GO Friday: Farewell, Guantanamo

It’s been over a year since I featured a Friday guest opinion, but it’s a new year and I thought this first workday (for some) of 2015 would be a good place to (hopefully) kickstart the series back up. There are a lot of people out there who I would love to see here as guest commentators.

This guest, though, is someone familiar to my readers as his pursuits over the last year have attracted my attention on a few occasions. But my writing about Richard Douglas began when he a candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2012 campaign. In the intervening time, I’ve noted that he is also knowledgeable on foreign affairs, having been senior counsel to two U.S. Senate committees as well as serving in the George W. Bush administration at the Pentagon.

Simply put, Richard’s got a pretty good understanding of this situation so his words may well become reality in 2015.


Bet on this: full U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is part of the Obama deal with Cuba’s Raul Castro to re-establish U.S.-Cuban relations. The only issue left to negotiate is how much our departure will cost the U.S. taxpayer.

The U.S. Navy began visiting Guantanamo during the 19th century. After our 1898 victory over Spain we moved into this fine Cuban harbor for good. Guantanamo was a familiar destination to American sailors, coast guard personnel, and marines long before the first post-9/11 detainees arrived. It has hosted U.S. military training for decades, and also served as a holding area for Haitians and Cubans hoping to reach the U.S.

Since Fidel Castro shot his way to power in the 1950s, he has demanded U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo. Given what we have heard from President Obama lately about Cuba policy, Fidel is likely to get his wish, and soon. The Administration is probably already formulating withdrawal plans.

What are the likely contours of such a plan? Here is a prediction, based upon our President’s affection for unilateral action and our experience leaving Panama.

First the President will assert that he requires no new Congressional authority to withdraw from Guantanamo or return the base to Cuba. The last U.S.-Cuba treaty dealing with Guantanamo entered into force in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mr. Obama will announce that he is free to abrogate or abandon that treaty without Congressional assistance, or in spite of Congressional interference. If pressed, he might cite as precedent President George W. Bush’s 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty with the Soviet Union over Congressional objections, or President Jimmy Carter’s unilateral abandonment of Taiwan.

In 1999 U.S. forces left Panama, completing a process set in motion by President Carter’s 1977 decision to cede the Canal to the Republic of Panama. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from foreign lands can be an expensive proposition: in Panama, the U.S. was obliged to perform environmental remediation and explosive ordnance disposal before transfer. Cuba will make similar demands upon the U.S. taxpayer before transfer of Guantanamo, and the Administration will almost certainly agree to them.

At Guantanamo, ordnance and environmental cleanup will be just the beginning. Cuba will also ask the U.S. to remove thousands of land mines which Cuba, itself, planted along the Guantanamo fence. Taxpayers will also be on the hook to improve U.S.-built port facilities and airfields there, and to fund retirement of Cubans who lose their naval station jobs owing to the turnover.

I would also expect President Obama to offer reparations and an apology to Cuba for the century-long U.S. occupation of Guantanamo, in spite of the fact that these and other U.S. payments will very likely end up in the pockets of the Castro brothers, corrupt Cuban government and Communist Party officials, and the international criminal organizations already enthusiastically awaiting departure of U.S. forces from Guantanamo.

Unlike Panama, we should expect no Cuban interest in a residual U.S. security presence at Guantanamo after turnover. Thus we must be prepared to see the U.S.-built facilities there used in disturbing ways. After withdrawal, Guantanamo’s harbor and airfields will become regular naval and air stopovers for adversaries like Russia and China, and possibly even for drug cartels transshipping deadly cargo to the U.S. or West Africa.

How could President Obama expect a Republican-led Congress to authorize or fund a handover of Guantanamo to the Cuban regime?

Insofar as legislative authorities are concerned for the transfer of U.S. buildings, fixtures, and equipment at Guantanamo to the Cubans, expect the Obama administration simply to announce that under existing law it already has authority to perform all necessary tasks. To advance his agenda, President Obama has not been timid about conjuring presidential authorities from existing law or the Constitution. Guantanamo will be no different.

Unless the new Congress acts to control it, to fund the transfer the President could simply siphon dollars from already-appropriated Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, and intelligence community regular budgets. In the federal budget there are dozens of places to squirrel away funding. Dollars Congress appropriates today for legitimate but vague Executive branch purposes may help fund withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station tomorrow.

Many Americans are concerned about Obama overtures to Cuba. But a Cold War mainstay is coming to an end courtesy of the President. Perhaps it is worth recalling that Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal Treaty partner, General Omar Torrijos, was also reviled by many as a socialist dictator. Thirty years after Torrijos perished in a plane crash, the Canal is in good hands and modernizing. Panama’s tragic history of dictatorship seems far away.

We can only hope that a similar evolution toward democracy and prosperity will be seen in Cuba. For now, prospects are not encouraging and the jury is out. But come what may, Americans should prepare themselves to say farewell to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Soon.

GO Friday: a phosphorus follow-up

Last Friday I told you about the delay in new phosphorus regulations granted by the state of Maryland, giving local farmers some temporary relief from further onerous mandates. In the wake of that piece, District 38C Delegate candidate Mary Beth Carozza sent me a copy of her communication with Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Buddy” Hance decrying the proposal and its effect on local agriculture. Rather than use it as a postscript to the original, I asked if I could reuse it as an opinion piece and she allowed me to do so.


November 15, 2013

The Honorable Earl D. Hance
Secretary, Maryland Department of Agriculture
50 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21841

Dear Secretary Hance:

As a candidate for the newly-created Maryland 38C legislative district, I am joining with our Eastern Shore farm families, members of the Delmarva Poultry Industry and Maryland Farm Bureau, and the local business community to request an immediate withdrawal of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s proposed regulations related to the Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT) and to allow time for an economic evaluation, as well as, for an extended phase-in of any new PMT tool based on a cost analysis and sound science.

After listening to individual families on their farms and attending the MDA briefings in Salisbury and Easton with approximately 400 concerned citizens at each forum, I strongly oppose moving forward with the proposed PMT regulations. It is simply unacceptable for the Maryland Department of Agriculture and our state government to impose new regulations without knowing the costly economic impact of the proposed PMT regulations and without the science to support that these proposed regulations would even improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed through reduced phosphorous leaving a farm.

Further, the proposed regulations do not take into account the improvements and efforts made by our Maryland farmers since the 2005 phosphorous implementation date of the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998. Through Best Management Practices, Maryland farmers are doing more than their fair share in meeting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed goals and have exceeded them by 130 percent. Put simply, Maryland agriculture is the only sector to reach the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup goals.

Also, since the EPA is considering changes to the current Chesapeake Bay Model before the critical time period of 2017, which means reassignments of pollution responsibility by state and by sector, it only makes sense for the State of Maryland to wait for accurate model updates before proposing a new Phosphorous Management Tool. The updated Chesapeake Bay Model may indicate that Maryland farmers have already met their phosphorous reduction goals without the need for a new PMT, or the updated research may point to a new approach based on sound science to meeting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed goals.

Even more disturbing is that you, Secretary Hance, may be considering even going further in regulating the Agriculture community if municipalities cannot achieve and/or afford their WIP (Watershed Implementation Plan) by the Year 2017. It is almost impossible to expect the Agriculture community to accept almost the entire burden of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration program.

I believe the members of our Maryland farm community have proven their commitment over the years to meeting our Chesapeake Bay Watershed goals. As we move forward, I respectfully request that the Maryland Department of Agriculture consider this past progress, the economic impact of all proposed regulations, and sound science to ensure that any proposed regulations will improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. I appreciate this opportunity to share my comments and look forward to working with you.


Mary Beth Carozza
Candidate for State Delegate
Maryland District 38C


Mary Beth added, “As way of background before writing the letter, I visited a couple local farms (Chesnik’s and Hudson’s), attended the Salisbury and Easton MDA briefings, one of the Tri-County meetings on this issue, and this week’s Salisbury Chamber of Commerce legislative meeting. Our farmers and AG business community really deserve credit for engaging and pushing back.”

It’s rare that the push back works, but sometimes we on the Shore catch a break.

It also should be pointed out that most, if not all, of the events she attended were outside Carozza’s district (although I believe the two farms are within the 38C district boundaries.)

While this piece more or less dropped into my lap, I could always use a Black Friday edition of GO Friday. No, I stay far away from the malls but would like to digest my Thanksgiving turkey without coming up with a new post. So have at it.

GO Friday: On compromise

Returning to the GO Friday page, Jason Boisvert discusses the idea of compromise.


Compromise is held, by many, to be a value in and of itself. But is it a value, or is it a tool? What, exactly, is compromise? (Credit to Jonah Goldberg for giving me the premise.)

Let’s look at a city overlooking a gorge. Now, we have something valuable on the other side, so some city residents campaign to build a bridge across the chasm. Others, however, don’t see the MacGuffin as valuable enough to justify a bridge, so they oppose the spending as wasteful. Here’s what a “Compromise” solution is: build a bridge reaching only halfway across the chasm.

Now, if compromise is a value and not a tool, then this would be a good end. But this result is patently absurd. Each side gave up something (a complete bridge and savings, respectively) but gained nothing. This would clearly be a petty and self-destructive exercise, so compromise cannot, itself, be a value.

But let’s take two cities on the same side of this chasm. On the opposite side is, again, some MacGuffin. Both cities want to build a bridge, but neither can afford it alone. So they pool their resources and can build one bridge. Each city wants the bridge at their location, so they have priority on the MacGuffin traffic coming back and forth. Both cities do not want the bridge at the other location for the same reason.

Now, if building the bridge is more important than having closer access, both sides will compromise in a solution that puts the bridge halfway between them. This way, each side gains something of great importance (a bridge) and each side gives up something of lesser importance (closer access). That’s the way compromise should work – sacrificing smaller objectives to achieve a larger goal.

But let’s go back to the first example to explore why that kind of “compromise” is a thing seen in our government. The pro-bridge group gets only half a bridge, but they push it as a compromise. Why? Because in a few years, perhaps even before completion, they can campaign to complete the bridge on the grounds that only building half a bridge is wasteful. On it’s face, this is completely reasonable, except the people attacking the half-bridge are the same people who supported it in the first place.

But in the end, they get the whole bridge, and that’s what mattered. Drop the metaphor and look at Obamacare. There are ALREADY people saying that this system, the Affordable Care Act, is broken and useless because it is not a single-payer system. It took 40 years for the HMO model to break to the ACA model, and the people who thought they could get a state monopoly system then are getting impatient. But Obamacare itself was supposed to be a “compromise” solution between socialism and capitalism. Even without any Republican votes, it is that half-bridge, the false compromise in pursuit of a larger goal.

Understand this the next time any politician on either side talks about compromise – it must be in pursuit of larger, shared goals that are specific in nature, otherwise it is a half-bridge scam.


About the author: Jason Boisvert, 29, is a Connecticut native now living in Baltimore County. He is a political activist with an active YouTube page and a newly-minted blogA Horrible Monster.

Now if you want to get in on the GO Friday fun – it’s not just Jason’s space, you know – and submit your own guest opinion, just drop me a line. My e-mail is ttownjotes (at) yahoo.com. If I like it, I’ll use it.

GO Friday: On education

In the first of what I hope becomes a weekly series of guest opinions I introduced last week, I bring you a treatise on public education by Jason Boisvert.


There are two important premises in discussions on public education. The first is that it’s necessary, and the second is that it works. Let’s look at these and see if they’re true.

The first goal of public (herein “state”) education is providing a well-rounded education in language, science, math and history. But the results are students with almost no knowledge of science or history, limited math skills and, often, functional illiteracy. It’s clear, from both national and international testing, that state education fails in this goal.

Second is life preparation, managing a budget, understanding social and professional protocols, and being able to work in an entry-level or low-level job. The plain proof of failure here is credential creep; what was once a high-school level job now requires a bachelor’s degree, and the first lesson in any job-training program is “Don’t wear jeans to interviews.”

But state educators claim that their job is to prepare students for college, and it’s the job of college to prepare students for work. The number and growth of explicitly remedial courses put the lie to that claim.

Moreover, ask an average student if they love learning. They’ve been taught through direct experience that learning is a tiresome, boring, mind-numbing exercise that doesn’t result in anything of value. After all, the same kids who “can’t” do math can rattle off baseball statistics and calculate how long they need to last to the next health pack in a video game.

Since it’s clear that state education fails, what are the explanations given?

Money is their top complaint, and with the condition many schools and their equipment is in, it certainly looks that way. But what is bought is not necessarily what is spent. Take a class of 25 kids, at $10,000 a year for each – a low estimate – and you get $250,000. Subtract a teacher’s salary of $50,000 and you’re left with $200,000 for that year’s textbooks, desks, materials, rooms, etc. At this level of spending, what could you buy to teach kids?

This level of spending makes plain that the issue is not money. Over a quarter-million dollars per classroom makes it plain as day.

The second complaint is blaming parents as being not involved enough, too poor, bad neighborhoods, and so forth. Leaving aside that this contention undercuts the entire justification of state education, excellent teachers have demonstrated that this is a burden that can be overcome. Jaime Escalante, in East Los Angeles, created an AP Calculus program that won national acclaim.

If these justifications are so much empty air, what are the real reasons for this widespread failure? There are many, but all have one of two roots – monopoly privilege and unionization.

The monopoly privilege isn’t a traditional monopoly, but comes from two things: required student attendance to some facility, and exclusive access to tax support. Both these together shield state schools from the consequences of their bad decisions, and render them free to ignore parental concerns.

But it leaves them vulnerable to political pressure, and most of that pressure comes from teacher’s unions. One of the largest factors in American politics, they use that power to benefit their membership rolls and shield bad, incompetent, or abusive teachers.

While private unions have their impulses to maximize membership mostly balanced by the threat of business failure (though not always, such as the case of Hostess), public unions never have to worry about such outcomes. Their maximization comes at the cost of educational quality, as rules kill innovation and development.

Worse, the union’s focus on seniority over performance destroys educational quality. Long-serving teachers are never in line for layoffs; on the other hand, not even a teacher-of-the-year award can protect a new teacher from layoffs. There are several cases where a teacher was awarded Teacher-Of-The-Year and fired in the same year.

These factors shield the education system from the consequences of bad, selfish or destructive decisions. One such decision is the certification system for teaching in public schools. They require, not a degree or experience in the subject, but a degree in education. Experienced doctors, lawyers, and scientists are not qualified to teach medicine, law and science and can’t, but a newly-graduated Education major without any background in these subjects is and can.

Also, state schools teach to the middle, writing off the top and bottom. If the top succeed within the system, great, but those talented students who require some accommodation to succeed are shoved aside and drop out. State schools simply do not have to care about outliers, whereas some private schools may decide to specialize in them.

But that still leaves the middle, and another destructive choice – the choice to teach down to a level that doesn’t challenge students, but meets the bare minimums for state exams. Students learn to feign ignorance to avoid new (hard) material in favor of re-hashing things already taught.

Another common example of selfish, destructive choices is one that public school system and it’s unions claim to oppose. The phrase “teaching to the test” is the shorthand method of referring to it, but it has two separate meanings, one of which is actually beneficial to student achievement, and another, which is actively harmful. But what the system is actually opposed too is the testing, and any metric by which the system can be evaluated.

The two meanings of the phrase are contradictory; the first meaning is “teach the material on the test.” Teaching material on properly-designed tests of basic skills will give students basic skills, many of which are missing from educational programs. This is what the system is opposed to. The second meaning, however, is what the system actually does. They teach students to pass the test, independent of the material. The biggest example of this is the “Whole Word Recognition (WWR)” method of teaching “literacy.”

WWR teaches the shortcuts readers develop on their own as they gain experience in reading. It does not teach the core concepts of phonics, allowing students to move quickly past words they have been taught, but without any ability to learn new words on their own. This gives illiterate students the ability to pass reading comprehension tests with grade-level word-sets, like state exams, and deny illiteracy, while remaining unable to read books outside specific, grade-level criteria. It gives the teachers credit for doing their jobs without actually doing it. This policy extends widely throughout education, and WWR is merely the most extreme example.

Finally, because they don’t have to, schools refuse to change in the face of new conditions or new facts. Research has discovered, for example, that teenagers are biologically predisposed to wake and fall asleep later, and that early-morning studies are detrimental to many students. This research is nearly twenty years old, but many schools have shifted to earlier start times, not later ones.

Likewise, mechanics, machine operators and other skilled trades could be taught at the high-school level and are in high demand, but schools cut auto shop from the curriculum thirty years ago and never looked back. Reacting and adjusting to either of these facts would improve their students’ ability to succeed, but schools simply demand more money for what they are already doing, despite enough money being available to add useful programs.

There are solutions to these issues, however. The first step is to introduce voucher systems at the state and local level. Vouchers are government grants in the value the state is already paying for an average child’s education. The money is paid to the school the student attends, instead of the school assigned to the fief the student lives in. The money could be used to send students to any public or private school, within the jurisdiction of the government, or even without. To reduce the burden on the state, and introduce price competition, parents who send their children to schools that charge less than the value of the voucher could receive some of the savings in cash.

This would be an immediate policy-level solution as it wouldn’t require removal or reform of the public system, but would allows parents to evacuate their children to an alternative, competing system. The profit-motive would cause a wide variety of schools to appear, catering to specific need-sets of the students they serve, solely and only because parents could punish failing schools by leaving, and reward successful schools by joining or staying. Schools that act as indifferently to student needs and parental desires as the modern state school would quickly find themselves out of students, and that is the only real objection – it endangers the union-monopoly on education.


About the author: Jason Boisvert, 29, is a Connecticut native now living in Baltimore County. He is a political activist with an active YouTube page and a newly-minted blog, A Horrible Monster.