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Letters to the Editor

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

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The wrong incentive system The article "Envoys lured to Baghdad with promise of prime spots" (Page 1, Friday) outlines a new State Department policy that is counterproductive to U.S. objectives. The new program offers midlevel diplomats a "prime" job location, mainly in Europe, following a term in Baghdad. Diplomats who work for a year solely for incentive are not what Iraq or the U.S. needs.

This program wastes government training on political officers who do not have the passion or understanding to be effective. It is impossible for anything to be accomplished in Iraq if the "in-and-out" diplomatic men and women we place there simply use our tax dollars to momentarily meet requirements for their own benefit. This creates a group of self-serving diplomats biding their time in Iraq in order to enjoy their time elsewhere. While our troops' combat tours are being extended, diplomats enjoy short and luxurious terms, only to be further rewarded.

Both Iraq and our selfless troops need a stable community of constant and consistent American diplomatic support. In "The Art of War," Sun Tzu emphasizes the importance of knowledgeable leadership, something the State Department is overlooking.

This strategy puts a short-term quick fix over a long-term goal. The need for diplomats does exist, but for optimal success, we need altruistic and understanding officers to match the commitment and determination of our servicemen and -women.

SARAH GWILLIAM

Research assistant

National Defense Council Foundation

Alexandria

Bush vs. Congress

Contrary to non-lawyer Don Devine's Wednesday Commentary column, "Teaching the Constitution," if the president prohibits U.S. attorneys from prosecuting contempt citations, Congress can't simply impeach him, because "high crimes and misdemeanors" hardly include asserting executive privilege.

However, Congress could:

n Ask the courts to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the criminal contempt citations.

n Pursue the matter through civil rather than criminal contempt proceedings.

n Exercise its inherent contempt power without recourse to the courts.

The latter two alternatives would avoid the president's other prerogative: to protect those found guilty in criminal proceedings through pardons or commutation of sentences.

JOHN F. BANZHAF III

Professor of public interest law

George Washington University

Law School

Washington

The patent-protection debate

The paired columns appearing under the headline "Patent reform ... or ruin?" (Commentary, Wednesday) address a very important issue: our broken patent system. In his column, Mark Chandler refers to the "entrepreneurial speculators whose only innovation is new ways to game the system." But in fact it has been the large corporations that have gamed the system for years by preventing many small inventors from enforcing their valid claims by initiating costly litigation that makes it prohibitively expensive for many inventors to press their claims in court.

This is why a whole industry sprang up to protect the individual's patent rights, albeit for a fee (often a share of the patent rights). Blackberry maker Research in Motion was offered the opportunity years earlier to purchase the rights to the technology for which it later paid $600 million for a fraction of that figure but chose instead to use it without paying anything for it.

Mr. Chandler's proposal that patent infringement penalties be tied to "the actual economic value of the innovation reflected in the patent" is laughable. This essentially would eliminate any penalty for patent infringement. Corporations would be encouraged to use patented material without first obtaining the rights and would only have to pay for the value of the patented material if they failed to outlast the inventor in mounting, endless law suits. It would be as if the full penalty for robbing a bank was that you had to give the money back.

In the adjoining column, Phyllis Schlafly points out that the new patent bill "would shift decision-making about damages for patent infringement from market valuations to judgments by judges and juries." This tends to favor the large corporation over the little guy. The corporation argues that if it is forced to pay a penalty, its entire future could be put in jeopardy (or perhaps its "$4 billion per year [spent] on R&D, 90 percent of that in the U.S."). It is not unusual for juries to acquit prominent local figures and corporations just because they were seen by the jury to be too important to the community to lose. After all, why not let the corporation cheat the little guy if it will save jobs in the community?

To ensure our economic vitality, we have to protect the individual inventor as well as the corporate inventor. The solution lies along the lines that Mrs. Schlafly proposes: more patent examiners, confidentiality of the process and keeping decision-making in the hands of the experts rather than juries. If we're not careful, we could end up with legislation that does to intellectual property rights what the Supreme Court's Kelo decision did for real property rights — made them enforceable against strong pressure only if you have sufficient financial and political clout.

VICTOR CHOLEWICKI

Washington

The Pat Tillman case

Democrats habitually claim that were they in power, they would conduct the war against terrorism more effectively than the Bush administration has. Yesterday, they got their chance to prove it. A House committee chaired by the venerable Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, had before it former Secretary of Defense Doland H. Rumsfeld; retired Gen. Richard B. Myers and "other former top brass." These gentlemen were being grilled about why it took the Army five weeks to notify the family of a famous soldier who had been killed in battle in Afghanistan and that he had been killed by friendly fire rather than enemy fire ("Rumsfeld denies cover up on Tillman," Nation, Thursday). The witnesses were not questioned about what steps the Army had taken to prevent future friendly-fire killings, only what had caused the delay.

What Mr. Waxman and his fellow Democrats should have been asking was how the Army could have kept this information from Cpl. Tillman's family for so long. Instead this spectacle has embarrassed the Army and downplayed the heroic death of Cpl. Tillman. He certainly deserves to be honored, regardless of how he was killed in combat. The Democrats are sending a bad message to our troops.

SEYMOUR KLEIMAN

Baltimore

'Washington requires choice'

Deborah Simmons laments the lamentable state of Washington, D.C.'s public education system in her Op-Ed "Hotter than July" (Friday). What's new? Certainly not stories of the District's education bureaucracy failing students.

The writer's most important insight is that a variety of tracks are needed for students with a variety of post-high school plans. College isn't for everyone, but until we move beyond the egalitarian idea that all students are capable of — and desire — the same thing, children are held hostage by a system that relies on and propagates that idea. Changing the system requires that it be held accountable, which means parents must have real alternative school choices. WRC may mean to the author "who really cares," but couldn't it also mean "Washington requires choice"?

PHIL BRAND

Arlington

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