- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Same name, wrong picture

Coverage of reform in the Democratic Republic of Congo ("Congo mines reformed," U.N. Report, yesterday) is both timely and relevant, given the horrific and yet largely unheralded violence that continues in that country despite the efforts of the United Nations and others. However, while the reforms in the Congo covered in the article are attributed to the current president, Joseph Kabila, the picture accompanying the article is that of his father, Laurent Kabila. Joseph Kabila succeeded his father as president of Africa's third-largest country in 2001, just days after Laurent Kabila was shot to death by a bodyguard.


Fort Belvoir, Va.

WorldCom worthy of government contracts

Undisclosed in Progress and Freedom Foundation President Jeffrey A. Eisenach's column "Pruning the telecom deadwood" (Commentary, Friday) is his organization's history of receiving support from the Bell companies and other WorldCom competitors. His misplaced views, including his assertion that the government should stop using WorldCom services and instead force the company to liquidate under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, reflect this bias.

Mr. Eisenach claims that the telecom industry would be better off without the innovation and competition provided by WorldCom. Nothing could be further from the truth. WorldCom has been a competitive company from the beginning and has spent years breaking into monopoly telephone markets to ensure that customers and businesses have more than one or two choices when it comes to selecting a full-service provider.

It is inconceivable that the best thing for the telecom industry would be further consolidation that would punish WorldCom's 63,000 hardworking employees and consign millions of customers to a telephone monopoly for the misdeeds of a few former company officials, especially as authorities take decisive action against those involved. WorldCom will emerge from Chapter 11 with arguably the most extensive set of global telecom assets in the industry, and the industry will be better because of it.

Mr. Eisenach's views have no factual basis. They also run counter to reasoned commentary by qualified, unbiased observers, such as Eric Holder, a former Justice Department official, who has observed that it is detrimental to society and industry to punish an entire company for the crimes of individuals. In that vein, the Federal Communications Commission and others in the federal government have wisely chosen a course that offers the best chance of preserving innovation, jobs, service quality and to Mr. Eisenach's dismay competition.


Chief restructuring officer

WorldCom Inc.

Ashburn, Va.

The reasons for tight-lipped doctors

The article "Reporting of errors poses woes for doctors" (Nation, Oct. 28) quotes Dr. Michael Fetters, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan, as saying it would be difficult for doctors to voluntarily disclose their errors because of concern that might be used against them in a malpractice suit. This fear and the way it obstructs the improvement of health care safety is one of several reasons why the malpractice system is badly in need of reform.

Making the health care system safer for everyone should be a national priority. Yet it is naive to expect that physicians have sufficient confidence in the justice system to believe that it will protect them from malpractice lawyers' adversarial tactics. Furthermore, many consumers do not understand that intrinsic risks are involved when undergoing medical treatment or surgery and that in the vast majority of instances, doctors act competently and carefully. Dedication to patients' welfare and safety are instilled in them not only in their training, but throughout their careers.

Despite this, some consumers are seduced by the publicity of a very few blatant malpractice cases into believing that negligence is more common than it is, and high jury awards lead some to believe they are entitled to large awards. This misunderstanding has been worsened by legal firms' advertisements offering free consultations and suggesting that "you" may be the victim of malpractice.

These are some of the fears that play on doctors' minds and inhibit them from freely disclosing their errors or "near misses."

When the malpractice system treats physicians fairly and does not threaten to destroy their reputations and livelihood, then they will feel free to report occurrences that need to be studied so the health-care system will be as safe as it possibly can be.


Bethel, Conn.

Market forces drive Va. real-estate development, not taxes

I think it is unfortunate that proponents of the Northern Virginia referendum fail to recognize that market forces drive real estate development ("Sales-tax activists make appeals," Metro, Sunday). Though touted as a means of relieving congestion, new highway construction, which will occur with or without the referendum, will fuel new real estate development. Moreover, the real estate development that will transpire will not wait for new road construction. Indeed, passing the referendum will send a signal to the real estate developers that new capacity is coming. In turn, developers and consumers will capitalize this "new information" into the value of outlying real estate and trigger a new wave of speculative development on the Northern Virginia fringe.

The result will be more traffic than anticipated on the fringe and a return to contemporary congestion levels for close-in communities. The worst-case scenario is heightened congestion around existing communities as densities increase and commuting patterns begin to reorganize with new fringe development. Of course, the best-case scenario is that new tax dollars will allow the public sector to build capacity faster than the private sector can fill it with additional development. If history provides any reference for the future, however, my bet is on the capacity of the private sector to respond much faster than public sector road builders.

This having been said, it is vital to distinguish the conclusion the referendum is not a good idea from the evidence: that private development will occur. The problem is not that real estate development undoubtedly will keep pace with any new transportation investments. (The ongoing real estate development in Northern Virginia is an incredible asset for both the region and the state. It creates jobs, encourages homeownership and preserves housing affordability, among other benefits.) Rather, the problem is the funding mechanism employed in the referendum and enlisted to build the highway system. A sales tax is not a user fee for transportation purposes. It taxes all manner of consumption, unlike the gas tax, which charges consumers commensurately with their use of public highways.

An increase in the gas tax at the state level, which has failed to keep pace with inflation throughout the past two decades, would be far more appropriate for funding transportation projects in Northern Virginia. Even more essential is the need for Virginia to modernize and rationalize its formula for redistributing gas-tax dollars back to local governments. Instead of the state legislature appropriating revenues, the state should implement a formula-based distribution system that allocates revenues based on county and city population totals, registered motor vehicles or vehicular miles traveled. Anything that explicitly links tax receipts and local transportation dollars would be far more equitable and efficient than the current system of legislative appropriations. Unfortunately, neither side of the debate has acknowledged the irrationality of a local sales tax to fund a regional transportation network or the inequitable redistribution of gas-tax receipts from Richmond.


Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy

Brookings Institution


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