COMPUTERS are being installed all over the country to count votes. Now, I have seen the way government computers work -- they will, I can assure you, respond to a Russian rocket launch by spitting forth 500,000 erroneous Social Security refunds. And I have also been a politician in West Virginia -- where the term Lever Brothers refers not to a soap but to a Logan County family particularly adept at the manipulation of voting machines. So I wish to sound a warning. My concern was shared by Fanny Seiler, who as a political columinst for The Charleston Gazette has become familiar with the folk art of my native state. She consulted a computer expert who told her that with a brief course in programming, the Lever Brothers could achieve with computers the same results they have obtained in recent years on the voting machine, and before that (thanks to the art-gum eraser) with the paper ballot.
In case you see the plague of consultants as confied to the federal government, The San Jose News in Santa Clara County, Calif., reports that the county's expenditures for studies and consultants' fees have multiplied more than seven-fold during the past decade. This heightens my already strong suspicion that revenue-sharing is being used by state and local government to reproduce at the grass roots all the inanities of life in Washington. Surely this is one budget cut that Carter is right about. Why should a fedral government with a deficit give money to states like California that usually have surpluses?
We'll spend $1.2 billion on military retirees this month. And every month. We're spending 10 percent of the total defense budget on pensions -- paying people not to serve. This is a scandal for several reasons. With their twice-a-year-cost-of-living increases, many retirees can make money by staying home than by going to work.
Ironically, they're often pushed into this enviable situation by policies that encourage servicemen to retire as early as their late thirties and make it practically mandatory by their mid-fifties. There's an unofficial but virtually ironclad bureaucratic rule that career advancement is related to the number of one's subordinates. When there aren't enough command slots to go around, some of the commanders have to retire. So men who have demonstrated enough ability to rise to, say, rear admiral by their late forties are shoved out in their early fifties -- an age when they could be doing their best work. But there is a lot of useful and important work that does not require a retinue of flunkies, including many of the engineering tasks that most West Point and Annapolis graduates are trained to perform. So why not let these people continue to serve their country at least into their sixties?
Some of our car makers might still beat the Japanese and Germans if they would just advertise their cars' primary virtue: safety. Every foreign car tested flunked the recent tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The only cars that passed were the Chevrolet Citation, Pontiac Phoenix, Ford Mustang, Mercury Capri, Dodge Omni, Plymouth Horizon, Dodge Magnum, Chrysler Cordoba, Oldsmobile Omega and Buick Skylark. If you had been riding in a Toyota Corolla, a Volvo or one of the other foreign cars tested, a 35-mile-per-hour crash would probably have killed or very seriously injured you. The reluctance of the American manufacturers to exploit this edge may be due to the fact that you also would have been killed or seriously injured had you been riding in any of the 24 American cars that failed the test.
The nature of the "public" served by public television is suggested by the fact that it, not commercial television, carries "Wall Street Week."
Liberals are of two minds on crime. For regular, ordinary criminals, they seek alternatives to prison, like work-release, halfway houses, restitution, probation and fines. But for the corporate criminals, they want jail. A bill before the Senate provides for up to five years' imprisonment without parole for employers who violate environmental and health and safety laws. A bill before the House makes it a felony, punishable by two years in prison, for "an appropriate manager" who knows of a serious health or safety hazard to conceal it from the public and affected employes. The ususal liberal position -- that prisons only breed more crime -- is thus replaced by the conservative notion that prison deters.
To me the justification for prison is not deterrence or rehabilitation. It is punishment of the guilty and protection of society. If you've ever visited a prison, you know that six months is adequate punishment for just about any crime. The only justification for longer sentences -- all of which qualify as cruel and unusual -- should be to protect the rest of us. This means locking up the violent, sane or insane, until they have ceased to be violent, but for all nonviolent crime six months should be the standard sentence.
With a little help from the government, the market could do unto OPEC what it has done unto Bunker Hunt. OPEC's prices, remember, are not based on partial control of a commodity. But any such control that is not complete is subject to market forces, as Hunt found out.
There are non-OPEC sources of oil, enough to fill at least half of our present demands. If we ration gas at the same level of strictness that we did during World War II, we could cut out consumption in half. Since we are the largest consumer of the world's oil production, such a cut would collapse prices and OPEC would join Bunker Hunt and all the other high rollers who have tried to act as if they controlled a market they really didn't. The most important result would be to squeeze out of inflation its largest single factor -- a factor that is also the most unnecessary because it is based not on production cost but on cartel pricing.
If I were an Israeli, I would be settling on the West Bank and sabotaging any possibility of genuine autonomy for it. If I were an Arab, I would demand a Palestinian state as the minimal righting of past wrongs to my people. But I am neither. As an American and a citizen of the world, I have to urge restraint on both sides in order to prevent a war that could harm them and involve us.
Many other Americans feel exactly as I do, and I think all of us are weary of being called anti-Israel or anti-Arab just because we want peace. The worst recent example of this was the Jewish reaction to the American vote on the U.N. resolution, in March. Whatever the defects of the resolution, our support of it was aimed not at hurting the Israelis or helping the Arabs, bu at encouraging peace.