Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Changing Israel Debate

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on March 9, 2009

israel_america_flagNote from Allison: I highly recommend reading Roger Cohen’s columns from the past 3 weeks. It’s encouraging, not because Cohen is suddenly a leftist radical when it comes to Israel, but because he’s very much a mainstream voice in a mainstream newspaper. This is a clear indication that the Israel dialogue is shifting to a more sane place.

Read! Middle East Reality Check (March 9), Iran, the Jews, and Germany (March 1), and What Iran’s Jews Say (February 22).

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Glenn Greenwald

Anyone who doubts that there has been a substantial — and very positive — change in the rules for discussing American policy towards Israel should consider two recent episodes:  (1) the last three New York Times columns by Roger Cohen; and (2) the very strong pushback from a diverse range of sources against the neoconservative lynch mob trying, in typical fashion, to smear and destroy Charles Freeman due to his critical (in all senses of the word) views of American policy towards Israel.  One positive aspect of the wreckage left by the Bush presidency is that many of the most sacred Beltway pieties stand exposed as intolerable failures, prominently including our self-destructively blind enabling of virtually all Israeli actions.

First, the Cohen columns:  Two weeks ago, Cohen — writing from Iran —mocked the war-seeking cartoon caricature of that nation as The New Nazi Germany craving a Second Holocaust.  To do so, Cohen reported on the relatively free and content Iranian Jewish community (25,000 strong).  When that column prompted all sorts of predictable attacks on Cohen from the standard cast of Israel-centric thought enforcers (Jeffrey Goldberg, National Review, right-wing blogs, etc. etc.), Cohen wrote a second column breezily dismissing those smears and then bolstering his arguments further by pointing out that “significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist” in Iran; that “Iran has not waged an expansionary war in more than two centuries”;  and that “hateful, ultranationalist rhetoric is no Iranian preserve” given the ascension of Avigdor Lieberman in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new Israeli government.

Today, Cohen returns with his most audacious column yet.  Noting the trend in Britain and elsewhere to begin treating Hezbollah and Hamas as what they are — namely, “organizations [that are] now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible,” rather than pure “Terrorist organizations” that must be shunned — Cohen urges the Obama administration to follow this trend:  the U.S. should “should initiate diplomatic contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah” and even “look carefully at how to reach moderate Hamas elements.”  As for the objection that those two groups have used violence in the past, Cohen offers the obvious response, though does so quite eloquently:

Speaking of violence, it’s worth recalling what Israel did in Gaza in response to sporadic Hamas rockets. It killed upward of 1,300 people, many of them women and children; caused damage estimated at $1.9 billion; and destroyed thousands of Gaza homes. It continues a radicalizing blockade on 1.5 million people squeezed into a narrow strip of land.

At this vast human, material and moral price, Israel achieved almost nothing beyond damage to its image throughout the world. Israel has the right to hit back when attacked, but any response should be proportional and governed by sober political calculation. The Gaza war was a travesty; I have never previously felt so shamed by Israel’s actions.

No wonder Hamas and Hezbollah are seen throughout the Arab world as legitimate resistance movements.

So absolute has the Israel-centric stranglehold on American policy been that the U.S. Government has made it illegal to broadcast Hezbollah television stations and has even devoted its resources to criminally prosecuting and imprisoning satellite providers merely for including Hezbollah’s Al Manar channel in their cable package.  Not even our Constitution’s First Amendment has been a match for the endless exploitation of American policy, law and resources to target and punish Israel’s enemies.  But this trilogy of Cohen columns reflects the growing awareness of just how self-destructive is that mentality and, more importantly, the growing refusal to refrain from saying so.

* * * * *

The still-expanding battle over the appointment of Charles Freeman by Obama’s DNI, Adm. Dennis Blair, provides even more compelling evidence.  I’m not going to detail all of the facts surrounding this controversy because so many others have done such an excellent job of arguing the case — particularly Andrew Sullivan (all week) and Stephen Walt — and the crux of the matter was summarized perfectly last night by Josh Marshall:

The real rub, the basis of the whole controversy, however, is that [Freeman] has been far more critical of Israeli policy than is generally allowed within acceptable debate in Washington. . .

The whole effort strikes me as little more than a thuggish effort to keep the already too-constricted terms of debate over the Middle East and Israel/Palestine locked down and largely one-sided. . . . But the gist is that campaigns like this are ugly and should be resisted. Not just on general principles, but because the country needs more diversity of viewpoints on this issue right now.

Precisely.  The Atlantic‘s James Fallows and Daniel Larison both compellingly document that the real issue here is whether the suffocating prohibition on government officials’ questioning U.S. policy toward Israel will continue, or whether the range of permissive debate on this vital question will finally be expanded.  The Freeman appointment is so important precisely because it signals that rejecting the long-standing orthodoxy on Israel is no longer disqualifying when it comes to high level government positions [and, perhaps as importantly, that it’s now even permissible to raise the previously verbotenpoint that perhaps one of the reasons why many Muslims want to attack the U.S. is because the U.S. (both on its own and through Israel) has spentdecades continuously attacking, bombing, invading, occupying and otherwise interfering in Muslim countries].   

Ezra Klein argues, persuasively, that even if Freeman ends up being appointed, the lynch-mob smear campaign will still have achieved its purpose:

But for Freeman’s detractors, a loss might still be a win. As Sullivan and others have documented, the controversy over Freeman is fundamentally a question of his views on Israel. Barring a bad report from the inspector general, Chas Freeman will survive and serve. But only because his appointment doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Few, however, will want to follow where he led. Freeman’s career will likely top out at Director of the NIC. That’s not a bad summit by any means. But for ambitious foreign policy thinkers who might one day aspire to serve in a confirmed capacity, the lesson is clear: Israel is off-limits. And so, paradoxically, the freethinking Freeman’s appointment might do quite a bit to silence foreign policy dissenters who want to succeed in Washington.

There is, by design, definitely a chilling effect to these smear campaigns.  Freeman is being dragged through the mud by the standard cast of accusatory Israel-centric neocons (Marty Peretz, Jon Chait, Jeffrey Goldberg,CommentaryThe Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb, etc. etc., etc.), subjected to every standard, baseless smear, as a warning to others who think about challenging U.S. policy towards Israel in a similar way.  Ultimately, though, I think that each time one of these swarming, hate-campaigns is swatted away, they incrementally lose their efficacy, emboldening others to risk their weakening wrath. 

Ultimately, the greatest weapon to defeat these campaigns is to highlight the identity and behavior of their perpetrators.  Just consider who is behind the attack on Freeman; how ugly and discredited are their tactics and ideology; and, most importantly, how absurd it is, given their disgraceful history, that they — of all people — would parade around as arbiters of “ideological extremism” and, more audaciously still, as credible judges of intelligence assessment.  Sullivan compiled a comprehensive time line demonstrating that the attacks on Freeman originated and were amplified by the very same people for whom American devotion to Israel is the overriding if not exclusive priority and who have been so glaringly wrong about so much.  Though they have since tried, with characteristic deceit and cowardice, to disguise their agenda by pretending to oppose Freeman on other, non-Israel grounds (such as their oh-so-authentic concern for Chinese human rights), that masquerading effort — as Matt Yglesias notes here — is so transparently dishonest as to be laughable.

Indeed, some of them, early on, were perfectly honest about the fact that Freeman’s views on Israel is what has motivated their opposition, including theIsrael-based “concerns” over the appointment voiced by Sen. Chuck Schumer to Rahm Emanuel.  And — demonstrating that these taboos are still formidible — Schumer’s sentiments have since been echoed by unnamed “Democratic leaders.”  Chuck Schumer, along with Dianne Feinstein, single-handedly enabled the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General despite Mukaseky’s refusal to say that waterboarding was torture (and Schumer evenvoted to confirm Michael Hayden as CIA Director despite his overseeing Bush’s illegal NSA program).  Yet Obama appoints someone who is critical of Israel and who questions American policy towards Israel, and Schumer springs into action by calling Rahm Emanuel to express “concern” over the appointment.  

It’s not a mystery what is behind this attack on Freeman.  As Spencer Ackerman wrote last week:

Basically, Freeman’s major sin is that he doesn’t take a simplistic or blinkered view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a number of mostly-right-wing Jewish writers at Commentary, the Weekly Standard, the Atlantic and The New Republic have been arguing that he’s not fit to serve.

That’s really the crux of the issue here:  are we going to continue to allow these actual extremists to define “extremism” and dictate the acceptable range of views when it comes to Middle East policy?

As Ackerman noted the other day, one of the leading anti-Freeman generals is AIPAC’s Steve Rosen, who has been indicted for passing American secrets onto the Israeli Government.  That’s almost satire:  an AIPAC official accused of spying for a foreign country purporting to lead the charge against Freeman based on Freeman’s “extremism” and excessive ties to another Middle Eastern country.

Or consider the Washington Post Op-Ed by The New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait railing that Freeman — who opposed the attack on Iraq —  is an “ideological fanatic.”  That’s the very same Jonathan Chait who spent 2002 and 2003 running around demanding that we invade Iraq and who even went on national television to declare: “I don’t think you can argue that a regime change in Iraq won’t demonstrably and almost immediately improve the living conditions of the Iraqi people.”  That’s someone who — after spending years working for Marty Peretz — thinks he’s in a position to demonize others as being “ideological extremists” and unfit to assess intelligence reports and to define the legitimate parameters of the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East.  To describe Chait’s view of himself is to illustrate its absurdity.  

Or review the rank propaganda and/or glaring ignorance spread by anti-Freeman crusade leader Jeffrey Goldberg before the Iraq War.  Or just read this painfully deceitful, humiliatingly error-plagued 2003 column fromFreeman critic Michael Moynihan of Reason.   And that’s to say nothing of the rest of the Weekly Standard and National Review propagandists purporting to sit in judgment of what constitutes mainstream views towards Israel.  Just looking at the opponents of Freeman and their reckless history powerfully conveys how disastrous it would be to continue to allow this extremist clique, of all people, to continue to dictate the scope of legitimate debate over Israel, the Middle East and our intelligence policies generally.  It’s like allowing Dick Cheney and John Yoo to dictate what constitutes mainstream legal opinion and to reject prospective judges as being “extremists” on Constitutional questions.

Summing up the attacks on Freeman, Andrew Sullivan wrote that he finds “the hysterical bullying of this man to be repulsive.”  There’s no question about that.  Hysterical bullying — rank character smearing — is what they’ve been doing for many years in an attempt to intimidate people out of dissenting from their so-called “pro-Israel” orthodoxies.  But last night, Sullivan made the more important observation about this controversy:

The idea that Obama should not have advisers who challenge some of the core assumptions of the Bush years, especially with respect to Israel-Palestine, seems nuts to me. And the impulse to blackball and smear someone as a bigot is reprehensible.

It’s destructive enough to artificially limit debate on a matter as consequential as U.S. policy towards Israel.  We’ve been doing that for many years now.  But it’s so much worse that the people who have been defining and dictating those limits are themselves extremists in every sense of that word when it comes to Israel and U.S. policy towards that country.  Their demands that no distinctions be recognized between Israeli and Americans interests have been uniquely destructive for the U.S.  Few things are more urgent than an expansion of the debate over U.S. policy in this area, which is exactly why this radical lynch mob is swarming with such intensity to destroy Freeman’s reputation and fortify the limitations on our debates which, for so long, they have thuggishly enforced.  If someone like Freeman can occupy a position like Chair of the National Intelligence Council — handpicked by Obama’s DNI, an Admiral — the taboos they are so desperate to maintain will erode just that much further.

Two Americas, Two Tax Codes

Posted in Barack Obama, class divide, Economy by allisonkilkenny on March 9, 2009

Dorothy Brown 

Leonna Helmsley: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."

Leonna Helmsley: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."

WARREN BUFFETT knows there’s something very unfair about the American tax system. He’s often complained that while his 2006 tax rate (for federal income taxes and Social Security withholding) on $46 million of income was 17.7 percent, his secretary’s combined tax rate was 30 percent.

There are effectively two tax systems in America: one for the very rich and one for the rest of us. Income from stock dividends and capital gains, which makes up a disproportionate amount of the earnings of the very rich, is taxed at 15 percent. But the bulk of what the rest of us earn — wages and interest from savings accounts — is taxed at up to 35 percent. Though President Obama’s recent tax proposals are progressive and comprehensive, his reforms don’t do nearly enough to address this significant disparity.

Yes, President Obama’s plan would eliminate the loophole that has allowed hedge fund titans, whose income comes in no small part from management fees, to be taxed at just 15 percent instead of the ordinary income tax rate.

Families earning more than $250,000 and singles earning more than $200,000 would likewise see taxes on their wages and interest increased to a top rate of 39.6 percent from 35 percent. And the rate on both capital gains and dividends on the sale of stock would increase, but only to 20 percent from 15 percent. These changes lessen the unfairness in our tax system; they don’t eliminate it.

The gap between the tax rates for the rich and the rest of us is relatively recent. Until 1921, capital gains were taxed at the same rate as ordinary income. Then Congress enacted a law that taxed capital gains at 12.5 percent while ordinary income was taxed at as much as 58 percent.

In the decades since, the tax rate on capital gains varied — sometimes it increased, sometimes it decreased. But with the exception of a brief period in the late 1980s, it was always lower than the tax on ordinary income. That was not the case for stock dividends, which were taxed like wage income and savings account interest — that is, until President George W. Bush and Congress in 2003 gave dividends the same preferential treatment as capital gains. The Bush tax cuts moved our tax system too far in the wrong direction.

There is a flip side to raising the tax rates for dividends and capital gains. In this market, there won’t be too much capital gain to worry about. So how should we treat capital losses?

Under current law, capital losses that exceed capital gains can be deducted up to $3,000 (losses above that limit can be carried forward indefinitely into future tax years). If we increase the tax rate on capital gains, then a more generous limit on capital losses should almost certainly be allowed. During the presidential campaign, Senator John McCain proposed increasing the $3,000 offset against ordinary income to $15,000. It’s an idea worth dusting off.

The question of how to tax capital gains and dividends is one of fundamental fairness. Why should tax law treat income from savings accounts differently from income from a diversified stock portfolio? Either we push up the rates on corporate dividends and capital gains or we lower the rates on wages and interest: it’s all income and it should all be taxed at the same rate.

Dorothy Brown is a professor of tax law at Emory University.

Thomas Friedman’s Five Worst Predictions

Posted in media by allisonkilkenny on March 5, 2009

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

In this morning’s New York Times,columnist Thomas Friedman makes a grave prediction regarding Obama and the ongoing financial crisis: “I fear that his whole first term could be eaten by Citigroup, A.I.G., Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and the whole housing/subprime credit bubble we inflated these past 20 years.” Friedman is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, a staple ofThe New York Times, and a bestselling author, and thus this prediction should be taken very seriously—in some alternate universe where the news media is a meritocracy and Thomas Friedman is a competent observer of the world and its workings. The rest of us can probably relax.

Let’s review:

In October of 2000, Friedman decided that the Chinese regime would soon find itself threatened by a major unemployment crisis caused by an influx of American wheat and sugar into that country. In fact, American wheat and sugar failed to make any inroads whatsoever, while Chinese unemployment figures (however unreliable they may be) remained at low levels for a period of seven years.

After the announcement of Colin Powell’s Secretary of State nomination in December 2000, a clearly impressed Friedman related to his readers that “it was impossible to imagine Mr. Bush ever challenging or overruling Mr. Powell on any issue,”  that Powell “can never be fired,” and that “Mr. Bush can never allow him to resign in protest over anything.” Five years later, Powell was out via “resignation” after having been consistently challenged and overruled by Bush, who must have missed Friedman’s column.   

In 2001, Friedman advised the American citizenry to “keep rootin’ for Putin,” hailing the K.G.B. veteran as “Russia’s first Deng Xiaoping” and a strong force for reform. Three years later, Friedman announced in his most awkward prose that “I have a ‘Tilt Theory of History’,” and called Russia “a huge nation” (this part checks out) “that was tilted in the wrong direction and is now tilted in the right direction” with regards to free speech, the rule of law, and the like. In 2007, Friedman finally noticed that Russia cannot even properly be termed a democracy and promptly wrote a column to this effect.

Then, a month into the Afghanistan conflict, Friedman complained that “the hand-wringing has already begun over how long this might last” and advised readers to “take a deep breath,” noting that Afghanistan is “far away.” Besides, Friedman had “no doubt, for now, that the Bush team has a military strategy for winning a long war.” A month later, he noted in passing that “America has won the war in Afghanistan” and that “the Taliban are gone,” though he did express some concern about “all the nonsense written in the press about the concern for ‘civilian casualties’,”  a term he took to using with scare quotes. Seven years later, civilian casualties remain a major item of concern for Afghan’s in the non-won war against the non-gone Taliban.

In 2005, Friedman explained that it was necessary for Democrats “to start thinking seriously about Iraq” lest the party “become unimportant.” Though Democrats never came around to Friedman’s way of serious thinking , they did manage to take control of both chambers of Congress the following year, ushering in a period of nearly unprecedented political dominance that continues to this day, which strikes me as a pretty important thing to do. 

Now, I don’t ask a lot of favors from the American citizenry and rarely even hit it up for money, but I was thinking that it might be kind of neat if everyone could stop pretending that  Friedman’s prognostication deserves to be taken seriously.

Also, could we key his car or something? This is a time for bold moves.

Barrett Brown is the author of Flock of Dodos: Behind Modern Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Easter Bunny and serves as director of communications for Enlighten the Vote, previously known as GAMPAC.

Staggering New Prison Statistics

Posted in prison, racism by allisonkilkenny on March 3, 2009

Democracy Now

Study: 7.3 Million Americans Now in Prison, on Parole or Probation

11prison_paper1

Here in this country, a new study has found the number of people in prison, on parole or probation has reached a record 7.3 million. One in every thirty-one adults is now in the US corrections system. Twenty-five years ago, the rate was one in seventy-seven. The Pew Center on the States found that corrections spending is outpacing government spending on education, transportation and public assistance. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $52 billion on corrections last year—that’s one in every fifteen general fund dollars.

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NYT

Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid

One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study.

Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report Monday by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years.

The increases in the number of people in some form of correctional control occurred as crime rates declined by about 25 percent in the past two decades.

As states face huge budget shortfalls, prisons, which hold 1.5 million adults, are driving the spending increases.

States have shown a preference for prison spending even though it is cheaper to monitor convicts in community programs, including probation and parole, which require offenders to report to law enforcement officers. A survey of 34 states found that states spent an average of $29,000 a year on prisoners, compared with $1,250 on probationers and $2,750 on parolees. The study found that despite more spending on prisons, recidivism rates remained largely unchanged.

Pew researchers say that as states trim services like education and health care, prison budgets are growing. Those priorities are misguided, the study says.

“States are looking to make cuts that will have long-term harmful effects,” said Sue Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “Corrections is one area they can cut and still have good or better outcomes than what they are doing now.”

Brian Walsh, a senior research fellow at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, agreed that focusing on probation and parole could reduce recidivism and keep crime rates low in the long run. But Mr. Walsh said tougher penalties for crimes had driven the crime rate down in the first place.

“The reality is that one of the reasons crime rates are so low is because we changed our federal and state systems in the past two decades to make sure that people who commit crimes, especially violent crimes, actually have to serve significant sentences,” he said.

Over all, two-thirds of offenders, or about 5.1 million people in 2008, were on probation or parole. The study found that states were not increasing their spending for community supervision in proportion to their growing caseloads. About $9 out of $10 spent on corrections goes to prison financing (that includes money spent to house 780,000 people in local jails).

One in 11 African-Americans, or 9.2 percent, are under correctional control, compared with one in 27 Latinos (3.7 percent) and one in 45 whites (2.2 percent). Only one out of 89 women is behind bars or monitored, compared with one out of 18 men.

Georgia had 1 in 13 adults under some form of punishment; Idaho, 1 in 18; the District of Columbia, 1 in 21; Texas, 1 in 22; Massachusetts, 1 in 24; and Ohio, 1 in 25.

Peter Greenwood, the executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Evidence Based Practice, a group that favors rehabilitative approaches, said states started spending more on prisons in the 1980s during the last big crime wave.

“Basically, when we made these investments, public safety and crime was the No. 1 concern of voters, so politicians were passing all kinds of laws to increase sentences,” Mr. Greenwood said.

President Bill Clinton signed legislation to increase federal sentences, he said.

“Now, crime is down,” Mr. Greenwood said, “but we’re living with that legacy: the bricks and mortar and the politicians who feel like they have to talk tough every time they talk about crime.”

Mr. Greenwood said prisons and jails, along with their powerful prison guard unions, service contracts, and high-profile sheriffs and police chiefs, were in a much better position to protect their interests than were parole and probation officers.

“Traditionally, probation and parole is at the bottom of the totem pole,” he said. “They’re just happy every time they don’t lose a third of their budget.”

Wars, Endless Wars

Posted in Afghanistan, Barack Obama, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 3, 2009

iraq_quagmire_accomplished_button-p145949191670659356tmn2_210Note from Allison: I don’t get Bob Herbert. He’s wonderful, and brilliant, and everything, but I just don’t get him. I don’t understand how he got hired at the New York Times, or why he’s kept writing for them all these years. Bob Herbert working at the New York Times reminds me of Marilyn Munster living with her freak family. How did HE comes from THAT stock?

Sometimes, I imagine Bob standing around with Thomas Friedman, or (God forbid) Maureen Dowd, at a NYT staff party. Thomas is babbling about his latest trip to a golf club in East India (and how it really reminded him of the power of Globalization.) Maureen isn’t listening to Thomas (typical,) and she asks Bob, “If Hillary Clinton could be a kind of cocktail dress, what kind of dress do you think she would be?” and I imagine Bob’s face twitching as his hand slowly crushes his plastic cup of punch. 

I don’t get Bob, but I’m glad he’s around to inject some sanity into the Op-Eds. 

Bob Herbert

The singer Edwin Starr, who died in 2003, had a big hit in 1970 called “War” in which he asked again and again: “War, what is it good for?”

The U.S. economy is in free fall, the banking system is in a state of complete collapse and Americans all across the country are downsizing their standards of living. The nation as we’ve known it is fading before our very eyes, but we’re still pouring billions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with missions we are still unable to define.

Even as the U.S. begins plans to reduce troop commitments in Iraq, it is sending thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan. The strategic purpose of this escalation, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged, is not at all clear.

In response to a question on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Gates said:

“We’re talking to the Europeans, to our allies; we’re bringing in an awful lot of people to get different points of view as we go through this review of what our strategy ought to be. And I often get asked, ‘Well, how long will those 17,000 [additional troops] be there? Will more go in?’ All that depends on the outcome of this strategy review that I hope will be done in a few weeks.”

We invaded Afghanistan more than seven years ago. We have not broken the back of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. We have not captured or killed Osama bin Laden. We don’t even have an escalation strategy, much less an exit strategy. An honest assessment of the situation, taking into account the woefully corrupt and ineffective Afghan government led by the hapless Hamid Karzai, would lead inexorably to such terms as fiasco and quagmire.

Instead of cutting our losses, we appear to be doubling down.

As for Iraq, President Obama announced last week that substantial troop withdrawals will take place over the next year and a half and that U.S. combat operations would cease by the end of August 2010. But, he said, a large contingent of American troops, perhaps as many as 50,000, would still remain in Iraq for a “period of transition.”

That’s a large number of troops, and the cost of keeping them there will be huge. Moreover, I was struck by the following comment from the president: “There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments, but our enemies should be left with no doubt. This plan gives our military the forces and flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners and to succeed.”

In short, we’re committed to these two conflicts for a good while yet, and there is nothing like an etched-in-stone plan for concluding them. I can easily imagine a scenario in which Afghanistan and Iraq both heat up and the U.S., caught in an extended economic disaster at home, undermines its fragile recovery efforts in the same way that societies have undermined themselves since the dawn of time — with endless warfare.

We’ve already paid a fearful price for these wars. In addition to the many thousands of service members who have been killed or suffered obvious disabling injuries, a study by the RAND Corporation found that some 300,000 are currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and that 320,000 have most likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.

Time magazine has reported that “for the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Suicides among soldiers rose in 2008 for the fourth consecutive year, largely because of the stress of combat deployments. It’s believed that 128 soldiers took their own lives last year.

Much of the country can work itself up to a high pitch of outrage because a banker or an automobile executive flies on a private jet. But we’ll send young men and women by the thousands off to repeated excursions through the hell of combat — three tours, four tours or more — without raising so much as a peep of protest.

Lyndon Johnson, despite a booming economy, lost his Great Society to the Vietnam War. He knew what he was risking. He would later tell Doris Kearns Goodwin, “If I left the woman I really loved — the Great Society — in order to get involved with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs… All my dreams…”

The United States is on its knees economically. As President Obama fights for his myriad domestic programs and his dream of an economic recovery, he might benefit from a look over his shoulder at the link between Vietnam and the still-smoldering ruins of Johnson’s presidency.

Make My Filibuster

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, Republicans by allisonkilkenny on March 2, 2009

David R. RePass

filibuster2PRESIDENT OBAMA has decided to spend his political capital now, pushing through an ambitious agenda of health care, education and energy reform. If the Democrats in the Senate want to help him accomplish his goals, they should work to eliminate one of the greatest threats facing effective governance — the phantom filibuster.

Most Americans think of the filibuster (if they think of it at all) through the lens of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — a minority in the Senate deeply disagrees with a measure, takes to the floor and argues passionately round the clock to prevent it from passing. These filibusters are relatively rare because they take so much time and effort.

To reduce deadlock, in 1917 the Senate passed Rule 22, which made it possible for a supermajority — two-thirds of the chamber — to end a filibuster by voting for cloture. The two-thirds majority was later changed to three-fifths, or 60 of the current 100 senators.

In recent years, however, the Senate has become so averse to the filibuster that if fewer than 60 senators support a controversial measure, it usually won’t come up for discussion at all. The mere threat of a filibuster has become a filibuster, a phantom filibuster. Instead of needing a sufficient number of dedicated senators to hold the floor for many days and nights, all it takes to block movement on a bill is for 41 senators to raise their little fingers in opposition.

Historically, the filibuster was justified as a last-ditch defense of minority rights. Under this principle, an intense opposition should be able to protect itself from the tyranny of the majority. But today, the minority does not have to be intense at all. Its members have only to disagree with a measure to kill it. Essentially, the minority has veto power.

The phantom filibuster is clearly unconstitutional. The founders required a supermajority in only five situations: veto overrides and votes on treaties, constitutional amendments, convictions of impeached officials and expulsions of members of the House or Senate. The Constitution certainly does not call for a supermajority before debate on any controversial measure can begin.

And fixing the problem would not require any change in Senate rules. The phantom filibuster could be done away with overnight by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. All he needs to do is call the minority’s bluff by bringing a challenged measure to the floor and letting the debate begin.

Some argue that this procedure would mire the Senate in one filibuster after another. But avoiding delay by not bringing measures to the floor makes no sense. For fear of not getting much done, almost nothing is done at all. And what does get done is so compromised and toothless to make it filibuster-proof that it fails to solve problems.

Better to risk a filibuster — an event that, because of the great effort involved, would actually be rare — than to save time and accomplish little or nothing.

It also happens to make a great deal of political sense for the Democrats to force the Republicans to take the Senate floor and show voters that they oppose Mr. Obama’s initiatives. If the Republicans want to publicly block a popular president who is trying to resolve major problems, let them do it. And if the Republicans feel that the basic principles they believe in are worth standing up for, let them exercise their minority rights with an actual filibuster.

It is up to Mr. Reid. He can do away with the supermajority requirement for virtually all significant measures and return majority rule to the Senate. This is not to say that the Democrats should ride roughshod over the Republicans. Republicans should be included at all stages of the legislative process. However, with the daunting prospect of having to mount a real filibuster to demonstrate their opposition, Republicans may become much more willing to compromise.

David E. RePass is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Connecticut.

Ukraine On The Brink

Posted in Capitalism, Economy by allisonkilkenny on March 2, 2009

NYT

Dozens waited outside the Rodovid Bank in Kiev on Friday to take money out of their accounts. The bank is close to failing. (Joseph Sywenkyj, NYT)

Dozens waited outside the Rodovid Bank in Kiev on Friday to take money out of their accounts. The bank is close to failing. (Joseph Sywenkyj, NYT)

KIEV, Ukraine — Steel and chemical factories, once the muscle of Ukraine’s economy, are dismissing thousands of workers. Cities have had days without heat or water because they cannot pay their bills, and Kiev’s subway service is being threatened. Lines are sprouting at banks, the currency is wilting and even a government default seems possible.

Ukraine, once considered a worldwide symbol of an emerging, free-market democracy that had cast off authoritarianism, is teetering. And its predicament poses a real threat for other European economies and former Soviet republics.

The sudden, violent protests that have erupted elsewhere in Eastern Europe seem imminent here now, too. Across Kiev last week, people spoke of rising anger about the crisis and resentment toward a government that they said was more preoccupied with squabbling than with rallying the country.

The sign held by Vasily Kirilyuk, an unemployed plumber camped out with other antigovernment demonstrators here in the past week, summed up the pervasive frustration: “Get rid of them all,” it said.

Mr. Kirilyuk did not hesitate to take that further. “There will be a revolt,” he said. “And people will come because they are just fed up.”

Mr. Kirilyuk, 29, was standing in the same central square where throngs in 2004 carried out the Orange Revolution, a seminal event that brought to power a pro-Western government in Ukraine. He said he was a fervent supporter then of the protesters, but now he and a few dozen others who have set up tents here are demanding that the heroes of that revolution step down.

It is not hard to understand why world leaders are increasingly worried about the discontent and the financial crisis in Ukraine, which has 46 million people and a highly strategic location. A small country like Latvia or Iceland is one thing, but a collapse in Ukraine could wreck what little investor confidence is left in Eastern Europe, whose formerly robust economies are being badly strained.

It could also cause neighboring Russia, which has close ethnic and linguistic ties to eastern and southern Ukraine, to try to inject itself into the country’s affairs. What is more, the Kremlin would be able to hold up Ukraine as an example of what happens when former Soviet republics follow a Western model of free-market democracy.

Ukraine is a linchpin for stability in Europe,” said Olexiy Haran, a professor of comparative politics at Kiev Mohyla University. “It is a key player between the expanding European Union and Russia. To use an alarmist scenario, you could imagine a situation in Ukraine that Russia tried to exploit in order to dominate Ukraine. That would make for a very explosive situation on the border of the European Union.”

That Ukraine can cause problems for Europe was highlighted in January when Ukraine engaged in a dispute with Russia over how much it would pay Russia for natural gas, as well as over gas transport to the rest of Europe. The Kremlin shut off the gas for several days, and some European countries went without heat. The Kremlin also shut off gas to Ukraine in 2006 in a pricing dispute.

While Ukraine’s economy is dependent on exports of steel and chemicals, which have plummeted, the crisis has cut deeply because people are disillusioned with the government.

President Viktor A. Yushchenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution, who garnered attention around the world in 2004 when his face was scarred in a poisoning episode, is so widely scorned that a recent poll found that 57 percent of people wanted him to resign.

His rivals have also lost popularity, as the public has become exasperated by years of political bickering. In February, the International Monetary Fund refused to release the next installment of a $16.4 billion rescue loan to Ukraine because the government would not adhere to an earlier agreement to pare its budget.

Around the same time, Ukraine’s finance minister resigned, saying that the job had been “hostage to politics.”

On Friday, the monetary fund projected that Ukraine’s economy would shrink by 6 percent this year, and said that it was continuing to work with the government to find a way to disburse the rest of the rescue loan.

A presidential election is coming, probably to be held next January, and this prospect is making politicians, especially Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, reluctant to adopt an austerity program that might alienate voters.

Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko were pro-Western allies during the Orange Revolution, but have bitterly feuded since then, and he fired her once. A third rival, Viktor F. Yanukovich, a former prime minister who heads an opposition party that favors closer ties with Russia, also wants to be president.

On Friday, Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko held a public meeting in an effort to demonstrate that they were working together. Mr. Yushchenko said he wanted “to show the readiness of all sides to take political responsibility for decisions which today are not easy.”

Even so, the two did not announce further anticrisis measures.

All over Kiev have been signs that tensions are building.

On the city’s outskirts, more than 200 tractor-trailer rigs were parked Thursday, their drivers threatening to block roads if the government did not help them with their debts, which they said were caused in part by the drop in the value of Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia.

The truckers dispersed Friday, only after the government said it would try to address their demands, but they said they would be back soon if they were ignored.

“The government is to blame for all this,” said a trucker, Viktor V. Zarichnyuk, 26, who had been at the protest for 12 days. “We want the government and the national bank to agree that the money allocated by the International Monetary Fund, at least part of it, should go to regular people.”

At a branch of the Rodovid Bank across town, a tense crowd gathered Friday morning. The bank, close to failing, was allowing withdrawals of only $35 a day. And so people, some of them pensioners fearful for their life savings, have been trooping each day, ever more aggravated, to try to get what they can.

“Every day we come here — it’s insulting — in the cold and line up,” said Alevtina A. Antonyuk, 58, an engineer. “They are nothing at this bank but a bunch of thieves.”

Who is to blame, she was asked. Before she could answer, Dmitri I. Havrilkiv, 78, a retired crane operator, interrupted.

“The government has to be replaced,” he shouted. “They just can’t handle it!”

Keeping the Faith, Ignoring the History

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, religion by allisonkilkenny on March 1, 2009

Susan Jacoby

a1a11111111NEARLY everyone now takes for granted the wisdom, constitutionality and inevitability of some form of federal financing for community social services run by religious groups. Who anymore can imagine that the United States managed to exist for over 200 years without the government providing any direct aid to faith and its works?

It is truly dismaying that amid all the discussion about President Obama’s version of faith-based community initiatives, there has been such a widespread reluctance to question the basic assumption that government can spend money on religiously based enterprises without violating the First Amendment. The debate has instead focused on whether proselytizing or religious hiring discrimination should be permitted when church groups take public money. This shows how easy it is to institutionalize a bad idea based on unexamined assumptions about service to a greater good.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton started down the slippery slope toward a constitutionally questionable form of faith-based aid when he signed a welfare reform bill that included a “charitable choice” provision allowing religious groups to compete for grants. Under President George W. Bush, a separate White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was established — a significant expansion of “charitable choice.” Mr. Bush, who instituted his faith-based program through executive orders rather than trying to get a bill establishing the office through Congress, quickly put the money to political use.

The administration provided large grants for projects favored by the Christian right, like Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries and Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation program that openly pushed religious conversion (even using the phrase “completed Jews” to describe teenage converts from Judaism) as a way of overcoming addiction. John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of Mr. Bush’s faith-based office, resigned after only eight months and later complained about the politicization of the program.

Throughout Mr. Bush’s second term, the Democratic Party’s “religious left” maintained that the party needed to shed its secular image to attract more religious voters. As far as these Democrats were concerned, the only problem with faith-based programs was that most of the money was going to religious and political conservatives.

Enter Barack Obama, who spoke the language of both faith and secularism — and who promised during the campaign to expand faith-based aid while, at the same time, prohibiting proselytizing and religious hiring discrimination in federally financed programs. Yet earlier this month when the president announced his new faith-based team, headed by a Pentecostal minister, Josh DuBois, Mr. Obama left the Bush orders in place and Mr. DuBois later announced that hiring practices would be vetted by the Justice Department “case by case.”

Some have tried to justify direct, White House-administered faith-based aid by pointing to long-established practices allowing programs like Medicare and Medicaid to pay for services provided to patients in religiously affiliated hospitals. But for these hospitals, nondiscrimination in both hiring and patient admissions was always a condition of eligibility for any federal money.

It is also worth noting that Mr. Obama’s compromise has drawn criticism not only from secularists and civil libertarians but from religious conservatives like R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who maintains that the unlimited right to proselytize and to hire members of their own faith is essential if churches are not to compromise their mission. As a thoroughgoing secularist, I consider Mr. Mohler much clearer-minded than Democratic faith-based advocates, who wish to believe that devout proselytizers are somehow going to stifle themselves while providing “secular” social services.

The fact is that many people served by these projects — including children with absent fathers, addicts and prisoners — form a captive audience. It cannot be easy to say no to a proselytizer if saying yes means a warm bed in a homeless shelter, extra help for a child or more privileges while serving jail time. Embrace Jesus as your savior and, who knows, you may get early parole.

Furthermore, as Mr. Mohler points out, there is also a peril to religious independence from government in these programs. What government gives, government can take away. What happens if hard-pressed African-American churches serving poor communities — where enthusiasm for faith-based initiatives has always been high and has only intensified during the current economic crisis — come to rely on government money and the rug is pulled out from under them by a future administration?

Those who argue in favor of more religious involvement in government, and vice versa, always claim that the First Amendment does not mandate separation of church and state but simply prohibits state preference for any church. But even by that religion-infused standard, faith-based aid cannot help but favor some religions over others. For instance, nearly all non-Orthodox Jewish groups and liberal ecumenical religious organizations are opposed to government subsidy. How can it not violate the First Amendment to set up a program that even by default favors those groups eager to jump on the federal gravy train?

The other canker at the heart of faith-based initiatives is the assumption that religiously based programs work better than secular and government efforts. For the faithful, though, the efficacy of these programs is an article of faith, not a conclusion supported by objective evidence.

Back in 2003, there was a flurry of excitement surrounding a study that at first glance seemed to suggest that participants in Mr. Colson’s prison programs in Texas had been rearrested at much lower rates than other released prisoners. There was just one problem: the study excluded everyone who quit the program in prison — two-thirds of the starting group. It is as if the Department of Education were to measure the success of public schools by not counting dropouts. This ought to give pause to Mr. Obama, who has spoken so often about restoring evidence and science to public policy-making.

President Obama might also take a moment to reread the religious freedom act passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, with strong support from both Baptists and freethinkers. That law, which prohibited tax support for religious teaching in public schools, became the template for the establishment clause of the First Amendment and also helped establish our American tradition of government freedom from religious interference and religious freedom from government interference.

Yet we are moving blindly ahead with faith-based federal spending as if it were not a radical break with our past. If faith-based initiatives, first institutionalized by the executive fiat of a conservative Republican president, become even more entrenched under a liberal Democratic administration, there will be no going back. In place of the First Amendment, we will have a sacred cash cow.

Susan Jacoby is the author of “The Age of American Unreason.”

The Ecstasy and the Agony

Posted in Barack Obama, corporations, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 1, 2009

Frank Rich, NYT

BARACK OBAMA must savor the moment while he can. It may never get better than this.#mce_temp_url#

As he stood before Congress on Tuesday night, the new president was armed with new job approval percentages in the 60s. After his speech, the numbers hit the stratosphere: CBS News found that support for his economic plans spiked from 63 percent to 80. Had more viewers hung on for the Republican response from Bobby Jindal, the unintentionally farcical governor of Louisiana, Obama might have aced a near-perfect score.

(Illustration by Barry Blitt)

(Illustration by Barry Blitt)

His address was riveting because it delivered on the vision he had promised a battered populace during the campaign: Government must step in boldly when free markets run amok and when national crises fester unaddressed for decades. For all the echoes of F.D.R.’s first fireside chat, he also evoked his own memorably adult speech on race. Once again he walked us through a lucid step-by-step mini-lecture on “how we arrived” at an impasse that’s threatening America’s ability to move forward.

Obama’s race speech may have saved his campaign. His first Congressional address won’t rescue the economy. But it brings him to a significant early crossroads in his presidency — one full of perils as well as great opportunities. To get the full political picture, look beyond Obama’s popularity in last week’s polls to the two groups of Americans whose approval numbers are in the toilet. There is good news for Obama in these findings, but there’s also a stark indication of the unchecked populist rage that could still overrun his ambitious plans.

The first group in national disfavor is the G.O.P. In the latest New York Times/CBS News survey, 63 percent said that Congressional Republicans opposed the stimulus package mostly for political reasons; only 17 percent felt that the Republicans should stick with their own policies rather than cooperate with Obama and the Democrats. The second group of national villains is corporate recipients of taxpayer money: only 39 percent approve of a further bailout for banks, and only 22 percent want more money going to Detroit’s Big Three.

The good news for Obama is that he needn’t worry about the Republicans. They’re committing suicide. The morning-after conservative rationalization of Jindal’s flop was that his adenoidal delivery, not his words, did him in, and that media coaching could banish his resemblance to Kenneth the Page of “30 Rock.” That’s denial. For Jindal no less than Obama, form followed content.

The Louisiana governor, alternately smug and jejune, articulated precisely the ideology — those G.O.P. “policies” in the Times/CBS poll — that Americans reject: the conviction that government is useless and has no role in an emergency. Given that the most mismanaged federal operation in modern memory was inflicted by a Republican White House on Jindal’s own state, you’d think he’d change the subject altogether.

But like all zealots, Jindal is oblivious to how nonzealots see him. Pleading “principle,” he has actually turned down some $100 million in stimulus money for Louisiana. And, as he proudly explained on “Meet the Press” last weekend, he can’t wait to be judged on “the results” of his heroic frugality.

Good luck with that. He’s rejecting aid for a state that ranks fourth in children living below the poverty line and 46th in high school graduation rates, while struggling with a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.7 billion.

If you’re baffled why the G.O.P. would thrust Jindal into prime time, the answer is desperation. Eager to update its image without changing its antediluvian (or antebellum) substance, the party is trying to lock down its white country-club blowhards. The only other nonwhite face on tap, alas, is the unguided missile Michael Steele, its new national chairman. Steele has of late been busy promising to revive his party with an “off-the-hook” hip-hop P.R. campaign, presumably with the perennially tan House leader John Boehner leading the posse.

At least the G.O.P.’s newfound racial sensitivity saved it from choosing the white Southern governor often bracketed with Jindal as a rising “star,” Mark Sanford of South Carolina. That would have been an even bigger fiasco, for Sanford is from the same state as Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the junior high school student who sat in Michelle Obama’s box on Tuesday night and whose impassioned letter to Congresswas quoted by the president.

In her plea, the teenager begged for aid to her substandard rural school. Without basic tools, she poignantly wrote, she and her peers cannot “prove to the world” that they too might succeed at becoming “lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president.”

Her school is in Dillon, where the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, grew up. The school’s auditorium, now condemned, was the site of Bernanke’s high school graduation. Dillon is now so destitute that Bernanke’s middle-class childhood home was just auctioned off in a foreclosure sale. Unemployment is at 14.2 percent.

Governor Sanford’s response to such hardship — his state over all has the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate — was not merely a threat to turn down federal funds but a trip to Washington to actively lobby against the stimulus bill. He accused the three Republican senators who voted for it of sabotaging “the future of our civilization.” In his mind the future of civilization has little to do with the future of students like Ty’Sheoma Bethea.

What such G.O.P. “stars” as Sanford and Jindal have in common, besides their callous neo-Hoover ideology, are their phony efforts to portray themselves as populist heroes. Their role model is W., that brush-clearing “rancher” by way of Andover, Yale and Harvard. Listening to Jindal talk Tuesday night about his immigrant father’s inability to pay for an obstetrician, you’d never guess that at the time his father was an engineer and his mother an L.S.U. doctoral candidate in nuclear physics. Sanford’s first political ad in 2002 told of how growing up on his “family’s farm” taught him “about hard work and responsibility.” That “farm,” the Charlotte Observer reported, was a historic plantation appraised at $1.5 million in the early 1980s. From that hardscrabble background, he struggled on to an internship at Goldman Sachs.

G.O.P. pseudopopulism ran riot last week as right-wing troops rallied around their latest Joe the Plumber: Rick Santelli, the ranting CNBC foe of Obama’s mortgage rescue program. Ann Coulter proposed a Santelli run for president, and Twitterers organized national “tea parties” to fuel his taxpayers’ revolt. Even with a boost from NBC, whose networks seized a promotional opening by incessantly recycling the Santelli “controversy,” the bonfire fizzled. It did so because — as last week’s polls also revealed — the mortgage bailout, with a 60-plus percent approval rating, is nearly as popular as Obama.

The Santelli revolution’s flameout was just another confirmation that hard-core Republican radicals are now the G.O.P.’s problem, not the president’s. Rahm Emanuel has it right when he says the administration must try bipartisanship, but it doesn’t have to succeed. Voters give Obama credit for trying, and he can even claim success with many Republican governors, from Schwarzenegger to Crist. Now he can move on and let his childish adversaries fight among themselves, with Rush Limbaugh as the arbitrating babysitter. (Last week he gave Jindal a thumb’s up.)

But that good news for Obama is countered by the bad. The genuine populist rage in the country — aimed at greedy C.E.O.’s, not at the busted homeowners mocked as “losers” by Santelli — cannot be ignored or finessed. Though Obama was crystal clear on Tuesday that there can be “no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis,” it was telling that he got fuzzy when he came to what he might do about it. He waited two days to drop that shoe in his budget: a potential $750 billion in banking “asset purchases” on top of the previous $700 billion bailout.

Therein lies the Catch-22 that could bring the recovery down. As Obama said, we can’t move forward without a functioning financial system. But voters of both parties will demand that their congressmen reject another costly rescue of it. Americans still don’t understand why many Wall Street malefactors remain in place or why the administration’s dithering banking policy lacks the boldness and clarity of Obama’s rhetoric.

Nor can a further bailout be easily sold by a Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, whose lax oversight of the guilty banks while at the New York Fed remains a subject of journalistic inquiry. In a damning 5,600-word article from Bloomberg last week, he is portrayed as a second banana, a timid protégé of the old boys who got us into this disaster. Everyone testifies to Geithner’s brilliance, but Jindal, a Rhodes scholar, was similarly hyped. Like the Louisiana governor, the Treasury secretary is a weak public speaker not because he lacks brains or vocal training but because his message doesn’t fly.

Among the highlights of Obama’s triumphant speech was his own populist jeremiad about the “fancy drapes” and private jets of Wall Street. But talk is not action. Two days later, as ABC News reported, the president of taxpayer- supported Bank of America took a private jet to New York to stonewall Andrew Cuomo’s inquest into $3.6 billion of suspect bonuses.

Handing more public money to the reckless banks that invented this culture and stuck us with the wreckage is the new third rail of American politics. If Obama doesn’t forge a better plan, neither his immense popularity nor even political foes as laughable as Jindal can insulate him from getting burned.

Struggling States Consider Legalizing Pot and Taxing Porn

Posted in Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 28, 2009

NYT

drugs_cannabisIn his 11 years in the Washington Legislature, Representative Mark Miloscia says he has supported all manner of methods to fill the state’s coffers, including increasing fees on property owners to help the homeless and taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, most of which, he said, passed “without a peep.”

And so it was last month that Mr. Miloscia, a Democrat, decided he might try to “find a new tax source” — pornography.

The response, however, was a turn-off.

“People came down on me like a ton of bricks,” said Mr. Miloscia, who proposed an 18.5 percent sales tax on items like sex toys and adult magazines. “I didn’t quite understand. Apparently porn is right up there with Mom and apple pie.”

Mr. Miloscia’s proposal died at the committee level, but he is far from the only legislator floating unorthodox ideas as more than two-thirds of the states face budget shortfalls.

“The most common phrase you hear from the states is ‘Everything is on the table,’ ” said Arturo Perez, a fiscal analyst with National Conference of State Legislatures, who predicted the worst financial year for states since the end of World War II.

Nowhere is that more true than California, where Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a freshman from San Francisco, made a proposal intended to increase revenue, and, no doubt, appetite: legalizing and taxing marijuana, a major — if technically illegal — crop in the state.

“We’re all jonesing now for money,” Mr. Ammiano said. “And there’s this enormous industry out there.”

In Nevada, State Senator Bob Coffin said he would introduce legislation to tax the state’s legal brothels, a fee that would be “based on the amount of activities.” And unlike the Washington porn proposal, which drew the ire of the adult entertainment industry, Mr. Coffin’s plan has the backing of the potential taxpayers, in this case brothel owners who employ women as independent contractors.

“I think they figure if they become part of the tax stream, the less vulnerable they will be to some shift in mores,” he said.

Hawaiian legislators were also considering capitalizing on another potential shift in public attitudes when they proposed legalizing same-sex unions, which supporters say could help the slumping tourism trade.

In Massachusetts, meanwhile, state legislators have introduced a proposal to build two resort-style casinos, including one in Boston. A similar push died last year in the State House of Representatives. But Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat and co-author of the new casino bill, said a $2 billion budget deficit might have changed some minds.

“Every state in the nation, including Massachusetts, needs to figure out a way of raising revenues,” Mr. Walsh said. “So we need to be creative.”

Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said many lawmakers were loath to tap more traditional tax sources during a downturn.

“What’s pushing it is this incredible desire to raise revenue,” he said. “But it’s coupled with the desire not to raise the general and sales and income taxes.”

Whether such proposals can pass is another issue, though each idea has its supporters. Betty Yee, chairwoman of the California Board of Equalization, the state’s tax collector, said that legal marijuana could raise nearly $1 billion per year via a $50-per-ounce fee charged to retailers. An additional $400 million could be raised through sales tax on marijuana sold to buyers.

The law would also establish a smoking age — 21 — effectively putting marijuana in a similar regulatory class as alcohol or tobacco. Marijuana advocates argue that legalization could also decrease pressure on the state’s overburdened prison system and law enforcement officers.

All of which, Ms. Yee said, at least makes the proposal worth talking about in a state with chronic budget problems and a law already on the books allowing the medical use of the drug.

“We know the product is out there, and we know marijuana is available to young people as well, but there’s no regulatory structure in place,” Ms. Yee said. “I think it’s an opportunity to begin the debate.”

Such a debate, of course, does not always favor tax innovators, and several law enforcement groups have already objected to the idea of legal marijuana, which would conflict with federal law.

John Lovell, a lobbyist for several groups of California law enforcement officials, said the plan would create a large, illicit — and thus untaxed — black market, in addition to magnifying substance abuse problems. “The last thing we need is yet another legal substance that is mind-altering,” he said.

Having taxes on illegal activities — like a seldom-collected tax on marijuana sales in Nevada — also has its drawbacks, said Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who has researched drug policy.

“It is very hard to tax illegal vices unless one is comfortable with contradiction,” Mr. MacCoun said. “How can you collect the taxes without documenting the behavior? And how can you document the behavior without making an arrest?”

In Washington State, Mr. Miloscia said he had also received criticism from an array of residents and business owners, who accused him of attacking the First Amendment and other sacred institutions with his porn proposal.

“I had people call up saying their marriages would fall apart,” said Mr. Miloscia, who represents a suburban district between Tacoma and Seattle. “I didn’t know how passionate people are about this stuff.”