Slate's guide to your annual Thanksgiving arguments.
Ratifying the START treaty
Senate should ratify: This treaty is not a security risk and would improve relations with Russia which is crucial. Russia is helping us in Afghanistan, and it is helping put pressure on the Iranians to slow their nuclear program. If the treaty breaks down, it weakens Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who has shown that he can work with President Obama, and it strengthens Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who hasn't. (Though it appears he can work with animals). The weapons reductions only ask each side to reduce their stockpiles by a third.The U.S. arsenal will have enough missiles to maintain the deterrent. To ensure they're working, Obama has promised $85 billion to update existing systems. Why would Henry Kissinger, James Baker, and Brent Scowcroft—Republicans all—support this if it were a bad deal? Politics is supposed to stop at the water's edge. Yet Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, the primary person blocking this deal, wants to delay the vote until the next session of Congress, when Republicans will have more votes and thus more leverage over the president.
Senate should not ratify: Why rush into this? Voters spoke in the election. They want Republicans to put a brake on this president. That's what Kyl is doing by calling for more time. You'd think a president who prizes thoughtful consideration would appreciate this sentiment. (And tell both Bush presidents that politics stops at the water's edge). The Russians want this deal because they think it limits our ability to deploy missile defenses. The moment Republicans tried to ensure that it wouldn't and tried to change the language of the treaty, the Russians backed off. Just this week, North Korea shot missiles at South Korea. How are we going to defend against this kind of belligerence without a strong missile defense? As far as relations with Russia go, Russians operate in their national interest. They're not going to suddenly decide to work—or not work—with us depending on whether we ratify this treaty. And regardless of whether $85 billion is enough money to modernize our arsenal, we learned that we need to do more to keep it ready when missiles recently went offline in Wyoming.
Cutting the deficit.
The liberal approach: I support Rep. Jan Schakowsky's plan. It protects the middle and lower class and realigns rates for business and the wealthy. The richest 1 percent possess more net worth than the bottom 90 percent in part because tax rates for the wealthy have fallen steeply over the last few decades while pretax income has increased. Tax revenue should be increased by taxing dividends and capital gains like regular income and instituting a progressive estate tax. Plus, we should eliminate tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas. Cuts in discretionary spending should be smart—removing outdated defense programs and farm-subsidy programs. Health care cost increases would be contained by offering a true public option. Finally, there must be some increase in stimulative spending to produce growth, which will bring in revenue to shrink the deficit faster than tax increases or spending cuts.
The conservative approach: I like Rep. Paul Ryan's plan. To reduce the rising cost of health care, a major driver of the deficit, it shifts ownership of health coverage from government and employers to individuals. Individuals buying coverage for themselves—across state lines if they want to—would seek the best bargain, and force prices down as providers compete for their dollars. Medicaid payments are made to states in block grants, which makes the spending more efficient. Social Security solvency is achieved by allowing younger workers to invest in personal accounts, which will grow faster than the current system, and there is a minimum guarantee that the return will at least match what a person would have gotten under the current system. Tax simplification would reduce the system to just two rates. Business would pay a consumption tax, which is also simpler, causes less inefficient business activity for the purposes of simply avoiding taxes, and allows expenses to be deucted immediately which encourages investment.
The centrist approach: Ryan's plan is too radical even for his own caucus, which barely supports it (and I'm not even going t get into the objections of liberals like Paul Krugman, who says it ignores revenues lost from tax cuts). Schakowsky's plan, on the other hand, relies too heavily on tax increases and offers no political compromises, and as a result couldn't pass even in a Congress controlled by Democrats. A more realistic approach would be a mix of the ones offered in the Simpson-Bowles or Rivlin-Domenici plans. The key is a plan that spreads the pain around so that as a political matter no one group appears to have benefitted unfairly. On the tax side it would trade lower marginal rates for removal of tax breaks for the home mortgage interest deduction and the deduction for state and local taxes which would raise revenue but also make the system more efficient. On the spending side everything gets cut—from defense spending to NPR. But there also needs to be a focus on growth, because deficit reduction cannot be achieved by tax increases and spending cuts alone. As the CBO has said, 1 percent increase in economic growth would increase tax revenues by $2.5 trillion over 10 years.
Will Palin run for president?
Yes: She's said she'll run if no one else picks up the mantle. She has pledged that she can beat Obama. She has said her husband is leaning toward supporting a run. She's done everything but scream it. In the recent election, she endorsed the governors of Iowa and South Carolina, key early GOP primary states. She backed the Senate candidate in New Hampshire, another one. She's also used her Facebook page to talk about her record as governor, something you wouldn't do if you just wanted to sweeten your Fox News contract. Have you seen the gauzy Everywoman ads? Plus, no politician who bathes in the constant hymns from supporters calling on her to run can reject the call. The genes will take over control of the host. Can she win? That's a separate question.
No: This flirtation with running is all about selling her new book. Palin likes the limelight but doesn't like the grind. She boasts about how being outdoors in Alaska is better than a stuffy political office. Running for president would be a mostly unpleasant experience that takes her away from home and family. She is enjoying being who she is. A presidential campaign would require compromises she doesn't want to make.
Trying terrorists in federal court
Bad idea: Ahmed Ghailani was responsible for the embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, and yet he almost went free. The jury acquitted him of 284 charges, including every charge of murder (there were 224!), even though there was evidence linking him to the purchase of TNT used in the Tanzania bombing. The judge did not even allow the prosecutors to call the witness who could prove that claim. In civilian court, jurors can be forced to make a deal with a holdout in order to avoid a retrial, which appears to be what happened in this case. Al-Qaida terrorists abuse the protections they are afforded in civilian courts. A military commission would have been better. Congress and the Obama administration have approved of such commissions, which allow prosecutors greater leeway in submitting evidence and which feature juries made up of military officers, who would be less unpredictable than those made up of ordinary civilians.
Good idea: It's ridiculous to judge the entire American judicial system on the vagaries of a single case. Why is it so important to have civilian trials? For the same reason so much evidence was not allowed at trial: Because American principles stand for something. The judge didn't allow the key witness in this trial because the government found out about that witness only by torturing Ghailani. This trial was a triumph considering how many principles our military is supposedly fighting for were thrown out in treatment of the defendant. As Judge Lewis Kaplan told the jury, the trial showed that "American justice can be rendered calmly, deliberately, and fairly by ordinary people, people who are not beholden to any government, not even ours." And let's not mischaracterize military trials. They don't allow evidence obtained by torture, either.