GATES AND THE UNDEAD. Sometimes, I bore the youngsters with tales of the Iran-Contra scandal, and I scare them with stories of how the Undead -- Abrams , Negroponte , etc. -- from that festival of criminality still walk the earth. Because its crimes went largely unpunished, it's in Iran-Contra where we clearly see not only the embryonic stages of the rogue authoritarian Executive, but also the very worst ways of dealing with it. The investigations of Iran-Contra -- whether it was the toothless Tower Commission or the feckless congressional probe that bungled the job so badly that it provided even Ollie North a loophole to dive through -- were an abject failure of the Great Men Of The Beltway theory of dealing with serious constitutional problems, a/k/a the Lee Hamilton Is McGyver Proposition. Hamilton helped make sure that Iran-Contra didn't too badly discombobulate the status quo, and now he's working on the problem of what to do in Iraq. I am not reassured. Anyway, the scandal had...

    WHAT NOW? William Arkin has some of the smartest comments I've seen on what the Democrats' victory should mean for foreign policy: There is not going to be an immediate pullout from Iraq. It will take time, and there will have to be a plan for what happens the day after. A stubborn administration will have to be convinced -- and then forced -- to accept the war's over. The Democrats will have to take responsibility for the consequences of their demand to end the war. In the ways of Washington, Democrats in the House will hold high-profile hearings to prove their point and punctuate their displeasure with the administration. It will be a tricky balancing act for them: Renewed accountability and oversight on the one hand to distinguish themselves from the rubber stamp; not appearing to be floundering and without a plan on the other. Certainly in the short term, expect Democrat warrior-than-thou action to shift defense spending to the little from the big: more direct support for the...

    THE DISENTHRALLING. The new Democratic congressional majority has no job more critical right now than forcibly disenthralling the national Republican party from its worst instincts, and from its reliance on the worst in American politics as its primary enabling mechanism. It has fouled the national discourse. It has blighted the national politics. It created the conditions that made the current Executive cargo cult not merely possible, but inevitable. (It's hard to know where to begin, but it might help if important government officials stopped taking these folks seriously .) For example, long ago, after being publicly humiliated by the Scopes verdict and the attendant national hooting, extremist American Protestantism sensibly withdrew from the national stage. However, in the 1970's, it came roaring back, thanks in part to the genius of Richard Viguerie . However, its revival was as a useful tool in the profane context of politics. Its revival was cultural and political, not...

    FREE AT LAST. Having listened all day yesterday to the bleatings on wingnut radio, I was struck by the let's-make-lemonade-out-of-all-this- Santorum happy talk bubbling forth from the superstars of Radio Wingnuttia. They were happy -- nay thrilled -- not to have to defend any more the boobs, hucksters, and ideological turncoats of the Republican congressional majority. Neil Boortz was overjoyed, and Rush Limbaugh sounded like he was only eight milligrams short of religious ecstasy. Which reminded me of this stirring passage from a great national leader: Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense, with an army free to move from point to point and strike in detail the detachments and garrisons of the enemy, operating on the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible, and where the foe will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse, nothing is now needed to render...
  • Investment Advice Based on Projections of Exploding Health Care Costs

    It just keeps getting worse. The NYT's "Economic Scene" is giving advice on investment based on the assumption that income tax rates may increase by 80 percent (that's percent, not percentage points) in the future. What is the basis for this projection? The basis is deficit projections that assume that per capita health care costs rise to 4 or 5 times the level in countries like Canada and Germany. While this is not impossible, the best investment advice to give people planning retirement under such circumstances is to move to a country with a working health care system. Arghhhh, why does the NYT print such nonsense? -- Dean Baker
  • Alternative Minimum Tax : Millions, Billions, Whatever

    The NYT told readers today that reducing the alternative minimum tax (AMT) would "involve a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue." Hmmm, where could we find that money? Actually, they meant hundreds of billions -- that's what the bill would be over a ten year budget horizon. Depending on the exact fix, you're talking in the neighborhood of 1-2 percent of projected revenue. The more important mistake is that the article doesn't really explain what is going on with the AMT. The AMT was put in place in the 80s to ensure that wealthy taxpayers could not abuse tax shelters to completely escape tax liability. It was intended to only apply to the highest income taxpayers, however it was never indexed to inflation. Congress has always voted to raise the levels at which the tax kicks in, but on the books, it is fixed indefinitely at its current level. This means that when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projectes revenue, they make their projections assuming that the AMT...

    POSTED ON TAP ONLINE. Ezra debunks the goofy "conservatism won" spin. Eric Alterman reminds us of SecDef pick Robert Gates 's Iran-Contra past. And Spencer bids Rummy farewell -- and warns Iraq-hawk incompetence dodgers that they've just lost their favorite whipping boy. --The Editors

    DROPKICK MURPHY WATCH. A bit late on this, but with Mike Fitzpatrick conceding to Patrick Murphy in PA-08, a second of the three Dropkick Murphys has emerged victorious. Lois Murphy lost narrowly to incumbent Jim Gerlach in PA-06. So it's two out of three. --Sam Rosenfeld

    ROVERESTIMATED. One person whose fate we haven't heard much about today is good old Karl Rove . I wonder what he's up to and if he had a fall-on-his-sword deal like Rummy , too (at least in terms of influence, if not in fact). He was looking pretty wan before the election. --Garance Franke-Ruta
  • THE END OF...

    THE END OF TABOR? One more data point discrediting this election as some sort of victory for conservatism: In all three states where TABOR -style spending caps were placed on the ballot, they were defeated . Just a couple years ago, TABOR initiatives -- which are slightly-odd acronyms for "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" -- were all the rage among the Grover Norquist crowd. They cap revenue growth at the rate of inflation plus population and demand spending beyond such limits be directly approved by voters. In doing, they vastly limit legislature flexibility and tear apart public services. Seeing the fiscal devastation, voters in recent years have suspended TABOR acts, notably in Colorado, where the first one was enacted in 1992. Yesterday, the three new attempts to institute the rules were flatly rejected. Some victory for fiscal conservatism. --Ezra Klein