Archive for June, 2011

Criminal investigation into torture deaths begins

From the WSJ:

“Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday he has ordered a full criminal investigation into the deaths of two prisoners who were interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.

The move is likely to restart the partisan fight over Bush-era detainee treatment that Democrats have called torture.

Mr. Holder said he accepted the recommendations of John Durham, a prosecutor from Connecticut, who has been examining the treatment of CIA detainees and studying whether CIA interrogations exceeded methods allowed under legal guidance provided at the time by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Justice Department prosecutors led by Mr. Durham have been using a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., to investigate the death of Gul Rahman at a CIA prison called the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002, as well as the death of Manadel al Jamadi at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003, according to a person familiar …

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The utter madness of not raising the debt ceiling

From Reuters:

The United States would immediately have its top-notch credit rating slashed to “selective default” if it misses a debt payment on Aug. 4, Standard & Poor’s managing director John Chambers told Reuters.

Chambers, who is also the chairman of S&P’s sovereign ratings committee, told Reuters on Tuesday that U.S. Treasury bills maturing on Aug. 4 would be rated ‘D’ if the government fails to honor them. Unaffected Treasuries would be downgraded as well, but not as sharply, he said.

“If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D,” Chambers said.

From Ronald Reagan, 1983:

“The full consequence of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result. The risks, the …

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Obama: Should everyone sacrifice but the rich?

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In his press conference today, President Obama acknowledged that our financial situation “means we have to tackle entitlements, as long as we keep faith with seniors and children with disabilities by maintaining the fundamental security that Medicare and Medicaid provide.”

But here’s the kernel of his comments:

“It would be nice if we could keep every tax break there is. But we’ve got to make some tough choices here if we want to reduce our deficit. If we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship. That means we’ve got to stop funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food safety may be compromised. That means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden. Those are the choices …

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Who pays — and who doesn’t pay — income taxes

The Tax Policy Center has released its latest statistics about who pays — and who does not pay — federal income taxes. According to its numbers, 46.4 percent of “tax units” in America will pay no income tax this year.

More than half of those non-paying units make less than $16,812. More than 80 percent make less than $33,542. Some will no doubt focus their outrage on those lower-income folks, but I’m more intrigued by the fact that 3,000 “tax units” with incomes above $2.18 million paid no income tax. All in all, 446,000 “tax units” with incomes above $103,465 paid no income tax on that money, a figure that includes capital gains taxes.

2011Now let’s put that in context, historical and otherwise.

First, personal income taxes account for just 44 percent of federal revenue. Payroll taxes account for 37.1 percent of revenue this year, and those taxes are paid by almost all of these “tax units” who don’t pay income taxes, with the exception of those whose main income is Social …

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Bachmann: Wackiness will out itself in time

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Michele Bachmann, in a dead heat with Mitt Romney in Iowa in the latest Des Moines Register poll, got some more good news from Gallup today.

Under the headline “Bachmann in Strong Position as She Enters 2012 Race,” Gallup reports that the Minnesota congresswoman “enters the race with 69% name recognition among Republicans and ties for the highest Positive Intensity Score of any GOP candidate Gallup tracks.”

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(Gallup defines “positive intensity” as the percentage of those who strongly favor the candidate minus the percentage that strongly opposes him or her.)

Note that Newt Gingrich, one of the best known of the GOP candidates, has a positive intensity rating of 2 among his fellow Republicans. And Tim Pawlenty is turning out to be the kind of man who can’t excite anyone but his dog back home, if he has one. With a PIR of 8, he trails even Rick Santorum. (In GOP presidential politics, Santorum serves as the equivalent of baseball’s Mario Mendoza.)

Pawlenty is counting on …

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The moral, financial dilemma at the heart of health care

If such a thing were possible, it would be useful to set aside partisan sentiments for a few minutes to discuss profound questions about life and death, the obligations that we have to each other as human beings and the morally difficult choices that technology increasingly forces upon us.

Let’s begin with a new report from the nonprofit National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation. It reports that Americans “spent nearly $2.5 trillion on health care in 2009, reaching an all-time high of $8,086 per person. This per-capita spending represents an almost two-fold increase since 1997.”

Those numbers, while startling in one sense, pretty much confirm what most of us already knew. But here’s where things get more sticky:

“Spending is highly concentrated among a relatively small portion of high-cost users, with just 5 percent of the population responsible for almost 50 percent of all (health care)spending. At the other end, half of the population accounts for just 3 …

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Judge: Ga. seeks ‘climate of hostility, fear, mistrust, insecurity’

U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash has blocked enforcement of the most aggressive law enforcement provisions of Georgia’s new illegal immigration law, ruling that they interfere with federal responsibilities to enforce immigration law.

“The [state’s} claim that the new criminal statutes will prevent exploitation of illegal aliens is gross hypocrisy,” Thrash concluded. “The apparent legislative intent is to create such a climate of hostility, fear, mistrust and insecurity that all illegal aliens will leave Georgia.”

That’s pretty much on the nose. And while the judge didn’t offer a conclusion about whether such a goal was good or bad, he did rule that such steps, if they are taken, must be taken by the federal government, not by the states. As a result, “state and local law enforcement officers and officials have no authorization to arrest, detain or prosecute anyone based upon Sections 7 and 8 of HB 87 while this injunction remains in effect.”

However, 21 other sections of the …

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Federal judge blocks pieces of HB 87

From AP:

ATLANTA — A federal judge has granted a request to block parts of Georgia’s law cracking down on illegal immigration from taking effect until a legal challenge is resolved.

Judge Thomas Thrash on Monday blocked parts of the law that penalize people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants. He also blocked provisions that authorize officers to verify the immigration status of someone who can’t provide proper identification.

Thrash also dismissed parts of the lawsuit at the state’s request.

I’ll be interested to read the whole ruling (PDF available here), but in the short term I don’t think this changes much. While Thrash has blocked implementation of the most legally aggressive sections of the bill, most of its structure remains intact, including E-verify requirements on employers.

UPDATE: Here’s a crucial section of the ruling, dealing with the question of whether the federal government has in effect ceded law enforcement authority to Georgia and other states by not …

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Institution of marriage gathers strength in NY

With Friday night’s vote in the New York Senate, the Empire State is set to become the sixth state, in addition to the District of Columbia, in which gay marriage is legal. And because New York will be by far the largest state to take that step, the number of Americans able to marry others of the same gender will effectively double.

This is, of course, the end of Western civilization and of the foundation on which it is built, which is the institution of marriage. Or not.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing at the National Review’s “The Corner,” has likened the vote by elected representatives in New York to the brutal repression exercised in North Korea, bizarrely claiming that we Americans are “witnessing tyranny today that is fostered by a false sense of freedom, a tyranny that faux tolerance ferments.”

John Guardiano, writing in the American Spectator, also laments the decline of marriage:

“…. the institution of marriage is [under threat] — so much so that marriage rates in America …

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Travelin’ music from the Land Down Under

Last Sunday, we were invited by good friends to a backyard south of Decatur for an informal potluck/concert. We had 50 or 60 people, a deep-fried turkey or two, a good supply of beer and a guitar player from Australia by the name of Geoff Achison, taking a break from his American tour to play a one-man impromptu concert for us.

Sitting in folding chairs in the heat of a Georgia afternoon, sipping cold beer and listening to live music made for a great way to wind down the weekend. The cops even showed up, which made it an official party.

Achison is a great guitarist out of the Duane Allman blues-rock tradition. If you like the cut below, he’s playing tomorrow night at the Sautee Nacoochee Center north of Helen with Randall Bramblett, and at Shorty’s Pizza in Tucker on Sunday. For a guy who talks funny, he sure has this American music down.

– Jay Bookman

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