What's up with the Blackwater immunity deal? Also, bloggers respond to Charlie Rangel's sweeping tax plan.
Immunity boosters: Blackwater guards have been offered immunity from prosecution—by State Department investigators and apparently without the knowledge of the Justice Department—in the investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting that killed 17 Iraqis. The investigation is now being conducted by the FBI instead of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, but the bureau cannot use any of the testimony collected by State's investigative arm.
Noah Shachtman of Danger Room sees a conflict of interest: "This is a milestone in government outsourcing. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a contracting agency has ever granted legal immunity to a contractor or contractors' employees faced with potential criminal penalties. "
Over at the Corner, the National Review Online's water-cooler blog, Andy McCarthy suggests the State Department shouldn't have gotten involved in the investigation to begin with since murder "is not its bailiwick." In contrast the FBI "knows how to do this – and knows, in particular, that if you can't crack the case without giving someone immunity, you don't turn around and give everyone immunity. Instead, you try to assess what knowledgeable person has the least culpability and immunize that person."
Kagro X at Daily Kos sees a trend: "Scooter Libby's sentence commuted. … The Office of the Vice President exempts itself from secrecy standards. The White House Information Office exempted from the Freedom of Information Act. (Hi, it's irony calling, from beyond the grave.) And now... Blackwater. Gosh, but that's an awful lot of immunity for a law n' order preznit."
"Immunity, it's the new black in Washington, DC, every corporate criminal just HAS to have it," quips John Aravosis at the liberal AMERICAblog. In a similar vein, lefty Atrios says, "I hope someone at the State Department offers to give me Martha's Vineyard!
Steve Soto at the Left Coaster thinks Congress should take control of the situation: "Isn't it time for John Murtha to attach language to the war funding supplemental next year banning the use of private mercenary armies in Iraq?" Well, one member of Congress is trying. At the Huffington Post, Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings argues that "the careless practices of Blackwater USA" are "endangering the credibility of U.S. troops during a time when cooperation with the Iraqi people and government is critical for our success."
For hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, the Blackwater immunity deal highlights the shortcomings of privatization: "Privatization is not a one-size-fits-all solution to all our problems. I am all in favor of the private operation of, say, supermarkets, and if they were presently run by the government, I would be all for privatizing them. But introducing private soldiers into a war zone is a different matter entirely. … They do not have the same mission as the military, and when (for instance) the best way to ensure that a diplomat gets from point A to point B safely is to shoot anyone who gets in their way, they have no need to ask themselves whether this might run counter to America's overall strategy or interests."
Read more about the Blackwater immunity deal.
Tax-hike fright: New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel unveiled a sweeping tax reform proposal last week that would do away with the dreaded AMT but raise taxes on couples making more than $200,000 and private-equity managers. The Democrats say the plan will bring relief to middle-class families, but Republicans say the measure could hinder job growth. Bloggers suss out the details.
Harvard econ professor Greg Mankiw says that "the plan increases the progressivity of the tax code by redistributing income from the very rich (e.g., CEOs, hedge fund managers, superstar athletes and actors) to the upper middle class (e.g., doctors, lawyers, congressmen)."
Sarah Lueck, who reports on tax legislation for the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog, notes that "the tax increase would be concentrated on very wealthy people. More than three-quarters of people with incomes over $500,000 and 90% of those with incomes of more than $1 million would pay higher taxes. Averaged across all households in those income groups, the Tax Policy Center says, the tax increases would be 2.3% and 4.5% respectively. People at the lower end of the income scale would receive the biggest benefits in the Rangel proposal."
Right-leaning Kim Priestap from Wizbang isn't happy: "[I]f the Democrats were to eliminate the income cap on Social Security, as some Dems have suggested, then the highest tax rates would climb to a staggering 60%. I remember what the economy was like during Carter's one term where the highest tax rates were 50% - it was awful. My parents were trying to sell our house, and interest rates were insanely high - at around 18%. That's like buying a house with a credit card. Needless to say, houses didn't move at all back then, and my parents were forced to sell our house via land contract, a very risky move that, thankfully, worked out."
At VOLuntaryConservative, Rob Huddleston isn't happy, either: "Well, America, I hate that you are going to get what you deserve for voting the Democrats into power in the Congress. Rangel's proposal is horrific, and his selling of the idea as better for hard-working Americans is intellectually dishonest. This proposed tax increase - the biggest in the history of our nation - is meant to benefit those who have decided that life is about the government taking care of them, that by not working they are bettering themselves and their country. The Democrats will stop at nothing to hurt the American worker."
Also, Michelle Malkin links to a YouTube Halloween video called "The Mother of All Tax Hikes."
Read more about Charlie Rangel's tax plan.