The Four Corners

Friday, June 06, 2003

Terror alert! Code periwinkle! Today's rant du jour is on the Department of Homeland Security's idiotic color coded terror alert system. There are many reasons why the whole thing should be scrapped:

  1. It is a two color system.The only two possible colors are orange (high alert) and yellow (elevated alert). All the other colors in the scheme will never be used. If we ever get to red, I think it will be pretty obvious, because a giant US landmark will have been bombed. Similarly, they will never go down to green or blue because what is the point of terror alert system if there are no terrorist plots to be alerted about. Thus, with a two-color system, you can either be very freaked out or moderately freaked out. Or, worse still, since nothing (thank goodness) has happened, you get indifferent.

  2. The colors don't correspond with any specific thing to do. Unlike the military's cold war DEFCON system, going up or down on the meter really doesn't have a noticeable, prescribed effect on the US security systems. And that is just the local and federal officials; what about normal Americans, what are they supposed to do? According to Bush, go shopping and travel.

  3. Local officials have no idea what they are supposed to do. Instead of training local law enforcement-- like the guy who found local terrorist Eric Rudolph last week-- or other "first responders," the Bushies are content to just scare the crap out of them and not give them a hand financially, since it is, after all, a national problem and not a local one. This means not only training but real intelligence on what to look out for.

  4. Not every place in the US faces the same threat. Even if first responders across the US were trained and equipped and "in the know," places like rural Wyoming are nowhere near as likely to be attacked by terrorists as Manhattan. Yet proportionally, they get more federal assistance (thanks Congress) per a capita than the Big Apple. Why? This isn't another pork project, this is life and death stuff folks!

  5. Its a big waste of money. According to ex-Police Officer and Progressive Policy Institute (PPI)'s John D. Cohen wrote in The Hill, "At a time when state and local governments are facing their worst financial crises in decades, each elevation of the national threat level places what amounts to an unfunded mandate on local authorities -- draining already dwindling resources." Cohen cites a U.S. Conference of Mayors estimate that orange alerts add $70 million per week to the nation's municipal security costs.

  6. It could potentially make the US more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Cohen continues, " when the warning level is again lowered to "yellow," many jurisdictions naturally relax their vigilance. That's an especially troubling weakness in the system, Cohen argues, because terrorists are "strategic and patient. They will undoubtedly pay attention to security efforts to determine the most effective time to carry out an attack. If terrorists learn that 'chatter' can result in a temporary level of increased vigilance, followed by a period of decreased vigilance, it is likely that they will attack when threat levels have been lowered."

  7. Cohen's not the only one thinking it's time to call the whole thing off.

  8. The City of Charlotte, North Carolina and surrounding Mecklenburg County ignored the pre-war orange alert until the war in Iraq actually began. And now Arizona's homeland security director, Frank Navarrete, with the support of Governor Janet Napolitano, has indicated his state will make its own assessment of terrorist threats before following any future federal alerts.

    "It creates incredible problems: overtime, financial, functional," Navarrete told the Arizona Republic. "It's not quite to the point where it creates havoc, but it's quite disruptive." And it's not just a matter of cost and chaos for government officials, either. "We have to be mindful," said Navarette, "that if we continue to do this and nothing happens, that it loses its impact with the citizenry. It becomes a 'here we go again' mentality."

"The real issue here," concludes Cohen, "is not whether the color code system is good or bad; it's whether we're moving in the right direction to effectively protect our nation from future acts of terrorism. As it stands today, we are nowhere near where we need to be. And 20 months after the attacks, that's a shame."

It sure is a shame. As the New Dem Daily says, "Let's cut off the orange lights and get serious about homeland security."

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Mickey Kaus finally got his wish Kaus, the Slate blogger whose obsession with New York Times Executive Editor Howell Raines has gotten way out of hand, must be dancing in the streets today.

Why? AP just announced that Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd resigned today in the wake of the Jayson Blair (and Rick Bragg) scandal.

Finally! I was getting sick and tired of every other Kausfiles post being on the bias and bad decision making of Raines, whose smug attitude has made him a prime target when people found out about the Blair scandal (who was a protege of Raines')

The witch hunt, then is finally over I hope, and David Letterman can stop making those lame New York Times jokes and Kaus can go back to writing good posts. [Mickey, I am so sorry that you never got that big job at the Times or whatever, but let go already!]

According to AP, "Raines became executive editor just days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The following April, the Times received a record seven Pulitzer Prizes -- five for its coverage of the terrorist attacks and another for the war in Afghanistan.

"'They have made enormous contributions during their tenure," [NYT Owner and Publisher Arthur] Sulzberger said, 'including an extraordinary seven Pulitzer Prizes in 2002 and another this year. I appreciate all of their efforts in continuing the legacy of our great newspaper.'

"Raines had been editor of the editorial page for eight years and previously headed the newspaper's bureaus in Washington and London when he was named executive editor to replace the retiring Lelyveld.

"He won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1992 for a memoir he wrote for The New York Times Magazine about his childhood friendship in Alabama with his family's black housekeeper."

So he couldn't have been all that bad of a writer and manager, right? Oh well, hat's off to you [Raines] for finally taking one for the team. Maybe now the New York Times can return to being the newspaper that publishes "All the news that's fit to print."

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Correction: George W. Bush is going to raise your taxes After receiving some offline critique from some of the Corners, I wish to amend and supplement my controversial contention on the George W. Bush tax hike for the middle class and attempt to exclude the lower classes from his tax cut package. A Bush lie is noted by Boston Globe reporter Derrick Z. Jackson, "When President George W. Bush signed the $350 billion tax cut a week ago, he declared: 'The Jobs and Growth Act reduces federal income taxes across the board.... We have passed a bold package of tax relief ... that reaches every single corner of America.' " "Bush said that," Jackson notes, "even as he swept millions of the working poor and lower middle class into a dusty pile in his conscience."

Today, the Washington Post has full-fledged article on the increasing relative burden of the middle class under Bush's tax plans. Respected reporters Dana Milbank and Jonathan Weisman conclude that "With the biggest gains going to the wealthiest and to low-income taxpayers, those in the middle inevitably get a higher tax burden because they don't qualify for the targeted tax breaks that go to the poor or the investment-related tax breaks that go to the wealthy."

"It's hard to get a lot of progressivity at the very top," claims R. Glenn Hubbard, the architect of Bush's most recent tax cut proposal and a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, who has been banished to K street-- a veritable Siberia in the White House, where proximity to the president equals power.

By slashing taxes on dividends, capital gains and inheritances, the cuts ensure that tax burdens will no longer rise consistently with income, as they would with a perfectly "progressive" system. "But," Hubbard added, "we've very much retained progressivity overall because so much money was dumped into the bottom rates."

I guess he sees tax credits like the EITC (earned income tax credit) as welfare and not what it really is, rewarding working families and helping them out of poverty.

I suppose as well that the Post missed out on the AMT (alternative minimum tax) debate because it is too wonky and not sexy enough to discuss, even though it is a direct tax hike of over a thousand dollars for middle class Americans. It starts, shockingly enough, in 2005-- one year after Bush's supposed reelection. Six years after that, nearly a third of all taxpayers will see higher taxes as a direct result of Bush's tax policy.

After first making the excuse that families that don't pay federal taxes shouldn't get tax credits, Republicans are quickly retreating into the arms of Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln's legislation that would provide the $1,000 child tax credit to minimum wage families.

First they made the excuse that it was Voinovich's fault for insisting on the $350 billion number, which they had no problem gimmicking other tax breaks for the middle class, poor and wealthy alike, with Senator (and powerful Finance Committee Chairman) Grassley offering another budget busting $90 billion bill that would require 60 votes for, since it would go over the Republican "budget" set for the upcoming fiscal year.

But Lincoln's bill is a mere $3.5 billion (exactly a tenth of the Bush "jobs and growth package") and paid for mostly by (gasp) closing loopholes on corporations who seek the shelter of Bermuda's shores to avoid taxes.

But of course, why would the Bush administration go after the Enron's of the world? Answer: They aren't going to. All of Bush's old friends have yet to be charged or convicted.