Tag Archives: John J. Miller

Number 14… Number 14… Number 14

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up:

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell became the latest Republican to call for a reexamination of the Fourteenth Amendment and the issue of “birthright citizenship.” Senators Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl have also recently spoken out against the policy of granting automatic citizenship to all born in the U.S., even if they are the children of illegal immigrants. The birthright citizenship issue, though, doesn’t split quite along party lines. In the ensuing debate, several conservatives have come out opposing the proposed revision. Some maintain, though, that the Republican senators have a point.

Alex Altman at Swampland at Time:

The relevant facet of the 14th Amendment, which ensures due process and equal protection, states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” While proponents of repeal say the language–specifically the phrase, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof”–is ambiguous, judicial precedent is stacked against them. That’s one reason why the notion of revisiting the citizenship clause may be more of a political gambit than a realistic proposal. Bills challenging the citizenship provision have been proposed multiple times in recent years without success–former Rep. Nathan Deal, who’s running for governor of Georgia, submitted such an idea last year, and Rep. Ron Paul did so in 2007 without success. “Anchor babies,” as critics of birthright citizenship have dubbed children born to illegal immigrants, have long been a subject of scorn for conservatives. But a constitutional amendment requires the backing of two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and ratification by 38 states–which is highly unlikely, to say the least.

It’s unclear how far the party is willing to push the issue, or whether conference members are on the same page. A GOP aide told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that “nobody is talking about an all out repeal of the 14th Amendment,” and that McConnell merely supported holding hearings to revisit the concept of birthright citizenship. But the topic has sparked a pitched battle in the Senate, as The Hill reports, and Senators like Graham and James Inhofe seem to have their minds made up.

A majority of Americans support Arizona’s new law, and in the short term a hard-line stance on illegal immigration may give Republicans a boost. As a long-term political strategy, however, attacking birthright citizenship is an easy way to alienate the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. In one recent poll, 49% of respondents supported birthright citizenship, while 46% said the law should be tweaked. But that poll found nearly 80% of Latinos are in favor of the provision–a figure that’s surprising only because it wasn’t greater. Many conservatives have argued the GOP risks kneecapping itself with the Hispanic electorate. “If the Republican Party embraces ending birthright citizenship, then it will be assured losing Latino and ethnic voters — and presidential elections for the foreseeable future,” wrote Cesar Conda, former domestic policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mark Krikorian at The Corner:

Would it be cynical of me to think that McCain’s “little jerk” is just trying to burnish his tough-on-immigration bona fides?:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced Wednesday night that he is considering introducing a constitutional amendment that would change existing law to no longer grant citizenship to the children of immigrants born in the United States.

Yeah, right. So the guy doesn’t want to do what’s necessary to actually stop illegal immigration, but he wants to make sure that the children born to all the illegals he helps bring here become U.S.-born illegal aliens? I’m afraid, though, that his rationale, whether he actually believes it or not, is in fact one shared by a lot of immigration hawks:

“People come here to have babies,” he said. “They come here to drop a child. It’s called ‘drop and leave.’ To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.”

I don’t like illegals having U.S.-citizen kids any more than anyone else, but there’s no evidence suggesting that this “drop and leave” stuff is true — anything’s possible, I suppose, but it’s just an assertion at this point. My own sense is that most illegal alien women who have kids here (accounting for nearly 10 percent of all children born in the U.S. each year) didn’t come for that purpose; they came for jobs or to join relatives, and one thing led to another, birds-and-bees style, and they had kids. There are no doubt some people who dash across the border illegally to have kids, but they just can’t amount to a large share of the problem. Nor does the problem of “birth tourism” require a change in the Constitution — we just need to permit (and require) our consular officers to reject visa applications from pregnant women, inviting them to re-apply once they’ve given birth in their own countries.

The phenomenon of citizen-children of illegal aliens is a symptom of too much illegal immigration, not a cause. Comprehensive immigration enforcement — abroad, at the borders, and in the interior — plus deep, permanent cuts in future legal immigration (which is the catalyst for illegal immigration) are the solution, because when we have less illegal immigration, we’ll have fewer kids born to illegals and the problem goes away. I’m afraid that if the citizenship issue makes progress, the libertarians will co-opt us, backing the citizenship change as a way of diverting attention from real immigration control.

Krikorian responds to e-mails

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

When I first read this anonymous Huffington Post story suggesting that Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) had signed on to the wholesale repeal of the 14th Amendment, I thought it was a gross mis-characterization, sloppy at best, a bold-faced lie at worst:

On Sunday, Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) became the highest-ranking Republican to call for the repeal of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Kyl said that he opposes allowing children of undocumented immigrants to be granted U.S. citizenship and wants Congress to hold hearings on the matter.

But it turns out the blogger was just aping CBS News’s write-up of Kyl’s appearance on Face the Nation. That post contains the same non-sense about Kyl wanting to repeal the 14th Amendment:

Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., said today that Congress should hold hearings to look into denying citizenship to illegal aliens’ children born in the United States, as the fight over immigration widens into the explosive “birthright” issue.

Kyl told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he supports a call by fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to introduce a new amendment to repeal the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

This is absurd. Here’s the text of the 14th Amendment, in full:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

[…]

What Kyl, Graham and others have tentatively embraced is an amendment that would clarify the first sentence of section 1 — and indeed, there is a credible argument that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” already excludes individuals who are here illegally, meaning that one might be able to end birthright citizenship for the children of illegal aliens by statutory as opposed to constitutional action.

Neither Kyl nor Graham,  nor any other elected Republican I know of, has talked about repealing the Due Process or Equal Protection clauses — which are prime constitutional underwriters of so much legislation favored by progressives. Nor, of course, has anybody talked about reestablishing the 3/5 Compromise or limiting suffrage for African-Americans.

Michael Brendan Dougherty at The American Conservative:

Of course, Graham was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2007. Back then dropped babies weren’t his concerns, rather he wanted to “tell the bigots to shut-up.”

There is no good reason for immigration restrictionists to soften up to Graham now. Overturning birthright citizenship doesn’t bring order or justice to America’s decades long problem of illegal immigration. There may be good reasons to think that overturning it would do little reverse illegal immigration, and much to prevent assimilation.

In any case, Graham’s re-framing of the immigration issue in one of the silliest and most counter-productive possible and his chosen method signals that he is not serious. Constitutional amendments are almost impossible to pass, especially in this age of gridlock and ideological sorting of parties. In other words, this is a stunt, just as his former denunciation of “bigots” was a stunt.

John Sides:

Everyone knows this controversy by now. Here is the bill. Here is Mitch McConnell yesterday. It’s highly unlikely that this push to end birthright citizenship will go anywhere, but it’s worth probing public opinion on this question and on an underlying question: what should be the boundaries of the American national community?

Some quick searching did not turn up many polls on birthright citizenship per se. Rasmussen recently asked whether children of illegal immigrants should be citizens. In their sample, 58% of respondents said no, and 33% said yes. It would be interesting to know whether this is an objection to birthright citizenship per se or essentially an objection to illegal immigration.

Now to the broader question. In 2004, the General Social Survey asked a battery of questions on potential qualifications for being American. This was the preamble:

Some people say the following things are important for being truly American. Others say they are not important. How important do you think each of the following is…

Here is the average importance that respondents accorded to each qualification.

americanqualifications.png

On average, respondents saw all of these qualifications are more important than unimportant. However, they also saw some qualifications as more important than others. In general, the more important qualifications reflect things that an immigrant can achieve: speaking English, becoming naturalized, respecting American institutions and laws. More exclusive criteria, and ones that immigrants cannot change (or change easily), are less important: being born in America, being Christian, or having American ancestry.

How might we interpret these results in light of the debate over birthright citizenship? Here are two possibilities.

First, Lindsey Graham and other opponents of birthright citizenship could take heart. Look, they might say, the public doesn’t even think being born in America is as important as other things. Given the importance accorded to American citizenship, we could make native-born children of immigrants go through the naturalization process and Americans would still see them as American. No harm done.

Second, some might object to that interpretation as a violation of the “spirit” underlying American public opinion. Americans’ sense of their national community is more inclusive than exclusive. Shifting American law in a more exclusive direction is not in this spirit. Why not recognize that more important than birthplace is speaking English, loyalty to the United States, and respect for its laws? And why not take heart that immigrants do learn English and are no less patriotic than native-born Americans?

Jill Lawrence at Politics Daily:

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is playing down his party’s new scrutiny of the 14th Amendment, which among other things confers U.S. citizenship on anyone born in the United States. McConnell on Thursday portrayed calls for hearings on the amendment as simply an attempt to examine what he calls the “unseemly” business of foreigners showing up just in time to have their babies, then going back home.

“I’m not aware of anybody who’s come out for altering the 14th Amendment,” McConnell said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. He said the push for hearings stems from a Washington Post story about foreign businesses that supply visas to expectant mothers. “This is the kind of thing that irritates Americans quite a lot,” he said. “I don’t think having hearings on an obvious unseemly business is a threat to the 14th Amendment. What’s wrong with looking into this? The Post did.”

McConnell added that “the remedy for it is not yet clear. But I am not advocating revisiting the 14th Amendment and I don’t think any others have. I think the view is, why don’t we take a look at this?”

UPDATE: Doug Mataconis

UPDATE #2: Via Andrew Sullivan,

Will Wilkinson

Tim Lee

More Wilkinson

John J. Miller at The Corner

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Filed under Immigration, The Constitution

Kipling And Teasing The Panther

Heather Horn at The Atlantic:

The Atlantic Wire likes to keep tabs on its beloved Atlantic 50. On Wednesday, Entertainment Weekly picked up the video trailer for an upcoming book, a thriller written by Glenn Beck (number seven on the list). Keith Stastkiewicz says the book, which will be released June 15, “is about twenty-something named Noah Gardner who finds himself in the midst of a massive fight to protect the country he loves from nefarious forces that threaten to corrupt it.” Points if you can get that from the video

Meredith Jessup at Townhall:

“The Overton Window” is set to be released June 15.  Meanwhile, the Left is already bashing it, despite rave reviews from authors such as Vince Flynn (love him!), Brad Meltzer and Nelson DeMille.

PS–the poem featured in Beck’s trailer is this one by Rudyard Kipling, despite folks on the Left claiming that each “over-the-top-line” was written by Beck himself.

Richard Lawson at Gawker:

Crazy conspiracy-cruller Glenn Beck has a new novel, The Overton Window, coming out very soon. And now, because I guess this is what we do these days, there is a trailer. For a book. It’s just one long, scary quote.

The quote is from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings,” a wacky poem by Rudyard Kipling. It speaks of terrible things that happen after “social progress,” which Glenn “Walking Knish” Beck really hates. Mostly, though, it is about dog vomit. Yayyyy, dog vomit.

E.D. Kain at The League:

The odd poetry in the trailer is from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings – a rather odd choice for Beck, but what do I know? Either way, pasting the last two stanzas a Kipling poem into a book trailer is certainly a bold move. I hope they make it into a film so that we can get the entire poem in there.

Ben Dimiero and Simon Maloy at Media Matters:

The opening lines of Glenn Beck’s yet-to-be-released novel, The Overton Window, read as follows: “Most people think about age and experience in terms of years, but it’s really only moments that define us.”

In a quirk of convenience, this line also describes the best way to deconstruct The Overton Window, a copy of which Media Matters obtained and read — nay, devoured — with great relish. As we slogged through its many plot holes, ridiculous narrative devices, and long-winded limited-government sermonizing passed off as dialogue, we singled out ten moments that define The Overton Window as the truly and remarkably awful novel that it is.

First, a quick summation of the plot, such as it is. The protagonist, Noah Gardner, works for an impossibly powerful public relations firm in Manhattan that has been the driving force behind pretty much every political and cultural movement of the 20th century. Their latest and grandest scheme is the culmination of a lengthy plot to change the United States into some sort of ill-defined progressive plutocracy, and the catalyst for this change is a nuclear explosion that will occur outside the home-state office of “the current U.S. Senate majority leader,” which happens to be at the same address as Harry Reid’s Las Vegas offices. The nuclear attack is to be blamed on the Founders Keepers, a Tea Party-like group — led by Noah’s love interest, Molly Ross — that is working to foil the plot.

1. Rule number one is: “Don’t tease the panther”

Noah and Molly find themselves in bed together early in the book after a harrowing experience at a Founders’ Keepers rally. They agree to sleep in bed together because Molly is too scared to sleep at home, but Molly insists that nothing sexual will take place. Noah agrees, on the condition that she “not do anything sexy.” She presses her cold feet against his legs, and Noah responds:

“Suit yourself, lady. I’m telling you right now, you made the rules, but you’re playing with fire here. I’ve got some rules, too, and rule number one is, don’t tease the panther.

Oliver Willis

Dennis DiClaudio at Indecision Forever

It appears as though Glenn Beck is making the leap from bestselling author of paranoid political opinion to bestselling author of paranoid political fiction. That’s right, he’s about to release a new book Kevin Grisham-esque thriller called The Overton Window, after a political theory popular amongst libertarians about the shifting range of what is considered acceptable political policy. (You know how Glenn Beck likes to read big piles of prop books, right?)Obviously, this is hilarious news. And there is a 112 percent chance that I will be “reading” the audiobook version of this book for the same reason that I am “reading” the audiobook version of the Left Behind series. Because life is too short to not subject oneself to third-grade-reading-level unintentional self-satire. I am not made of stone, people.

However, a lot of people are justifiably making fun of this book for unjustifiable reasons. The just-released trailer for this book (Yep! A trailer for the book!) features the excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings“…

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

These verses — which, I’m assuming people think was written by Beck — are supposed proof of how crazy and, um, poemy the book is gonna be. As if there’s any fucking chance in the world that Glenn Beck is capable of writing anything even approaching the level of quality. Has anybody ever seen this person talk? If that poem is reprinted in the book, I guaran-fucking-tee it will be the stand-out section by about six orders of magnitude.

UPDATE: Steve Krakauer and Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite

John J. Miller at The Corner

Jim Newell at Gawker

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Filed under Books, Mainstream, Political Figures

And Nobody Mentions The Lead Paint

Frank James at NPR:

There’s been a much-observed tendency to link periods of rising economic distress with increasing crime rates.

But we may have to rethink that, given the pattern in the national data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2009, for the third straight year and during the Great Recession, crime rates fell.

The FBI reports that its preliminary numbers indicate the national violent crime rate fell 5.5. percent. Meanwhile, the property crime rate fell by 4.9 percent. You would think the lack of jobs would mean more burglaries or strong-arm robberies as some people turned to crime to get money. But that just hasn’t been the case.

Mark Kleiman:

Good news: crime is down again, by a substantial amount (7.5% for homicide). Aside from a blip up in 2006, the decline has now been going on for a decade and a half, and the overall decline is now greater than 50%.

Better news: the incarceration rate has finally stopped growing; this year it will probably decline. Less public hysteria about crime might support more intelligent – more effective and less pointlessly cruel – crime control policies. (Someone ought to write a book about that.

Bad news: The Times hed is “U.S. Crime Rates Fell Despite Economy.” Reporters still can’t get it out of their minds that crime naturally rises and falls with the unemployment rate. It doesn’t. (Update: Peter Yost of AP makes the same mistake: he credits the decline with “bucking a historical trend that links rising crime rates to economic woes.” But that “trend” is entirely imaginary. The Roaring Twenties were a high-crime period; the Great Depression was mostly peaceful. The economically stagnant Eisenhower era had crime rates at historic lows; the Kennedy-Johnson boom in economic growth accompanied an explosion in crime rates. The Great Crime Decline didn’t pause for the recession of 2000-2001. The idea that crime and economic activity move in opposite directions is what Mark Twain called “a vagrant opinion, existing with no visible means of support.”

Adam Serwer at Tapped on Kleiman:

In his book, When Brute Force Fails, Kleiman explains that a number of historical and social factors combined to create the crime boom of the latter part of the 20th century, the biggest factor was demographics.

“People commit most of their crimes between the age of 15 and 30, and so periods of time when there are more people in that age range have more crimes,” Kleiman explains. “In addition, a particularly big birth cohort like the Boomers, and to some extent, the Echo Boomers, tend to have a higher individual per-person crime rate.”

This, Kleiman says, also happens to explain some of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. “That’s why the baby bombers brought us sex, drugs and rock and roll while the 1950s teenagers didn’t. The 1950s teenagers were outnumbered by their elders, the ’60s teenagers outnumbered their elders.”

That’s not to say that public policy is irrelevant. More sensible enforcement strategies and less draconian corrections policies would go a long way toward alleviating the economic and social costs of mass incarceration, and subsequently the predictable cycle of criminal recidivism.

Daniel Griswold at Cato:

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.

John J. Miller at The Corner:

Several prominent police chiefs warn that Arizona’s illegal-alien law will hurt crime control. The police chief of Prince William County in Virginia worried about the same thing three years ago, when county supervisors approved a policy that is a forerunner to Arizona’s action. Today, however, crime rates are at a 15-year low inPrince William County. My article in the current issue of NR describes the Prince William experience.

As it happens, crime rates have been going down for a long time in Prince William County. The latest numbers are part of a trend that started long before the county took a stand against illegal immigration. One thing is certain: The county’s current policy has not led to more crime, which is what the chiefs of Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia are now predicting for Arizona.

Bob Goldsmith:

But the bigger question is why are crime rates dropping in a recession? You’d think more unemployed people would mean more theft, robbery and other economic crimes plus more frustration, and perhaps more violent crime as well. Yet crime statistics from the 20th century show that the Prohibition era of the 1920’s was far more violent than the Depression in the 30’s. Experts do not have many well accepted theories on what causes crime rates to rise and fall. Some scholars have suggested such theories as: greater numbers of immigrants, who tend to keep a low profile; as opposed to this, others assert more illegal immigration increases crime rates; public housing policy dispersing the poor may decrease rates; legalized abortion (so fewer unwanted children are born) may decrease; the crack epidemic in the 1980’s was thought to increase crime ; and changes in age distribution–e.g., the baby boom in the late 60’s and 70’s and the boomlet in the late 80’s and 90’s effect rates of crime..

The age distribution theory is probably the one most accepted. That is, crime rates tend to flow with the number of young males at a given time; the higher the proportion of young men in the population, the higher the crime rates since young men are by and large the biggest group of offenders. In fact, there is no strong statistical correlation between stricter law enforcement and longer sentences and the rise and fall of crime rates. See: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200808/when-crime-rates-go-down-recidivism-rates-go This just serves to show that politicians who emphasize ‘law and order’ as an issue may be just blowing smoke..

One interesting theory on why crimes rates might decline during a recession is it pulls families together, and this cohesion inhibits crime. More young people may move back home and are less influenced by their impulsive peers as well. There is also less economic activity in a recession so there is less interaction and opportunity for crime. Ironically, crime rates went up during the prosperity of the 1960’s and one theory is that with rising wealth, the havenots and the people left out are more bitter and turn to crime. In contrast, when everyone’s boat is sinking with the economic tide, there is more empathy, less jealousy and hence less crime. Of course none of this has been proven..

Finally, there are theories that smarter, better policing may reduce crime rates. For example, declining crime rates in New York City and Los Angeles are often ascribed to increases in the number of police on the streets, better computers for tracking crime, making precinct commanders accountable for managing crime in their districts, and an aggressive policy of searching people on the streets for guns. To be sure, the latter policy may deter crime, but makes it harder to obtain convictions if the Fourth Amendment is violated. Like many other factors, these claims of improved policing are unproven. Another possibility is that the increased use of very long 3 strikes sentences and federal mandatory sentences have cut back on the recdivist population. But that would not necessarily explain the drop from 2008-2009..

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

The New York Times begins its story by saying, “Despite turmoil in the economy and high unemployment, crimes rates fell significantly across the Unites States in 2009.” Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said, “That’s a remarkable decline, given the economic conditions.”

Actually, it’s not all that remarkable. Crime rates, for example, fell significantly during the Great Depression. As David Rubinstein of the University of Illinois has pointed out, if you chart homicide beginning in 1900, its rates began to rise in 1905, continued through the prosperous 20s, and crested in 1933. They began to decline in 1934, as the Great Depression began to deepen. And between 1933 and 1940, the murder rate dropped by nearly 40 percent, while property crimes revealed a similar pattern. One possible explanation is that times of crisis, including economic crisis, create greater social cohesion.

The drop in all levels of crime since the early 90s has been staggering and counts as a truly remarkable success story. There are undoubtedly many explanations for it, from higher incarceration rates to private security to improved technology. But surely advances in policing deserve a healthy share of the credit. As William Bratton, the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York has said: “We’ve gotten better at spotting crime trends more quickly. We can respond much more quickly.”

It’s perhaps worth noting that at a time when faith in many public institutions, including government and the media, is almost nonexistent, two institutions that command public trust are the military and law-enforcement officials. It’s no surprise, either, as they have impressive results to show for their efforts — from the battlefields in Iraq to the streets of New York.

One final thought: one of the things that characterized the 70s was a deep distrust of authority and of symbols of authority. Animus and disrespect were directed against our military and our cops. The former were accused of war crimes because of their service to our country in Vietnam; the latter were called pigs. Today the situation is dramatically reversed and dramatically better. In that sense, and in many other respects, our nation is a great deal better off than in the 70s.

We certainly have our share of social challenges. But in addressing them, we shouldn’t forget about the progress we have made, both practically and in terms of some of our social attitudes.

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Filed under Crime, Economics, Immigration, The Crisis

Arguments Commence Over The Best Way To Remember, Over The BBQ Grill

Tim Smith at The Baltimore Sun:

The original purpose of Memorial Day can get easily lost amid all the cookouts or, in these parts, trips to the beach for the unofficial start of the summer season. The origin of the holiday can get overlooked, too, since there have been so many wars since the one that led to the practice of commemorating those who died in service to the country.

It was in 1868 that the first Decoration Day ceremonies were held, honoring the dead of the Union Army in the Civil War. Over time, of course, the observance incorporated the dead of both sides and, renamed Memorial Day, encompassed all of this country’s fallen in subsequent wars.

I was thinking today of those Civil War roots of the holiday and of a song that was popular with Northern troops: “We’re Tenting Tonight On the Old Campground.” I’m fascinated by Walter Kittridge’s words from 1864 as much as the tune. This is a remarkably powerful, personal expression of that war’s toll — any war’s toll.

It seems doubly appropriate to recall it on this Memorial Day, when there are still conflicts and casualties. I’ve posted some of the lyrics here, followed by a recording of “Tenting Tonight” that effectively communicates the song’s sadly timeless message:

We’re tenting tonight on the old campground. Give us a song to cheer our weary hearts, a song of home, and friends we love so dear. Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, wishing for the war to cease. Many are the hearts looking for the right to see the dawn of peace …”

E.J. Dionne at WaPo:

Why is it that every Memorial Day, we note that a holiday set aside for honoring our war dead has become instead an occasion for beach-going, barbecues and baseball?

The problem arises because war-fighting has become less a common endeavor than a specialty engaged in by a relatively small subset of our population. True, some people slipped out of their obligations in the past, and military service was largely, though never exclusively, the preserve of men. The steady growth of opportunities for women in the armed forces is a positive development. I say this proudly as someone whose sister is a veteran of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, as is her husband.

Can we ever return to a time when we pay proper homage to the service of our warriors, living and dead? Closing the divide that exists between military life and the rest of our society is the first step on that path. Achieving that end is the single best reason for ending the ban on gays in the military. This is not a special-interest demand. It is a powerful way of declaring that in a democracy, service should be seen as a task open to all patriots.

Our major wars — particularly the Civil War, which gave rise to Memorial Day, and World War II — were in some sense mass democratic experiences. They touched the entire country. The same cannot be said of our more recent conflicts.

Because it has been 65 years since we’ve seen anything like a mass mobilization, regular contact with our military is largely confined to the places where our men and women in uniform live. And, according to a 2007 Defense Department report, more than half of our home-based military personnel — 54.5 percent of them — are stationed in only six states: California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Twelve states account for three-quarters of our service members. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a terrible principle when it comes to honoring those who protect us. But is there any doubt that it applies?

Atrios:

I really hate the annual ritual of writing columns about how people don’t behave properly on Memorial Day. People don’t get many vacation days in the greatest country on Earth, and sitting around pretending to be sad or watching Spielberg war porn doesn’t really honor those who served either. Not going to read the minds of those who served, willingly and enthusiastically or otherwise, but when after I die Atrios Memorial Day is declared, feel free to grill some burgers and have a few beers in my name. I’ll be honored.

Robert H. Scales at Politics Daily:

The heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan is being done by a very small and increasingly isolated minority. We find that military service is fast becoming a family business. At least 100 sons and daughters of general officers are in harm’s way as we speak. The level of relative sacrifice is far greater today than it was in my generation. It’s not unusual to find a soldier or Marine who is now in double-digit deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we don’t sense the difference between their lives and ours, but increasingly they do. We don’t hear much from them publicly because, unlike my generation of draftees, they are professionals and tend to keep their own counsel. But resentment is there, just under the surface. Unlike my generation, soldiers are plugged into the outside world through the Internet. You can often find a young soldier in the remotest and most inhospitable place blogging and tweeting and watching his countrymen with a wry cynicism.

Soldiers often ask why the media gave them so much attention before the surge when things were going badly in Iraq and so little attention now when things are going well. They wonder how so many political and media pundits know so much about a soldier’s business, and yet lately, soldiers see so few of them near their foxholes. The Internet is a two-edged sword. In Vietnam, we only heard from home infrequently, by letter. Today a soldier is likely to go off on patrol after getting an earful about his loved one’s problems with bill collectors, teachers or, increasingly, family counselors.

Memorial Day should be about memories, to be sure. But it should also be about remembrances of those who are serving us so selflessly now. We must never allow this precious and tiny piece of Sparta to become permanently detached from America’s Babylon. Next time you’re in an airport, spend a second to shake a soldier’s hand. Commit to rekindling that sense of good will toward our men and women in uniform you felt just after 9/11. The war for us is now background noise. But believe me, war is very real and increasingly dangerous for those whom we charge to fight it.

Michelle Oddis at Human Events:

<!–

–> At a time when President Obama’s relationship with the military is already on shaky ground, his decision to take a vacation with his family in Chicago rather than pay his Memorial Day respects at Arlington National Cemetery further proves his apathy toward our armed forces, according to some veterans.

“The President seems to demonstrate almost weekly just how, at least to me, little he cares about this country and our history and our heritage,” retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson Swindle told HUMAN EVENTS.

“He seems almost to resent it, which is the most mind-boggling thing in the world, because without a country like America Barack Obama could not be President. He seems to dislike our institutions… and that’s a sad, sad thing,” said Swindle, a decorated Vietnam prisoner of war and Sen. John McCain’s cellmate in Hanoi.

David Corn at Politics Daily:

There’s a hole in the bottom of the ocean. Unemployment is still near 10 percent. There are two wars underway. And what are conservative pundits fretting about? That this year President Obama won’t be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.

The liberal watchdog outfit, Media Matters, has been keeping track of this latest right-wing meme:

– Glenn Beck says, “Obama is skipping out on a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington Cemetery because he’ll be in Chicago on vacation. I’m sorry, I don’t ever, ever question the president’s vacation. I didn’t under Bush, I didn’t under Clinton, I don’t under Obama. . . . I have no problem with the man taking a vacation. But I am sick and tired — sick and tired — of people believing the lie that this administration has respect for the police or has respect for the soldiers of our country. I’m tired of it.”

– Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and CNN contributor, tweeted, “Obama skipping the Tomb of the Unknowns this weekend for Chicago is offensive. Chicago can wait. The Commander-in-Chief has a job to do.”

– Noting that Vice President Joe Biden will assume the wreath-laying duties this year, Doug Powers, a guest blogger for conservative Michelle Malkin, grouses, “President Obama went to Arlington Cemetery to lay the wreath last year, but this year Obama’s handing the wreath to [Biden] and heading off to the more welcoming political climes of Chicago. . . . Obama will however make it back to Washington in time to honor Paul McCartney next week. Boy, I’m starting to think that West Point speech [Obama gave this past weekend] wasn’t from the heart.”

You’d think these folks would have better things to gripe about. And Obama is not retreating on Memorial Day. (What president would?) Instead of visiting Arlington cemetery, Obama and the first lady will participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., about 50 miles south of Chicago. Moreover, not every president has spent Memorial Day at Arlington. In 1983, President Reagan was at a summit meeting, and the deputy secretary of defense — not even the veep! — placed the wreath. Nine years later, President George H.W. Bush passed off the wreath to Vice President Dan Quayle (who had used family connections to get a slot in the National Guard during the days of the Vietnam War draft). And in 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney took on the wreath mission, while President George W. Bush was in Texas, perhaps clearing brush.

This wreath scuffle is yet another silly episode in the right’s never-ending campaign to persuade Americans that Obama doesn’t care about U.S. troops and is weak on national security. It shows how unserious these bloviators can be. Obama is in the middle of sending an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan and has boosted the number of drone attacks aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, conservative wingnuts insist on questioning his commitment to the defense of this nation. (I’m skeptical of the Afghanistan surge, but it certainly is a commitment to the war — for at least the time being.)

John J. Miller at The Corner:

Some conservatives have criticized President Obama because he won’t pay homage to America’s fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery today. Instead, he will be at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois. This is a silly controversy and has the potential to make the complainers look petty. Thousands of American veterans are buried at national cemeteries that aren’t as famous as the one at Arlington. These heroes are worthy of presidential visits on Memorial Day, too.

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Shake, Shake, Shake… Shake, Shake, Shake… Shake Your Green Zone, Shake Your Green Zone

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

The poetic irony of the delayed release of the shaky-cammed Hollywood temper tantrum known as “Green Zone” couldn’t be sweeter. Yes, the very same week our Iraqi allies held a historic election that ended up much more successful than we could have ever hoped, our own Hollywood swoops in with a piece of cinematic sour grapes in the frantic, desperate hope of rewriting the history of a war they were so eager for us to lose.

After making the last two “Bourne” films together, director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon have teamed up again in an un-thrilling attempt to transfer that same success to the streets of Baghdad. But this time within a very real and recent historical event, the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In a vacuum where history doesn’t exist, the film’s absurd premise would still undermine itself. But Greengrass isn’t working in a vacuum. Unfortunately for him, we all know the truth and this truth reduces his story to a strained, poorly contrived, episodic, Hollywood Hills fever dream that no amount of suspended disbelief can overcome.

Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, a good soldier in charge of an army team on the search for WMD four weeks after shock and awe. Baghdad is in chaos as the newly liberated Iraqis loot the city and scattered snipers take potshots at anyone wearing the American flag. Miller risks his own life and those of his men based on intelligence that’s supposed to reveal the location of Saddam’s WMD facilities. And this is the third time they’ve come up empty.  Frustrated and angry, Miller starts to ask questions and demand answers about the source of the intel. Naturally, his commanding officers aren’t interested in answering those questions or even facing the possibility the weapons might not be found. That would upset the Bush administration’s narrative of the New Iraq.

Dana Stevens in Slate:

As an action-adventure thriller, The Green Zone holds up fairly well, despite a few significant plot holes and a rather large dollop of Greengrass’ trademark shaky-cam. Damon is likable in his squinty, stolid Bourne mode, and Brendan Gleeson is terrific as the Cassandra-like spy; he not only ably discards his Irish accent but invents a great American one, a pinched, nasal Midwestern twang. But the movie (which was shot two years ago and has been sitting on Universal’s shelf ever since) feels stale, its anti-war message stuck in the mid-2000s. When we see Bush on a TV screen in the green zone declaring “Mission accomplished!” on that aircraft carrier, the irony lands with a thud. Haven’t we been sickened by the hypocrisy of that speech for the better part of a decade now? Of course, the deceptions that occurred in the run-up to the war and the first weeks after the invasion are no less outrageous in 2010 than they were in 2003. But seven years into the Iraq quagmire, we need more from our political filmmakers than an angry fist (and a hand-held camera) shaken in the Bush administration’s direction.

Damon’s conversations with Gleeson touch on a post-Iraq invasion story that, had Greengrass taken the time with it, would have made for a better movie: the impact of the disastrous decision to dissolve the Iraqi army and police forces, creating a huge underclass of unemployed and disgruntled men with a motive to rise up against the occupying forces. As documented in both Chandrasekaran’s book and Thomas Ricks’ remarkable Fiasco, the factors that went into turning our mission in Iraq into such a nightmarish debacle were enormously complex. To suggest that a lone, brave soldier could have set things right with a little amateur sleuthing seems like cinematic wish-fulfillment, an insult both to the intelligence of viewers and to the troops who, years after learning the truth about WMD in Iraq, are still living with the consequences of the Bush administration’s chicanery.

Sonny Bunch at Doublethink:

One wonders just how The Paul Greengrass Experience can be improved upon. For the last half-decade — from United 93 through The Bourne Ultimatum/Supremacy– Greengrass has developed a very specific aesthetic: super shaky cam, like Blair Witch on ‘roids. And, to his credit, it occasionally works. The opening sequence of Green Zone, for example, perfectly captures the insanity of shock and awe from the perspective of Iraqis dealing with American ordinance, one would assume: Head-snapping explosions; chaotic action from all corners; no real sense of continuity. Greengrass does a fine job of simulating chaos.

But why stop with rapidly twirling camera perspectives? Why not import The Paul Greengrass Experience 2.0 to theaters across the country? Instead of allowing the screen to simulate a flash-bang grenade, why not toss actual flash-bangs into packed houses? Instead of allowing the camera’s rapid movements to simulate the herky-jerky movements in the moment, why not have someone grab the audience’s heads and literally shake them silly? Motion sickness is all well and good: Why not instill some actual sickness? If Greengrass’s goal is to institute a sense of debilitating uncertainty in the audience why not go all the way with it?

Let’s not get hung up on questions of capability: If we can implement full, Avatar-style 3D, we can certainly implement The Paul Greengrass Experience in its entirety, or at least a close simulacrum of its entirety. Vomiting audience members notwithstanding, something would certainly be gained.

Rob Hunter at Film School Rejects:

Obviously if you’re not a fan of Greengrass’ patented shaky-cam style then you’d do well to avoid Green Zone, but if you enjoyed both of his Bourne movies then you’ll most certainly enjoy this. The action, energy, and intensity are all working in top form as the movie hits the ground running and rarely lets up for air. The film’s major accomplishment is that it takes a historical situation… the search for WMD’s in Iraq that we all know ended in failure… and still manages to make a suspenseful film around it. We know Miller won’t find anything but we’re caught up in his frantic and pulse-racing search anyway.

Just as divisive as Greengrass’ camera style will be the film’s obvious political slant. There are definite bad guys here, and not all of them are Iraqi… spoiler alert (but not really), the US government lies. Some people will take the movie’s plot turns as blatant liberal propaganda when in reality it’s simply dramatic fodder that has been in use as long as there have been political thrillers. Accusations of a leftist agenda in Green Zone are lazy commentaries from the unimaginative always in search of a liberal whipping post. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t repeat its message that America lied a few too many times… But seriously, the US government was also behind 9/11 and AIDS.

There are some legitimate issues with Green Zone though. For one thing Miller is able to acquire answers at an alarmingly simple rate. Obviously he works for some of it, but often he simply has to ask. He needs information, and Gleeson’s CIA director pops into frame with the essential piece. He needs some more, and Ryan’s Wall Street Journal reporter is ready to reveal it. I realize the film is trying to tell a story in a tight and heightened time frame, but if it were that easy this could have actually happened. The other issue is more of a quibble, but the pace of the action and story is so fast that we never get the chance to really get to know Miller. He’s an honest and concerned patriot from frame one and spends the entire film fulfilling that role, but we never learn a single thing about him. You could argue that we’re learning about him through his actions, but a little backstory to humanize a character is never a bad thing.

Khalid Abdalla does a fantastic job as a concerned Iraqi citizen who provides Miller with information and then gets dragged along for the remaining ride. He puts a human face to an otherwise generic populace, and he also gets to deliver the movie’s best and most honest line. You’ll know it when you hear it (it’s the last thing he says). The other actor who deserves credit here is Damon himself. You wouldn’t think to look at him that he could command the respect required as an action star (especially after seeing him in The Informant!) but he does a fantastic job of it time and again. He’s believable in his actions and his sincerity, and he once again grounds what could have easily become a more generic exercise in gunfire and explosions.

Green Zone is a solid action film that wants to dig a little deeper into historical relevance than most others in the genre. Does it accomplish that at the expense of some questionable truths? Most certainly, but first and foremost the movie is out to entertain, and in that regard it succeeds brilliantly. We all know what happened over the past seven years, maybe not all of the details, but enough to know that not everything was as it once seemed. Certain “facts” were accepted too easily by a frightened and unmotivated American people, and the movie posits that somewhere out there someone actually cared enough to stand up against our democratically elected overlords. To paraphrase another film with a vaguely similar theme… Miller isn’t the hero America deserved. He’s the hero America needed.

John J. Miller at The Corner

David Germain at The Huffington Post:

There’s barely a story to hold “Green Zone” together, the movie just hurtling through firefights and chases, pausing for breath with the occasional revelation to prod Miller on in his quest.

For pure ambiance, “Green Zone” is a marvel. Though shot in Morocco, Spain and England, the action feels as though it takes place in the heart of Baghdad.

Greengrass, who directed Damon in “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “The Bourne Supremacy,” applies similar techniques – darting camera work, quick cutting, haphazard framing – to create the same sense of documentary immediacy in “Green Zone.”

Only the barest traces of the occupation absurdities revealed in Chandrasekaran’s book remain. Poundstone’s remark that “Democracy is messy” is a faint echo of the Donald Rumsfeld observation that “freedom’s untidy,” while the filmmakers toss in a few glimpses of the blind luxury enjoyed in the safe American Green Zone while Iraqis clamor for water and loot buildings outside.

Chandrasekaran’s book is a work of sharp, informative journalism. That “inspired by” credit sounds a little insulting when the result is tired, standard action fare such as “Green Zone.”

UPDATE #4: Big Hollywood

Ross Douthat in NYT

Daniel Larison on Douthat

Douthat responds

UPDATE #5: Larison responds to Douthat

UPDATE #6: John Schwenkler at The American Scene

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

More Larison

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The Strangest Thing Happened In Oregon

Harry Esteve at the Oregonian:

Oregon voters bucked decades of anti-tax and anti-Salem sentiment Tuesday, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to prevent further erosion of public schools and other state services.

The tax measures passed easily, with late returns showing a 54 percent to 46 percent ratio. Measure 66 raises taxes on households with taxable income above $250,000, and Measure 67 sets higher minimum taxes on corporations and increases the tax rate on upper-level profits.

The results triggered waves of relief from educators and legislative leaders, who were facing an estimated $727 million shortfall in the current two-year budget if the measures failed.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” said Hanna Vandering, a physical education teacher from Beaverton and vice president of the statewide teachers union. “What Oregonians said today is they believe in public education and vital services.”

Steve Benen:

It’s understandable that policymakers would look to statewide elections to get a sense of the public’s mood. Last week, a narrow majority of Massachusetts voters chose a conservative senator, and the political establishment took that to mean the electorate is shifting to the right.

But if those results offered broader lessons about voters’ attitudes, maybe this week’s results in Oregon do, too.

Michelle Malkin:

Big Labor poured millions of rank-and-file members’ dues into a tax hike campaign in Oregon. It worked. The “wealthy” and the “evil corporations” will now be forced to bail out government schools and social services. Look for affected business owners to start Going Galt en masse.

The Oregonian reports on the gloating by public employee union brass and class warfare propagandists. You betcha the White House is paying attention. Paging Tea Party activists…

Digby:

If you want an example of how the media plays into their simple narratives, you will note the difference between the way they’ve played the special elections.

For instance, in this year of alleged Republican insurgency, the Democrats have actually won three congressional seats. Did you know that? I doubt that most people do. And while I completely understand the focus on the Scott Brown race for the symbolism of the “Kennedy seat”, the reading of the electorate in Massachusetts as requiring a sharp turn to the right is not born out by polls there or, even more interestingly, by the election last night in Oregon, which also has an electorate of similar bent to Massachusetts.

They voted yesterday to raise taxes on the wealthy. And Oregon hasn’t voted to raise taxes since 1930. If that’s a turn to the right, then we are all teabaggers now.

[…]
This doesn’t fit with the mainstream media’s preferred storyline which has voter anger at Washington defined as a repudiation of liberalism. Indeed, today the gasbags are saying that in tonight’s State of the Union address, “Obama must” emulate Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and … repudiate liberalism. And yet, out in Oregon yesterday, a state that hasn’t voted to raise taxes since 1930, the people voted for an extremely progressive initiative.

One wonders what might happen if the president showed some courage and repudiated the village instead.

John J. Miller at The Corner:

Oregonians apparently didn’t get the memo: They’ve just voted to increase taxes on themselves.

Megan McArdle:

Yesterday, Oregon voters ratified two tax increases, one on high earners, and another a revision of the state’s corporate income tax. This is their strategy for plugging an enormous budget gap, like the ones that have opened up in state budgets around the country.

Conservatives, predictably, say this heralds disaster for the state, as the rich and corporations flee. Liberals, predictably, view this as a victory. Which is it?

My thoughts:

1) The fact that Clinton raised taxes, and then the economy recovered, is not proof that raising taxes has no effect on the economy.  Most people thing that there is at least some dampening effect, which is especially problematic in a downturn.

2) Realistically, income tax response gets more elastic as the tax region gets smaller.  Oregon borders two states with attractive migration possibilities.  California’s taxes are no bargain–but Oregon’s relatively lower tax rates may have attracted wealthy individuals and businesses that will now find it not so attractive.

3) The Tax Foundation says that pre-tax, it was on the top ten list for business tax climate.  That suggests that it has relatively more room to increase taxes than other states.

4) The business tax changes apparently include a gross receipts tax, which is really an awful tax, especially during a downturn.  Companies which are actually losing money may still owe taxes, which could hasten their closure, and the evaporation of any jobs they provide.

5) Trying to close the gap with only taxes on high income makes state revenues very dependent on a very small group of people. Ask New York and California how that’s going.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

The first observation is that direct democracy is an incredibly poor way to run a state. Oregon and California’s experiments in initiatives and referenda have done nothing more than reveal that their voters love services and hate taxes.

Imagine you’re an Oregonian on the day of a sales tax referendum vote. You wake up, go downstairs and flip through your credit card bills while you brew the coffee. You wake up your kids, remember that you forgot to pay the tutors last month, and drive them to their fine, but admittedly mediocre public school. Then you pull onto the highway to head to work. The engine light turns on, dammit. You reach the office, toil through Excel for three hours (you really ought to be paid more for this, you remind yourself) and at noon you pass the Subway where you usually buy a cheap sandwich to save money to vote on the sales tax. You remember that there’s a deep budget deficit and that something will to be done in a distant place called tomorrow. But tomorrow is tomorrow, and you need money for the credit cards, and the tutors, and the public school donations, and the engine, and the money you’re not making on the job — you need that money today. So you vote NO to all the tax increases and service cuts — as you always have and almost always will.

I’m not saying this guy is wrong or stupid. I’m saying this guy is why we need representatives to make tough budget decisions for us.

The second observation is that I think this vote has nothing to do with Left or Right. It has to do with money and anger. With double-digit unemployment, eight-digit Wall Street bonuses and thirteen-digit federal deficits, Americans are feeling inundated with a lot of numbers that tell a simple story: America’s workers have no money, America’s coffers have no money, but America’s rich people have a lot of money. Neither liberals nor conservatives have a monopoly on populism, and it seems to me that Obama needs to show America tonight that he feels the anger. If we’re lucky, we might even see it. It’s not entirely clear to me how the White House loses by taking on the banks more aggressively in the next few months to build back political mojo. Separate from whether or not it is good financial policy, a plan that says “I’m taxing the banks who created this mess and I’m funneling that money into jobs programs to help average Americans pay their mortgage” is pretty safe politics.

Bruce Bartlett:

I can easily see many tea party goers becoming rabid tax-the-rich folks if the alternative is higher taxes on them. Let us not forget that just about a year ago many of the House of Representatives’ most conservative members voted to impose a 90 percent tax rate on bank bonuses. As I noted at the time, those supporting this confiscatory tax measure included Eric Canter, Peter Hoekstra and Paul Ryan.

I have foreseen this development for some years and feared that once our budgetary problems forced action that sharply higher tax rates on the rich, corporations and capital in general would be the inevitable consequence. That is why I have championed the value-added tax as a way of raising the revenue that will be raised one way or another, but in a way that exempts capital because it is a tax on consumption. In short, it is the most conservative way of raising revenue that we know of.

Thus it’s ironic that almost all of the opposition to a VAT comes from conservatives. Just the other day the right-wing Heritage Foundation published a blast against it that made no serious effort to address the real reasons for a VAT: taxes will be raised and all the alternatives to a VAT are worse from Heritage’s own point of view. It must be nice to live in a right wing dream world where deficits never lead to tax increases, only spending cuts (except on defense or Medicare, which the Republican National Committee has declared to be sacrosanct).

Ryan Avent at Free Exchange at The Economist

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Troubled Times At The Times

Howard Kurtz in WaPo:

The Washington Times, which gained a strong foothold in a politically obsessed city as a conservative alternative to much of the mainstream media, is about to become a drastically smaller newspaper.

Nearly three decades after its founding by officials of the Unification Church, the Times said Wednesday it is laying off at least 40 percent of its staff and shifting mainly to free distribution.

In what amounts to a bid for survival, the company said the print edition will focus on its core strengths: politics, national security, investigative reporting and “cultural coverage based on traditional values.” That means the Times will end its run as a full-service newspaper, slashing its coverage of local news, sports and features.

The dramatic move is fueled by both internal church politics and a severe industry downturn that has forced a spate of big-city papers to shut down or declare bankruptcy. It represents a big bet on a digital future, with the Times attempting to chase a national audience while maintaining only a modest print presence in Washington.

The cutbacks are “very sad,” the company’s new president, Jonathan Slevin, said in an interview. At the same time, he said, “I see a very fine opportunity for the Washington Times to continue to advance the mission of the newspaper as an independent voice in the nation’s capital.”

Michael Calderone at Politico:

The notice was given to all 370 staffers to insure that the Times was compliant under the WARN Act, which according to the Dept. of Labor, requires “most employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs.”

So everyone remains in limbo until told that they’ll be staying on after 60 days. It’s expected that some staffers could be told very soon, with others informed either way later in the 60-day window.

A Times release went out after the meeting began that outlines some of the major changes taking place in the first quarter of 2010.

The news operation, according to the release, will focus on what it considers core strengths — “exclusive reporting and in-depth national political coverage, enterprise and investigative reporting, geo-strategic and national security news and cultural coverage based on traditional values.”

There will be “controlled-market local circulation,” with the local print edition free in certain areas of Washington with a premium price for home delivery. “No-cost distribution will focus on targeted audiences in branches of the federal government as well as at other key institutions,” the release said, although there will be single-copy sales in newspaper boxes and select retailers.

It’s been a tumultuous past month at the paper, and staffers were only informed of the meeting about an hour ahead of time in a one-line e-mail.

Justin Elliott at TPM:

Among the changes to be made gradually through 2010 are: free circulation to targeted groups, an expansion of the Timestheconservatives.com, more partnership with United Press International (UPI), which, like the Times, is owned by the Unification Church.

The turmoil at the Times, which was founded by church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon, began when three executives were fired in early November. The resignation of top editor John Solomon was announced a few days later. Solomon and the fired execs haven’t been talking, but sources and reports point to a combination of Moon family politics and financial problems driving the chaos at the paper, which has long been subsidized by the Unification Church.

Adding to the trouble has been a very public set of allegations made by now-former editorial page editor Richard Miniter, who has accused the Times of religious discrimination and breach of contract.

John J. Miller at National Review:

The free-dropped newspaper is becoming a very crowded space in the nation’s capital. There’s the Washington Examiner, the Express (a condensed version of the Washington Post), Politico, The Hill, and Washington City Paper.

How many free papers can one person read? How many free papers can one city sustain?

Joe Strupp at Editor and Publisher:

Daily circulation had taken a hit in the recent Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX Report for the six months ending Sept. 30, dropping from 80,962 to 67,148 compared to the same period a year earlier. Slevin said circulation would be reduced further, but did not indicate by how much: “There is still some due diligence we need to do to determine what circulation will result in what advertising revenue.”

But he noted that “more than a simple majority will be no cost, it will be more than half, significantly more than half.”

News coverage will be altered, Slevin said, stating “the newsroom will be smaller and we will focus on our strengths, which are national security, national politics, geo-strategic areas and cultural coverage, in addition to the opinion pages and investigation.”

The overhaul announced this week follows a recent management shake-up in November that included the dismissal of former president and publisher Thomas McDevitt, chief financial officer Keith Cooperrider and chairman Dong Moon Joo, as well as the departure of Editor John Solomon.

Slevin said a new editor may not be appointed, citing the ability of the two current managing editors to run the newsroom. “We are going to have something that is not a traditional news structure,” Slevin said, noting the editor post “is not a spot that necessarily needs to be filled.”

During the upheaval some employees, specifically former Editorial Page Editor Richard Miniter, have claimed Times employees were forced to attend Unification Church religious events. Slevin declined to comment on the issue.

Overall, he called Wednesday a “bittersweet” day. “It was known that a good number of people will no longer be with us,” he said. “But the forward-looking part is that we have a plan by which the paper and the multimedia company will get better.”

UPDATE: Ray Gustini at The Atlantic

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