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Politicians, fresh pork and leftovers

Thomas Sowell's column "A bridge too far gone" (Commentary, yesterday) is spot-on, and once again he has proved himself to be the smartest man in America. Our political leaders are more interested in maintaining their positions so they can reap the extensive benefits of the jobs to which they have gotten themselves elected. The only way to do that is to bribe voters by showing them how well they can spend other people's money on the constituents who sent them to the Capitol.

As I see it, we can address this with a two-pronged approach. First, we take away the benefit packages that make this a career that gives Congress and its denizens access to Walter Reed Army Medical Center or Bethesda's National Naval Medical Center in retirement and pensions sweeter than anything else in regular America. That they have voted themselves these perks is criminal. That we voters allow it is ignorant. Then we make it necessary for them to get raises and benefits by national referendum, which can be done only every two years. Top this with a term-limiting initiative, and we will return quickly to the citizen legislator of old.

The fact that politicians have visions of careers that span decades, culminating in a stint at the White House, means they all too frequently misappropriate funds for pork spending that could have been used for legitimate projects that are within the constitutionally mandated framework.

Maybe, just maybe, if we can take away the excessive taxing authority they have given themselves, we can get some real work done on America and its real problems.

NORMAN HENDRICKSON

Bowie

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Thomas Sowell is on to something in his critique of politicians' neglect of infrastructure. Politicians are the ultimate discounters. Future expenditures and problems are discounted to near zero value in the realm of politics. What counts are showy expenditures that can get you re-elected tomorrow. Long-term politics is an oxymoron.

However, Mr. Sowell does not go far enough in his critique. There are plenty of instances in which private ownership leads to public disaster. Remember the BP pipeline rupture in Alaska? How about the coal-mine disaster in Utah, even though it affects just a small, unfortunate group of miners? Then there was Love Canal, which was used as a landfill for toxic material, and Three Mile Island, a nuclear generating station and the site of an awful nuclear meltdown.

Some might say to give the problem to the government. Hand over the coal mines, and maybe that oil pipeline in Alaska, to your local congressman. Build Soviet-style high-rise buildings in every city and then watch them be demolished a mere 30 years later because they end up as crime-ridden, unlivable cesspools. In other words, just socialize all of your problems and everything will be fine, which gets us back to the Minnesota bridge collapse.

Socialize or privatize — that is the question, and neither alternative will bring you to the land of zero risk. However, one thing is certain: When you concentrate all of your risk in one institution, it will increase the magnitude of the ultimate disaster, and that is exactly what happens when governments fail.

Any insurance company knows that it does not decrease its risk exposure by taking on more, if varied, risk; there is a limit that must be equated to its resources to pay claims. There is no such thing as a risk-free lunch, but if you want to keep your disasters small-scale, it is better to go the private route, as Mr. Sowell suggests.

SAMUEL BURKEEN

Reston, Va

The common good

In his letter Wednesday, Scott W. Atlas contends that only the private sector can cure what ails our health-care system ("Giuliani's health plan"). Nothing could be further from the truth. Government does a goodjobadministering Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and will do likewise with a single-payer universal health care plan that covers all Americans.

Greedy insurance and pharmaceutical companies will fight to the bitter end opposing needed universal health care. If Mr. Atlas wants to call universal health care "socialism," so be it. Socialism is not all bad, and capitalism is not all good. They can coexist to serve the common good, thereby making America a better place for all.

The public sector, led by politicians who won't take campaign contributions from insurance and pharmaceutical companies, can provide the cure for our health care problems.

PAUL L. WHITELEY SR.

Louisville, Ky.

LOST at sea

I write in response to Lawrence Kogan's rant about the Law of the Sea Treaty ("LOST and found," Commentary, Wednesday). Mr. Kogan opposes U.S. accession to this treaty, but he omits any and all description of its substance, preferring to deal in false generalities about "the precautionary principle" (of all things) and out-of-context statements. He tries to scare readers by suggesting that, were we a party to the treaty, the Constitution would no longer apply to "our territories and our territorial waters, including the continental shelf" and that "private property and due process rights would be lost." Rather than rant in response, I simply challenge Mr. Kogan to provide a single scrap of textual support in the treaty for his statements. As a former delegate to the negotiations, I know he cannot.

Of course, Mr. Kogan also neglects to mention the broad and deep support this treaty has garnered, having been reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 19-0 in the previous Congress and recently endorsed yet again by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He tells us that President Reagan "deep-sixed" the treaty, but neglects to mention that the sole basis of Mr. Reagan's refusal to sign on in 1982 was Part XI, dealing with the deep seabeds beyond national jurisdiction, or that those provisions were massively renegotiated in 1994 to satisfy the United States (and a few others).

This treaty has been in effect for more than a decade, with 155 parties. The United States is the sole important holdout, having been hamstrung thus far by a scurrilous disinformation campaign from the paranoid right. On June 13, The Washington Times published "Reap the bounty" (Op-Ed) by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England. It was a succinct explanation of why the United States should accede. Perhaps you should reprint it as a public service.

ROBERT J. MCMANUS

Washington

Lawrence Kogan cited me as his former law professor in his column "LOST and found." Not only did he not tell me our chat was for purposes of publication, but he misunderstood what I said when he wrote that I "admitted that the U.S. would be incapable of preventing partners such as Europe from employing the precautionary principle against our national interests for the foreseeable future." To set the record straight, my point was that if the Senate heeds President Bush's call to approve the Law of the Sea Convention, America will be better able to prevent unreasonable foreign restrictions on its military mobility and global trade, whether in response to the precautionary principle or otherwise. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the leaders of American industry agree.

Maybe Mr. Kogan is happy to forfeit the opportunity to have an American on the commission charged with reviewing Russia's newly advertised pretensions to control vast seabed resources in the Arctic. I am not.

BERNARD H. OXMAN

Richard A. Hausler Professor of Law

University of Miami

Coral Gables, Fla.

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