Archive for November, 2010

Leftovers from the Thanksgiving TSA ‘opt-out’ flop

The ballyhooed “opt-out” day for the new airport security-screening measures, scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving, sure fell flat. I heard anecdotes from relatives who flew over the holidays that they didn’t see the new scanners, and thus the new “enhanced” pat-downs, in use even at major airports. Until more travelers have had first-hand experience with the machines, I think relying on public opinion polls of the issue is premature, whether they show rising or declining support for the new measures.

All that said, one element in the debate that shouldn’t fade away over time is the fact that our national security bureaucracy always seems to be playing catch-up to an enemy that Christopher Hitchens, writing at Slate.com, calls far more “inventive and imaginative” than our own side:

Let me recommend regular reading of the magazine Inspire, the flagship publication of AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]. It is remarkable for its jauntiness and confidence and sense of …

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The real fallout from WikiLeaks

The release of hundreds of thousands of State Department documents by WikiLeaks, many of which were reported this weekend by the New York Times and other newspapers around the world, is a humiliation for the United States. But it need not be a catastrophe.

While the leaked documents reveal some highly undiplomatic lip-flapping on the part of U.S. emissaries, I don’t think it will harm our relations with other nations as much as some people fear, for two reasons. First, other nations’ leaders will probably see this as a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I moment; their diplomatic corps most likely make assessments of one another — including ours — that are at least as frank as the ones now being aired publicly. (Although they will surely instruct their ambassadors and staff not to put such thoughts in electronic documents — something one would have hoped had been common practice before now for our own State Department.)

The second reason, related to the first, is that there was …

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On David Nahmias, and one more ballot left to cast

The turkey’s been eaten and the Christmas shopping begun. But there’s one seasonal obligation to finish before the calendar flips to December: voting.

Just two statewide races remain in play for Tuesday’s runoff, both for judicial posts. One is for the Court of Appeals, and I’ll be voting (again) for the highly experienced, well-qualified Chris McFadden.

The other is for the Supreme Court, and the matchup here was hard to fathom just four weeks ago. Somehow, a very good incumbent justice, David Nahmias, was forced into a runoff against an opponent who didn’t even campaign.

When I say Tammy Lynn Adkins didn’t even campaign, I mean she didn’t spend one red cent beyond the $5,016.29 qualifying fee she paid in July from her own pocket, according to campaign-finance disclosures.

Yet Adkins, a family-law attorney in Gwinnett County, still managed to garner an astonishing 35 percent of the vote on Nov. 2. She won more than twice as many votes as a third candidate who spent some …

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Learning to make thanksgiving a habit

The giving of thanks itself is one of life’s unremarked blessings.

My wife and I have the sweetest child any parents could ask for. (He’s also the smartest, the cutest, the most fun and has the best laugh and smile, but that’s for another column.) Take his concern, as expressed in our recent “conversation,” for his greatest obsession at 22 months of age: Daddy’s lawnmower.

Charlie: Mow?

Me: No, Daddy’s not going to mow the yard today.

Charlie, putting his hand to his head, like a pillow: Sleep?

Me: You think the mower is sleeping?

Charlie: Yeah. Ba?

Me: You think the mower needs a ba (pacifier)?

Charlie: Yeah. Blank-blank?

Me: You think the mower needs a blanket?

Charlie: Yeah. Book?

Me: You think Daddy needs to read the mower a book before it goes to sleep?

Charlie: Yeah.

He doesn’t just verify that the lawnmower’s needs are met as his are. He’s at the age where he wants his stuffed animals, and sometimes even his blanket, to eat crackers or drink milk whenever he does. Like …

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‘This is no rubber-stamp turkey pardon’ (video)

A little pre-holiday lightness that I hope everyone can laugh at, courtesy of The Onion.

Obama Outlines Moral, Philosophical Justifications for Turkey Pardon

(Sorry, the video won’t embed here, so please click the link to view it.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I’ll “see” you back here Monday.

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NOTE: Beginning with this post, all comments will go to moderation until I’m back in the office Monday. Feel free to submit them, just know that there will be a delay in their posting.

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The politics of debt and spending cuts

At National Review, Kevin Williamson says a typical Washington compromise — Republicans agree to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats agree to extend the current tax rates — isn’t a good outcome. Here’s what he suggests instead:

My best guess is that the debt ceiling is going up. Nobody reasonably expects a Republican House to be able to prevail upon a Democratic Senate and President Obama to balance the budget today. But Republicans can — and must — insist on a real deficit-reduction program that is very largely focused on spending cuts rather than tax hikes, one that has some real teeth on the enforcement end of things. The timeline doesn’t have to be tomorrow, but it had better not have a 20-year grace period, either: Real cuts should start kicking in right now, and the deficit should be significantly reduced within five years and radically reduced within ten.

Both politically and economically, I still think the Simpson-Bowles proposal is the best starting point. House …

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A Democrat suggests privatizing Medicare

The Democrat is Alice Rivlin, the former Clinton budget director who teamed up with Republican Pete Domenici to present a plan last week for tackling the budget deficit. Now, Rivlin is working with Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to introduce a voucher system to privatize Medicare. From National Journal:

[Rivlin's plan is] very similar to Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” in that seniors would get lump-sum payments for the value of their Medicare benefits and use them to buy coverage in the private marketplace. The payments would climb slightly faster than consumer inflation, but they wouldn’t climb as fast as health care costs have been for decades. As a result, people now in their thirties would likely end up paying for a much bigger share of their health insurance when they retire than today’s seniors. On top of that, people now in their thirties would no longer even know how high their future out-of-pocket costs were likely to climb.

That’s why the idea has been such an …

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Obama’s misplaced priorities, foreign-policy edition

At the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl explains why President Obama’s view of the world — and America’s approach to it — hasn’t evolved since he was a college student:

Start with the New START treaty that Obama has made a priority for the lame-duck Senate, at a time when Americans don’t yet know what income tax rate they will pay on Jan. 1. The treaty resembles the landmark U.S.-Soviet arms control treaties that were negotiated in the [1980s] — and it would perpetuate their important verification measures.

The difference is that no one stages marches today about U.S. and Soviet — now Russian — strategic weapons, and with good reason. The danger of a war between the two states is minuscule; and treaty or no, Russia’s arsenal is very likely to dwindle in the coming years. The threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations. Obama believes that U.S.-Russian treaties will lead to better containment of …

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Will and Kate, the tea party, and ‘anti-elitism’

The barrage of coverage in our media of the engagement of Will and Kate, the future king and queen of England, is easy to explain. It’s the latest news event for our celebrity-drenched culture.

What I had a harder time understanding, before I lived in Europe, was the appeal of a monarchy within a democracy like Britain, or Spain, or the Netherlands, in the 21st century. Could any institution be more anachronistic? Why do some people still put up with having, even paying taxes to maintain, a king or queen?

The answer I finally settled on, after getting to know natives of those and other countries with royalty, transcends mere tradition. It goes something like this: We are theirs, but they are also ours.

The royal rush this past week — and the irony of American fascination with the heir to the British crown in this age of the tea party — got me to thinking about how that sentiment went missing in the relationship between American “commoners” and our own elites.

Ask people of any …

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Twin national-security fail for Obama this week

Two big stories this week involved terrorism and national security: the backlash against new, invasive security procedures at U.S. airports, and the acquittal on all but one charge of a defendant in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

I don’t think you can fully understand one without the other.

On the one hand, you have the government treating every single person who comes through the airport as a potential terrorist — when, as Charles Krauthammer writes, “the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. [Yet] instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.” At Reason.com, Robert Poole offers a very reasonable alternative screening strategy that would address most of the concerns raised by the new techniques while falling just short of the dreaded “profiling.”

On the other hand, you have the government treating foreign war combatants, sworn enemies of the United …

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