- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A commitment to Mongolia J. Peter Pham’s commentary on Mongolia and the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) was misleading at best (“Mongolia’s challenge,” Feb. 21). His prescription — that we cut off the MCC compact to Mongolia before it even begins to work — would undermine U.S. interests in a nation that is one of our best friends in Asia.

MCC program assistance and the criteria for receiving it are powerful incentives for countries to promote good governance, economic freedom and investment in their own peoples’ development.

Mr. Pham uses data collected by MCC to suggest that Mongolia has a “rapidly deteriorating investment and governance climate.”

A closer look at these numbers shows only marginal declines in some areas. In almost every area, Mongolia is still well ahead of its peer group of developing countries — which is how MCC determines where to invest its assistance.

Corruption and problems in Mongolia’s foreign investment environment are, indeed, troublesome, but these are problems endemic in many new democracies and emerging economies.

To counter these problems, we should assist Mongolia to continue to develop its democratic institutions and market structures.

In many respects, Mongolia is a model for other countries in the region and around the world. In the 17 years since its emergence from the communist bloc, Mongolia has built democratic institutions, made significant progress in securing the rule of law and freedom of the press, fostered a growing civil society and developed stronger fiscal policies that have allowed it to expand its economy at a high rate.

While by no means perfect, Mongolia has made irreversible strides in its democratic and economic development, developments worthy of encouragement by the United States and emulation by a host of other nations.

Mr. Pham correctly pointed out that Mongolia has geopolitical significance and has been a true ally of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mongolia is also a leader in regional and global democracy-building organizations and a strong contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

So, the question is, should we abandon Mongolia and its reform efforts now when progress is being made? Or should we continue to work with the Mongolians to help them complete their democratic transition?

I would argue that the answer is clear — we should continue to help Mongolians realize their full capabilities as a free people. The MCC compact, in its ability to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth in Mongolia, is one of the best ways we can show our commitment to Mongolia.

THOMAS J. CHRISTENSEN

Deputy assistant secretary of state

East Asian and Pacific affairs

Department of State

Washington

Where the sidewalk ends

Another dollar, yet another cheap-o bus service to New York (“A dollar still goes far, all the way to New York,” Page 1, Friday). One of the reasons these bus services have sprung up like spring weeds to offer such cheap prices is that their operators presume to use public space such as traffic and parking lanes and sidewalks as their makeshift bus stations. But these are already at a premium in Washington.

The patrons of DC2NY, which stops at 20th Street and Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, and a competitor that stops at 1300 19th St. NW are as thoughtless as they are thrifty.

Routinely camped out on the sidewalk with their luggage, they often completely block access for residents, who pay for this stuff. Of course, the D.C. police do nothing.

Everyone likes a bargain. But as a D.C. taxpayer, I don’t want my public sidewalks enabling a private enterprise. It’s high time the D.C. government starts to regulate this. Intercity buses belong at the bus station.

PETER C. KOHLER

Washington

Obama and Rev. Wright

While the sum of her statements I can understand and admit raise valid (if cynically reasoned) points, Mona Charen’s contention that Sen. Barack Obama “chose those sermons he now calls ‘incendiary’ and ‘inexcusable’ ” is itself an inexcusable one (“Throwing grandma at them,” Commentary, Wednesday). By that logic, by my act of reading Miss Charen’s article, I’ve accepted everything she said.

I happen to like The Washington Times. I read regular articles here by regular writers, and I agree with some and disagree with some, but I don’t accept every one of them I disagree with by simple virtue of returning here week after week and reading the same writer’s articles. Plus, Mr. Obama has said he wasn’t present for and didn’t hear the “incendiary” statements made by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. that are in question. He does admit having heard what he would consider to be “controversial” statements, but by what standard is that measured? The black communities’ standard, the white communities’ standard, or some type of mainstream standard? Should we all disband jobs and extracurricular associations every time something controversial shows up? Probably not, just presidential candidates, right?

In any event, I’m glad to see Mr. Obama get the tough treatment because, despite the ease with which we can assume typical, political, cynical, equivocal motives on the part of people ambitious enough to run for the White House, it not only (hopefully) ensures people with deceitful intent are weeded out, but also provides an opportunity for the individual to rise above the critique if they are in fact authentic. Maybe if we gave Mr. Obama a stab at a few more speeches in response to the media’s inability to accept his answers as genuine or sufficient, he’d deliver a speech we couldn’t assail. Maybe anyone could, given the opportunity.

PAUL CRIM

Mission Viejo, Calif.

Housing relief

It seems doubtful that “the drop in home prices is depressing for the majority of Americans who own their homes” (“Home prices plummet at record rate,” Business, Wednesday) for the following reasons:

1. The vast majority of homeowners are living in their homes, not selling them. For those staying put, a decrease in home prices, to the extent it is even known, pales in perceived purchasing-power importance to the decrease in the value of one’s stock portfolio, 401(k) plan, IRA or other security-based liquid assets.

2. In Fairfax County, where I live, most homeowners will see a drop in their property taxes of several hundred dollars enough cash, in some cases, to cover or exceed the higher gas cost of the daily commute.

3. The enormous spikes in property values in Northern Virginia during the past decade had a rippling inflationary effect that caused many home-related services to sharply increase in cost. With the bursting of the housing bubble, it’s likely that the price of related services will moderate as well.

4. Those homeowners who are selling are usually also buying, and unless they’re moving to Charlotte, N.C., or the District (two areas that bucked the national trend and experienced an increase in housing prices), there’s an equivalent reduction on both sides of the equation.

Of course, some homeowners borrow against the value of their home, and less value means less to borrow. But a drop of say, 11 percent, directly affects only those homeowners who borrowed more than 89 percent of the “old” inflated value.

The current drama in the housing market demonstrates why it’s not particularly prudent to borrow (or lend) funds collateralized at the upper margins of inflated value.

For the majority of homeowners who haven’t engaged in these intemperate practices, the drop in home prices may actually provide some welcome relief.

SAMUEL R. LEWIS

Oak Hill, Va.

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