Fight corruption, but don't neglect the world's poor

Regarding your March 7 editorial, "World Bank's war on corruption": As a development practitioner and a former employee of the World Bank, I'd like to respond to your inquiry about how someone could question a global campaign against corruption. There is little doubt that corruption is a bad thing - it takes advantage of the vulnerable, distorts incentives, undermines good policies, and erodes institutions, among other ills.

But we should not forget that a war against corruption is only a skirmish compared to the much bigger battle: transforming weak economies and improving the quality of life for 2 billion desperately poor people. Attacking graft is a worthy priority, but it should not obscure the need for World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz to lead in tackling the more daunting challenge of reducing extreme poverty and accelerating growth and development.
Georgia A. Wallen

Accept the world's interdependence

Your Feb. 23 editorial "When freedom is just another weapon," hits on the most important issue we all face in our irreversibly interdependent world - the freedom/security dilemma. One person's (or nation's) freedom is another person's (or nation's) threat. And this dilemma is applicable to every issue at every level.

The grave error in valuing freedom without reservation is this unavoidable interdependence of everything in our world. We are free to do anything or think anything we like. But that freedom inevitably affects others. When it affects them in a negative way (real or perceived), then our security is endangered.

Our only means in the US of maximizing both our freedom and our security is by accepting our interdependence and ensuring that our actions (or decisions not to act) have a positive impact. Ignoring this will eventually diminish our freedom, our security, or both.

I think the greatest barrier to progress is that the foundation of the US government is based on the concept of independence. It is our relatively unexamined assumption that we are "independent" that is the root of the freedom/security dilemma. In reality, we face a trilemma: freedom, security, and independence. We can have any two; we can't expect to maintain all three at once.
Chuck Woolery
Rockville, Md.

Give Congress the chance to cut pork

Regarding the March 8 editorial, "Let presidents drain federal red ink": While putting constraints on pork-barrel spending is a worthy idea, giving the president the power to choose which items will go back to Congress for a stand-alone vote is a bad idea that would tilt the balance of powers further toward the executive branch.

The president would have every opportunity to overlook earmarks put in by members of his own party, and shine the light on items favored by the opposition - whether or not those items were worthy of the scrutiny.

Why not simply give members of Congress the right to petition to strip out spending items for a stand-alone vote? To prevent monkey-wrenching, there should be a minimum number of cosigners required for a petition to succeed. Given that the taxing side is just as important as the spending side of the budget equation, and just as heavily exploited by legislators and lobbyists, the right to petition should also cover items affecting the tax code. There are plenty of good people in Congress who, given the power, would stop these abuses.
Harry Read
Madison, Wis.

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