Saturday, September 15, 2007

Will the Democrats Betray Us?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 16, 2007

SIR, I don't know, actually": The fact that America's surrogate commander in chief, David Petraeus, could not say whether the war in Iraq is making America safer was all you needed to take away from last week's festivities in Washington. Everything else was a verbal quagmire, as administration spin and senatorial preening fought to a numbing standoff.

Not that many Americans were watching. The country knew going in that the White House would win its latest campaign to stay its course of indefinitely shoveling our troops and treasure into the bottomless pit of Iraq. The only troops coming home alive or with their limbs intact in President Bush's troop "reduction" are those who were scheduled to be withdrawn by April anyway. Otherwise the president would have had to extend combat tours yet again, mobilize more reserves or bring back the draft.

On the sixth anniversary of the day that did not change everything, General Petraeus couldn't say we are safer because he knows we are not. Last Sunday, Michael Scheuer, the former chief of the C.I.A.'s Osama bin Laden unit, explained why. He wrote in The Daily News that Al Qaeda, under the de facto protection of Pervez Musharraf, is "on balance" more threatening today that it was on 9/11. And as goes Pakistan, so goes Afghanistan. On Tuesday, just as the Senate hearings began, Lisa Myers of NBC News reported on a Taliban camp near Kabul in an area nominally controlled by the Afghan government we installed. It is training bomb makers to attack America.

Little of this registered in or beyond the Beltway. New bin Laden tapes and the latest 9/11 memorial rites notwithstanding, we're back in a 9/10 mind-set. Bin Laden, said Frances Townsend, the top White House homeland security official, "is virtually impotent." Karen Hughes, the Bush crony in charge of America's P.R. in the jihadists' world, recently held a press conference anointing Cal Ripken Jr. our international "special sports envoy." We are once more sleepwalking through history, fiddling while the Qaeda not in Iraq prepares to burn.

This is why the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, including those more accurate than Mr. Bush's recent false analogies, can take us only so far. Our situation is graver than it was during Vietnam.

Certainly there were some eerie symmetries between General Petraeus's sales pitch last week and its often-noted historical antecedent: Gen. William Westmoreland's similar mission for L.B.J. before Congress on April 28, 1967. Westmoreland, too, refused to acknowledge that our troops were caught in a civil war. He spoke as well of the "repeated successes" of the American-trained South Vietnamese military and ticked off its growing number of combat-ready battalions. "The strategy we're following at this time is the proper one," the general assured America, and "is producing results."

Those fabulous results delayed our final departure from Vietnam for another eight years — just short of the nine to 10 years General Petraeus has said may be needed for a counterinsurgency in Iraq. But there's a crucial difference between the Westmoreland show of 1967 and the 2007 revival by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Westmoreland played to a full and largely enthusiastic house. Most Americans still supported the war in Vietnam and trusted him; so did all but a few members of Congress, regardless of party. All three networks pre-empted their midday programming for Westmoreland's Congressional appearance.

Our Iraq commander, by contrast, appeared before a divided and stalemated Congress just as an ABC News-Washington Post poll found that most Americans believed he would overhype progress in Iraq. No network interrupted a soap opera for his testimony. On cable the hearings fought for coverage with Britney Spears's latest self-immolation and the fate of Madeleine McCann, our latest JonBenet Ramsey stand-in.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker could grab an hour of prime television time only by slinking into the safe foxhole of Fox News, where Brit Hume chaperoned them on a gloomy, bunkerlike set before an audience of merely 1.5 million true believers. Their "Briefing for America," as Fox titled it, was all too fittingly interrupted early on for a commercial promising pharmaceutical relief from erectile dysfunction.

Even if military "victory" were achievable in Iraq, America could not win a war abandoned by its own citizens. The evaporation of that support was ratified by voters last November. For that, they were rewarded with the "surge." Now their mood has turned darker. Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it, or of war in general. Katie Couric's much-promoted weeklong visit to the front produced ratings matching the CBS newscast's all-time low. Angelina Jolie's movie about Daniel Pearl sank without a trace. Even Clint Eastwood's wildly acclaimed movies about World War II went begging. Over its latest season, "24" lost a third of its viewers, just as Mr. Bush did between January's prime-time address and last week's.

You can't blame the public for changing the channel. People realize that the president's real "plan for victory" is to let his successor clean up the mess. They don't want to see American troops dying for that cause, but what can be done? Americans voted the G.O.P. out of power in Congress; a clear majority consistently tell pollsters they want out of Iraq. And still every day is Groundhog Day. Our America, unlike Vietnam-era America, is more often resigned than angry. Though the latest New York Times-CBS News poll finds that only 5 percent trust the president to wrap up the war, the figure for the (barely) Democratic-controlled Congress, 21 percent, is an almost-as-resounding vote of no confidence.

Last week Democrats often earned that rating, especially those running for president. It is true that they do not have the votes to overcome a Bush veto of any war legislation. But that doesn't mean the Democrats have to go on holiday. Few used their time to cross-examine General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on their disingenuous talking points, choosing instead to regurgitate stump sentiments or ask uncoordinated, redundant questions. It's telling that the one question that drew blood — are we safer? — was asked by a Republican, John Warner, who is retiring from the Senate.

Americans are looking for leadership, somewhere, anywhere. At least one of the Democratic presidential contenders might have shown the guts to soundly slap the "General Betray-Us" headline on the ad placed by in The Times, if only to deflate a counterproductive distraction. This left-wing brand of juvenile name-calling is as witless as the "Defeatocrats" and "cut and run" McCarthyism from the right; it at once undermined the serious charges against the data in the Petraeus progress report (including those charges in the same MoveOn ad) and allowed the war's cheerleaders to hyperventilate about a sideshow. "General Betray-Us" gave Republicans a furlough to avoid ownership of an Iraq policy that now has us supporting both sides of the Shiite-vs.-Sunni blood bath while simultaneously shutting America's doors on the millions of Iraqi refugees the blood bath has so far created.

It's also past time for the Democratic presidential candidates to stop getting bogged down in bickering about who has the faster timeline for withdrawal or the more enforceable deadline. Every one of these plans is academic anyway as long as Mr. Bush has a veto pen. The security of America is more important — dare one say it? — than trying to outpander one another in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate need all the unity and focus they can muster to move this story forward, and that starts with the two marquee draws, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It's essential to turn up the heat full time in Washington for any and every legislative roadblock to administration policy that they and their peers can induce principled or frightened Republicans to endorse.

They should summon the new chief of central command (and General Petraeus's boss), Adm. William Fallon, for tough questioning; he is reportedly concerned about our lapsed military readiness should trouble strike beyond Iraq. And why not grill the Joint Chiefs and those half-dozen or so generals who turned down the White House post of "war czar" last fall? The war should be front and center in Congress every day.

Mr. Bush, confident that he got away with repackaging the same bankrupt policies with a nonsensical new slogan ("Return on Success") Thursday night, is counting on the public's continued apathy as he kicks the can down the road and bides his time until Jan. 20, 2009; he, after all, has nothing more to lose. The job for real leaders is to wake up America to the urgent reality. We can't afford to punt until Inauguration Day in a war that each day drains America of resources and will. Our national security can't be held hostage indefinitely to a president's narcissistic need to compound his errors rather than admit them.

The enemy votes, too. Cataclysmic events on the ground in Iraq, including Thursday's murder of the Sunni tribal leader Mr. Bush embraced two weeks ago as a symbol of hope, have never arrived according to this administration's optimistic timetable. Nor have major Qaeda attacks in the West. It's national suicide to entertain the daydream that they will start doing so now.

Will Rudy Let Her Rudy-Up?

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 16, 2007


It’s on.

Or, rather, it’s back on.

Rudy versus Hillary, a New York steel-cage match pitting two eye-gouging, hair-pulling, kick-em-till-they’re-dead brawlers.

For months, Hillary’s comely male rivals for the Democratic nomination have tiptoed around her, letting their wives take shots at the front-runner.

Barack Obama looks wary when he’s on stage with Hillary, but Michelle stepped up: “Some women feel it’s a woman’s turn, you know? They just feel like it’s Hillary’s turn. That, I reject, because democracy isn’t supposed to be about whose turn it is.”

That followed Elizabeth Edwards’s takedown of Hillary: “She’s just not as vocal a women’s advocate as I want to see. John is.”

Obama and Edwards probably figured the criticism would sound less Lazio coming from their wives. But it just made them seem as though they were hiding behind their wives’ skirts.

Enter Rudy. He may wear skirts, but he’s not afraid to take down a skirt.

He put up an ad Friday on his campaign Web site slamming her as a hypocrite for running an antiwar campaign after supporting the president on the authorization for war.

Obama has been trying to make this point for quite a while, but so gingerly that every time he sneaks up on it, Hillary surges ahead.

Rudy doesn’t do ginger.

Hillary has been trying to Rudy-up, corralling ground zero and playing the fear card, saying that if there were a terrorist attack before the election, only she could stop Republicans from keeping the White House. But Rudy aims to de-Rudy her. His ad is an instant cult classic, with a solemn trumpet that is reminiscent of “Taps” and a narrator who sounds like the guy who does trailers for “In a World Gone Wrong” disaster flicks.

Just when Hillary was basking in her reinvention of herself, Rudy sprang out of the Republican primary shadows and shoved her back.

He ignores her attempts to be New Hillary, a senator who loves men in uniform, who is not afraid to use military power, and who is tough enough to deal with bin Laden. He recasts her as Old Hillary, a Code Pink pinko first lady and opportunist from a White House that had a reputation for having a flower-child distaste for the military, a left-wing shrew who made a secret socialist health care plan and let gays into the military and certainly can’t be trusted to fight the jihadists.

“In 2002,” the white words flash on a black screen, “Hillary Clinton voted to authorize military action in Iraq because she believed it was the right thing to do.”

Then it goes to a clip of Hillary speaking on the Senate floor during the war authorization debate that Obama has been too refined to highlight.

“If left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons,” she said, an echo of Condi. “He has also given aid and comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members. So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation.”

Then the narrator intones, “But now that she’s running for president, Hillary Clinton has changed her position, even joining with the radical group MoveOn .org in attacking American General Petraeus” when she said it would require “a willing suspension of disbelief” to believe him.

“Just when our troops need all our support to finish the job, Hillary Clinton is turning her back on them,” the narrator concludes.

There are harsh images of Hillary, looking brittle in dark glasses, to go with the harsh words.

Rudy has decided that the best way to win his primary is to show he can beat the woman on the way to winning hers.

He can’t campaign on family values or the sanctity of marriage. He can’t whip up any fears on abortion or gays.

He can’t campaign on his plan to get out of Iraq because he doesn’t have one. He can’t campaign as the tough-guy heir to Bush because nobody likes Bush. He can’t campaign on attacking Iran because he’ll sound like crazy Dick Cheney.

He can’t campaign on the economy because he’s W. redux, facing a possible recession because of the mortgage crisis. He can’t campaign on Rudy’s from-the-mountaintop “12 Commitments” because no one knows what they are, and they don’t mention the word “Iraq.”

But he can be the only man in the field tough enough to slap around a woman.

The irony is that if you could loosen up Hillary with a few Jack and gingers, she would probably be closer to her reinvention than to his caricature. She probably secretly supports the surge, knowing that after it sputters, she may reap the whirlwind. And then the Republicans, who have lied, stalled and mismanaged in every way imaginable, will paint her as Ms. Cut and Run, turning her back on the military again.

Somebody Else’s Mess

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 16, 2007

George W. Bush delivered his farewell address on Thursday evening — handing the baton, and probably the next election, to the Democrats.

Why do I say that? Because in his speech to the nation the president basically said that on the most important, indeed only, legacy issue left in his presidency, Iraq, there would be no change in policy — that a substantial number of U.S. troops would remain in Iraq “beyond my presidency.” Therefore, it will be up to his successor to end the war he started.

“In one fell swoop George Bush abdicated to Petraeus, Maliki and the Democrats,” said David Rothkopf, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, referring to Gen. David Petraeus and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. “Bush left it to Petraeus to handle the war, Maliki to handle our timetable and therefore our checkbook, and the Democrats to ultimately figure out how to end this.”

The sad thing for the American people is that we have no commander in chief anymore, framing our real situation and options. The president’s description on Thursday of the stakes in Iraq was delusional. An Iraqi ally fighting for “freedom” against “extremists”? There are extremists in the Iraqi government, army and police. There is a civil war on top of tribal, neighborhood and jihadist wars, fueled not by a single Iraqi quest for freedom, but by differing quests for “justice,” revenge and, yes, democracy. The only possible self-sustaining outcome in the near term is some form of radical federalism.

We also do not have a commander in chief weighing the costs of staying in Iraq indefinitely against America’s other interests at home and abroad. When General Petraeus honestly averred that he could not say whether pursuing the surge in Iraq would make America safer, he underscored how much the war there has become disconnected from every conceivable worthy goal — democratization of Iraq or spreading progressive governance in the Arab-Muslim world — and is now just about itself and abstractions of “winning” or “not failing.”

That is why I thought the most relevant comments from the Petraeus hearings last week were those offered by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Ike Skelton, when he said at the outset:

“We must begin by considering the overall security of this nation. It’s our responsibility here in Congress under the Constitution to ensure that the United States military can deter and if needed prevail anywhere our interests are threatened. Iraq is an important piece of the overall equation, but it is only a piece. There are very real trade-offs when you send 160,000 of our men and women in uniform to Iraq. Those troops in Iraq are not available for other missions.”

While Mr. Bush’s tacit resignation last week greatly increases the odds of a Democratic victory in 2008, there are several wild cards that could change things: a miraculous turnaround in Iraq (unlikely, but you can always hope), a terrorist attack in America, a coup in Pakistan that puts loose nukes in the hands of Islamist radicals, or a recession induced by the meltdown in the U.S. mortgage market, which forces a stark choice between bailing out Baghdad or Chicago.

The first three, for sure, could propel the right Republican candidate right back into the thick of things — especially if the Democrats have not positioned themselves with a credible approach to Iraq and the wider national security issues facing the country.

There is an opportunity now for Democrats, and Americans will be listening — but they need to articulate a concrete endgame policy, and it would have to include at least three components:

First, a detailed blueprint with a fixed withdrawal date tied to a negotiation with Iraqi factions on a federal solution tied to a military redeployment plan to contain the inevitable spillover from Iraq.

Second, a commitment by the next president to impose a stiff tariff on all imported crude oil, to make sure we become less dependent on what is sure to be a more unstable Middle East as we leave Iraq. And third, a plan to deal with the broader terrorist challenge. Set a date. Set a price. That will get people’s attention.

Democratic candidates have been talking about health care and other important issues, but the overriding foreign policy message that still comes across from them to many Americans, argues Mr. Rothkopf, is that Democrats are simply “anti-Bush, antiwar and antitrade.” Be careful: despite the mess Mr. Bush has made in the world, or maybe because of it, Americans will not hand the keys to a Democrat who does not convey a “gut” credibility on national security.

Death in the Chair, Step by Remorseless Step

This Land
The New York Times
September 16, 2007


The window blinds to the execution chamber are raised shortly after 1 in the morning, in accordance with the Procedures for Electrocution in the State of Tennessee. And the condemned man is revealed.

He looks almost like a young child buckled into a car seat, with his closed eyes and freshly shaved head, with the way the black restraints of the electric chair crisscross at his torso. He yawns a wide-mouthed yawn, as though just stirring from an interrupted dream, and opens his eyes.

He is moments from dying.

The cause of death will be cardiac arrest. Every step toward that end will follow those written state procedures, which strive to lend a kind of clinical dignity to the electrocution of a human being, yet read like instructions for jump-starting a car engine. Remember: “A fire extinguisher is located in the building and is near the electric chair as a precaution.”

Behold Daryl Holton. He is 45. Ten years ago he shot his four young children in his uncle’s auto-repair garage, two at a time, through the heart. He used their very innocence to kill them, telling them not to peek, daddy has a surprise. After he was done he turned himself in, saying he wanted to report a “homicide times four.”

In seeking the execution of this Army veteran, now blinking in the cold, bright room, the state argued that Mr. Holton committed premeditated murder, times four, to punish his ex-wife for obtaining an order of protection and for moving away. He killed his children, so he must be killed.

In defending the life of this man — now pursing his lips, about all that he can move — his advocates argued that he believed his children were better off dead than to live in a profoundly troubled home; that he actually felt relief after pulling a tarpaulin over those four small bodies. He killed his children, so he must be mentally ill.

All the while, Mr. Holton adhered to a peculiar code of conduct that vexed all sides. Those fighting for his life often did so against his will. Those seeking his remorse were unrewarded.

Just days ago he said the crimes for which he was convicted warranted the death penalty, but he pointedly removed himself from that equation. Perhaps to suggest the killings were justified; perhaps to keep things theoretical. No matter. Now, at 1:09 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007, at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, it is about to happen.

The warden, Ricky J. Bell, stands before him, supervising the first electrocution in Tennessee since 1960. Prison officials had hoped that Mr. Holton would choose to die by lethal injection, and had been gently reminding him of this option. But he maintained that since electrocution was the only form of capital punishment at the time of his crimes, then electrocution it should be.

Before the raising of those window blinds, Mr. Holton had started to hyperventilate, and Mr. Bell had sought to calm him by slightly loosening the straps. But now it is 1:10, the blinds are up, the clock is running. In accordance with procedures, the warden asks if the condemned has something to say.

The inmate’s response is so slurred by his hyperventilating that he is asked to repeat what he has been planning to say for a long time. He says again, “Two words: I do.”

This could be a joke of some kind, a cosmic conundrum, or maybe Mr. Holton’s acceptance into whatever awaits him after life. It could be the use of his marital vow as a parting shot at his ex-wife, or perhaps a twisted re-affirmation of his belief in the sanctity of marriage and family.

The warden asks, “That it?” The inmate nods.

Two corrections officers step forward to place a sponge soaked in salted water on Mr. Holton’s bald scalp to enhance conductivity. Next comes the headpiece, which the procedures describe as a “leather cranial cap lined with copper mesh inside.” Finally, a power cable, not unlike the cable to your television, is attached to the headpiece.

The copper mesh pressing wet sponge sends salty water streaming down the inmate’s ashen face, soaking his white cotton shirt to the pale skin beneath. When officers try to blot him dry with white towels, Mr. Holton says not to worry about it, “ain’t gonna matter anyway.”

After the white towels comes a black shroud to be attached to the headpiece. It is intended in part to protect the dignity of the inmate, now strapped, soaked and about to die before witnesses. His final expression, then, will be his own.


With the push of a button on a console labeled Electric Chair Control, 1,750 volts bolt through Mr. Holton’s body, jerking it up and dropping it like a sack of earth. The black shroud offers the slightest flutter, and witnesses cannot tell whether they have just heard a machine’s whoosh or a man’s sigh.

Fifteen seconds later, another bolt, and Mr. Holton’s body rises even higher, slumps even lower. His reddened hands remain gripped to the arms of the chair, whose oaken pieces are said to have once belonged to the old electric chair, and before that, to the gallows.

It is 1:17. Procedures require a five-minute pause at this point. A prison official off to the side watches a digital clock on the wall while chewing something, perhaps gum, perhaps to calm his nerves. Two minutes, three, four, the only things moving in the room are his eyes and his jaw, five. The window blinds drop, and a physician begins a private examination.

Later, in the foggy darkness outside the prison, someone will read a statement from the ex-wife, Crystal Holton, in which she says that all the anger and hatred can finally leave her, to be replaced by a child’s innocent love — “love times four.”

Later, well after sunrise, Kelly Gleason, one of the lawyers who fought to keep Mr. Holton alive, will set aside her mourning for a friend and give in to fitful sleep.

Later, in the hot afternoon some 50 miles to the south, four polished tombstones will again cast shadows toward a playground at the bottom of a cemetery’s hill. Arranged in order of age, the stones bear the names of the four Holton children: Stephen, 12, Brent, 10, Eric, 6, and Kayla, 4.

But first confirmation, in accordance with procedures. And now the disembodied voice of Tennessee: “Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the legal execution of Daryl Holton. The time of death, 1:25. Please exit.”

It’s Just a Matter of Equity

Fair Game
The New York Times
September 16, 2007

The moribund private equity market stirred a bit last week as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts dredged up some buyers for loans to finance its $22 billion purchase of Alliance Boots, a British drugstore chain. But lingering investor wariness toward private equity maestros and their deals is far from the only problem facing the buyout business. There are graver threats that are, no surprise, the industry’s own making.

This is not just your humble research assistant talking. It is the view of Michael C. Jensen, professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School, leading scholar in finance and management, and the man whom many consider to be the intellectual father of private equity. In other words, a person uniquely qualified to opine on the matter.

“We are going to see bad deals that have been done that are not publicly known as bad deals yet, we will have scandals, reputations will decline and people are going to be left with a bad taste in their mouths,” Mr. Jensen said in an interview last week. “The whole sector will decline.”

Mr. Jensen was elaborating on the trenchant comments he made last month in a forum on private equity convened by the Academy of Management. There, he excoriated private equity titans who sell stock in their companies to the public — a non sequitur in both language and economics, he said — and warned that industry “innovations,” like deal fees that encourage private equity managers to overpay for companies, will destroy value at these firms, not create it.

He also said that private equity managers who sell overvalued company shares to the public, whether in their own entities or in businesses they have bought and are repeddling, are breaching their duties to those buying the stocks.

“The owners who are selling the equity are in effect giving their word to the market that the equity is really worth what it is being priced at,” he said. “But the attitude on Wall Street is that there is no responsibility to the buyers of the equity on the part of the managers who are doing the selling. And that’s a recipe for nonworkability and value destruction.”

Mr. Jensen’s interest in private equity goes back to 1989, when he wrote a seminal article titled “Eclipse of the Public Corporation.” In it he argued that new and more effective organizations were emerging that unified the interests of managers and owners, eliminating value-destroying practices so common at public companies.

These practices, examples of the so-called agency problem, are a product of corporate structures that allow managers — i.e., agents — to feather their own nests at the expense of owners — i.e., investors — whose interests they are supposed to serve.

For years, private equity firms seemed superior to the public company model, Mr. Jensen said. But recent developments, he said, have wiped out many of the advantages in private equity’s original design. Agency problems, precisely what private equity was supposed to eliminate, are cropping up as a result of the disastrous changes made by these firms, Mr. Jensen argues.

Raising permanent capital by issuing stock in a private equity firm is a prime example, because it destroys powerful incentives that kept these firms working hard for their investors, Mr. Jensen said. In traditional form, private equity firms raise capital from investors for a finite period of time, agreeing to pay them back, typically after 3 to 13 years. This not only provides a reasonable time horizon for gauging how well the firms perform, it also contains an implicit threat that if they don’t produce for their partners then they won’t be able to raise additional funds.

“This gives the capital markets a chance to say no,” Mr. Jensen said. “When you liquidate a fund if you don’t have very good returns, you’re going to have a tough time on the next fund. That’s a very, very important constraint that has played a significant role in the success of the private equity model.”

Mr. Jensen also deplores the newfangled fees that private equity firms are levying on their clients. Among the worst? Deal fees that rise in tandem with the size of the buyout, and special dividends that go only to the private equity firm, not its investors.

“Deal fees that are going to pay them to do deals whether they are good or not — now that’s nuts,” Mr. Jensen said. “And this notion of taking special dividends out only for the private equity firm — you can see the conflicts of interest that creates.”

Under the original model, private equity managers got annual management fees, but their biggest payout was supposed to be on the back end, based on the performance of the companies they had operated. But waiting for a back-end payday is not enough for today’s titans. They want their money up front.

“I can predict without a shred of doubt that these fees are going to end up reducing the productivity of the model,” Mr. Jensen said. “And it creates another wedge between the outsiders and insiders, which is very, very serious. People are doing this out of some short-run focus on increasing revenues, and not paying attention to what the strengths of the model are.”

Who cares about the model when there’s a mountain of money to be made?

Short-term thinking like that can do genuine damage, and Mr. Jensen fears such a result. “The sector is going to take a reputational hit of nontrivial proportions,” he said. “Private equity is not going to go away, but it’s going to take a hit.”

A sunny side to this dark view is that public company managers may begin applying parts of the private equity model to their own operations, according to Mr. Jensen.

“In principle, one ought to be able to duplicate virtually every aspect of the private equity model in a public company, except the actual going-private part,” he said. “It’s very difficult, but I think public corporations may begin to think about running themselves in this way.”

Now that’s something to hope for.

Firefighter Was Down, but ‘Too Young to Quit’

Our Towns
The New York Times
September 16, 2007


The first fall should have been the catastrophe.

Dino Ferraro was at a fire in a largely abandoned clock factory in 1989 when he fell from a fully extended aerial ladder 25 feet to the concrete below, landing on his left shoulder. A different angle, he could have been paralyzed or killed. As it was, small miracle, he hit the ground and bounced up like a rubber ball. He separated the shoulder and was out for two and a half months, but lived to fight fires another day.

But you get to dodge only so many bullets. He didn’t dodge any on Sept. 23, 2000, when he came to work a little early and took a call he would have missed had he showed up five minutes later. This time he was on a ladder breaking open second-floor windows at a bedroom fire in a housing project.

The firefighters inside, not seeing him through the smoke, blasted him with a hose shooting out water at 150 pounds per square inch of pressure. He fell only 12 feet, but when a firefighter at the bottom of the ladder tried to break the fall, Mr. Ferraro landed squarely on the heel of his right foot. “When they pulled off the boot, it looked like scrambled eggs,” Mr. Ferraro said. He suffered what is called a pilon fracture. It is also known as a hammer fracture, which tells you all you need to know.

“They looked at the ankle and told me it was all over,” Mr. Ferraro, 48, recalled. “They told me before the surgery, they told me after the surgery, they probably told me during the surgery, that I was all done with fighting fires. They said there was just no way.”

There were operations, a steel plate and 13 screws in his leg, casts, boots and therapy sessions, all intended to allow him to walk normally, without pain. None were very successful. And when the ankle joint ended up 20 degrees out of alignment, the right leg an inch shorter than the left, that looked like the best that could be done.

But Mr. Ferraro, who at first wanted to become a state trooper but then caught the firehouse bug, wasn’t content with limping around, and, stubbornly, he wasn’t resigned to being a former firefighter, living on disability payments at the impeccably neat split raised ranch he shares with his wife, Annette. He wanted to walk normally. And he wanted to climb ladders, walk on roofs, smash gashes in burning buildings, fight fires.

So through his wife’s contacts as a radiology technician, he began looking for more options. In October 2002 that took him to the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch, an orthopedic surgeon and director of the hospital’s limb lengthening and deformity service, who decided that Mr. Ferraro’s case might not be so hopeless, after all. He could see that in 95 percent of cases it would be a career-ending injury. But between the advances in orthopedics and Mr. Ferraro’s dogged insistence on going back to work, he figured it was worth a shot.

So, using something called an Ilizarov frame, a scaffold around the leg that looks a bit like a medieval torture device, his treatment consisted of two main elements — returning the ankle joint to something near its normal alignment and using the body’s ability to grow new bone to lengthen the leg to where it had been before the accident. The frame was put on in February 2003. It was removed that July.

After almost a year of therapy, Mr. Ferraro thought it was time to see how close he was to where he wanted to be. He took out his ladder and climbed to the top of his house with its steep-pitched roof. Then several times a week he clambered over its eaves and ridges, first without his gear, then in his heavy firefighter’s outfit.

On June 8, 2005, he was allowed to return to work as a firefighter, and he has been there ever since, back at the New Haven Fire Department’s East Battalion, Truck 3 at the Lombard Street station, where he began work 21 years ago.

This past week all the terrible images came flooding back, of the firefighters rushing into the burning towers, the almost unfathomable dedication, the miracles of bravery, medicine, heart and soul that got people through that week six years ago. Mr. Ferraro marvels and shudders like everyone else about what people did on 9/11. But, though he wouldn’t make any comparisons, he is a reminder of how, in far, far smaller ways, those miracles play out in daily life, too.

“It’s just something in my blood,” he said. “I climb ladders. I walk on roofs. I fight fires. I wasn’t really out to prove anything. I just figured I was 41 years old, and that was too young to quit.”


Stop Worrying, and Learn to Love the Yanks

Sports of The Times
September 16, 2007


The usual nonplussed facade of Chien-Ming Wang revealed an extra stage of bewilderment yesterday as he watched Kevin Youkilis writhing in the batter’s box.

Youkilis was almost spinning in the dirt — in some awkward break-dance move — from the pain of a Wang fastball, high and tight. Youkilis is Boston’s goateed tough guy of the biker variety. So it created a stir when he exited the field with his wrist on its way to a brilliant black and blue.

All the while, as the scene unfolded at Fenway Park, questions seemed to dart across Wang’s confused mind — like what just happened and what have I done?

He supplied smelling salts for the Red Sox. That’s what. For the last seven games of this rivalry, the Red Sox looked like a team experiencing mental atrophy after a season with a comfortable division lead.

The old Curt Schilling T-shirt from the Red Sox’ World Series run that read, “Why not us?” seemed rewritten this season with, “What us, Worry?”

It doesn’t matter if Wang made a mistaken pitch or a purpose pitch or a pitch that Youkilis spun into as he held up his swing in the fifth inning. Suddenly, the Red Sox were with it again, into it once more during a 10-1 victory. Suddenly, the Yankees’ Friday night fantasy comeback had been diluted by Boston’s awakening in a game it viewed as Joba Payback.

The mythical Joba Chamberlain was suspended two games for buzzing Youkilis on two uncharacteristically untamed pitches Aug. 30 at Yankee Stadium. Move on, urged the managers. No grudge, the players lied.

Wang, of all placid pitchers, snuffed out the make-believe peace pipe. Wang, of all emotionless Yankees, flipped the Red Sox on.

What a waste of a psychological edge by the Yankees. What a squandering of its position as a threat to Boston. What a downward spiral it could trigger as the Yankees try to fend off Detroit for the wild card.

The Yankees weren’t prepared for what yesterday brought. They were flat — even physically dazed. A kick-line of incidents followed Wang’s pitch into Youkilis, which arrived with one out and the game tied, 1-1.

As Fox’s Joba Cam (at least it seemed like it) focused on Chamberlain pacing in the bullpen, the Red Sox zeroed in on Wang. They took the lead in the fifth with one rip after another, and then rocked catcher Jorge Posada in the sixth when Eric Hinske rumbled toward home with the body of a beer truck.

He plowed in with his elbows planting on Posada’s jaw as the two tumbled over the plate. Posada held on to Melky Cabrera’s targeted throw from center field. Hinske was out, but the clam-chowder faithful cheered his barreling ways. Posada blinked his eyes, as if trying to stop Fenway Park’s Green Monster from looking like a carousel ride. He was still lost in space when Jacoby Ellsbury slid beneath his unfocused tag later in the inning.

The Red Sox’ runs kept coming against almost every Yankee pitcher Manager Joe Torre unmercifully trotted out — everyone except Chamberlain. He is their Hope Diamond, to be kept encased until select occasions.

And yet in some time-delayed way, Chamberlain’s actions, whether intentional or not last month, manifested in a Red Sox response yesterday.

Boston’s revival meant more than ensuring that the Red Sox exit this three-game set today with a solid lead intact with two weeks remaining. It meant restoring the credibility of their season at the top of the division and putting the Yankees in their place: second.

Until Wang tagged Youkilis, the Red Sox were revealing signs of a seasonal lack of interest. Even closer Jonathon Papelbon admitted to being uninspired when he faced the Yankees on Friday — and was flattened by them. Even Manager Terry Francona seemed stressed by the tension of that game when he panicked and inserted Papelbon during the eighth inning in need of six outs.

Remember when Torre did that with Mariano Rivera early in the season? It was a sign of desperation, an indication of a crisis situation, a try at jolting the Yankees from their pre-All-Star Game break malaise.

They broke free, all right. The Yankees have been on a tear, and yet you wonder when, and if, the mental fatigue of chasing the Red Sox for three months will wear on them.

The lethargy of being first had been settling on Boston. Francona didn’t need Papelbon to reclaim the Red Sox’ attention. Wang did that for him.

Will the Yankees offer a reply? Roger Clemens has always had an answer — ask Mike Piazza. Clemens is returning to Fenway Park today for the first time in four years, but as a much different pitcher, as a superstar in decline, as a Rocket with an elbow held together with paper clips and rubber bands.

He is still Roger Clemens, though. He is capable of ratcheting up the drama. But will it be irrelevant after Wang already gave the Red Sox the motivation they needed. What has he done?

The Nightmare Is Here

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 15, 2007

We’ve heard from General Petraeus, from Ambassador Crocker, and on Thursday night from President Bush. What we haven’t heard this week is anything about the tragic reality on the ground for the ordinary citizens of Iraq, which is in the throes of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

President Bush may not be aware of this. In his televised address to the nation he warned that a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq could cause a “humanitarian nightmare.”

A trusted aide should take the president aside and quietly inform him that this nightmare arrived a good while ago.

When the U.S. launched its “shock and awe” invasion in March 2003, the population of Iraq was about 26 million. The flaming horror unleashed by the invasion has since forced 2.2 million of those Iraqis, nearly a tenth of the population, to flee the country. Many of those who left were professionals marked for death — doctors, lawyers, academics, the very people with the skills necessary to build a viable society.

The Iraq Ministry of Health reported that 102 doctors and 164 nurses were killed from April 2003 to May 2006. It is believed that nearly half of Iraq’s doctors have fled. The exodus of health care professionals in a country hemorrhaging from the worst kinds of violence pretty much qualifies as nightmarish.

While more than two million Iraqis have fled to other countries, another two million have been displaced internally. According to the Global Policy Forum, a group that monitors international developments:

“Most of these internally displaced persons, or I.D.P.’s, have sought refuge with relatives, or in mosques, empty public buildings, or tent camps. ...I.D.P.’s live in very poor conditions. Public buildings are particularly unsanitary, often overcrowded, without access to clean water, proper sanitation and basic services, in conditions especially conducive to infectious diseases.”

Iraqis are enduring most of their suffering out of the sight of the rest of the world. International relief organizations and most of the news media are largely kept at a distance by the insane levels of violence.

Access to safe drinking water is a problem in much of the country. (The World Health Organization was asked to help with a recent outbreak of cholera in parts of Kurdistan that is believed to have been caused by polluted water.) Sanitation facilities are routinely crippled by violence and sabotage. The economy, like the country’s infrastructure, is in shambles.

The worst aspect of the nightmare, of course, is the rain of death that has descended on Iraq since the U.S. invasion. Controversy has surrounded virtually all attempts to estimate the number of civilian casualties, but no one disputes that the toll is staggering.

The U.S. government has behaved as though these dead Iraqis were not even worth counting. In December 2005, President Bush casually mentioned “30,000, more or less” as the number of Iraqis killed in the war. The White House later said there were no official estimates of Iraqi deaths.

We shouldn’t be so cavalier. Based on all available evidence, it seems unreasonable to believe that fewer than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed thus far. Many very serious scholars believe the total is much higher.

As for the number of wounded and disabled Iraqis — men, women and children who have lost limbs, or been paralyzed or otherwise maimed in air, rocket and bomb attacks — no one has a real grasp of the size of the problem.

“Just considering the number of the dead and the number of displaced, this is probably the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world,” said James Paul, the executive director of Global Policy Forum, which recently compiled an extensive report on the war and occupation. “This is the biggest displacement of people in the Middle East in a very long time.”

The effect on children of the carnage, the dislocations and the deteriorating quality of daily life has been profound. Conditions in Iraq were dire for children even before the war. One in eight died before the age of 5, many from the effects of malnutrition, polluted water and unsanitary conditions.

Now, more than four years after the invasion, huge numbers of Iraqi children are finding themselves orphaned, homeless, malnourished, and worse.

According to Unicef, the U.N.’s children’s agency: “Many children are separated from their families or on the streets, where they are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Most children have experienced trauma but few receive the care and support they need to help them cope with so much chaos, anxiety and loss.”

These are just a few of the things you won’t hear much about from the American officials in Washington who profess to care so deeply about the people of Iraq.

Willingham Is Vindicated by Early Success

Sports of The Times
September 15, 2007

About three years ago, I began to carry around an imaginary college football scoreboard. It is a colossal contraption with all sorts of facts, figures and notations that go beyond the mere statistics of a game.

Notre Dame-Charlie Weis is the “team” on one side of the scoreboard; Washington-Tyrone Willingham is on the other. I keep weekly and season-to-season updates.

Today the scoreboard reads Notre Dame-Weis, 0-2; Washington-Willingham, 2-0.

I began keeping score on the imaginary board in 2004 after Willingham was unceremoniously, and unfairly, jettisoned as the Notre Dame head football coach, three days after an embarrassing road loss to Southern California.

In the press box that evening, Notre Dame faces were understandably red with humiliation as No. 1 U.S.C. routed the Irish, 41-10. It was the fifth loss by 30 points or more in Willingham’s three seasons.

After an outstanding first year was followed by a losing season, Willingham had been under fire from rabid Notre Dame alumni. So on Nov. 30, 2004, Willingham, Notre Dame’s first African-American head coach in any sport, was fired. Weis was hired from the New England Patriots a month later amid toasts and platitudes, and I’ve been keeping score ever since.

Even though nearly three years have come and gone, Willingham’s tenure at Notre Dame is frequently mentioned. The nature of Willingham’s firing and Weis’s hiring says a lot about standards and double standards and about the enduring unlevel playing field for African Americans in sports and beyond.

Weis was named the 28th head football coach in Notre Dame history in December 2004 when he agreed to a six-year contract worth a reported $2 million a year.

Weis, unlike Willingham, has always been a news media favorite, with his one-liners and zingers. He was a Notre Dame student, loved Notre Dame and bled Notre Dame, but the Irish really wanted Urban Meyer.

In Weis’s first season, the program improved significantly — with Willingham’s players. You can argue that Weis did a better job of coaching Willingham’s players; I like to think they were older and wiser. Midway through the first season of his six-year contract, Weis signed a new contract: a 10-year deal worth a reported $30 million to $40 million.

The common wisdom is that Weis got the contract on the strength a 5-2 record and Notre Dame’s close loss to a great U.S.C. team. There was also the misguided belief that Weis might run off to the N.F.L. I imagine that the same influential forces behind Willingham’s departure felt they’d better lock up their resident genius.

Newsflash: There are no geniuses in this business, only great players. There is smoke and mirrors, and there are video cameras. No geniuses.

Notre Dame has lost four consecutive games by at least 20 points, going back to last season when they were routed by U.S.C. and Louisiana State. The 2007 Irish have not scored an offensive touchdown and could be looking at 0-3 after today’s game at Michigan.

This season Weis is playing with his own players. He recruited quarterback Jimmy Clausen, the high school all-American, and apparently is going to stick with him through thick or thin.

In Seattle this afternoon, Willingham continues to ride his high school all-American quarterback, Jake Locker. Locker, a redshirt freshman, has led Washington to its first 2-0 start since the 2001 season.

Here are a couple notes to put on the imaginary scoreboard:

¶A fourth season should be mandatory for any head football coach at the Division I level. Every coach needs four seasons, at the very least, to coach the classes he inherited and bring along the players he recruited.

¶When a university finds a gem of a coach like Willingham, keep him. The cost of losing is high. Fishing for talent these days requires “feel” and “touch.” Not looking far enough, wide enough or deep enough for talent, choosing the safe and familiar, is not good business; eventually you will pay.

¶Willingham should not be the last African-American head football coach Notre Dame seriously considers — or hires.

¶Finally, the great thing about football is that results don’t lie. From South Bend to Seattle, 0-2 is 0-2; 2-0 is 2-0.

Washington faces a tremendous challenge against Ohio State this afternoon, and Willingham knows how quickly things can change.

Notre Dame could find its rhythm today and defeat Michigan; Ohio State could easily burst Washington’s bubble. Last season Washington went into October with a 4-1 record, including an upset victory over U.C.L.A. The Huskies lost their next six games and ended up 5-7.

That’s why today is an early-season day of reckoning for Notre Dame-Charlie Weis, and Washington-Tyrone Willingham.

Make no mistake: I’ll be scoreboard watching this afternoon.


Friday, September 14, 2007

The Opinionator

September 14, 2007, 3:04 pm
Call My Lawyer
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: ,

Ted Olson is no Fredo: Matt Cooper, the Washington editor of Portfolio, still thinks Ted Olson, his attorney in the C.I.A. leak case, would be a good attorney general. “I wouldn’t appoint him Attorney General because I’m not a hard-core conservative,” Cooper writes at Capital, his Portfolio blog. “But this president is.” Cooper continues:
And Ted Olson, unlike Alberto Gonzales, is incredibly well qualified, maybe the best qualified person, to take the job under a Republican president. What’s more, he’s right wing but not, I think, reflexively so. After all, he sided with former Associate Attorney General James Comey in that showdown with Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card at John Ashcroft’s hospital room. He’s got a civil libertarian streak; see his work on First Amendment issues. As an experienced litigator, he’s by nature less of an ideologue than a judge or academic.
Senate Democrats, who are threatening to reject Olson if President Bush nominates him for the post, should be careful what they wish for. “[I]f Dems reject him, that’s a bad precedent for their presidencies,” Cooper writes. “They ought to be free to appoint liberals who are as partisan and brilliant as Olson.”

(Cooper made a similar case for Olson in August.)


September 14, 2007, 10:01 am
Not Quite Damned
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: ,

In a faint-praise-filled editorial titled “The Least Bad Plan,” The Washington Post editorial page gives a cautious thumbs-up to President Bush’s speech last night.

The editorial says that “the president failed to acknowledge that, according to the standards he himself established in January, the surge of U.S. troops into Iraq has been a failure — because Iraqi political leaders did not reach the political accords that the sacrifice of American lives was supposed to make possible.”

But it concludes on a supportive note:
Still, there are no easy alternatives to the present policy. In the past we have looked favorably on bipartisan proposals that would change the U.S. mission so as to focus on counterterrorism and training of the Iraqi army, while withdrawing most U.S. combat units. Mr. Bush said he would begin a transition to that reduced posture in December. But according to Gen. Petraeus, Mr. Crocker and the consensus view of U.S. intelligence agencies, if the U.S. counterinsurgency mission were abandoned in the near future, the result would be massive civilian casualties and still-greater turmoil that could spread to neighboring countries.

Mr. Bush’s plan offers, at least, the prospect of extending recent gains against al-Qaeda in Iraq, preventing full-scale sectarian war and allowing Iraqis more time to begin moving toward a new political order. For that reason, it is preferable to a more rapid withdrawal. It’s not necessary to believe the president’s promise that U.S. troops will “return on success” in order to accept the judgment of Mr. Crocker: “Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.”

Domestic Disturbances: Judith Warner

September 13, 2007, 6:40 pm
Horned and Scorned
Tags: , ,

“A prudent cuckold (and there are many such at Paris), pockets his horns, when he cannot gore with them; and will not add to the triumph of his maker by only butting with them ineffectually.”– Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, “Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1753-54
One last, lingering thought on France:

It was fascinating to be on the other side of the Atlantic this summer while Americans were chewing over our latest rounds of slimy political sex scandals.

It wasn’t that the sinning, maneuvering and marital posturing of the Larry Craigs and David Vitters received so very much attention. It was, rather, that their stories seemed so dreary, so tawdry and so second-rate compared with the much more dignified and attractive tableau vivant of family disorder exhibited by France’s new president, Nicholas Sarkozy, and first lady, Cécilia.

In case you missed it, Sarkozy last year greatly entertained France by running a campaign in which his wife was almost entirely absent. Cécilia, a former model whom Nicholas first eyed, in his previous incarnation as mayor of the city of Neuilly, while administering the vows that consecrated her last marriage, left him in 2005, eventually showing up – and being photographed – with her lover in New York City.

The Sarkozys ultimately reunited. But life together remained rocky. Cécilia made major headlines once again last May when she pulled a no-show on the night of her husband’s final run-off race against his Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal.

She was rumored not to have voted at all.

Yet by summer, in the press at least, all was forgotten. When I was there, every major magazine featured glowing profiles of the new first lady. They praised her charm, her fashion sense, her break-the-mold modernity.

Could such public forgiving and forgetting of a wanton political wife ever have happened here? And could Americans, like the French, ever elect a cuckold to the presidency?
The question is more relevant than it seems.

I’m thinking, of course — aren’t I always? — of Hillary Clinton.

I spent the end of the summer thinking how remarkable it was that Cécilia’s affair hadn’t sunk Nicholas Sarkozy’s presidential prospects. After all, throughout history, the “cuckold” has typically been viewed as a fool, lacking in wit, power and general masculine wherewithal. It’s believed that the image of a cuckold as horned fool dates back to a legend of European villagers donning horns and parading around to humiliate betrayed husbands.

Although a female version of the word cuckold exists (it’s cuckquean), it’s little used, probably because, as far as the larger sense of the word’s meaning is concerned, there has been no female equivalent of the cuckold. Wronged wives typically have been figures of sympathy, not jest. The difference has stemmed, I think, from the fact that, throughout history, a wife’s infidelity meant that male power and privilege was upended. The natural order of things was usurped.
At least, that’s the way it’s traditionally been.

Sarkozy has made a lot of bold and defiant gestures since winning the election – appointing Socialists to key government posts, vacationing in America – but perhaps one of his boldest, cleverest and most successful has been the fact that, by keeping his head high, standing by his woman and steadfastly, defiantly, professing his love and desire (she is “the only non-negotiable part” of his career, he has said), he has transcended the old role of cuckold. He has instead been something more like a political wife.

As for Hillary – contemplating the Sarkozys this summer drove home to me the gender-bending aspect of her own unfortunate personal history. A formidable woman of real power and prestige, she emerged from the Monica affair much more cuckold than cuckquean. Her husband’s perfidy did, in a sense, disturb the natural order of things; in the post-feminist age, women like Hillary are not supposed to be subject to such indignities.

Hillary has never been, as she herself once put it, “some little woman standing by my man.” Perhaps that’s what made the spectacle of her public humiliation so unique and so unsettling and, ultimately, so unforgivable for the many women who came away from it all despising her.

I think I now understand that particular aspect of the Clinton conundrum in a way I never did before. It comes down to this: nobody likes a cuckold.


Several comments during the past few days were deleted either inadvertently on my part or due to technical glitches.

I strongly encourage the resubmission of your comments and I will do my utmost to see that they are published.

My apologies for the inconvenience.

The Management


Providing Comfort on 9/11, With an Eloquence Entirely Borrowed

The New York Times
September 14, 2007

A central theme wove through the words of the political leaders who spoke at the Sept. 11 memorial service this week. It was an ancient concept: We are our brothers’ keepers.

“Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too?” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. He also said, “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads.”

Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said, “Just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope too can be given to one only by other human beings.”

Former Gov. George E. Pataki of New York said, “The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” From his successor, Eliot Spitzer, there was this: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” And Gov. Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey spoke of time’s passage. “For those who love,” he said, “time is eternity.”

Fine words all, brave and true.

The only problem is that not one of them captured an original thought from any of those leaders.

True to form, they flew rhetorically on borrowed wings. Rather than articulate their own feelings on the 9/11 cataclysm and its aftermath, they took the road well-traveled, finding refuge in the musings of famous writers (and not quoting with full accuracy in every instance, but let’s not quibble).

Mr. Bloomberg’s reflection on sorrow was William Blake’s, and those “thousand invisible threads” were from Herman Melville — a New Yorker, the mayor made sure to point out. Mr. Giuliani borrowed from Elie Wiesel, Mr. Pataki from James Baldwin and Mr. Corzine from Henry Van Dyke, who may not be a household name but has the virtue of having been a New Jersey man (Princeton).

As for Mr. Spitzer, if you did not instantly recognize his words as those of John Donne — you know, “no man is an island” and all that — you probably should go home and retrieve your old class notes from English 101.

In fairness, these leaders may not have had total freedom at the lectern. City Hall organizers found “a small pool of readings around a certain theme” and gave each man “an option or two,” said Stu Loeser, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg.

Mr. Giuliani, for one, labored under unusual constraints. Any stab at originality would have no doubt been turned upside down and sideways by people looking for its significance to his presidential race. Then, too, each man had barely a minute to speak — not much time for fleshing out thoughts.

But then, the Gettysburg Address was merely 270 words or so. Lincoln showed that an awful lot of thinking can be crammed into an exceedingly small space.

The reality is that from the beginning, the politicians have not even tried to articulate their own reflections on the meaning of that terrible day in 2001. On the first anniversary, they settled for reciting from the Gettysburg Address, the Four Freedoms and the Declaration of Independence, as if those documents cover all bases after every crisis.

For Theodore C. Sorensen, who wrote memorable words for President John F. Kennedy, there is an absence of leadership that has “dried up both speech and thought about what our great country is all about, what our true values are, what our role in the world should be.”

To another former speechwriter, Peter Quinn, who worked for Govs. Hugh L. Carey and Mario M. Cuomo, politicians have to cater these days to audiences of ever-shrinking attention spans. “The idea of a coherent thought expressed eloquently has kind of left the marketplace,” he said.

INDEED, said the linguist John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “Now, even politicians who are 60 were raised after the time when that kind of ringing oratory was in their background,” he said. “We’ve lost that muscle. They grew up in a world where nobody talked that way anymore.”

But William Safire, a former New York Times columnist who worked in the Nixon White House, saw no reason for despair. Mr. Safire agreed that “an original line cannot be beaten.” But “not everybody is a Churchill or Martin Luther King,” he said. “An apt use of quotation can be moving and memorable.”

Emboldened by that thought, we will follow the politicians’ lead and borrow wings of our own. We say, It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.

We drew that one from the same well used by Mr. Bloomberg: Herman Melville.


Waiting for the Fed, and Hoping

High & Low Finance
The New York Times
September 14, 2007

That there is a financial crisis is clear. What is not so clear is whether the medicine in Dr. Ben Bernanke’s bag can do much good.

Next week, the Federal Reserve is expected to make the first cut of the Bernanke era in the federal funds rate. The Wall Street debate is over whether that cut will be just a quarter percentage point, or whether the Fed will show its determination to act by cutting the rate by twice that amount.

That the debate has gotten this far is evidence that the economy now seems much weaker than it did when Mr. Bernanke was testifying to Congress in July, just as the credit squeeze was getting under way. Then, he seemed to think there was no need for any cut at all, despite the crumbling housing market and the growing subprime problems.

A new poll of corporate chief financial officers, taken by Duke University and CFO Magazine, shows a surge in pessimism. Nearly a third of the financial bosses say their companies have been hurt by the credit market turmoil. And few see much benefit from Fed action. Nearly half think a cut of half a percentage point would not help their companies at all, and most of the rest see only a small benefit from such a move.

For many companies, the immediate credit issue is not price, but availability. Can they borrow enough money to get by?

The next part of the crisis may come from a company that is unable to borrow enough money to pay off maturing commercial paper. The Fed can help there, with gentle urging to banks not to be overly tight in their lending standards, and there is reason to hope that the immediate problem will pass with banks taking on a lot more loans.

But even if it does pass, there is the question of where companies will borrow in the future, whether to finance expansions or acquisitions, or just to raise capital if and when their business turns down. The credit markets were wide open just three months ago. Now they are all but shut to companies with speculative-grade ratings.

In the second quarter, the total volume of new junk bonds and leveraged loans averaged $88 billion a month. In August, the figure was $6.6 billion. That is a 93 percent decline.

“For the first time in years the loan market is all but gridlocked,” Standard & Poor’s said this week in its leveraged company commentary. “Demand has withered, forcing arrangers to put the massive calendar of underwritten deals on ice.”

That has happened, it may be noted, with virtually no defaults on corporate loans. But the majority of such loans were financed through securitizations, in which the risk was sliced and diced in ways that enabled most of the money to be put up by investors who bought securities rated AAA, the highest possible rating.

Sometimes those ratings were a bit off. Three weeks ago, one such security still had AAA ratings. But since then Moody’s has cut it twice, and it is now in the nether regions of junk, rated Caa2, with Moody’s warning it could go lower. It’s sort of like going from class valedictorian to remedial reading failure.

That fall is unusual, but instructive. The security in question, called a variable leveraged super senior certificate, was sure to be safe unless the market value of a bunch of AA-rated securities collapsed. Those securities are still rated AA, Moody’s tells me, but their market values have plunged.

“Liquidity in asset-backed markets has dried up,” Merwyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, told Parliament this week, and banks will have to return to their historic roles as financial intermediaries. “That process,” he added, “is likely to be temporary, but it may not be smooth.”

Eventually, perhaps, a safer and more cautious securitization market will develop. In the meantime, banks, and perhaps some institutional investors, will be called upon to finance corporate loans directly. Until some part of that happens, the credit squeeze is on.

Lowering the fed funds rate — the rate at which banks lend to one another — will not hurt. It will make it cheaper for high-quality borrowers to raise money, and some of that will filter down. But it will not address the issues that have caused credit to tighten.

Nor will it get us closer to learning just where prices will settle — whether for homes or companies — in an era when risky loans are no longer easy to come by. This week’s stock market euphoria at the prospect of Fed easing is likely to be temporary.

Rutgers Has Spotlight and Glare

Sports of The Times
September 14, 2007

Here comes another duck lined up for the shooting — and shouting — gallery known as Rutgers Stadium. Here comes another meal-on-wheels for a new college football carnivore, all the way to central New Jersey from Virginia, by bus.

Here come the Spartans of Norfolk State for what is certain to be a Big East pasting tomorrow afternoon in exchange for a $275,000 payday that will at least spare them an even more arduous journey later this season.

“The money we’ll make from this game will help us with a number of things, and one of them is to be able to fly down to Tallahassee when we play Florida A&M next month,” said Marty Miller, the Norfolk State athletic director. “We’ve always gone by bus — 14 hours.”

Whatever the chances, slim to none, of riding high from Rutgers back to Norfolk, Miller and his head coach, Pete Adrian, leapt at the chance to replace Howard — which, like Norfolk State, is out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference — on Rutgers’s 2007 schedule.

There are tangible benefits to a Saturday in Piscataway, N.J., as well as exposure and excitement for a team from the division formerly known as Division I-AA. “I was talking with the Rutgers people, and they told me it’s a sellout,” Miller said. “It’ll be the biggest crowd our kids have ever played in front of.”

Exactly what kind of reception awaits Norfolk State is another issue, raised last Friday night by an undetermined number of Rutgers fans in the student section, said to have profanely and drunkenly serenaded Navy’s players during a 41-24 Rutgers victory. The verbal assault — Imus in the evening — was first reported this week in The Star-Ledger of Newark, along with the Rutgers administration’s apologies to the Naval Academy. Writing in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Targum, Rutgers’s student newspaper, the university’s athletic director, Robert E. Mulcahy III, called the vulgarity “undignified, disrespectful and unacceptable,” adding it had “embarrassed the university, the alumni and Rutgers fans across the state.”

It was bad enough that it came nearly six months after the Rutgers women’s basketball team was the victim in the infamous case of Don Imus, the subsequently defrocked shock jock. It was worse that the targets were representatives of a military academy. But beyond the characterization of the opponent — ascribed or imagined — is the macro-question of institutional accountability. How rabid is Rutgers? How will it deal with its newfound prominence as a college football power?

Will it pursue an agenda of academic legitimacy even in cases when it risks the possibility of losing the prize recruit and slipping a rung after a long, painful climb? Will it better prepare itself for the greater visibility that comes with an enhanced level of scrutiny?

With the Navy debacle presumably behind it, will Rutgers now realize that the many night games it plays for the sake of national television brings into high definition the fact that on campuses nationwide, sundown for many means the end of sobriety?

There is a very fine line between the raucous crowds and home-field advantages the high-minded sports powers from Duke on down have forever winked at, and the unruliness that can result when students and fans are allowed to do as they please. Just as deserving of an apology from Rutgers were the families now flocking to Rutgers games, many of whom, as Mulcahy wrote in the student newspaper, “were so upset” they “left the game with their children.”

Every player in an opposing uniform happens to be somebody’s child. Every opponent deserves a sporting welcome, and especially the Norfolk State Spartans, given the sacrificial nature of their visit.

They haven’t had a winning season in the 10 years since they joined what is now called the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. They lost to a Howard team last season that was beaten by Rutgers, 56-7. A historically black university, Norfolk State has in Adrian, a former defensive coordinator in the conference at Bethune-Cookman, its first white head football coach, the only current one in the country at a historically black university.

Miller said he had to ask the university president’s permission to make the controversial hire for the 2005 season, after a turbulent period for the program that included N.C.A.A. infractions. Adrian subsequently recruited a quarterback transfer, the 6-foot-5 Casey Hansen, who is also white and is now the starter.

“There’s been no issues, none whatsoever,” Adrian said when asked about racial complexities or complications. “When they hired me, they told me they just wanted to win. And I always thought that Norfolk State — looking at the area, at the stadium, which seats 30,000 — should be able to. Now we look at a school like Rutgers and say: Why can’t we be that in our conference?”

But what, exactly, is Rutgers after one season of flying? It’s going to take another season or two — and the university’s community at-large — to answer that question.


From Championship Years to Tarnish on Belichick

Sports of The Times
September 14, 2007

I can hear it now, the chorus of Patriots haters shouting: “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I knew them guys were cheating.”

The justified cynicism will come forth now that N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell has levied a hefty penalty — a $500,000 fine for Coach Bill Belichick, a $250,000 fine for the team and the loss of draft picks to be determined — for videotaping the Jets’ signals.

That’s right, boys and girls: Santa Claus cheats.

Goodell said that because the video was seized in the first quarter Sunday, he did not believe it affected the game. But knowing Belichick, the video was not for that game, anyway, but for an encounter later in the season.

In the wake of the commissioner’s stiff penalty against the Patriots, announced last night, claims that the Patriots’ successes were counterfeit, sadly, have to be considered.

Goodell came down hard, and he should have. In fact, he should have come down harder, given how he has leveled players like Pacman Jones, Tank Williams and Michael Vick. What New England did cuts to the integrity of the game; what those players did makes the game look seamy, but it does not impact our faith that the game is being played on a level playing field.

Given the commissioner’s harsh action against players who have transgressed off the field, I would have suspended a head coach whose actions strike at the integrity of the game. I would have liked to have seen Belichick suspended and the Patriots stripped of a first- and third-round pick. Under the current penalty, the Patriots only forfeit their first-round pick in 2008 if they make the playoffs.

Why the sudden mercy? Because Belichick’s a coach? When the league suspended the Cowboys’ quarterback coach, Wade Wilson, for five games for buying human growth hormone, Wilson said he was told by Goodell that he held authority figures in higher regard than the players. Goodell said in a statement yesterday that he considered a suspension for Belichick but thought the fines and the loss of draft choices was more effective.

Yesterday’s ruling confirms that the Patriots, held up by the news media as the model of how to run a franchise, had a little bit of help along the way. They cheated. So, is the essence of Belichick’s genius: the X’s and O’s, or the hidden cameras?

In any event, the second-guessing has already started. On Wednesday, Hines Ward, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star receiver, told reporters that he had always been suspicious of the Patriots and that the Patriots might have cheated during the American Football Conference championship game of the 2001 season.

“Oh, they knew,” Ward said. “They were calling our stuff out. They knew, especially that first championship game here at Heinz Field. They knew a lot of our calls."

Maybe. Maybe not. On the one hand, I feel about the camera scandal the way I feel about drugs and great home run hitters: Drugs don’t help eye-hand coordination, but drugs do help.

Similarly, for all of the cameras and improperly taped hand signals, a team still must execute — and the Patriots have.

But a little extra, ill-gotten information in the hands of a coach like Belichick goes a long, long way.

The next question is, how widespread is this?

The former Steelers running backs coach Dick Hoak recently told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers once received a suspicious videotape by mistake from an opposing team during a routine tape exchange. The tape focused on a coach making hand signals from the sideline. Hoak said the Steelers did not report the tape to the N.F.L.

Now you wonder: If the Patriots, the N.F.L.’s standard bearer, stooped to cheating, is the practice widespread? I’m curious to hear what Belichick says about this. Is it widespread and the Patriots simply got caught?

Is every team cheating? Is everyone out there trying to steal signs? Does every team have a camera operator slithering around? I doubt it. At least the cheats were caught.

At one level, I’m tempted to pass this off as the pros just trying to get an edge. Hey, everybody tries to get an edge: Players continue to use H.G.H., and some still use steroids. There are tests in place to catch some of those cheats, although the league does not currently test for H.G.H. The N.F.L. more or less operates on an honor system of sorts when it came to its head coaches because head coaches know how difficult it is to get a W in their league.

On the other hand, an edge in the hands of a coach like Belichick is more than an edge. It’s an ax. My mother used to famously say, “Cheaters never prosper.”

Now, we’re left to wonder.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Surge, and Then a Stab

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 14, 2007

To understand what’s really happening in Iraq, follow the oil money, which already knows that the surge has failed.

Back in January, announcing his plan to send more troops to Iraq, President Bush declared that “America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.”

Near the top of his list was the promise that “to give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.”

There was a reason he placed such importance on oil: oil is pretty much the only thing Iraq has going for it. Two-thirds of Iraq’s G.D.P. and almost all its government revenue come from the oil sector. Without an agreed system for sharing oil revenues, there is no Iraq, just a collection of armed gangs fighting for control of resources.

Well, the legislation Mr. Bush promised never materialized, and on Wednesday attempts to arrive at a compromise oil law collapsed.

What’s particularly revealing is the cause of the breakdown. Last month the provincial government in Kurdistan, defying the central government, passed its own oil law; last week a Kurdish Web site announced that the provincial government had signed a production-sharing deal with the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, and that seems to have been the last straw.

Now here’s the thing: Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Mr. Bush. More than that, Mr. Hunt is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body.

Some commentators have expressed surprise at the fact that a businessman with very close ties to the White House is undermining U.S. policy. But that isn’t all that surprising, given this administration’s history. Remember, Halliburton was still signing business deals with Iran years after Mr. Bush declared Iran a member of the “axis of evil.”

No, what’s interesting about this deal is the fact that Mr. Hunt, thanks to his policy position, is presumably as well-informed about the actual state of affairs in Iraq as anyone in the business world can be. By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad’s disapproval, he’s essentially betting that the Iraqi government — which hasn’t met a single one of the major benchmarks Mr. Bush laid out in January — won’t get its act together. Indeed, he’s effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.

The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration — maybe even Mr. Bush himself — know this, too.

After all, if the administration had any real hope of retrieving the situation in Iraq, officials would be making an all-out effort to get the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to start delivering on some of those benchmarks, perhaps using the threat that Congress would cut off funds otherwise. Instead, the Bushies are making excuses, minimizing Iraqi failures, moving goal posts and, in general, giving the Maliki government no incentive to do anything differently.

And for that matter, if the administration had any real intention of turning public opinion around, as opposed to merely shoring up the base enough to keep Republican members of Congress on board, it would have sent Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, to as many news media outlets as possible — not granted an exclusive appearance to Fox News on Monday night.

All in all, Mr. Bush’s actions have not been those of a leader seriously trying to win a war. They have, however, been what you’d expect from a man whose plan is to keep up appearances for the next 16 months, never mind the cost in lives and money, then shift the blame for failure onto his successor.

In fact, that’s my interpretation of something that startled many people: Mr. Bush’s decision last month, after spending years denying that the Iraq war had anything in common with Vietnam, to suddenly embrace the parallel.

Here’s how I see it: At this point, Mr. Bush is looking forward to replaying the political aftermath of Vietnam, in which the right wing eventually achieved a rewriting of history that would have made George Orwell proud, convincing millions of Americans that our soldiers had victory in their grasp but were stabbed in the back by the peaceniks back home.

What all this means is that the next president, even as he or she tries to extricate us from Iraq — and prevent the country’s breakup from turning into a regional war — will have to deal with constant sniping from the people who lied us into an unnecessary war, then lost the war they started, but will never, ever, take responsibility for their failures.

The Waning of I.Q.

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 14, 2007

A nice phenomenon of the past few years is the diminishing influence of I.Q.

For a time, I.Q. was the most reliable method we had to capture mental aptitude. People had the impression that we are born with these information-processing engines in our heads and that smart people have more horsepower than dumb people.

And in fact, there’s something to that. There is such a thing as general intelligence; people who are good at one mental skill tend to be good at others. This intelligence is partly hereditary. A meta-analysis by Bernie Devlin of the University of Pittsburgh found that genes account for about 48 percent of the differences in I.Q. scores. There’s even evidence that people with bigger brains tend to have higher intelligence.

But there has always been something opaque about I.Q. In the first place, there’s no consensus about what intelligence is. Some people think intelligence is the ability to adapt to an environment, others that capacity to think abstractly, and so on.

Then there are weird patterns. For example, over the past century, average I.Q. scores have risen at a rate of about 3 to 6 points per decade. This phenomenon, known as the Flynn effect, has been measured in many countries and across all age groups. Nobody seems to understand why this happens or why it seems to be petering out in some places, like Scandinavia.

I.Q. can also be powerfully affected by environment. As Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and others have shown, growing up in poverty can affect your intelligence for the worse. Growing up in an emotionally strangled household also affects I.Q.

One of the classic findings of this was made by H.M. Skeels back in the 1930s. He studied mentally retarded orphans who were put in foster homes. After four years, their I.Q.’s diverged an amazing 50 points from orphans who were not moved. And the remarkable thing is the mothers who adopted the orphans were themselves mentally retarded and living in a different institution. It wasn’t tutoring that produced the I.Q. spike; it was love.

Then, finally, there are the various theories of multiple intelligences. We don’t just have one thing called intelligence. We have a lot of distinct mental capacities. These theories thrive, despite resistance from the statisticians, because they explain everyday experience. I’m decent at processing words, but when it comes to calculating the caroms on a pool table, I have the aptitude of a sea slug.

I.Q., in other words, is a black box. It measures something, but it’s not clear what it is or whether it’s good at predicting how people will do in life. Over the past few years, scientists have opened the black box to investigate the brain itself, not a statistical artifact.

Now you can read books about mental capacities in which the subject of I.Q. and intelligence barely comes up. The authors are concerned instead with, say, the parallel processes that compete for attention in the brain, and how they integrate. They’re discovering that far from being a cold engine for processing information, neural connections are shaped by emotion.

Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California had a patient rendered emotionless by damage to his frontal lobes. When asked what day he could come back for an appointment, he stood there for nearly half an hour describing the pros and cons of different dates, but was incapable of making a decision. This is not the Spock-like brain engine suggested by the I.Q.

Today, the research that dominates public conversation is not about raw brain power but about the strengths and consequences of specific processes. Daniel Schacter of Harvard writes about the vices that flow from the way memory works. Daniel Gilbert, also of Harvard, describes the mistakes people make in perceiving the future. If people at Harvard are moving beyond general intelligence, you know something big is happening.

The cultural consequence is that judging intelligence is less like measuring horsepower in an engine and more like watching ballet. Speed and strength are part of intelligence, and these things can be measured numerically, but the essence of the activity is found in the rhythm and grace and personality — traits that are the products of an idiosyncratic blend of emotions, experiences, motivations and inheritances.

Recent brain research, rather than reducing everything to electrical impulses and quantifiable pulses, actually enhances our appreciation of human complexity and richness. While psychometrics offered the false allure of objective fact, the new science brings us back into contact with literature, history and the humanities, and, ultimately, to the uniqueness of the individual.

San Francisco to Offer Care for Every Uninsured Adult

The New York Times
September 14, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — Since contracting polio at age 2, Yan Ling Ho has lived with pain for most of her 52 years. After she immigrated here from Hong Kong last year, the soreness in her back and joints proved too debilitating for her to work.

That also meant she did not have health insurance. Not wanting to burden her daughter, who was already paying her living expenses, Ms. Ho delayed doctors’ visits and battled her misery with over-the-counter medications.

“Sometimes the pain was so bad, I would just cry,” she said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Last month, unable to bear her discomfort any longer, Ms. Ho went to North East Medical Services, a nonprofit community clinic on the edge of Chinatown, and discovered to her delight that she qualified for a new program that offers free or subsidized health care to all 82,000 San Francisco adults without insurance.

The initiative, known as Healthy San Francisco, is the first effort by a locality to guarantee care to all of its uninsured, and it represents the latest attempt by state and local governments to patch a inadequate federal system.

It is financed mostly by the city, which is gambling that it can provide universal and sensibly managed care to the uninsured for about the amount being spent on their treatment now, often in emergency rooms.

After a two-month trial at two clinics in Chinatown, the program is scheduled to expand citywide to 20 more locations on Sept. 17.

Whether such a program might be replicated elsewhere is difficult to assess. In addition to its unique political culture, San Francisco, with a population of about 750,000, has the advantages of compact geography, a unified city-county government, an extensive network of public and community clinics and a relatively small number of uninsured adults. Virtually all the city’s children are covered by private insurance or government plans.

At the bustling North East Medical Services clinic, where the staff and the signs are multilingual, doctors and nurses are trying to build trust with patients who may have last sought treatment from an herbalist. Families crowd the elevators, as teenagers help parents and grandparents navigate the system. Patients like Ms. Ho say they hope their access to the clinic’s services will bring them independence, and a chance to work.

Healthy San Francisco provides uninsured San Franciscans with access to 14 city health clinics and 8 affiliated community clinics, with an emphasis on prevention and managing chronic disease. It is, however, not the same as insurance because it does not cover residents once they leave the city.

After a phased start-up, the city plans to bring private medical networks into the program next year, expanding the choice of doctors. Until November, enrollment will be limited to those living below the federal poverty line ($10,210 for a single person; $20,650 for a family of four). Then it will open to any resident who has been uninsured for at least 90 days, regardless of income or immigration status.

Only then will city officials learn whether the program appeals to middle-class workers, who make up a growing share of the uninsured. And only then can they test whether San Francisco has the medical infrastructure to handle the desired increase in demand, and to do so without raising taxes.

So far, enrollment has exceeded expectations. The city projected that 600 to 1,000 people would sign up by the end of August. More than 1,300 did, even though officials have done little marketing. They hope to enroll about 45,000 people — more than half the city’s uninsured — in the first year. Some clinics are adding night hours and small numbers of workers.

“We really didn’t know what the interest level would be, so we’re very pleased,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. “At the same time, we don’t want overexuberance yet because we don’t want to fall of our own weight.”

At the two pilot clinics, efforts are first made to qualify patients for Medicaid or other state and federal insurance programs. Those left over receive a Healthy San Francisco card that makes them eligible for primary care, dental exams, mental health and substance abuse services, hospitalization, radiology and prescription drugs.

Because the coverage is not portable, officials believe that people with private insurance will have little incentive to drop their policies to take advantage of the city’s cut-rate services.

Like Ms. Ho, many of those enrolling were already using the city’s health clinics — or the emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital — in times of acute need, like an asthma attack or stroke. About 57,000 of the 82,000 uninsured San Franciscans have used the city’s health system at some point.

But the new program hopes to persuade them to become regulars who regard their neighborhood clinic as a medical home. Once enrolled, patients are assigned a physician and encouraged to get blood pressure checks, mammograms and other screenings.

“We had a system that was not a system, and was based on episodic visits for chronic and acute care,” said Dr. Mitchell H. Katz, the city health director. “The idea that you should come get a cholesterol test, that didn’t happen.”

Nor was it uncommon for patients to ignore doctors’ orders because of cost. Before the program started in July, a clinic doctor had ordered X-rays and blood tests for Ms. Ho, but she never got them.

“Now I feel more comfortable coming in to get services and following the doctor’s instructions,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. She added that she recently had the recommended tests and is waiting for results.

The program was born of the city’s impatience with federal and state inaction, Dr. Katz said. In 1998, voters overwhelmingly endorsed universal access to health care in a citywide referendum. Over the years, city officials explored ways to provide universal insurance but, like other governments, could not figure out how to pay for it.

“What we did next was profound and simple,” said Mr. Newsom, who shepherded the program with Supervisor Tom Ammiano. “We asked a different question. We asked: How do we provide universal health care to all uninsured San Franciscans? And that one modest distinction allowed us to answer the question we hadn’t been able to answer for a decade.”

Tangerine M. Brigham, the program’s director, projects that it will cost $200 million the first year, and Mr. Newsom expects to finance it without a tax increase. The city already spends about that much on care for the uninsured, and that money will essentially be redirected to Healthy San Francisco.

The program was also selected by the state to receive a three-year federal grant worth $24 million a year for expanding access to care. And because enrollees are still uninsured, they remain eligible for state and federal benefits, like discounts on AIDS drugs.

Patients are asked to contribute nominal amounts through membership fees and co-payments that vary by income.

Those from families with incomes below the federal poverty line pay nothing. Those who earn more pay quarterly fees that range from $60 to $675, which is the rate for those with incomes above 500 percent of the poverty level ($51,050 for a single; $103,250 for a family of four). That is where the subsidy ends. The co-payments range from $10 to $20 for a clinic visit and from $200 to $350 for an inpatient stay.

A final financing mechanism has placed the program in legal jeopardy. To make sure the new safety net does not encourage businesses to drop their private insurance, the city in January will begin requiring employers with more than 20 workers to contribute a set amount to health care. The Healthy San Francisco program is one of several possible destinations for that money, with others being private insurance or health savings accounts.

Late last year, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association challenged that provision in federal court, arguing that it violates a law governing employer health benefits. A judge has scheduled a hearing for early November.

Mr. Newsom, a restaurateur and former member of the association, said the program would work only if accompanied by an employer mandate. But he said the city would have contingencies if it lost in court. “It may set us back,” he said, “but it’s not going to end this program.”

COMMENT: Those goddamn San Francisco Reds are pooping all over Our Beloved AmeriKKKornpone Crapitalist Jerk Ethic! How dare they…!

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