them will soon start good jobs or have been accepted to graduate and professional schools. Proud parents will be driving slowly around town and turning randomly because they are not quite sure how to get where they are going.

I understand their pride in their children’s achievement, mixing their memories of childhood and this new chapter in their lives. My older son is their age and looks forward to the adventure of a new job.

In addition to the Wisconsin alumni sticker on my car is a sticker that really stands out in liberal Madison. It’s not “Kerry-Edwards” or “Attack Iraq? No.” but here it seems to be just as political. It’s “Navy Dad.”

A math and science whiz, Jens Michaelsen is starting the fifth year of an eight-year commitment to service. After four years at the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command – two as a student, two on staff – he will be flying to Pearl Harbor this month to serve on a nuclear-powered submarine. He is a Petty Officer Second Class, which makes him the equivalent of a Sergeant. Jens will be 22 next month; “Accelerate your life” is not just a U.S. Navy recruiting slogan.

My kids went to a high school in Michigan similar to Madison East. Inexplicably, Jens never sought admission to college in Michigan and rebuffed recruiting efforts by the University of Illinois. While in high school, I took him on campus visits to the University of Wisconsin - Madison and Auburn University. If he had gone to college, he would be graduating this year and it would be me driving around town slowly and turning at random.

Jens will have an undergraduate degree, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and can use his Montgomery GI Bill education benefits to attend graduate school. He knows that I now discourage him from going to the University of Wisconsin - Madison, despite the school’s leadership in Nuclear Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, because I perceive Madison as being hostile to servicemen and women.

We all empathize with those who have loved ones serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and we weep for those who are casualties. Calling for ground troops to come home is qualitatively different than opposing Selective Service registration and service recruiting, however. The 53 organizations in the Madison Area Peace Coalition, including Progressive Dane, think Jens was wrong to enlist. They want to keep military recruiters out of Madison’s high schools so other young adults don’t make his “mistake.”

Not every high school students wants to go or can afford college right away. Madison liberals seek to deny them the ability to choose the military as an option to minimum wage jobs and unhappy college experiences.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

“A Nation’s Horse”

Not Seabiscuit, who came from nowhere to provide a needed diversion to people suffering from the Great Depression and to win the legendary match race against Man O’ War, the winner of the Triple Crown. Not Secretariat. Not even Affirmed.

No, NBC’s shameless run-up to the Kentucky Derby was the infotainment feature “Barbaro: A Nation’s Horse,” which was supposed to air on Sunday April 29. It was pushed to cable by the New York Rangers double-overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres in their Stanley Cup quarterfinal.

I’m sorry Barbaro shattered his leg on national TV at Pimlico, where the second race in the Triple Crown is run. I’m sorry that despite heroic measures to stabilize his leg, he never really recovered. I’m sorry he had to be put down.

But let’s get real. Barbaro was a horse bred for racing and could have looked forward to a retirement of stud service. He was owned by wealthy horse nuts Roy and Gretchen Jackson and Barbaro was one of 15 to 25 thoroughbreds they have in training at any time. They have owned 25 horses that have run in the Kentucky Derby, five each which finished second and third. Their horse won the English steeplechase equivalent of the Kentucky Derby on the same day that Barbaro won. They sold that winner and another horse for more than $2 million each.

Was he really a nation’s horse? Did we lower our flags to half-staff when he died?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Da Games

Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will fail when the Selection Committee meets in October 2009. Why? It is Chicago and not as exotic or as beautiful as Rio, Prague, Madrid, Tokyo or Rome, it’s competitors.

This won’t keep Illinois Governor Rod Blagjovic, who has had the kind of ethical challenges that so far have eluded Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, from raising millions to grease the palms of Committee members and put a happy face on Chicago. Constructing an Olympic Village and stadiums would reward his political contributors. Presidential candidates will soon advocate bringing the 2016 Summer Games to Illinois.

The Olympic Games have never been held in South America. The choice of Rio means that there will not be the weird tape delay problem for American television viewers and advertisers which plagued the Summer Games in Athens and Melbourne and will plague the forthcoming Summer Games in Beijing.

Rio needs the housing and employment that construction would bring. Chicago would be totally confused by Team Handball, too.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

My Big Adventure with Tommy & Newt

Former Wisconsin Tommy Thompson had already announced on ABC-TV’s “This Week” program on Sunday that he was formally declaring as a Republican candidate for President of the U.S.

As a result, the faithful and those who felt obligated to attend the first Wisconsin declaration by Thompson April 4 at Bishop Messmer High School in Milwaukee already knew that he was in. Nevertheless, the affection and pride for Tommy was great. There were at least 1,000 in attendance, more than half of which were students at Messmer and the allied Catholic elementary schools. Media trucks lined up outside Messmer beamed the images all across the state.

Fitting for a former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy spent much of his half-hour speech talking about health and health insurance issues. His Iraq plan will be stolen by candidates in both parties. It is a far better plan than Sen. Joe Biden’s forced Iraq partition plan, for example.

It starts with an Iraqi referendum on American presence. “If they say yes, we have a mandate to stay. If they say no, we will bring the troops home.” Second is election of state-like governors in the 18 Iraqi provinces. “Sunnis will elect Sunnis, Shiites will elect Shiites, Kurds will elect Kurds,” he said. Iraqi people will gravitate to provinces headed by leaders they trust. Third, give everyone a stake in the oil revenue: 1/3 to the federal government, 1/3 to the provinces and 1/3 to “every man, woman and child in Iraq,” similar to the Alaskan Dividend Plan which distributes a share of oil revenue in that state, so that Iraqis will hold their government leaders accountable.

Messmer was an obvious choice, both literally and figuratively. The school has prospered under Milwaukee’s schools of choice plan, which Thompson championed. The student body is mostly black and both the elementary students and high school students wear uniforms. High school attendance is 98 percent. About 90% of Messmer graduates attend college. The high school junior who sat next to me said he intends to attend UW- Madison and become a dermatologist. The gym where we sat is newer than most of the school and is named the Tommy G. Thompson Athletic Center.

Tommy, naturally, praised the school as an example of what No Child Left Behind really means and as President, there will be a thousand Messmers across the country.

Thompson flew to events in Iowa and New Hampshire later in the day. His strategy is to win Iowa to show legitimacy and to raise money from many sources. So far, Tommy has raised money from his long-time supporters.

Later that day, I heard former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speak at Monona Terrace in Madison. He was the final speaker on the Business Day in Madison, an annual production of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state business advocacy group.

Gingrich’s audience couldn’t have been more different than Thompson’s. Many people wore suits and there were no black faces. There were about 500 in the crowd, including several who have already given the maximum contribution to Thompson.

Although Gingrich’s speech was billed as “Saving Lives and Saving Money” as founder of the Center for Health Transformation, his hour-long speech was vintage Newt the visionary and policy critic. Only Gingrich could tie models of explosions of knowledge and technology with bureaucratic intransigence by government and health insurers, calling on them to offer health savings accounts and incentives for wellness.

Scientists say knowledge will grow 10 or 20 times in the next 25 years, so much that we might as well be living in the age of Sir Isaac Newton, he said. In his speech, Gingrich tied together innovations in technology in on-line overnight package delivery monitoring with the failure of the government to track undocumented workers and it would be cheaper for the government to send FedEx packages to all illegal aliens to conclude some states are paying a lot for poor health outcomes.

He likened the critics of the range of choice of Medicare Part D to private plans and opportunities for seniors to save money on prescriptions drugs to a Medicare cruise, on which all choices of cabins cost the same or a Wal-Mart where only people under 65 can gain admittance even if they work there.

Gingrich was lavish in his praise for Tommy as Governor and presidential candidate, calling him an innovator and a reform Governor, as important as Mike Leavitt in Utah and John Engler in Michigan. It was interesting that he cited Leavitt, who is Tommy’s successor as Secretary of Health and Human Services. No one mentioned Leavitt’s decision that very day to not grant a continued waiver for Wisconsin’s SeniorCare prescription drug benefit.

Gingrich is a conglomerate. He writes books which are variously manifestos and leadership studies. He has a 527 PAC called American Solutions for Winning the Future and mentioned the scheduled workshops on September 27, the 30th Anniversary of the Contract with America. He is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He created the Center for Health Transformation and Gingrich Communications. All maintain separate offices in Washington, Atlanta and Miami. They schedule Gingrich but Gingrich has always been a one-man band. If his speech is any indication, he doesn’t separate those organizations in his own mind.

A number of the people who have already declared for President are not acceptable to conservative activists. Newt is, and even undeclared he nevertheless finishes high on straw polls. Gingrich says he will make a decision about candidacy on September 30. It also is why many support a Fred Thompson candidacy. Some wags have called for a Thompson-Thompson ticket, with Fred and Tommy. It is clear that Wisconsin prefers Tommy to be at the head of the ticket.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Progressives Are Right

How could I have been so wrong in advocating ideas to empower citizens seeking lower taxes, protection from crime, and a range of customer choice? I have been guilty of Thought Crime.

Teacher unions put educating kids first. If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Charter schools and vouchers only cream the best students, leaving the public schools serving the worst students and the developmentally disabled.

Bush lied, people died. University of Wisconsin lecturer Kevin Butler was right: 9/11 was an inside job. Walter Reed was run by Halliburton.

Madison needs a streetcar. Progressive Dane is right. Personal autos are a symbol of the repression of the moneyed class and urban sprawl. Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz deserves re-election over Ray Allen. Madison’s smoking ban protects workers in bars and restaurants from second-hand smoke. All of Madison’s drinking water is pure; even manganese levels are within federal standards. Now all employers in Madison should have to offer sick leave to even part-time workers. Landlords should have to install LCD bulbs in common areas.

I am lucky to be represented in Washington by dedicated leaders such as Tammy Baldwin, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold. Governor Jim Doyle is right to seek a tax on hospital beds, $1.25 more per pack of cigarettes, a fee for filing taxes and a tax on Big Oil for exploiting Wisconsin drivers without passing the tax on to them. Of course, the Doyle Administration does favors for big donors but Doyle is still less corrupt than former Governor Tommy Thompson.

My long friendship with the Van Hollen family blinded me to what a good Attorney General Kathleen Falk would have been. I am fortunate that she is still managing Dane County. Now Wisconsin’s more centrist State Supreme Court should be tilted in favor of Trial Lawyers. It is crucial to elect Madison liberal Linda Clifford over the ethically-challenged Annette Ziegler. People don’t kill, guns do.

Those are just a few of the issues and candidates about which I have been wrong. I love Big Brother.

April Fool!

Friday, March 30, 2007

British Marines and Iraq’s WMD

Iran’s seizure of 15 British sailors and marines who were operating in Iraqi territorial waters is the latest gambit in decades of dispute between Iran and Iraq over the Shatt Al-Arab waterway. Control over the Shatt Al-Arab triggered the Iran-Iraq War and Saddam’s use of nerve gas against Iran.

Iran has often tried to wrest control of the Shatt Al-Arab from Iraq. This boiled over into the Iran-Iraq War, which sporadically flared from 1980 to 1988. Convinced Iran’s military was in disarray following the Iranian revolution, Saddam Hussein tried to seize Iranian oil fields in 1980. The Iranian counter-attack was so successful that Saddam responded with at least 14 attacks of nerve gas against Iranian troops and civilians, causing massive casualties.

Using weapons of mass destruction against Iran and the subsequent failure of Saddam to renounce their use in the future led to American intelligence reports that Saddam currently had WMD, a pretext to the American invasion.

The Shatt Al-Arab is a 120-mile area where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers empty into the Persian Gulf, creating a swampy delta similar to the area in Louisiana where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The Shatt Al-Arab provides access to the ports of Kuwait, Iraq and Iran. The Iraqi port is the city of Basra, a Shiite Muslim city patrolled by British troops. Iraqi control over the Shatt Al-Arab has denied direct water access to Iran’s principal oil port Abadan. Iran built terminals closer to the Persian Gulf for international trade.

The disarray is Iraqi now, which is why Iran wants to enlarge control over the Shatt al-Arab. In a part of the world where recriminations often last centuries, there is also lingering resentment of Britain for carving up the map of the Middle East. Britain has also often led an international commission controlling the Shatt al-Arab since the 1935 treaty. British intelligence MI-6 is also thought to have partnered with the American Central Intelligence Agency in toppling Iranian nationalist Mohammed Mosaddeq after he led a Hugo Chavez-styled nationalization of British Petroleum assets and replacing him with the Shah in 1954.

The Iranians have released forced confessions by some captured Britons hoping to be freed. Pro-Iranian statements did not save Americans from enjoying Iranian hospitality for 444 days. Then, as now, some parts of the Iranian bureaucracy say the hostages will soon be free; other parts say probably not.

Almost forgotten in the international community’s reaction to Iran’s abduction of the British serve personnel is the potential assignment of Britain’s Prince Harry to Basra. If 15 British sailors and marines are pawns in the dispute over the Shatt al-Arab, how much more desirable would capturing a British Prince be?