Mojo - August 2005

IRS Strikes Back

| Mon Aug. 1, 2005 12:49 PM PDT

The news that the IRS is finally working up the gumption to crack down on high-income tax evaders is certainly welcome. After Republicans managed to demonize and castrate the agency all through the 1990s with bogus "scare stories," tax collectors decide to dedicate their increasingly meager resources on low-income families who squeaked through the system with an few hundred extra bucks from the Earned-Income Tax Credit, and shied away from confronting the high-rollers who could squirrel away millions in offshore shelters and then defend themselves with an army of lawyers. It was, as one might guess, totally senseless and utterly immoral. The thing is, there's real money to be made from smarter tax enforcement: unpaid taxes in 2001 came to some $353 billion. And most enforcement measures more than pay for themselves. Eventually, when it comes time to close the deficit—and that time will come, like it or not—people can choose: either we crack down on the deadbeats or else raise taxes on everyone else more than we'd otherwise have to. This shouldn't be a terribly difficult choice.

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Hard Bargain

Mon Aug. 1, 2005 12:37 PM PDT

The Los Angeles Times had a good piece over the weekend on foreign security contractors looking for and finding work in Iraq. Just as in any other "outsourcing" story, the invisible hand of the market is encouraging the U.S. government, and its contractors to look to cheaper labor markets abroad.

But how much of a deal are these mercenaries? According to a former Dyn-Corp manager, they go at the low end they go for about $2,500 a month. At DoD pay rates, a Sergeant Specialist would have to max out their seniority before they'd start making that much. And most soldiers make much, much less. In theory, the efficiencies of not having to train the contract fighters should make up some of the difference. But most of the American private security guys in Baghdad are ex-military. Some fought earlier in the conflict, went home, and came back at ten times their old pay. (And many of the South American fighters were trained by the U.S. to fight insurgency or narcotics producers in their home countries.) The government has already paid to train a lot of them, and now they're taking advantage of inefficiencies in a Pentagon-created market. The question is complicated, but I haven't seen anything that really demonstrates that the contractors, who are only outnumbered in the occupation by regular U.S. forces, are actually saving the Pentagon money.

More Danger in Sudan

| Mon Aug. 1, 2005 12:13 PM PDT

Mark Goldberg of the American Prospect reports on a rather stunning development in Sudan:

Grinnell College alumnus, University of Iowa–educated doctor of agricultural economics, and most recently vice president of Sudan's National Unity Government John Garang died in a helicopter crash in southern Sudan over the weekend.

The timing of his death could not have been worse. In January, Garang -- the long-time leader of the Christian and Animist rebels in South Sudan -- signed a peace deal with the Islamist government in Khartoum, effectively ending a 20-year civil war. Just a month ago the peace accord entered into force and Garang was installed as vice president of Sudan.

Sudan's north-south civil war—which Garang had helped to end—existed mostl yapart from the ongoing conflict in Darfur, and as Sudan expert Eric Reeves wrote a few weeks ago, it was highly unlikely that Garang's "National Unity Government" could do much to end the genocide-by-attrition going on in the west. So this may not affect Darfur one way or the other: the Sudanese government officials responsible for genocide were still going to be holding the levers of power no matter what.

On the other hand, Garang was in a strong position to oversee the reconstruction of southern Sudan, which has been utterly ravaged by twenty years of war. More critically, southern Sudan is still facing very serious threats by roving militias allied with the central government, militias that have still not agreed to the north-south peace treaty. Reeves suggests that many in Sudan's government have not yet accepted the treaty either, and may have been working to undermine or eliminate Garang. As such, the international community should certainly investigate to see whether any of these government elements had a hand in Garang's helicopter crash. The ongoing genocide in Darfur is bad enough; but a resumption of civil war in Sudan would transform an intolerable situation into something far, far worse. This, for instance, is exceedingly dangerous. The Christian right in the United States had a strong role in pressuring the Bush administration to broker peace between north and south; they need to resume that pressure now.

Back-Door Bolton

| Mon Aug. 1, 2005 11:36 AM PDT

So the president installed John Bolton as ambassador of the UN via recess appointment, thus getting around a Democratic filibuster in the Senate. (Bush's rationale? Bolton was denied an "up-or-down vote." Still don't understand why anyone deserves an up-or-down vote, ever, but okay.)

The real action, though, is watching Bush supporters rationalize this rather sleazy move—yes, sleazy; it would be hard to believe that we wouldn't hear conservatives grinding their teeth if, say, Bill Clinton pulled off this sort of stunt—over at the National Review. Here's Mark Levin: "I agree about the questionable constitutionality of these kind of recess appointments, but they have been made since our first president." So what Bush did isn't exactly constitutional, but hey, everyone's done it! Now that argument seems persuasive to me, but isn't this precisely the sort of deviation from the original meaning of the Constitution that the writers of the National Review have been so up in arms about over the years? Didn't Mark Levin just write a book blasting the Supreme Court for endorsing this kind of logic? This all gets very confusing.

At any rate, the possible silver lining to this Bolton appointment is that he won't be hanging around at the State Department any longer, where he would very likely go out of his way to sabotage the ongoing nuclear disarmament talks between the United States and North Korea. [EDIT: Or not; Clint points out that it looks like Bolton may be spending lots of time in D.C...] Plus, Bolton's so likely to say something brash, obnoxious, or even dangerous at the UN, that he might well embarrass the Bush administration and cause the White House to "over-correct" by taking a more modest foreign policy course or engage in smarter diplomacy. One can hope. Who knows? For super-thorough Bolton analysis, the Washington Note has much, much, much more.