Archive for December, 2012

A Christmas musing on snow, man and a snowman

Get ready for snow on Christmas, everyone. It’s coming, says … my 3-year-old.

Without snow on Christmas, he posits, how will Santa Claus be able to come and deliver our presents?

The unestablished correlation between frozen precipitation and flying reindeer notwithstanding, I’ve tried to explain to him that we live in Atlanta, where the climate is warm and he has a better chance of hearing Santa up on the rooftop than of seeing snow on the ground. It doesn’t help my argument that it did snow on Christmas Day 2010 in Atlanta — and more heavily in Dalton, where we were that day — which is one of the two Christmases he can at least kind of remember. Nor does the phrase “first time that’s happened since 1882” mean much to him.

Based on that one time, I would love for it to be traditional here to have snow on Christmas (and only on Christmas; family and employment aren’t the only reasons we live in the South). It proved to me a white Christmas is truly worth dreaming …

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Why the fiscal cliff debate is like a poker hand — and the GOP is losing a lot of chips

Here’s how I see Speaker John Boehner’s failure to pass his own Plan B tax plan in the House last night:

Some people liken these fiscal-cliff negotiations to playing chess or checkers, as one unnamed, senior House Republican did in this excellent write-up of the post-failure mood in the House by National Review’s Robert Costa. Assuming I understand correctly why and how that metaphor is being made, I think it’s inapt because it suggests this debate is proceeding in isolation from everything else Congress has done in the past and will do in the future.

I think it’s much more like one hand in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, with the chips representing political capital. With both poker chips and political capital, having more means you have more leverage — because those who have less than you don’t have as much margin for error. They have to play it a bit safer.

This particular game of poker, in which House Republicans face President Obama and the Senate Democrats, has been going on …

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Why the same old gun-control answers aren’t comforting

As the father of two small boys, I’m as haunted by last week’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., as anyone who didn’t know personally the victims or their killer.

I have the same fears as all parents anticipating the long, potentially treacherous path ahead of their children in this broken world of ours. My fears are only multiplied by my doubts there are many real options for thwarting future slayings in other unsuspecting towns.

The two primary questions we ask after mass killings are: Why do some people act so heinously? And how can we keep others from doing so?

The first question invariably draws answers like: madness, isolation, social awkwardness or marginalization, familial dysfunction, a craving for fame (or infamy), the prevalence of violence in our popular culture, and evil pure and simple.

The second question typically brings suggestions for treating these mental illnesses and social failures. That, and gun control.

Guns typically don’t make the list of answers to …

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A tentative win for religious liberty in Obamacare lawsuit

A federal appeals court said Tuesday it will hold the Obama administration to its promises to change Obamacare’s controversial contraceptives mandate for certain religiously affiliated employers such as colleges. I guess the judges are now part of the “war on women.”

If so, they are joined by the Obama administration itself — which, as the court noted in its Tuesday order:

represented to the court that it would never enforce [the rule] in its current form against the appellants [Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College] or those similarly situated as regards contraceptive services. … There will, the government said, be a different rule for entities like the appellants …

But promises aren’t enough. The court said it took the administration’s pledge during oral arguments to create a different rule for the colleges and similar organizations to be “a binding commitment,” and it ordered the administration to provides updates about progress made toward the creation of the new rule …

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House GOP offers a familiar ‘Plan B’ for dodging the fiscal cliff

Reports from Washington vary on how close President Obama and Speaker John Boehner are to striking a deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. But the emergence of Boehner’s apparent back-up plan in case they don’t reach an agreement caught my eye.

This morning, Boehner said his “Plan B” is for the House to extend all the rates for taxpayers earning $1 million or less per year while raising them on those who make more than that, and leaving the broader discussion for next year. Hmmm … who has suggested just such an approach?

[T]o, to Obama, this clearly is more about good politics than good policy. The House GOP should respond in kind.

It should pass the “Buffett Rule” bill that failed to pass the Senate in April, amended to include an extension of all current tax rates through 2013, as a down payment. While the Buffett Rule is projected to raise $47 billion during the next decade if the current tax rates for high earners are not extended, I’ve seen projections of more …

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Facts, not emotions, must guide post-Newtown debate

I have deliberately waited to comment on the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., for a variety of reasons. Not least was the abundance of wrongly reported “facts” early on that made it difficult for someone hundreds of miles away from the story to feel confident about even the basics of the case; this story was not exactly the news media’s finest hour.

Still more important is the impropriety, in my view, of too soon devoting words at a time such as this to anything other than the victims and their families. They deserve better than to be gathered up as evidence for a policy debate within mere hours of their terrible deaths.

Eventually, though, those of us outside Newtown have to grapple with whether there is something we can do to prevent the evil and the insane among us from committing other such acts of wickedness.

As someone who is generally opposed to making our gun laws stricter, and who believes proponents of gun control have spent years making their case to the …

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For Legislature, all roads lead to ethics reform (and vice versa)

The story of the year in metro Atlanta almost certainly was voters’ rejection of the $7.2 billion transportation sales tax. That’s true not only because the result was so lopsided in a region famous for its traffic congestion and desperate for relief, but because the clear message was that voters torched the T-SPLOST due to a lack of trust in government.

But what does “lack of trust” mean in practice?

Happily, an opinion poll commissioned for, and reported last Sunday by, the AJC translated the public’s lack of trust into numbers. It suggests ethics reform is key if the Legislature is to shore up the trust deficit.

Sixty percent of those polled last month, in the same 10 metro Atlanta counties that voted down the T-SPLOST in July, said they believe “people in the government waste a lot of money we pay in taxes.” The same percentage said “not many” or “hardly any” of the folks in government are honest.

That’s 60 percent who think government wastes money …

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‘Emergency’ Sandy relief bill shows Washington’s fiscal folly

Alternate headline: “This is why we’re screwed.” The Obama administration and Senate Democrats have proposed $60.4 billion in spending, some of which may not have anything to do with helping people recover from the superstorm that hit the Northeast this fall. But the entire lot is being rushed through as part of the “emergency” spending package that has to be passed RIGHT NOW according to Democrats — even though, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only about one-third of the money will be spent in the next 21 months.

What else is the dough going for, if not for immediate relief? Jamie Dupree has the full list of items on his AJC.com blog. ABC News reports that millions of dollars are for federal agency spending that is unrelated, or only tangentially related, to Hurricane Sandy. Another $13 billion of it is tabbed to help mitigate future disasters. Those particular mitigation measures may or may not make sense, and it’s hard to know which are worthwhile and which …

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Obama’s asking for it; maybe the GOP should give it to him

It appears more and more likely that Washington’s new favorite drama, the fiscal cliff, will run as long as possible.

Passing new legislation before Christmas to avoid the cliff — the doomsday nickname given to the combination of across-the-board spending cuts set during last year’s debt-ceiling negotiations and the total expiration of income-tax rates that have prevailed since since 2003 — now seems unlikely. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Wednesday said lawmakers can expect to be in Washington during December’s final days.

The fatal conceit in this debate is that the economy will somehow be well-served, or at least survive, if it takes only a half-dose of what Democrats consider poison (spending cuts) and a half-dose of what the GOP deems deadly (tax increases).

If either party is correct, we are in for a rough 2013 at the very least. If both parties are correct, we could be heading for another recession. The irony is that we’re trying to avoid the fiscal cliff …

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Will wonders never cease: Democrats discover taxes hurt businesses!

How cute: Fifteen Democratic senators who voted for Obamacare back in 2009 are asking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to see that the excise tax on medical devices is not implemented for now.

Read their letter here. It ticks all the usual boxes for the kind of anti-tax arguments that Democrats typically reject out of hand:

  • The industry “directly employs over 400,000 people in the United States and is responsible for a total of two million high-skilled manufacturing jobs.”
  • The industry “is also one of the few that enjoys a net trade surplus…”
  • Our economy has a need for “increasing exports, promoting small businesses, and growing high-tech manufacturing jobs for the future…”
  • The slapdash way in which Obamacare was constructed, with major decisions punted to an unaccountable bureaucracy to make (OK, that’s not exactly how the senators put it), has caused “significant uncertainty and confusion for businesses.”
  • Rather than moving forward with another punitive tax on a particular …

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