Archive for November, 2009

KSM on trial in NYC: Treating terror like any old crime

The confessed 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will stand trial for the terror attacks in a federal court in New York, according to reports by AP and other news outlets. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to make the announcement later today.

You would think the Obama administration would have second thoughts about unveiling such a plan so soon after the Fort Hood killings and the ensuing debate about whether the shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan, was committing an act of jihadist terror or just garden-variety workplace violence. But apparently the administration is doubling down on the idea that jihadist killings — and surely no one besides the Truthers disputes that that’s what 9/11 was — are a crime like any other, committed by criminals like any others.

Will we be treated to spectacles like the last time these terrorists were asked to attend a hearing, in Guantanamo Bay back in July? Here’s one partial account:

Nearly eight years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist …

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Democrats will soak the young

Looking at the Ponzi schemes that are Medicare and Social Security, I’ve often wondered which generation of Americans will get stuck with the tab when the programs go totally broke. More and more, it looks like mine will.

Yet paying for baby boomers to retire comfortably, while knowing we’ll probably never be afforded the same luxury, isn’t enough. We’re also being asked to pay the cost of Democrats’ health insurance proposals — both now and in the future.

One part of this is pretty straightforward. A new health insurance entitlement will mean higher tax rates.

Not only “the rich” will get hit. The Wall Street Journal calculated in February that even if the feds took every dime of every American’s taxable income above $75,000, they’d barely collect enough money to pay for President Barack Obama’s proposed 2010 budget of $3.5 trillion.

That budget doesn’t include a new health entitlement. And those figures certainly don’t account for the disastrous economic drop-off that would …

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Some rules for this blog

Here are some rules for this blog. They may differ somewhat from the standards on other blogs, both on and otherwise. If other rules become necessary, I will add them. I will not be able to enforce these rules 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for obvious reasons. But I will enforce them, including through regular periods of comment moderation when necessary. (Note: These rules have been modified to incorporate the ones from this list of July 2012.)

1. A variety of four-letter words and racial, ethnic and other slurs are not allowed. If you wonder whether a particular word is allowed, don’t use it. I will remove comments that include abbreviations or variations on the spelling of certain words (e.g., f@ck) at my discretion. Repeat offenders are subject to moderation or a ban.

2. No name-calling. This rule applies chiefly to other commenters. I will have very high tolerance when the subject is a public figure (e.g., President Obama or Gov. Deal) or me — though I …

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Giving veterans their due

Veterans Day has always struck me as one of the most under-celebrated holidays on the calendar. Neither schools nor most private offices and businesses close. The day is far less remarked upon than Memorial Day or Labor Day and makes less of an impact on most Americans’ routines than Valentines Day or Halloween.

Maybe this is because November already has a major holiday (Thanksgiving) or because veterans get recognition of various types throughout the year — although I suspect the latter is more true when there’s a war going on, as now, than at other times.

It still strikes me as a shame. We owe our veterans more than a half-hearted day.

Barring some sharp turn of events, I will never be a veteran. But my father, grandfather and other family members are or were, along with my father-in-law and several other members of my wife’s family, as well as a number of adults who influenced me greatly as I was growing up. Some cousins and a number of my friends will be veterans one day. …

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Surviving on severance, burning through savings

On a rainy day, an article from The Wall Street Journal about unemployed Americans who have burned through their rainy-day savings — and, in some cases, big-time severance packages — by maintaining the same lifestyles they had kept while they were working.

Several times over the past months I have found myself walking through a full parking lot at a shopping mall, or having to wait in line for a table at a restaurant, wondering “What recession?” People have been out spending money, albeit perhaps at not the same rates as before, and it’s made me wonder how many of them were like Paul Joegriner and his family:

The family’s lifestyle over the past year and a half has been propped up by a $200,000 severance package and another $100,000 in savings — funds the family has burned through rapidly. By Mr. Joegriner’s own calculations, the family will be out of money in six months if he doesn’t find work.

“It will be D-Day,” he says. “But on the outside, no one has any idea that we’re …

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Handicapping health-care legislation’s odds in the Senate

I get a lot of questions about what will happen with health-care legislation now that the House has passed a bill. My feeling is that a bill as liberal as the House version cannot get 60 votes in the Senate — so the question is whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will try to pass a less ambitious bill that gets the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, or will attempt to pass the more liberal bill with 51 votes in the process known as reconciliation.

Keith Hennessey, to whom I linked last week talking about Bush deficits vs. Obama deficits, today writes a more dispassionate take on the odds of different scenarios. This is an update on his earlier predictions. Bottom line:

I am still projecting a 60% chance that a comprehensive bill becomes law this year, but I have shifted some of that 60% from the regular order path to the reconciliation path. By itself I’d never expect the Senate to shift to a reconciliation path after failing to get 60 – Senate-only …

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After Fort Hood: Preventing the troubled from ‘going Muslim’

Tunku Varadarajan asks whether, after the mass shooting by Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, we now face a new type of violent outburst, a la “going postal”: “going Muslim.”

This phrase would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American — a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood — discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans. This would appear to be what happened in the case of Maj. Hasan.

It’s a more nuanced argument than Tunku’s blunt new phrase might suggest, so I want to let him speak for himself. Suffice it to say that Tunku does not advocate for being automatically suspicious of Muslims, or for pre-emptive racial profiling (being of Indian descent, Tunku himself would be subject to harassment from crude profilers who lump together everyone who isn’t white or black). He’s talking about …

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A first step toward tax reform in Georgia

A Georgian who fixes up a historic house can file for a tax credit of up to $5,000. An employer that helps cover a worker’s transportation costs is eligible for $25 in state tax relief.

Each year Georgia grants billions of dollars in credits and exemptions for its income and sales taxes, some of them for far greater amounts than the above examples. But no one knows exactly how many billions.

No one knows how effective these credits and exemptions are in promoting their goals — that is, how many historic houses are being renovated instead of deteriorating, or workers getting rides to their jobs which they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. No one knows how much better off we might be if we ended some of the breaks, or enhanced them, or reduced taxes in a different way.

If we’re going to have real tax reform in Georgia, we need to answer these questions.

Changes in the headline tax rates get a lot of, well, headlines. But they are only part of the policy mix, because lawmakers …

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About Obama’s ‘inherited deficit’

Every time President Obama is criticized for a federal budget deficit that reaches 13 digits, a familiar chorus shouts back:

“It’s Bush’s fault!”

Well, one of George Bush’s former economic advisers is taking issue with that response. Very detailed issue.

Keith Hennessey, who blogs smartly about a number of topics, including health care legislation, takes on White House budget director Peter Orszag for a speech Orszag gave this week in New York. Hennessey’s rebuttal of Orszag’s claims, about how little control the current administration has over the budget deficit, is long but worth reading in its entirety. Here is a basic summary:

ORSZAG: All told, the entire $9 trillion deficit reflects the failure to pay for policies in the past and the cost of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and the steps we had to take to combat it.

This is brazen. Translation: $9 trillion of deficits over the next ten years are not our fault.

I have three problems with this:

1. The …

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Now in a runoff, Hillary Norwood is in for a fight

It’s a good thing Mary Norwood has voted for so many Democrats. Because she sure does look like Hillary Clinton right about now.

The biggest setback for Norwood isn’t that she faces a runoff against Kasim Reed in Atlanta’s mayoral race, after winning 46 percent of the vote to his 36 percent in a field of six Tuesday. Her prospects for winning the election outright were always tantalizing — close, but most likely just out of reach.

No, her problem lies in what this result looks like, and the way it came about. Like Clinton in last year’s presidential primaries, Norwood has lost her aura of inevitability. Will she now follow Clinton’s lead and also lose the office she seeks?

The assumption was that Norwood would enter a Dec. 1 runoff having won a healthy plurality with a sizable margin in the general election. The second-place candidate would look like just that: the best of the also-rans, but a distant runner-up to Norwood.

Two late-October opinion polls were notable chiefly …

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