Archive for December, 2010

Happy birthday, Carly Robbins Tucker!

It’s my daughter’s second birthday, and I have a party (four toddler guests! OMG!) to prepare for, so I’m signing off. I wish you the merriest of Christmases, and I hope you keep the spirit of the season — peace, joy, love, mercy, generosity — in mind as you comment here. Herewith, the story of my daughter’s arrival:

WASHINGTON — Two years ago today, my mother and I were stuck in a dingy motel suite in downtown New Orleans, eating take-out dinners and canned goods. Though we longed to be at home, she and I agreed it was one of the best Christmas seasons either of us had ever celebrated.
We were in the Crescent City to pick up my newborn daughter, who popped into the world a few weeks early. Her arrival sparked one of those classic misadventures as I set out by car, after midnight, for New Orleans — a comedy of errors involving a flat tire on a frigid night, a wee hours rescue by an old friend (thanks, Jim!) and hours of pacing at Hartsfield-Jackson airport before I could …

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Bring ROTC back to Harvard and Yale

Starting with protests over the war in Vietnam and continuing through protests over the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, many of the nation’s most exclusive colleges and universities barred ROTC from their campuses. (You may recall that some conservatives held that against Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings; as the dean of Harvard’s law school, she had argued in favor of the policy.)
It’s time for Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and those other elite universities to bring back ROTC. Some college presidents — and military officials — have argued that too few students at those top universities would be interested in military careers to make opening an ROTC office cost-effective. From The NYT:

Eileen M. Lainez, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said Monday that it would be “premature to speculate” on plans for new R.O.T.C. units.

Diane H. Mazur, a law professor at the University of Florida and a former Air Force officer, said she …

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What’s the GOP plan for illegal immigrants?

Over the weekend, the Senate refused to pass the DREAM Act, which would have put no more than a million young illegal immigrants — potential model citizens — on the path to legal status. As I wrote recently:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has called the bill a “reckless proposal for mass amnesty.” It is nothing of the sort. It’s a narrowly tailored measure that would apply only to people under the age of 30, who came to the U.S. before they were 16, and who’ve lived here at least five years. The vast majority of them were brought to this country by their parents when they were too young to know anything about immigration laws.
The legislation requires them to complete two years of college or military service and to abide by other laws to be eligible for a ten-year conditional residency. Because of its requirements, immigration experts think that about 800,000 illegal immigrants would ultimately be eligible.
After ten years, DREAM Act beneficiaries could apply for permanent …

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Republicans’ unpatriotic resistance to New START

There is simply no modern precedent for the behavior of Republicans in the U.S. Senate. They are not only hyper-partisan, but they are also petty, petulant and unpatriotic, willing to jeopardize national security if they think they can hurt President Obama. Witness their growing resistance to a nuclear pact with Russia, the New START treaty.
The pact represents minimilist, mainstream downsizing of the nuclear weapons arsenals of the United States and Russia, a continuation of policies first envisioned by none other than Ronald Reagan. New START has been endorsed by every living secretary of state. That includes, obviously, Condoleezza Rice. George H.W. Bush has endorsed it.
But Republicans continue to come up with excuses, including an insistence that Obama is trying to “jam” the treaty through a lame duck session without giving them enough time to consider it. The treaty was signed by the U.S. and Russia in April; they’ve had months to read it.
Some Republicans, such as Jon …

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‘Don’t ask’ consigned to history’s dust bin

Today, in an unusual Saturday session, the U.S. Senate abolished legally-sanctioned discrimination by the United States Armed Forces. Since the House has also voted to end it, the foolish “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is assigned to the dustbin of history, along with the racially segregated Armed Forces, the belief that black men would be cowardly and unfit soldiers and the insistence that women could not fly combat aircraft.
The overwhelming vote, 65-31, came despite the statements of Marine Commandant James Amos, who insisted that a non-discriminatory Marine Corps will mean more dead U.S. Marines on the battlefield. That’s sheer and utter nonsense, more a testiment to his prejudices than to any evidence that gay Marines do not serve with courage and honor.
One of the more interesting and intellectually honest arguments that separates conservatives and liberals is over whether love of country must be unconditional. Many conservatives tend to argue that those of us who are …

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Obama, the ‘new Comeback Kid’

No less a rightwing stalwart than Charles Krauthammer has christened President Obama the “new Comeback Kid.” Last week, Krauthammer said that Obama had beat the Republicans at their own game: “Barack Obama won the great tax-cut showdown of 2010,” he said.
In today’s WaPo, Krauthammer says Obama is well positioned to win re-election, partly because he has proved better at so-called triangulation than even Bill Clinton, the presumed champion of that particular political art:

Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.

Compare this with Bill Clinton, greatest of all comeback kids, who, at a news conference a full five months after his shellacking in 1994, was reduced to plaintively protesting that “the president is relevant here.” He had been so humiliatingly sidelined that he did not really recover until late …

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Mitt Romney must believe in evolution. He’s still evolving

Republicans in the ABS (Anybody but Sarah) camp got more fodder for their anxieties today. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that the former half-term Alaskan governor is less popular than Nancy Pelosi. As the blog First Read put it:

Palin’s negative rating has climbed to 50%. That’s the highest negative rating for anyone measured in this poll (and it’s two points lower than Nancy Pelosi’s negative rating from last month). And get this: The only major subgroups that Palin wins in a head-to-head match-up with Obama are Republicans, conservatives, and FOX viewers. That’s it, folks. NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R) says that this is “a sobering starting point” for Palin if she decides to run for president

But the ABSs (sometimes identified as “establishment Republicans”) are struggling to unite around an alternative to Palin. Some are still enamored of Mitt Romney — at least the smart, affable and reasonable Romney who headed the well-run Salt Lake City Winter …

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The truth about the “death tax”

Yesterday, the Senate passed the tax cut deal by a whopping vote of 81-19, and the House is poised to consider the measure today. While it likely has the votes to pass, few observers expect the lopsided support that it received in the Senate. Too many House Democrats are still furious over the extension of Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthiest two percent of Americans.
Indeed, Democrats are poised to mount a last-ditch protest — by way of an amendment — over the estate tax, which Republicans commonly refer to as “the death tax.” A Gingrich-era manipulation of the language (and a brilliant one), the phrase “death tax” has led many Americans to believe that a corpse is taxed. It isn’t.
Here’s the truth about the estate tax:

According to a study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, only 1.6% of Americans receive $100,000 or more in inheritance. Another 1.1% receive $50,000 to $100,000. On the other hand, 91.9% receive nothing (Kotlikoff & Gokhale, 2000). Thus, the …

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More shopping is good news, right? Right?

Retail sales are a strong gauge of the economic recovery, and Christmas shopping points to increased consumer confidence in economic growth. That’s especially true for the sales of high-end designer goods with brand names such as Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Rolex. From the LA Times:

U.S. retail sales overall are expected to rise about 3.5% this year, but the trend is even stronger at the high end, with a projected 7% jump over 2009.

That’s an encouraging sign for the overall economy because affluent shoppers wield outsized spending power. The richest 20% of households account for nearly 40% of total consumer spending in the U.S., said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Their pent-up desire to spend money is being abetted by the stock market rally, a more stable jobs picture for those who are still employed, and expectations that the economy will continue to show steady, if slow, improvement.

Note Added: (Before any of you who …

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Will tea partiers protest the $858 billion tax deal?

During the election season, tea party activists declared deficit-reduction one of their primary goals. The nation is swimming in red ink, they noted, posing a huge burden for generations to come. So I’m waiting for those tea party activists to mount a huge protest over the tax deal between President Obama and Republicans. It is expected to cost $858 billion over ten years.

Where’s that tea party protest? Are they headed to Washington to denounce the deal, as they did repeatedly with the health care plan — which will lower the deficit over ten years?

Yes, there are other things in the deal besides tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. But extending the tax cuts for all Americans for two years cost $675.2 billion. Extending them for the richest Americans — along with generous cuts to the estate tax — will cost about $50 billion over two years. Are the tea partiers at all concerned about that?

Then were the ethanol subsidies, which most reasonable people agree are a spectacular …

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