Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
On Tax Day, Citizens for Tax Justice has released a report (PDF) rebutting a top conservative talking point: almost half of Americans pay no taxes, and the rich pay far more taxes than the rest of the country. They make this case for an obvious reason: to beat back calls for raising taxes for the well-to-do. But guess what? Their fundamental premise is not an accurate reflection of reality. Here's how CTJ explains it:
Conservative pundits and media outlets have seized upon an estimate that 47 percent of taxpayers owe no federal income tax for 2009. This statistic has morphed into the claim by conservatives that “47 percent of all Americans don’t pay any taxes.” The conservative pundits are wrong. It’s true that many taxpayers don’t pay federal income taxes, but they still pay federal payroll taxes (and some federal excise taxes) and also pay state and local taxes. Most of these other taxes are regressive, meaning they take a larger share of a poor or middle-class family’s income than they take from a rich family. This largely offsets the progressivity of the federal income tax.
CTJ estimates that the share of total taxes (federal state and local taxes) paid by taxpayers in each income group is quite similar to the share of total income received by each income group in 2009. For example, the share of total taxes paid by the richest one percent (22.1 percent) is not dramatically different from the share of total income received by this group (20.4 percent).
Everyone in America pays some sort of taxes, which may take the form of income, sales or property taxes imposed by state and local governments, in addition to federal income, payroll and excise taxes.
For those of you whose eyes glaze over whenever someone talks tax rate policy, CTJ has whipped up a chart makes the case plainly:
You'll note that folks across the spectrum carry a tax burden close to their share of total income. How fair. Measured this way, the rich do pay a slight bit more in taxes—a percentage point or two. But isn't that patriotic of them? Let's thank them and buy them an imported beer today.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy zapped out a press release on Wednesday morning noting that its director, Gil Kerlikowske (aka the Drug Czar) was testifying before a House subcommittee that the Obama administration is implementing a "new direction in drug policy." From the release:
With drug use accounting for tens of billions of dollars per year in healthcare costs, and drug overdoses ranking second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death, the Nation “needs to discard the idea that enforcement alone can eliminate our Nation’s drug problem,” Director Kerlikowske said. “Only through a comprehensive and balanced approach – combining tough, but fair, enforcement with robust prevention and treatment efforts – will we be successful in stemming both the demand for and supply of illegal drugs in our country.
“The forthcoming National Drug Control Strategy calls for addressing our Nation’s enormous demand for drugs by scaling up our public health policy response, integrating treatment programs into mainstream medicine, and recognizing that effective drug policy requires engagement at the community level,” Director Kerlikowske said.
He also noted that ONDCP would continue to work to “break down the silos between the prevention, treatment, and law enforcement communities– and the greatest use must be made of the finite resources at our disposal.”
The statement also pointed out that Obama's 2011 budget request seeks a 6.5 percent boost in funding for drug prevention and treatment programs.
But this new direction will not be heading toward legalization. As its director was testifying, ONDCP's website featured an article by Harvard grad student Viridiana Rios that argues against legalization:
As the situation in Mexico and along U.S. border towns has become desperate, calls for legalization are intensifying. The city of El Paso, Texas, passed a resolution calling for studying the merits of legalization as a means to curb violence, and the Arizona Attorney General has also discussed the option of legalization in front of the US Congress. California is considering a measure in November's election.
Might legalization help the situation? My view is likely no. Any legalization attempt focuses on the marijuana markets which are not the core of the violence problem. It is highly valued drugs such as cocaine or heroin the ones which organized criminals are fighting for, it is these drugs that fund terrorist and criminal groups around the world.
Even in the unlikely scenario of an all-drugs liberalization, it is unrealistic to expect a significant diminishing of the influence of Mexican cartels.
The Obama administration is heeding the calls for drug reform when it comes to prevention, treatment, and harsh criminal enforcement. But with moves to legalize marijuana in California and elsewhere seemingly gaining momentum, the administration's reformers are not in sync with the reformers outside the government.
President Barack Obama's nuclear security summit confronts the most important issue facing the world's leaders: the possibility of a nuclear attack. Global challenges do not come more serious and immediate than this. And Obama has made history by being the first leader to convene such a gathering—47 nations are participating—to address the profound threat of nuclear terrorism. He has placed this harrowing matter at the top of the global to-do list. But despite the ambition of preventing a nuclear attack—by controlling nuclear materials and inhibiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons—the scope of the summit has been limited, purposefully.
The summit has produced important results. Ukraine announced it would get rid of all of its highly enriched uranium (HEU)—the material needed for a nuclear bomb—by the time of the next summit in 2012. The former Soviet republic also said it will convert its civilian nuclear research facilities to low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used for nuclear weapons. (In 1994, Ukraine, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus, agreed to remove all nuclear weapons from its territory and eventually eliminated about 5,000 nuclear munitions.) Right before the summit, Chile gave up its secret hoard of HEU and shipped it to the United States. On Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were scheduled to sign a protocol governing the implementation of an agreement for the United States and Russia to dispose of enough weapons-grade plutonium to make several thousand nuclear weapons. And Obama administration officials have been claiming that high-level talks accompanying the summit—particularly Obama's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao—are bolstering support for imposing sanctions against Iran, which has been moving in the direction of developing nuclear weapons.
Yet there is something missing from the grand event: a sweeping vision of what must be done to avert the worst nightmare. At the opening plenary session on Tuesday morning, Obama laid out the danger:
Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history—the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up. Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned into a nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations. Just the smallest amount of plutonium—about the size of an apple—could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
Conan O'Brien going to TBS—that is, basic cable? What's next? AM radio? As news spread that O'Brien was not going to hook up with Fox, as expected, and had signed a five-year deal with TBS to host a daily show at 11:00 pm, observers wondered why he had opted for off-off Broadway. Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz tweeted, "TBS seems like a small stage for Conan, but maybe he'll have a lot more freedom than at a broadcast net." But The Los Angeles Timesreported that O'Brien's deal with TBS will give him ownership of the show—and "give him the potential to make a lot more money then if he were just a hired hand hosting a show owned by a network."
Mo' money is usually a good incentive. I wonder, though, if O'Brien also had another reason. I'm not intimately familiar with all his thinking on these matters. But I did once bump into him (literally) at ABC Carpet in New York City. So I think I may have some insight to share: O'Brien has seen the future, and it's—brace yourself!—the Internets.
These days, a big launching pad—say, a network television show—is not as necessary as it once was for anyone looking to grab hold of the nation's imagination, or funny bone. A joke, a funny bit, a video—all of this can now be seen by as many people on-line as on-couch. (SNL got its groove back once its jabs became easily shared via email links and were no longer confined to an audience of late-night hipsters, slackers, and Boomer insomniacs.) O'Brien only requires that some outfit give him a decent stage for the TV version of his laff-fest; then he'll be able to reach plenty of Cocoheads via websites, Twitter, and whatever comes next. And while porn has long produced profits on the web, there's a good chance that in-demand funny people will figure out how to do that before, say, newspapers do.
On the web, the name on the marquee is all that counts. If you have a brand—or are a brand—you can transcend the entity that hosts you. O'Brien doesn't need the reach of one of the dinosaur networks. TBS will provide the booster rocket, but O'Brien has the juice, thanks to the opportunity provided by all those connected computers across the planet, to take his show (think of it as an enterprise) into orbit.
So TBS can thank DARPA for making this possible. (Yes, more evidence of your tax dollars at work.) Then again, maybe it was the money. You should have seen the stuff that O'Brien was eying at ABC Carpet.
President Barack Obama has done much to make nuclear security a top-drawer issue. This week, he's hosting 47 world leaders in Washington for a summit on the matter. No surprises are expected, and the "deliverables"—policy-wonkese for "outcomes"—are well known: a series of agreements in which nations will pledge to do more and cooperate better to secure nuclear material that could be used in a bomb. But the high-profile gathering—which follows Obama signing a new Start treaty with Russia to reduce US and Russian nuclear arsenals—has placed an often-ignored issue on the world's radar screen.
As the summit proceeds, Obama and his aides will justifiably cite the importance of the endeavor under way. But while arms control advocates are grateful that Obama is drawing attention to the problem of loose-nukes material, they've questioned whether Obama has put his money (that is, taxpayer dollars) where his mouth is. Several days ago, the Fissile Materials Working Group, a collection of nonproliferation experts and groups, released a paper that analyzes Obama's budget and concludes that he is not funding nuclear security programs adequately—especially given his rhetoric:
One year ago, President Barack Obama made a bold pledge to "secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years." His immediate follow-through, however, has been wanting. For instance, his fiscal year 2010 budget request to meet this goal was actually $200 million less than what the Bush administration allocated a year earlier for securing nuclear material abroad. In fact, the administration still hasn't defined what it actually considers vulnerable nuclear material. So, in essence, Obama has lost a full calendar year in his four-year quest.
It's also disappointing that the requested State Department budget to combat WMD proliferation and promote global threat reduction is down more than $5 million—including a substantial $18 million cut in the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund.
He has done somewhat better lately. His fiscal year 2011 budget request for securing fissile material increased by $320 million over the 2010 budget, and it forecasts growth in the coming years for key programs run by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Ditto for spending in the other agencies that handle nuclear security--in particular the Defense Department and Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program.
But even this budget request isn't adequate to meet Obama's ambitious goal. Among all of these agencies, there is only one new initiative—CTR's $74 million Global Nuclear Lockdown Program. (The rest of the larger nuclear security budget mainly accelerates existing activities without expanding their scope.)
The group notes that the Global Threat Reduction Initiative will receive a budget increase of $211 million. But it points out, "This is extremely important work, but it doesn't meet the president's 'global' pledge since some of the countries targeted, while certainly possessing dangerous material, don't represent the world's highest priority nuclear dangers. It also notes that Obama's budget reduces the State Department's programs to reduce WMD proliferation and promote global threat reduction by more than $5 million. The paper calls for beefing up funding for various nuclear security programs and for modifying a congressional limit on nuclear security spending in Russia and the former Soviet Union states that begins in 2012. And it urges Obama to use the summit to whip up support for a $3 billion-per-year global fund for WMD security. The report says, "At the end of the day the president's four-year goal is unlikely to be met in the time frame he has endorsed for budgetary, bureaucratic, and diplomatic reasons. Thus, he must find the political will for nuclear material security that matches his rhetoric on the topic."
It will take plenty of effort and attention—and money, too—to prevent nuclear terrorism.