Wednesday, December 1 2004
: Two of the major tax reform ideas floating around Republican circles are a National Sales Tax or some kind of Flat Tax. Last night on Special Report, Brit Hume interviewed Ken Kies on the pros and cons of a National Sales Tax. Without getting into specifics, my quick take is a National Sales Tax proposal, seriously pushed by President Bush and Congress, would be a political disaster for Republicans.

First, let's keep in mind that if the President does propose serious tax reform, every business and interest group that will lose their special tax breaks are going to fight the proposed changes tooth and nail. This is along with the entire accounting and legal industries, which have zero interest in seeing the nation's tax laws simplified. And then on top of all this opposition, I wouldn't hold my breath that the mainstream media will provide fair and honest coverage of the tax reform debate.

Given these entrenched interests (not to mention the Democrats in Congress) the President needs to make sure that any proposed reform has as much broad-based support as possible. A National Sales Tax is such a radical change with so many different avenues from where it can be legitimately attacked, that whatever its benefits, it should be a complete nonstarter from a political standpoint.

On the other hand, a flat tax with ONE and only ONE deduction for your home would vastly improve the current federal income tax and with serious support from the President could get through Congress. I don't know what allowing for a deduction for your home mortgage does to the numbers and what rate would be needed to make the plan revenue neutral. But not allowing the home ownership deduction would make the reform extremely vulnerable politically, and could be a fatal stumbling block towards getting any plan passed.

Serious tax reform and simplification would be a major accomplishment for the President, and more importantly, would be an enormous boost for the American economy. A National Sales Tax isn't going to happen for a lot of reasons, the first being it is probably bad tax policy. But a Flat Tax or a considerably simplified income tax are very real possibilities, and well worth expenditures of President Bush's political capital. J. McIntyre 9:47 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, November 30 2004
From Reuters yesterday:

DUBAI - Al Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in a videotape broadcast Monday al Qaeda would continue to attack the United States until Washington changed its policies toward the Muslim world.

"We are a nation of patience and we will continue fighting you (United States) until the last hour," Zawahri said in the tape which was aired by Arab satellite television Al Jazeera.

Egyptian-born Zawahri is Osama bin Laden's right hand man and has been pictured traveling with the al Qaeda leader through Afghanistan. He is on the FBI's list of its 22 "most wanted terrorists."

In a Sept. 9 video-taped message he ridiculed U.S. forces which he said were "hiding in their trenches" in Afghanistan.

Tough talk coming from a guy who now lives in a cave. His boss lives in a cave, too. Neither can show their face in public and have to communicate to their troops using a handy cam. Two-thirds of Zawahri's fellow al-Qaeda leaders and henchmen are either dead or in prison and one of his most prominent terrorist colleagues, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, high-tailed it out of Fallujah just in the nick of time and is now on the lam in Iraq.

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the jihad is not well. Last week as Zarqawi was making his retreat from Fallujah, he slammed Sunni clerics for their lack of support:

''You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy. ... You have quit supporting the mujahedeen. Hundreds of thousands of the nation's sons are being slaughtered at the hands of the infidels because of your silence. You (the Sunni clerics) left the mujahadeen to face the strongest power in the world. Are your hearts not shaken by the scenes of your brothers being surrounded and hurt by your enemy?''

Today MEMRI has posted a letter from a Saudi Islamist condemning his fellow Muslims who "shirk jihad" and ridiculing them as women:

"You who shirk Jihad: I am saying to you what Ibn Al-Jawzi said to the people of his time: 'Oh people: the millstone of war is turning round and the call for Jihad was made and the gates of heaven have opened. And so, if you are not among the knights of war, then let your women grind the millstone of war and you go and makeup your eyes, you women with beards and turbans!'

All this public browbeating of fellow Muslims suggests the enthusiasm for terrorism, death and jihad isn't as great as the bad guys had hoped.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Iraq have been extremely effective in answering the jihadists' prayers for martyrdom.

More Iraqi troops are being trained by the day, and the effort to postpone January elections in Iraq has thankfully not gained steam.

Clearly, there is much more work to be done on the battlefield as well as in the boardrooms and classrooms of Iraq and beyond. But the progress being made is significant. More importantly, it marginalizes the terrorists and diminishes the attractiveness and influence of future calls for jihad.

Imagine what continued success could look like a year from now: the first freely elected government in Iraqi history, significantly reduced U.S. troop levels in Iraq, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and movement toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Arafat now out of the way. Where exactly would this leave Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri and their grievances of the oppression of Muslims? Same cave. Same handy cam. But with far fewer followers and far less influence. - T. Bevan 10:30 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, November 29 2004
WILSON, WAR, AND DEMOCRACY: Eighty-seven years ago President Woodrow Wilson delivered these words to a Joint Session of Congress asking for a declaration of war:

"It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts, for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other."

It's remarkable how poignant these words sound today. What's even more remarkable - not to mention ironic - is that Wilson's words now reflect a belief held by many Republicans (especially the current occupant of the White House) and eschewed by many Democrats.

Victor Davis Hanson's column Friday before last got me wondering just how much of this historical flip-flop is due to September 11 and how much of it is based on partisanship. You will not find a more forceful, articulate and passionate defender of the War in Iraq than Hanson. But would he be as unequivocal in his support of the war and the way it's been waged if it was the product of a Democratic President? Would any of us who supported the war from the beginning and still support it now be feeling differently today if a Democrat had been the one who led us into it?

Similarly, would Democrats who initially supported the War in Iraq (like Ken Pollack, Joe Biden and Thomas Friedman, to name a few) have turned so quickly against its prosecution were a Democratic administration in office instead of a Republican one? Would they still be arguing that the U.S. effort in Iraq is a quagmire borne of total incompetence or would they be focusing on the significant progress that has been made and the drive toward free, fair elections?

I don't know the answer to these questions. Clearly there are factions within each party (peaceniks on the left and paleos on the right) who would be against the War in Iraq under all but the most dire of circumstances. The rest (myself included) are open to persuasion and affected to various degrees by partisanship.

Speaking personally, based on the same evidence and arguments given at the time, I would have supported a Clinton, Gore, or Kerry administration taking the same action in Iraq. If I'm being honest, however, I probably would have been more critical of a few of the administration's decisions like the one to not crush the insurgents in Fallujah back in the spring.

The problem is that it's difficult for me to conceive any scenario (except in response to a catastrohpic attack) under in which a Democratic President would have led the drive to invade Iraq. Most Democrats see that as a good thing, especially with the clarity of hindsight. It's not.

The primary justification for invading Iraq was that the regime represented a real and growing threat to U.S. national security which could no longer be tolerated after September 11. While the global intelligence upon which the decision was based turned out to be incomplete and in many cases wrong, the motives underlying the decision to take action were not.

Nor is the Bush administration's overarching policy vision that has evolved in the aftermath of September 11 (of which Iraq has now become a central part) that the spread of democracy is deeply entwined with America's (and the world's) long term security interests. And while that doesn't mean the U.S. will run around the globe trying to impose democracy everywhere at the point of the gun, the President has also made clear that force may be required - and used - under the appropriate circumstances.

Put simplistically, President Bush has firmly embraced the idea that freedom leads to peace. Clearly Woodrow Wilson, who had spent years keeping America neutral in the face of German aggression, had something similar in mind on the eve of war in 1917 when he suggested to Congress that "such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free."

It's not surprising that many Democrats were against the invasion of Iraq and that more and more have turned against it as time, costs, and casualties have worn on. What is surprising is their continuing lack of enthusiasm in recognizing that 50 million people have been liberated in the last three years, their calculated indifference toward the recent elections in Afghanistan and their inability to wholeheartedly get behind supporting freedom and success in Iraq.

The Democrats' reaction to the Bush administration's policies exist in three parts. One part is procedural (our acting 'unilaterally'), one part is political (not wanting to credit your opponent), and one part is decidedly personal (a hatred of George W. Bush).

Taken together, however, the unfortunate reality is that by their reaction the Democrats have not only lost ground to Bush on the issue of national security, they've also ceded the ground of championing democracy and human rights around the globe. Lastly, and perhaps most ironically, in the process they've placed themselves on the side of the status quo of tyranny and oppression doled out by the likes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. I'm not sure that 's a legacy Woodrow Wilson would be proud of. - T. Bevan 9:30 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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