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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - March 15, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta 4 THE LETHBRIDGE HERALD Friday, March 15, 1974 Too many persons in prison Albertans generally will share the "shock" experienced by Solicitor General Helen Hunley in learning that a quarter of the persons in jail are there because of their failure to pay fines. Debtors' prisons were thought to have been a feature of a less enlightened age. It is to be hoped that the solicitor general will act on her comment that persons unable to pay fines should have the opportunity to work the fines off through community service jobs. Setting up the procedure whereby this could be done may not be easy but it would be worthwhile to pursue the matter with determination. Putting people in jail accomplishes little that is positive. About all that is achieved is the satisfaction of the demand in society for retribution; rehabilitation, despite efforts in that direction, is negligible and the deterrent effect is dubious. Many people who have studied the matter have concluded that society would be better off without jails. The problem is to know what to do about those individuals who break the law should prisons be abolished. One of the proposals in this regard has been to require offenders to make restitution by service to society. If a method of paying fines through service could be effected, the possibility of extending it as an alternative to going to jail for more serious offences ought to be explored. A century of waste A study on herbicidal damage inflicted on South Vietnam by the Americans for military purposes reports that it may be 100 years or more before certain areas recover from the damage. This is not news. Several American scientists have been proclaiming this for years, ever since the U.S. began spraying jungle areas with chemical agents to defoliate trees that served as possible concealment for Viet Cong or North Vietnamese troops. Nevertheless, officials in the Pentagon, for which the report was prepared at the instigation of Congress, are reported to be surprised and disturbed by the critical nature of the study. Their reaction is difficult to understand. Possibly they had dismissed previous criticism as coming from a radical group of scientists with political motives. Or possibly they accept such damage as the "fortunes of war." The present study was undertaken in secrecy by a 17-man team of scientists from the U.S., Britain, Sweden and South Vietnam and was headed by a plant pathologist from Michigan State University who is also head of the Atomic Energy Commission's research laboratory there. About one-seventh of the total land mass of South Vietnam has been sprayed with chemical agents of considerably more potency than those commonly used in agriculture. Damage to tropical forests was found to be "serious and extensive" and of long-lasting consequences, since it takes 75 to 100 years for a hardwood tropical forest to mature. More than a third of the mangrove swamp land was destroyed. This area of the southeastern coast of South Vietnam is a main breeding ground for fish, a staple in the Vietnamese diet and it is estimated that it will take more than 100 years for the area to recover. Chemicals were also sprayed on crop land to destroy food, presumably' as a military measure, and the study found indications that some Montagnard children were destroyed along with crops. The study was carried out under the auspices of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. Although its instructions were to assess environmental impact of the use of herbicides, it also reported that the use of such weapons had turned the Vietnamese against the United States. It can be concluded that these animosities will last, at least to some degree, for as long as the environmental scars, and that will be for a very long time. Discounting esthetics and humanitarianism and considering only the world shortages of food and other resources, chemical warfare should be banned along with biological warfare and the NAS report may bring this goal a little closer. A homestead act for cities By Don Oakley, NEA service It was back in 1862 that Congress passed the Homestead Act in the United States, which offered 160 acresof land free to anyone who would clear it and live on it for five years. Alternatively, anyone could purchase the land for an acre after living on it for six months. The purpose of the act was not only to promote settlement of the West but to provide a safety valve for labor unrest in the East. Now, more than a century later, the city of Philadelphia is promoting an "Urban Homestead Act." through which, it is hoped, the decayed inner city will be resettled by families moving into abandoned housing. According to the Urban Land Institute, a total of 259 vacant row houses in Philadelphia have been sold for each to buyers who have pledged that they will rehabilitate and occupy the houses for five years. After that period, the homesteaders will be given an unconditioned deed and the houses will return to the tax rolls. The institute also reports that Wilmington, Del., which is the unhappy owner of some 1.500 vacant homes, is planning to offer some of them, as an experiment, for to families who will agree to live in them for three years and bring them up to code standards within 18 months. ART BUCHWALD The neediest case in America WASHINGTON Mr. Maurice Dirk, a lifelong admirer of President Nixon, has just started a new organization called the Committee to Refinance the American President. In his plush offices on Pennsylvania Avenue. Mr. Dirk told me. "From all indications President Nixon will have to pay anywhere from to in back taxes, that is to say money that he deducted which probably will be disallowed. Now to the average person that may not be much, but for the President this is a large sum of money. I think we. as Americans, should get together and pay the back taxes for him." "I'm all for it, but how do we do I asked. "The easiest thing would be for Congress to pass a law making it possible for everyone iiling a tax return to check off on on- taxes 10 pay the president's penalties. In that way all the IRS would have to do is transfer the money from one account to the other." 'I'm not sure Congress would do that." "Neither am I." Mr, Dirk said. "That's why I started the Committee to Refinance the American President. It would civc companies such as ITT. Gulf and American Shipbuilding, as well as public interest groups like the American Milk Producers Industry and individuals like Robert vesco a chance to show how much the presidency means to them. It would be an opportunity for everyone to become directly involved with the president's tax problems and share in restoring our faith in the system." "There are some American people who might balk." I warned Dirk. They will until they realize what is at stake The worst way you could cripple the American Presidency is to make the leaders of the nation pay back taxes. How can the president concentrate on the great problems of the world when the Internal Revenue Service puts a lien on his salary? Suppose the IRS decides to take San Clemente or Key Biscayne away from Mr. Nixon? "If you make him pay back all the money the IRS says is due them, the president will have to change his lifestyle. He will be unable to give dinners for heads of state or congressmen. He will have to cut out trips to Camp David. The IRS would put him on an allowance and that would be the end of taking his family to Trader Vic's. They might even make the president get rid of a couple of his dogs. You don't know how vindictive the IRS can be when they go after you." "It makes you sick when you think of I said. "The question the American people must ask themselves is do we want a poverty stricken president who eventually will have to apply for welfare, or do we want one who is free of the tax burdens that affect the rest of "There is no question in my I told Dirk. "The Committee to Refinance the American President will launch a nationwide appeal this month to coincide with the 1974 tax season which, as you know, ends on April 15. We will ask Americans as they fill out their returns to remember Mr. Nixon's tax problems, and to ask themselves not what the president can do for them but what they can do for UK president." "I'm sure you'll be I said. "Does the president know you've started this "No." said Dirk, "and in the White House has orders not to tell him." 'I believe that the proper separation of forces would be to send Golda to the front and leave me in Jerusalem." Railways policy unsettling By Maurice Western, Herald Ottawa commentator OTTAWA Jean Marchand, according to his own intriguing account, is a Minister of Transport in search of a policy. It is highly unusual for a' Minister, dealing with a subject of major importance, to make such unsettling announcements without-a full explanation. What we thought was policy was approved by Parliament after inquiry and searching debates as recently as 1967. Evidently it has miscarried. We ought then, at the very outset, to be given persuasive answers to basic questions. What went wrong and why? In what direction is Mr. Marchand searching for alternatives. The legislation of 1967 was a belated response to the recommendations of the MacPherson Royal Com- mission. That Commission originated in the desire of an earlier government to find means of dealing with freight rate inequities. One of the central problems, fully recognized at that time, was the unevenness of com- petition. The Commission found that the railways, closely regulated, had failed to adjust to changing circumstances, such as the great development of highway, traffic. As they could not increase rates to cover rising costs in areas where there were adequate water and truck competition, they relied on successive horizontal increases, which had to be borne by exposed and largely captive areas such as the western provinces. The answer, in part, was to free the railways to do battle where they could. To encourage competition, subsidies were to be on a diminishing scale. It was also recommended that, when the railways were required to provide new or to continue to provide uneconomic services for national purposes, the costs should be carefully calculated and met by the state. How did we arrive at the point where Mr. Marchand can say that we are virtually without policy? On the vexing problem of boxcars, Mr. Marchand agreed with allegations of John Diefenbaker. "Railway companies are, indeed, not interested in carrying wheat. If is not profitable; they have been shaken by the present situation and do not want to buy cars to carry wheat. Even if they were paid. I doubt that they would do it." (Apparently it is not only wheat that is unprofitable for Mr. Marchand also speaks of shortages of cars for other products such as fruit and But surely this is an extraordinary situation and one calling for more extended explanations. One of the railways referred to is a public company. We are supposed to own it and, to make doubly sure, the Government pursues its mysterious policy of buying preferred CNR stock. Why will a publicly owned com- pany not implement public policy? We are to infer that it would not do so, even if it was paid for the service, as would normally happen in any event since Parliament meets its deficits. The situation is evidently serious (certainly in the case of boxcars) and Mr. Marchand, following his discussions, is going to make recommendations to cabinet. In what direction does he propose to go? If we are to move away from com- petition, are we to go back to closer regulation when regu- lation also appears to be lamentably failing? Mr. Lewis favors nationalization of the CPR but it is not easy to see the case for two public companies when we have the present troubles with one. According to Mr. Marchand, the last great speeches on transportation were made back in 1967. In view of the prevailing confusion, even a pedestrian speech would now be helpful if it provided some serious analysis supporting Ministerial conclusions and if it indicated, at least in a general way, the new philosophy which the Gov- ernment is developing. Western meeting re-evaluated By Marjorie Nichols, Herald special commentator VICTORIA The critics who panned last summer's televised spectacular in Calgary known as the Western Economic Opportunities Conference would be wise to take advantage of the wisdom offered by hindsight and review their original judg- ments. The four Western premiers, who were the stars of the Cal- gary show, have done just that and come to the firm conclusion that the exercise was worthwhile and worthy of emulation. There are several fitting morals to this story. The obvious one is that skepticism of the motives of politicians often clouds judgment. Another is that federal Justice Minister Otto Lang may well be capable of long-term vision. The forum for the evaluation of WEOC was the two-day conference in Saskatoon of the four Western premiers. It was in fact the sequel to Calgary, and the results were encouraging in- deed Otto Lang, who emerged from the election shambles as the self-appointed cabinet spokesman for the West, was the originator of the conference concept. He refused to be infected by the spontaneous pessimism communicated abroad at the conference's conclusion. He said privately that it might take a decade to determine whether the experiment Bad been worthwhile. One opinion, shared at the time by this writer, was that WEOC had backfired on Ot- tawa, that the federal govern- ment had naively cast itself into a defensive role and had been publicly humiliated with the articulate offence constructed by the photogenic premiers. As a short-term evaluation it probably was valid. But as demonstrated by the Saskatoon meetings, it lacked perspective. The Western premiers, looking back over those seven months, not only agree that WEOC was useful, but they are willing to recommend the format to the other regions, particularly the Maritimes. B.C.'s Dave Barrett conceded that he was among the leading skeptics of the WEOC scheme, viewing it originally as "an attempt to pacify Western alienation, essentially a proposal at the political level." As a result of Ottawa's in- itiative, Barrett said, the four Western governments were nudged into action. They wanted to present a united front at WEOC and in the process found themselves "developing close relationships." In other words. WEOC spawned a new level of per- sonal understanding, which in turn created the ability to hammer out new agreements at Saskatoon. The lone non-socialist in the Western grouping. Alberta's Conservative Peter Lougheed. articulates it best. WEOC. he said, "forced us