Gridlock'd The NBA All-Star Game has traffic down here completely snarled. You'd think it was Freaknik redux. I tried to get into the city after lunch to pick up some software at the Buckhead Apple Store, but traffic slammed to a halt before I could get within five miles of it. I gave up and headed to the suburbs — between all the Escalades and limousines cruising Peachtree, no one in town could get anywhere.
Most of the congestion owes to the hip-hop scene that's fastened itself to the game — parties have popped up everyplace, and people are stampeding to get in. You could almost call the situation Ludacris. As far as I'm concerned, though, the big ballers and shot callers can have it — I'm parking my duff at home.
No, No — You're Supposed to Comfort the Afflicted . . . The White House continues its sub rosa jihad against progressive taxation, according to today's Washington Post, which reports that the president's annual economic report argues in favor of overhauling the tax code to target consumption while leaving savings and investment tax free.
The report says current methods of measuring the impact of tax-policy changes on different income groups unfairly tars such tax reforms as harmful to the poor and helpful to the affluent. That is because the government examines how tax changes affect taxpayers at various income levels in a given period of time.
Instead, the report says, such "distributional analyses" should consider that a poor person one year could be middle-class or even rich in subsequent years, and a rich person could drop down the income ladder. Given that fluidity, it would be folly to make social and tax policies to address the body of poor people at any particular point in time, it says.
"The use of annual income in analyzing the distributional effects of the current tax system and proposed changes overstates the extent of inequality among taxpayers," the report says.
Instead, tax policy should consider how much a person will earn over his lifetime, the report says. It also suggests that an individual's wealth and ability to pay taxes might be better assessed by examining how much he consumes in a year rather than how much he earns.
Let's cut to the quick, shall we? Compare these income and wealth stats: In 2001, according to the Federal Reserve, median household income among minorities came to 57 percent of that of whites. But minority net worth? Well, that was slightly less: just 14 percent of average white household wealth. If wealth ceases to be a factor when the government considers who should bear the nation's tax burden, guess who gets socked with higher taxes? Those who are worse off by either measure — income or wealth.
Call me naive, but I don't see how anyone can defend that.
Or what if, as the CIA predicted last fall, Saddam, concluding that a U.S. attack was inevitable, gave quantities of chemical and biological weapons to terrorists to attack the United States? In that case George W. Bush will have killed who knows how many human beings for worse than nothing, making his war not only a crime but a blunder, potentially the most catastrophic in American history.
This Pilgrimage Has Gained Momentum Music lovers, kick your feet up on the front porch, and raise a bottle of your favorite as R.E.M.'s Murmurturns 20. Not everyone can carry the weight of the world, but for me — for a while, back in the day — that band absolutely could.
What Is This — a Creeping Coup? I'm hardly Mr. Perspective at the moment, but still, this absolutely stuns me. Behold for yourselves the heretofore unknown "Domestic Security Enhancement" Bill, courtesy of your Department of Justice:
Section 301-306, "Terrorist Identification Database": These sections would authorize creation of a DNA database on "suspected terrorists," expansively defined to include association with suspected terrorist groups, and noncitizens suspected of certain crimes or of having supported any group designated as terrorist.
Section 312, "Appropriate Remedies with Respect to Law Enforcement Surveillance Activities": This section would terminate all state law enforcement consent decrees before Sept. 11, 2001, not related to racial profiling or other civil rights violations, that limit such agencies from gathering information about individuals and organizations. The authors of this statute claim that these consent orders, which were passed as a result of police spying abuses, could impede current terrorism investigations. It would also place substantial restrictions on future court injunctions.
Section 405, "Presumption for Pretrial Detention in Cases Involving Terrorism": While many people charged with drug offenses punishable by prison terms of 10 years or more are held before their trial without bail, this provision would create a comparable statute for those suspected of terrorist activity. The reasons for presumptively holding suspected terrorists before trial, the Justice Department summary memo states, are clear. "This presumption is warranted because of the unparalleled magnitude of the danger to the United States and its people posed by acts of terrorism, and because terrorism is typically engaged in by groups — many with international connections — that are often in a position to help their members flee or go into hiding."
Section 501, "Expatriation of Terrorists": This provision, the drafters say, would establish that an American citizen could be expatriated "if, with the intent to relinquish his nationality, he becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United Stated has designated as a 'terrorist organization'." But whereas a citizen formerly had to state his intent to relinquish his citizenship, the new law affirms that his intent can be "inferred from conduct." Thus, engaging in the lawful activities of a group designated as a "terrorist organization" by the Attorney General could be presumptive grounds for expatriation.
I need to read the bill before I draw more conclusions about it — you can try to pull it up here, but the link is swamped right now — but still, color me flabbergasted. If the White House protects and defends the Constitution like this for much longer, there'll hardly be any left.
Of course, define "downtown." Most people in the metro area can't; and if they can, they can't find their way around the various color-designated Turner Field parking lots, much less the one-way-only challenges of Courtland Street, Ellis Street, and so on. Is "downtown" by the State Capitol? Is it Fairlie-Poplar? Is it by the Fox Theatre, or is the Fox still in Midtown? What about Peachtree Center? Or Underground? Why does New York, with so much less space, have room for Rockefeller Center, but Atlanta's downtown's two major shopping malls are both underground? And what do we make of the fact that of Atlanta's landmarks with any history to them -- the Varsity (near Georgia Tech), the Big Chicken (way the hell up in Marietta), the Fox -- the only ones anywhere near downtown are Auburn Avenue and Margaret Mitchell's house? (Now there's a juxtaposition for you.)
She also gets off some good quips about Atlanta's sprawl — to wit:
the concept of "city" is so completely different from the traditional concept of city. John Portman actually designed buildings and landscapes to prevent people from walking around. (Again, no joke. Read the last chapter of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces for the two brief paragraphs on the anti-social anti-life of Atlanta's urban spaces.) It's part downtown as a reflector of '70s-era crime fears -- white-flight-related, drugs-related, economy-related, race-related, all that and more. This is the city where only two of ten counties voted to let MARTA in, and three of the naysayers have since had to come up with the funds for their own transit systems. Every so often Atlanta panics a bit and starts talking about "sprawl" and traffic issues, but really it hasn't figured out yet whether it wants to be a "city" in the traditional sense, where the suburbs feed the city, or the other way around.
One thing she put me in mind of was the Mall of Georgia — a giant-sized shoppers' paradise parked in a 'til recently open hillside 35 miles northeast of downtown. Its developers had the chutzpah to promote it as a town center. Yeah, right — it's the 'town center' built without the inconvenience of the town. How you build the largest mall in the South, put it 35 miles out of town, plunk it down in the middle of acres of asphalt plantation and say that it fights sprawl, I still do not know.
The county commission chairman who oversees the area around that project once hoped that the area around the freeways closest to it — the Northern Arc, I-985, and I-85, if the Northern Arc had made it off the planning boards — would become the hub of a city rivaling Baltimore. I kid you not. All I can say is, I want some of what he must have been smoking.
Even Law Firms Get the Blues Lawyers have a reputation for somehow wriggling through good times and bad, but the economic carnage abroad in the land has started to wreak havoc inside the noble profession. The once highflying San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison tumbled to its demise last Thursday, putting more than 500 attorneys — one of whom I know — out on the streets. [Which had the folks over at F---ed Company positively beaming.]
No matter, though — Bush has said it's his decision whether we go to war, and that, apparently, is that. I heard tonight from my cousin Chris — who, in turn, just heard from the brass at the Army reserves today. He has to ship off for southwest Asia next week. Was he convinced by Powell of the rightness of the cause? I don't know. But I'll throw my lot in with this comment from Reason:
How you viewed Powell's address depends on whether you always wanted to attack Iraq anyway. For those who believe there remain many methods available short of war, or that none of this is worth involving American forces in yet another foreign entanglement, or that this is the wrong war at the wrong time, Colin Powell's address seemed like a formality for a deal that was sealed some time ago.
I pray that Bush wants to drag us into this for the right reasons. May God have mercy on his soul if he doesn't.
Where in the World Is Greg? San Diego? No, no, I'm here in Atlanta — you know, holding down my position as a high-powered lobbyist. Between authoring newsletters for clients, ghostwriting an op-ed, and doing the usual gladhanding, I feel just about tuckered out.
What with all that, though, I've also had something else cutting into my blogging time. I usually put a brave face on this, but I've had a pack of black dogs nipping at my heels on and off for the last couple of years, and — take my word — it's been no fun. The treatment regimen I used at first worked out to be pretty ineffectual, and after endlessly tinkering around the edges of it, I decided to take the situation by the reins and make a complete change. Which means I had to up and switch prescriptions . . . right as I headed into the maw of the legislative session, which happens to be high season at my job.
Devilish timing, that. Sometimes the effect has been pretty comical — there was a day down at the Capitol when I felt like my mouth was running about five seconds ahead of my mind, which made for some ribald joking on my part — but those times have been interspersed with moments when I've felt God-awful. That's the nature of the beast. The good moments are getting more common now, though, and I look forward to getting back to my puckish self before long.
But I'm not there yet. So forgive me if I cut out of Blogville occasionally — it just means I might be a little preoccupied with the job, or taking a well-needed breather to cheer myself up. Count on my coming back, sooner or later — trust me, I'm too much of a writer to stay away for long.
Retire the Shuttle As much as I believe in manned space exploration as the duty of mankind — call it manifest destiny for the modern age — Gregg Easterbrook has me convinced that it's long past time to give the shuttle program a good Christian burial and move on.
In two decades of use, shuttles have experienced an array of problems — engine malfunctions, damage to the heat-shielding tiles — that have nearly produced other disasters. Seeing this, some analysts proposed that the shuttle be phased out, that cargo launches be carried aboard by far cheaper, unmanned, throwaway rockets and that NASA build a small "space plane" solely for people . . .
[But] any new space system that reduced costs would be, to the contractors, killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Just a few weeks ago, NASA canceled a program called the Space Launch Initiative, whose goal was to design a much cheaper and more reliable replacement for the shuttle. Along with the cancellation, NASA announced that the shuttle fleet would remain in operation until 2020, meaning that Columbia was supposed to continue flying into outer space even when its airframe was more than 40 years old! True, B-52s have flown as long. But they don't endure three times the force of gravity on takeoff and 2000 degrees on re-entry.
A rational person might have laughed out loud at the thought that although school buses are replaced every decade, a spaceship was expected to remain in service for 40 years.
Grounding the shuttle sounds like sacrilege, I know. But belief in America's space program doesn't require blind faith in its decisions.
In fact, it's because of my belief in the program — I've been a space nut ever since Space Camp set me aglow with a Right Stuff medal — that I've concluded, reluctantly, that the shuttle needs to go. That vehicle dates to the 1970s. My car is younger than that. So's my Mac — and, for that matter, every other computer I've ever owned.
We've learned endless amounts about aerospace and materials science over the last 30 years. We can do better than the shuttle — and for the sake of the astronauts on Columbia, we ought to.