The Duke Lacrosse Players Case

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With news that the charges against the Duke lacrosse players will be dropped, bloggers LaShawn Barber and K.C. Johnson have the latest, with links to their many admirable posts on the subject. It has been clear for a very long time that this has been an unjust prosecution. One thing that fascinates me is that so many on the left have had an overpowering desire to believe these charges, in the face of all the evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. It is a desire that seems to have the characteristics of religious faith–a faith, in this case, that privileged white males are constantly abusing vulnerable black females. These people want desperately to believe that this happened in this case–even though it's obvious that it isn't so.

The Situation in Iraq

Fouad Ajami has a long piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Iraq in the Balance." Here are some excerpts, which I hope will entice you into reading the whole thing:

"A traveler who moves between Baghdad and Washington is struck by the gloomy despair in Washington and the cautious sense of optimism in Baghdad. Baghdad has not been prettified; its streets remain a sore to the eye, its government still hunkered down in the Green Zone, and violence is never far. But the sense of deliverance, and the hopes invested in this new security plan, are palpable. I crisscrossed the city–always with armed protection–making my way to Sunni and Shia politicians and clerics alike. The Sunni and Shia versions of political things–of reality itself–remain at odds. But there can be discerned, through the acrimony, the emergence of a fragile consensus."

. . .

"For our part, we can't give full credence to the Sunni representations of things. We can cushion the Sunni defeat but can't reverse it. Our soldiers have not waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq against Sunni extremists to fall for the fear of some imagined "Shia crescent" peddled by Sunni rulers and preachers. To that atavistic fight between Sunni and Shia, we ought to remain decent and discerning arbiters. To be sure, in Iraq itself we can't give a blank check to Shia maximalism. On its own, mainstream Shi'ism is eager to rein in its own die-hards and self-anointed avengers."

. . .

"One can never reconcile the beneficiaries of illegitimate, abnormal power to the end of their dominion. But this current realignment in Iraq carries with it a gift for the possible redemption of modern Islam among the Arabs. Hitherto Sunni Islam had taken its hegemony for granted and extremist strands within it have shown a refusal to accept "the other." Conversely, Shia history has been distorted by weakness and exclusion and by a concomitant abdication of responsibility.

A Shia-led state in Baghdad–with a strong Kurdish presence in it and a big niche for the Sunnis–can go a long way toward changing the region's terrible habits and expectations of authority and command. The Sunnis would still be hegemonic in the Arab councils of power beyond Iraq, but their monopoly would yield to the pluralism and complexity of that region." The Road to France

That's what the American Enterprise Institute's Kevin Hassett thinks we're on. He points out that current entitlement and tax policies put us on a trajectory toward government taking a larger and larger share of the economy–government spending, as projected by the Congressional Budget Office, will take up 50 percent of GDP by 2050 and revenue will increase from the current 18 to 24 percent by that year. The tax culprits: the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2010, the alternative minimum tax about which I've blogged frequently), and bracket creep (as the economy grows, more people will be in higher tax brackets). The spending culprits: the usual suspects, Social Security and Medicare. Robert Samuelson provides a similar analysis, taking off from Christopher Buckley's latest novel, Boomsday.

My view is that this trajectory isn't inevitable. The 2008 presidential election will provide voters with a pretty clear choice on the Bush tax cuts. If the Democratic nominee wins, they will be gone; if the Republican nominee wins, they will probably stay mostly in place. But in either case the AMT will probably trigger a demand for broad-based tax reform, similar to the rate-lowering and preference-cutting tax reform of 1986. Democrats will want to get rid of the AMT because it threatens to engulf too many of their constituents (see my analysis in the post linked to above). Republicans will be OK with getting rid of the AMT if doing so enables them to get tax rates lower than they would otherwise be. The tax code, more than two decades after the 1986 law, has been encumbered with loads of preferences that will be politically vulnerable as both Democrats and Republicans scramble to replace revenues lost by abolishing the AMT.

It's less likely that Social Security and Medicare will be addressed in the next administration. The ideal alignment of the political stars for such action are a lame-duck Democratic president and a Republican Congress–the alignment that was in place in 1999, when Bill Clinton contemplated and then decided not to seek a Social Security fix. The next president won't be a lame duck (unless John McCain wins after promising to serve only one term). We saw what happened on Social Security when we had a lame-duck Democratic president and a Republican Congress–nothing–and nothing is going to happen this year and next with a lame-duck Republican president and a Democratic Congress. So it's not likely that we'll see anything much in the next administration. But the one after that ... That puts Social Security reform on the table, maybe, in 2015–16, nearly 20 years after Bill Clinton decided not to act.