Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Earmark Hypocrisy? (Come on folks no one needs to make this tuff up!?)

Jonathan Karl Presses Sens. John Cornyn and John Thune to Explain GOP Double-Talk

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and John Thune, R-S.D., held a press conference today to rip the Democrats' new 1,924-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus bill for containing $8 billion worth of earmarks.

"The bill is loaded up with pork projects, and it shouldn't get a vote," Thune said.
"I think this is an outrage," railed Cornyn.
But Thune and Cornyn have tens of millions of dollars for their own earmarks in the bill, including Thune's request for $8 million for B-1 bomber fleet maintenance and Cornyn's request for $1.6 million for the Texas Army National Guard Counter-Drug Task Force.

"How do you have any credibility on this?," asked ABC's Jon Karl.

"Because we're going to vote against the bill," said Cornyn. "This is the wrong way to do business."

"Senator, were you wrong when you put these earmarks in before," Karl asked.

"Karl, this is not just about earmarks," said Cornyn. "Earmarks are a symptom of wasteful Washington spending that the American people have said they want reformed. We agree with them, and that's why we will vote against this bill. But you're missing the story if you think it's just about earmarks. This is about a flawed process of sweetheart deals cut behind closed doors, and a big bill, a spending bill, dropped on the American people and on us on December the 14th, without adequate time to amend it and debate it and to reveal to the American people what is in it so they can cast their judgment."

"So I think -- I think that's to me the context. And we've said very clearly -- we voted for an earmark moratorium. We will abide by that, and we will reject any earmarks requested by us or anyone else, because that's what the American people told us they want."

"Is that an acknowledgement that what you did was wrong, to put the earmarks in in the first place?" Karl said.

"I think you've asked the question about five times, and I've tried to answer it to the best of my ability," Cornyn responded.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another Republican, anti-pork crusader, has said he would file an amendment to eliminate all earmark funding in the bill. For around 6,488 earmarks, he said, that comes to about $8.3 billion.

"I thought that the message was pretty clear, that the American people said, 'Enough with the spending, enough with the pork barrel earmark spending, enough of mortgaging our children's and our grandchildren's futures,'" McCain said on the Senate floor last night.
"The American people said just 42 days ago, 'Enough.' Are we tone deaf? Are we stricken with amnesia? What is going on here?"

"When we're running record deficits, when there's a $40,000 debt for every man, woman, child in America, we're going to have 6,488 earmarks totaling nearly $8 billion -- $277,000 for potato pest management in Wisconsin. You'll notice that there is a location for literally every one of these earmarks -- $246,000 for bovine tuberculosis in Michigan and Minnesota, $522,000 for cranberry and blueberry disease breeding in New Jersey, $500,000 for oyster safety in Florida. One of my favorites, $349,000 for swine waste management in North Carolina. Another one of my all-time favorites that's always in there, $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama."

McCain even unveiled his top 10 list of pork projects in the bill. At No.1? $300,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and other conservative senators want to force an oral reading of the massive bill on the Senate floor, which could take up to 60 hours.

"Americans didn't vote in November to ram through Obama's agenda in December," said DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton. "Congress should do what's necessary, stop tax increases and fund the government with a continuing resolution, and then wait for other important debates until the leaders Americans just elected are seated.

This is a desperate last-minute rush by politicians thrown out of office to ram through deficit spending, pork-barrel earmarks and a treaty that could weaken national security on their way out the door."

Senate Democrats are now trying to dual-track the omnibus bill with the Start nuclear treaty with Russia. But Congress needs to act fast. If lawmakers do not extend funding for the government by Saturday night, then the government will shut down.

Birther Army doctor convicted (How did this stupid coward pass med school?)

Lt. Col. Terrence LakinA military jury today convicted a Birther Army doctor who refused to deploy to Afghanistan on the grounds that orders from President Obama are illegitimate, a development that marks the full maturation of the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, who announced in a YouTube video earlier this year that he would not be deploying to Afghanistan until he got answers about Obama's background, now faces over three years in prison.

When the Birther conspiracy theory was first appeared in the midst of the 2008 presidential campaign, it would have been inconceivable that a person -- a career Army doctor, no less -- would be willing to do prison time in service of the theory. But in the ensuing years, Birtherism has proved remarkably resilient, with activists like Orly Taitz fighting for the cause in the courts.

Here's what Lakin told the court today:

"I was praying and soul searching," Lakin told the court. "I believed there was a question that needs to be answered to ensure a valid chain of command. But I had asked every question, done everything else I could short of disobeying orders, without success."

Lakin's supporters are, of course, declaring the case a PR victory.

Fox News e-mail shows network's slant on climate change - FNC just for dummies!

Fox News Channel's top Washington editor ordered the network's reporters to couple any mention of global climate change with skepticism about the data underlying such a scientific conclusion, according to an e-mail released by a liberal media-watchdog group Wednesday.

Media Matters for America said the internal e-mail from Bill Sammon, Fox News's Washington bureau chief, called into question the network's impartiality in reporting on climate change.

In an e-mail sent last December to Fox News's journalists in the wake of a global conference on climate change, Sammon asked Fox journalists to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies."

Media Matters, a group that tracks alleged conservative favoritism in the news media, said it obtained the e-mail from a Fox News employee, whom it did not identify.

Sammon and Fox News could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sammon's climate-change comments were in the second leaked e-mail from him to Fox News's staff released by Media Matters in the past week. Last week, the organization disclosed an e-mail in which Sammon directed Fox journalists to refer to the so-called public option provisions of the proposed health-care overhaul bill as the "government option"- language that Media Matters said was designed to rally opponents of the measure.

Ari Rabin-Havt, Media Matters' head of research, said the latest e-mail showed that Fox News was attempting to create a false impression of the climate issue by giving a "fringe" minority of global-warming skeptics equal weight with those who have concluded the planet is growing warmer.

"The overwhelming, vast majority of scientists who have studied climate change" accept the trend as fact, he said.

Rabin-Havt asserted that Fox was tilting toward conservatives who oppose potential legislative efforts to address climate change.

Media Matters said it is in possession of other internal e-mails from Sammon and other Fox News executives that indicate other efforts to slant news reporting. Those memos will be released in coming weeks, the group said.

NBC/WSJ poll: Nearly 60% approve of tax deal

With the Senate's final approval of President Obama's compromise tax deal -- and with the House expected to take up the measure tomorrow -- nearly 60 percent approve of its major components, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

When respondents were told that the agreement would extend the Bush-era tax cuts -- for all income levels, including the wealthy -- for two years in exchange for a one-year extension of unemployment benefits and a temporary reduction of payroll taxes, 59 percent say they approve the deal and 36 disapprove.

What's more, 61 percent believe the agreement was a fair compromise for both President Obama and Republican leaders, while 23 percent think Obama gave up too much and 10 percent say Republicans gave up too much.

Yet the poll also shows that Democrats and liberals are slightly more opposed to the deal than their counterparts are -- but not significantly.

In the poll, Democrats approve the deal by a 54-to-41 percent margin, and liberals by 57-41 percent.

That's compared with 68-29 percent among Republicans; 60-35 percent among conservatives; 60-36 percent among independents; and 62-34 percent among moderates.

Michael Steele Faces Backlash from GOP (Hey Mikie The REPUBS don't want a street guy but a smart guy! AND U R not!

Michael Steele Faces Backlash from GOP

In the wake of Michael Steele's Monday night announcement that, after much speculation to the contrary, he will be seeking re-election to chair the Republican National Committee (RNC), a number of influential party leaders made it clear that they would be actively seeking an alternative.

"We admire his pluck, but not his judgment. It's time for someone else to run the RNC," read a Wednesday editorial in the conservative-leaning magazine National Review.

Steele, whose two-year tenure heading the RNC was plagued not only by a series of gaffes, missteps and embarrassments, but also financial mismanagement and fundraising shortages, kept a relatively low profile in the weeks leading up to his announcement - despite mounting GOP pressure for him to bow out of the race for a second term.

Now that Steele has announced his candidacy for the job, however, the Republican message has become more overt: "My own slogan is now, Anybody But Steele," said former RNC finance chairman and GOP donor Al Hoffman in a recent interview with Politico, reflecting popular sentiment among many party leaders.

"The donor community has virtually no faith or confidence in Michael Steele's to be the keeper of the keys," Hoffman continued. "The long and short of it is I have a hard time finding any major donor who would trust him to straighten out the RNC and run a principled and ethical fundraising operation."

Tom Fetzer, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, told the New York Times that Steele was responsible for making the RNC "irrelevant" in 2010, and that any future chairman would have a lot of ground to make up in terms of restoring good faith in the committee's abilities.

"One of Michael Steele's legacies is that he made the RNC largely irrelevant in the 2010 election cycle," Fetzer said. "The next chairman is going to have to work really hard to restore the committee to relevancy and fix the financial disaster that Michael Steele has left in his wake."

A handful of Republicans have already volunteered to do just that: Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party (and, notably, a one-time friend and ally of Steele), has thrown his hat into the ring for the chairmanship -- apparently at the behest of GOP urging. And while Priebus has yet to target Steele directly in his campaign, his recent comments don't shy away from slamming the RNC's recent fundraising record.

"The RNC cannot misfire on fund-raising again and hope someone else will do the job for us," Priebus told the Times. "We cannot run the risk of a second term of President Obama and his liberal companions with a weakened RNC."

Gentry Collins, a former top aide to commmittee and another contender for the job, has made no secret of his disdain for Steele's tactics: Upon resigning from the RNC in November, Collins released a four-page letter blasting the committee's ineffectiveness.

"During the 2010 election cycle, the RNC allowed its major donor base to wither," Collins wrote, pointing out that the committee not only "raised far less money" than in previous years, but also that it had "spent a far higher percentage of those fewer dollars to raise what it did."

Steele's perceived lack of financial discipline, as well as what some have seen as questionable ethical behavior, extends beyond party leadership and big-time GOP donors: The National Review's public condemnation of Steele signals a backlash among some mainstream conservative-leaning media outlets as well.

"His engaging manner on television was one of his attractions as a chairman two years ago," the Review editors wrote. "It quickly went sour. Steele doesn't have the discipline of a party operative. Whether it was lashing out at Rush Limbaugh or calling Afghanistan 'a war of Obama's choosing,' his gaffes distracted from the work at hand."

"Meanwhile, the $20,000-apiece corporate speeches, the Regnery book, and the accompanying media plugs all gave Steele, fairly or not, the whiff of the political profiteer," the editorial continued.

Nevertheless, the New York Times reports that Steele is believed to have the support of 40 of the committee's 168 members - less than half of what he needs to win, but seemingly more than any of his opponents.

"This new political environment included challenges like President Obama's stimulus package, a Democrat-controlled Congress, a bogus reform of our nation's health care system, a recession, a demoralized American public, and unfair federal election laws," Steele said in a Dec. 13 conference call to RNC committee members announcing his bid for re-election. "However, I hope each of you appreciate that while we began this cycle bowed, we ended stronger, better and prouder."

Charles Krauthammer: Sarah Palin Should Have Been Able To Answer Katie Couric's 'Simple' Questions

Just like that Charles Krauthammer nails Sarah Palin's biggest problem if she decides to run in 2012: even more troublesome than her lack of policy knowledge is her apparent lack of desire these last two years to acquire any.

But I think in part it's that she's not practiced in policy. The Katie Couric interview she originally had was not a gotcha interview. There were fairly simple questions she had trouble answering.
I think that damaged her in the eyes of even non-ideological people.

Now I would have hoped she'd spend the next years getting really deep into policy and becoming an expert the way a lot of other candidates have done as they mature and approach the presidency. She hasn't.

She has a political star. She's out there, she's very attractive both politically and ideologically to a large segment of Republicans. But I think if you want to expand your base you have to get into policy even though it sounds dull.

Govt sues BP, 8 other companies in Gulf oil spill

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department on Wednesday sued BP and eight other companies in the Gulf oil spill disaster in an effort to recover billions of dollars from the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

The Obama administration's lawsuit asks that the companies be held liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.

"We intend to prove these violations caused or contributed to the massive oil spill," Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference.

The federal lawsuit says inadequate cementing of the well contributed to the disaster. Similar charges were made by BP in its internal investigation, and by the independent presidential oil spill commission. But Halliburton Co., the contractor in charge of mixing and pumping the cement, is not named in the suit.

Holder said it is conceivable that additional defendants could be added to the lawsuit. "This is an ongoing process," the attorney general said.

The amount of damages and the extent of injuries sustained by the United States as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Spill are not yet fully known, the lawsuit states.

An explosion that killed 11 workers at BP's Macondo well last April led to oil spewing from the company's undersea well - more than 200 million gallons in all by the government's estimate. BP disputes the figure.

The department filed the suit in federal court in New Orleans.

The other defendants in the case are Anadarko Exploration & Production LP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; Transocean Holdings LLC and Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc. and Transocean Deepwater Inc.; and Transocean's insurer, QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd's Syndicate 1036.

Anadarko and MOEX are minority owners of the well that blew out. Transocean owned the rig that BP was leasing.

Transocean disputed the allegations, insisting it should not be held liable for the actions of others. "No drilling contractor has ever been held liable for discharges from a well under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990," the company said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press. "The responsibility for hydrocarbons discharged from a well lies solely with its owner and operator."

QBE/Lloyd's can be held liable only up to the amount of insurance policy coverage under the Oil Pollution Act and is not being sued under the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit alleges that safety and operating regulations were violated in the period leading up to April 20.

It says that the defendants failed to keep the Macondo well under control during that period and failed to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well's conditions. They also failed to maintain continuous surveillance and failed to maintain equipment and material that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel, equipment, natural resources and the environment, the suit charges.

Democratic Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., a member of the House energy panel that is investigating the spill, acknowledged the government will have a tough fight on its hands since BP has already taken an aggressive stance regarding its liability.

"It may have taken these companies months to cap their well, but they will spend years trying to cap their financial obligations to the people of the Gulf," Markey said. "That is why it is vital for the Obama administration to swiftly advance this legal action."

Before Wednesday, potential class-action lawsuits had been filed in the Gulf oil spill by fishing and seafood interests, the tourism industry, restaurants and clubs, property owners losing vacation renters - even vacationers who claim the spill forced them to cancel and lose a deposit. So far, more than 300 suits have been spawned by the spill and consolidated in federal court in New Orleans.

Wednesday's move by the Justice Department follows the Obama administration's decision not to open new areas of the eastern Gulf and Atlantic seaboard to drilling. That marked a reversal from an earlier decision to hunt for oil and gas, an announcement the president himself made last spring three weeks before the spill.

The staff of a presidentially appointed commission looking into the spill has said that the disaster resulted from questionable decisions and management failures by three companies: BP, the well owner and operator; Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig; and Halliburton.

The panel found 11 decisions made by these companies increased risk. Most saved time, and all but one had a safer alternative.

Separately, an administrator is doling out money to Gulf oil spill victims from a $20 billion fund of BP money.

The Justice Department isn't the first government entity to sue BP. Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed federal lawsuits in August on behalf of the state against BP, rig owner Transocean, cement contractor Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and other companies that worked on the ill-fated drilling project.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding over most of the consolidated federal suits. In September, Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell's office asked Barbier to create a "government case track" to handle government-related suits separately from other claims. The judge hasn't ruled on that request yet.

Well aren't YOU just so smart and RICH!

Washington area is wealthiest and most educated region in the nation, census data show

The Washington area's affluence and education levels make it the wealthiest and most educated region in the nation, according to census data released Tuesday that reflect five years of relative prosperity compared with the rest of the country.

During that period, Fairfax and Loudoun were the only two U.S. counties with median household incomes surpassing $100,000. Tiny Falls Church, which is an independent city and counted separately, had that median income level, as well. Five of the region's suburban counties - Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, Montgomery and Howard - plus Alexandria and Falls Church, were among 17 places in the United States in which more than half of the residents have at least a bachelor's degree.

In Loudoun, more than a third of the households are married couples with children, making it one of the country's bastions of the traditional family. The District, Baltimore and Richmond reflected the other extreme, with nuclear families making up fewer than one in 10 households.

The census data released Tuesday offer a more intimate glimpse of hundreds of the Washington region's neighborhoods than has been available. Among other things, the data will be used to provide a better understanding of segregation in the area and other U.S. communities.

The figures combine information gathered from 2005 to 2009 in the American Community Survey, a detailed questionnaire mailed monthly to a cross section of Americans.

The estimates were among 11 billion statistics made available in what Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves called the biggest release of data "in the history of mankind" for 670,000 geographical units, including school districts and census tracts. It encompasses boom times, the descent into recession and the first inklings of recovery.

William Frey of the Brookings Institution has started to mine the data, concluding that segregation is declining nationally and locally. In his analysis of the 100 largest metropolitan areas, 61 experienced declines in segregation between blacks and whites.

In Washington, Frey found that the average white person lives in a neighborhood that is 63 percent white, the average black person lives in a neighborhood that is 79 percent African American and the average Hispanic person lives in a neighborhood in which one out of four neighbors is Hispanic. That represents a small but noticeable improvement since 2000.

The District exhibited the most segregation overall under a measurement called the Index of Dissimilarity or, more commonly, the segregation index. It estimates what percentage of people would have to move for races to be distributed in the same proportion in which they're represented overall in a region, with zero being the ideal and anything more than 60 considered high.

At 74 percent, the District had the fifth-highest segregation level in the nation, and Virginia had one of the lowest, 50 percent. Maryland was in between, with 65 percent.

Frey said that the District and Virginia had fewer residents living in segregated neighborhoods than in 2000 but that Maryland was unchanged. He attributed the improvement to the maturation of the civil rights movement and laws prohibiting discrimination in housing.

"I anticipate that in the 2010 Census we will see results that are similar," he said.

But John Logan, a sociologist at Brown University who has studied neighborhood segregation, said that in his analysis of 330 metropolitan regions, progress is at a standstill. His research shows that the average white person in an American city lives in a neighborhood that is 74 percent white and that the average African American lives in a majority-black neighborhood.

In the data released Tuesday, the island of Falls Church stood out in the ocean of wealth that is suburban Washington.

Seven out of 10 adults in the city have at least a bachelor's degree, and 39 percent have advanced degrees - more than residents of Los Alamos, N.M, home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The median household income in Falls Church tops $113,000.

Falls Church is "a community based on education and citizen involvement," Vice Mayor David F. Snyder said, adding that he wasn't surprised by the city's distinction in the data.

Snyder said that the city's high median income reflects a lot of two-income households.

"It means there aren't a lot of super-rich people," he said. "But there are a lot of people who are strong achievers. I think they're drawn to the focus of the community on education. It has a strong tradition of citizen involvement, with a lot of active boards and commissions. All you have to do is be on the council and listen to citizens make different presentations, and you have no doubt how well educated and focused they are. It's real."

U.S. - - More teens smoke marijuana than cigarettes ( This could be a good thing - I think?)

More high school seniors this year used marijuana than smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to government data released Tuesday.
In addition, daily marijuana use increased significantly among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, with about one in 16 high school seniors using marijuana daily or near-daily, the annual "Monitoring the Future Survey" found.

Teens in all three grades exhibited more favorable attitudes toward the drug, according to the national survey of more than 46,000 teens.

The survey's lead investigator, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the White House "drug czar" blamed the rising use among teens in the past three years on publicity surrounding medical marijuana.

"Young people are increasingly seeing marijuana as not dangerous," said lead investigator Lloyd Johnston of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. When the proportion of teens who view marijuana as risky declines, Johnston says, use typically increases.

Marijuana use by teens declined from 2002 to 2007, noted Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. But today's eighth-graders "have been exposed to a very different perspective on the way that the world is looking at marijuana."

More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, so teens might tend to view the drug as beneficial, not risky, Volkow said.

She said marijuana interferes with memory and learning, which is of particular concern in teens, whose brains aren't yet fully developed. Volkow said her institute plans to fund research into whether U.S. students' grades and test scores have fallen as marijuana use has increased.

"I don't have any hesitation telling you that I think the legitimizing of marijuana and calling it medicine is absolutely the wrong message to give to young people," White House drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske said.

His daughter lives in Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal. When she drives his granddaughter, a high school freshman, past marijuana dispensaries, "it's a tough explanation," Kerlikowske said.

According to the National Cannabis (marijuana) Industry Association, a new lobbying group in Washington, "thousands of American businesses are involved in some fashion in the cannabis industry."

Marijuana wasn't the only drug that teens increasingly used this year, the survey found. Ecstasy use rose in all three grades, with significant increases among eighth- and 10th-graders. The younger teens may not remember stories about casualties related to Ecstasy, whose use peaked in 2001 and then dropped sharply for about four years, Johnston said.

Use of narcotics other than heroin hasn't changed significantly since 2004, when 9.5% of 12th-graders had used the drugs in the previous year — nearly three times as many as in 1992. Injecting heroin with a needle showed a small but statistically significant increase in 2010, but it's still so uncommon in teens that Johnston said he can't yet be sure that use is growing.
Rita Rubin, USA TODAY

Mike Vick wants to own a dog again ( Would you trust him with your puppy?)

The sentence imposed on Eagles quarterback Mike Vick for conspiracy to engage in gambling and dogfighting includes a lifetime ban on owning a dog.

He’s now politicking for a chance to change that specific aspect of the decision. In an interview with The Grio, Vick says that he thinks owning a dog would help his “rehabilitation.”

“I would love to have another dog in the future,” Vick said. “I think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process, I think just to have a pet in my household and to show people that I genuinely care, and my love and my passion for animals, I think it would be outstanding. And if I ever have that opportunity again, I won’t take it for granted.”

(When Vick uses uses the term “rehabilitation,” he’s apparently not talking about his rehabilitation from a lifestyle that violated multiple state and federal laws. It seems that he’s talking about the “rehabilitation” of his image.)

Vick also revisited the notion that he fought dogs only because he grew up doing it, and because no one ever told him it was wrong.

“I hate to use our culture as an excuse, but it is what it is,” Vick said. “And that’s what happened and that’s the way I thought about it growing up, that this is something we do. I love animals. I love dogs. I love birds. I love all types of animals. But this was just the way we was brought up.”

The next question was a great one, in our view — whether anything intrinsically told Vick that it was wrong to do what he did.

“There was nothing that ever told me it wasn’t right,” Vick said. “No one ever told me it was the wrong thing to do.”

Fine, but that doesn’t explain the fact that his dogfighting operation was housed on a remote piece of property in rural Virginia, in sheds that were painted black, presumably to conceal them. Why would they need to be hidden if “nothing ever told me it wasn’t right”?

The most compelling moment of the interview came when Vick was asked what Mike Vick circa 2010 would tell Mike Vick circa 2006.

“That Mike probably wouldn’t listen to nothing that I had to say,” Vick said.

If that dogfighting operation had never been accidentally found during a drug bust of one of Vick’s cousins, we’re convinced that the 2010 Mike would be no different than the 2006 Mike.

Thus, he’s far better off that he was caught. He’s a better player than he ever was, and he seems to be genuinely maturing. But we detected lingering shadows of 2006 Mike in some of 2010 Mike’s answers to The Grio, and it’s all the more reason for the Eagles to wait and see whether 2010 Mike can get through the 2011 offseason unscathed before writing him an eight-figure check.

Give Up on the Estate Tax

CONGRESSIONAL Democrats have voiced outrage at President Obama’s compromise proposal to lower the estate tax rate to 35 percent, from 55 percent, and raise the per person exemption to $5 million, from $1 million. They have called it a giveaway to the rich. A more reasonable compromise, they say, would have set the rate at 45 percent and the exemption at $3.5 million when the estate tax goes back into effect in January.

But instead of getting into any further arguments over rates and exemptions, Democrats would be better off conceding defeat. They should allow Republicans to get rid of the estate tax altogether — but at the same time arrange for inherited wealth to be subject to income tax.

After all, the Democrats have already lost the battle. The president’s proposal is fresh evidence that even Democrats have given up championing the fundamental value that the estate tax was originally intended to promote. This tax, first enacted in 1916, was never intended to be simply a device for raising revenue. Rather, it was meant to address the phenomenon of a small number of Americans controlling large amounts of the country’s wealth — which was considered a national problem.

As Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have democracy, but we can’t have both.” Even Andrew Carnegie testified in Congress in favor of an estate tax as the best way to address wealth concentration.

In its first 60 years, the estate tax, along with other progressive policies, went a long way toward accomplishing this goal. By 1976, the amount of the nation’s wealth controlled by the richest 1 percent of Americans had fallen from more than 50 percent to only 20 percent. And this greater dispersal of wealth fostered a strong middle class.

The tax policies of the past 35 years, however, have reversed the trend. Today the wealthiest 1 percent own more than a third of the country’s wealth, leaving 80 percent of Americans with just 16 percent of it. President Obama’s proposal would only accelerate this trend.

But Americans seem little inclined to resist wealth concentration. Efforts to impose taxes geared to the wealthy are lambasted as promoting class warfare. Moreover, because the estate tax is nominally imposed on the deceased, it has been vulnerable to the “death tax” rhetoric, which has convinced the public that it is a second tax imposed on the defenseless dead, who already paid taxes on the money they accumulated.

Missing from the debate has been any discussion of what level of tax is appropriate for heirs. Few Americans may realize that money received by gift, inheritance or life insurance is entirely free from income taxes. Of course, this made sense when there was a strong estate tax. But there is no other reason inherited wealth should not be taxed the same as wages, lottery winnings and all other forms of income.

President Obama is said to be considering an overhaul of the income tax code, beginning next year. That would be an ideal opportunity to make inheritances subject to income taxes.

If inherited wealth was taxed as income, exemptions could still be provided for smaller estates — up to $500,000 or even $1 million. And taxes on inherited family farms and businesses could easily be deferred, if need be, until they were sold.

Most important, by imposing the tax directly on those who receive the money, Congress could have a more honest discussion regarding the appropriate taxation of inherited wealth.

Ray D. Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, is the author of “Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead.”

Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Tradition (PROBLEM would have been solved by putting all on MEDICARE tomorrow!)

We are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program,” said one prominent critic of the new health care law. It is socialized medicine, he argued. If it stands, he said, “one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”

The health care law in question was Medicare, and the critic was Ronald Reagan. He made the leap from actor to political activist, almost 50 years ago, in part by opposing government-run health insurance for the elderly.

Today, the supposed threat to free enterprise is a law that’s broader, if less radical, than Medicare: the bill Congress passed this year to create a system of privately run health insurance for everyone. On Monday, a federal judge ruled part of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will probably need to settle the matter in the end.

We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed.

The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez-faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like.

Both traditions have been crucial to creating the most prosperous economy and the largest middle class the world has ever known. Laissez-faire conservatism has helped make the United States a nation of entrepreneurs, while progressivism has helped make prosperity a mass-market phenomenon.

Yet the two traditions have never quite reconciled themselves. In particular, conservatives have often viewed any expansion of government protections as a threat to capitalism.

The federal income tax, a senator from New York said a century ago, might mean the end of “our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom.” Social Security was actually a plan “to Sovietize America,” a previous head of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1935. The minimum wage and mandated overtime pay were steps “in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism,” the National Association of Manufacturers charged in 1938.

After Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954, 101 members of Congress signed a statement calling the ruling an instance of “naked judicial power” that would sow “chaos and confusion” and diminish American greatness. A decade later, The Wall Street Journal editorial board described civil rights marchers as “asking for trouble” and civil rights laws as being on “the outer edge of constitutionality, if not more.”

This year’s health care overhaul has now joined the list.

On the most basic level, the law will ensure that people can get health insurance, and thus medical care, even if they are not insured by their employer or their spouse’s employer. Today, many can’t.

The people who try to buy policies in the individual market are disproportionately those who have reason to think they or their children will need medical care. Healthy people, on the other hand, often go without coverage — until they think they need it. So insurance companies charge sky-high prices for individual policies, to cover the high average costs of care.

The new law takes two steps to solve the problem. First, it prohibits insurers from denying coverage or charging more because of a person’s health. Second, the law requires individuals to have insurance, spreading the costs of care among the sick and the healthy.

Two federal judges upheld the individual mandate this year, saying that it fell under Congress’s power to regulate commerce. But Judge Henry Hudson, of a Federal District Court in Virginia, ruled on Monday that Congress had overstepped by prohibiting a form of inactivity — that is, not buying insurance. And as Reagan did with Medicare, Judge Hudson argued that the mandate had a larger meaning: he said it “would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers.”

In truth, the law is quite moderate. It is more conservative than President Bill Clinton’s 1993 plan or President Richard Nixon’s 1974 plan (in which the federal government would have covered anyone who wasn’t insured through an employer). It’s much more conservative than expanding Medicare to cover everyone. It is clearly one of the least radical ways for the United States to end its status as the only rich country with millions and millions of uninsured.

But the law depends to a significant degree on the mandate. Without it, some healthy people will wait to buy coverage until they get sick — which, of course, is not an insurance system at all. It’s free-riding.

Without the mandate, the cost of insurance in the individual market would rise, perhaps sharply, because some healthy people would not be paying their share. Just look at Massachusetts. In 1996, it barred insurers from setting rates based on a person’s health but did not mandate that individuals sign up for insurance. Premiums then spiked. Since the state added a mandate in 2006, more people have signed up, and premiums have dropped an average of 40 percent.

It’s easy to look at the current debate and see an unavoidable trade-off between this country’s two economic traditions — risk-taking and security. But I don’t think that’s quite right. I think it is ultimately as misplaced as those worries about Social Security and Medicare equaling Bolshevism.

Guaranteeing people a decent retirement and decent health care does more than smooth out the rough edges of capitalism. Those guarantees give people the freedom to take risks. If you know that professional failure won’t leave you penniless and won’t prevent your child from receiving needed medical care, you can leave the comfort of a large corporation and take a chance on your own idea. You can take a shot at becoming the next great American entrepreneur.

With every previous major expansion of the safety net, history has had a chance to prove the naysayers wrong. It may yet in the case of universal health coverage. But the decision now seems to rest with the nine members of the Supreme Court.

Intelligence Reports Offer Dim Views of Afghan War (TIME TO GET THE HELL OUT)

WASHINGTON — As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports’ executive summaries.

American military commanders and senior Pentagon officials have already criticized the reports as out of date and say that the cut-off date for the Afghanistan report, Oct. 1, does not allow it to take into account what the military cites as tactical gains in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces in the south in the six weeks since. Pentagon and military officials also say the reports were written by desk-bound Washington analysts who have spent limited time, if any, in Afghanistan and have no feel for the war.

“They are not on the ground living it day in and day out like our forces are, so they don’t have the proximity and perspective,” said a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified while criticizing the intelligence agencies. The official said that the 30,000 additional troops that Mr. Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 did not all arrive until September, meaning that the intelligence agencies had little time to judge the effects of the escalation. There are now about 100,000 American forces in Afghanistan.

The dispute between the military and intelligence agencies reflects how much the debate in Washington over the war is now centered on whether the United States can succeed in Afghanistan without the cooperation of Pakistan, which despite years of American pressure has resisted routing militants on its border.

The dispute also reflects the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote “can do” optimism.

But in Afghanistan, the intelligence agencies play a strong role, with the largest Central Intelligence Agency station since the Vietnam War located in Kabul. C.I.A. operatives also command an Afghan paramilitary force in the thousands. In Pakistan, the C.I.A. is running a covert war using drone aircraft.

Both sides have found some areas of agreement in the period leading up to Mr. Obama’s review, which will be made public on Thursday. The intelligence reports, which rely heavily on assessments from the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency, conclude that C.I.A. drone strikes on leaders of Al Qaeda in the tribal regions of Pakistan have had an impact and that security has improved in the parts of Helmand and Kandahar Provinces in southern Afghanistan where the United States has built up its troop presence. For their part, American commanders and Pentagon officials say they do not yet know if the war can be won without more cooperation from Pakistan. But after years and billions spent trying to win the support of the Pakistanis, they are now proceeding on the assumption that there will be limited help from them. The American commanders and officials readily describe the havens for insurgents in Pakistan as a major impediment to military operations.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it, they’ve got sanctuaries and they go back and forth across the border,” Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan, told reporters last week in the remote Kunar Province of Afghanistan. “They’re financed better, they’re better trained, they’re the ones who bring in the higher-end I.E.D.’s.” General Campbell was referring to improvised explosive devices, the military’s name for the insurgent-made bombs, the leading cause of American military deaths in Afghanistan.

American commanders say their plan in the next few years is to kill large numbers of insurgents in the border region — the military refers to it as “degrading the Taliban” — and at the same time build up the Afghan National Army to the point that the Afghans can at least contain an insurgency still supported by Pakistan. (American officials say Pakistan supports the insurgents as a proxy force in Afghanistan, preparing for the day the Americans leave.)

“That is not the optimal solution, obviously,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led a White House review of Afghan strategy last year that resulted in Mr. Obama sending the additional forces. “But we have to deal with the world we have, not the world we’d like. We can’t make Pakistan stop being naughty.”

Publicly, American officials and military commanders continue to praise Pakistan and its military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, if only for acknowledging the problem.

“General Kayani and others have been clear in recognizing that they need to do more for their security and indeed to carry out operations against those who threaten other countries’ security,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said last week.

But many Afghan officials say that the United States, which sends Pakistan about $2 billion in military and civilian aid each year, is coddling Pakistan for no end. “They are capitalizing on your immediate security needs, and they are stuck in this thinking that bad behavior brings cash,” said Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, in an interview on Tuesday.

The Pakistan intelligence report also reaffirms past American concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile, particularly the risk that enriched uranium or plutonium could be smuggled out of a laboratory or storage site.

The White House review comes as some members of Mr. Obama’s party are losing patience with the war. “You’re not going to get to the point where the Taliban are gone and the border is perfectly controlled,” said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Smith said there would be increasing pressure from the political left on Mr. Obama to end the war, and he predicted that Democrats in Congress would resist continuing to spend $100 billion annually on Afghanistan.

“We’re not going to be hanging out over there fighting these guys like we’re fighting them now for 20 years,” Mr. Smith said.