Saturday, November 21, 2009

On Terror Trials in New York, The President's Slow Slide Continues, The Unemployment Gap and What It Means, Stimulus Spending Continues

Why Trials of Terrorists BELONG on U.S. Soil

The substantive controversy of the week (putting aside the talk show nonsense about Sarah Palin's legs) centered around the Justice Department's (and presumably the White House's) decision to bring accused 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the New York area to stand trial in the Federal court system. Republicans have been unrelenting in their criticism, stating that Mohammed should be tried in the military tribunal system and not set foot on foreign soil.

The major aspects of the criticism center around:
#1 The security risk posed by having an accused terrorist on US soil -- that we would become a terrorism target by having a high-profile terrorist like Mohammed in our prison system.
#2 The risks associated with a potential acquittal -- what would we do with Mohammed if he is not convicted?
#3 The notion of conveying the "rights" of US citizens to an accused terrorist

As a longtime supporter of trying terrorists in our court system, let me address these criticisms one at a time.

On security risk:
Can anybody credibly say after 9/11 that major cities in the US are not already terrorist targets? Will terrorists wake up after Mohammed is moved and say "you know, we were going to let this whole Jihad thing go, but now that Mohammed is moved, we are going to resume the war"? It's an argument that utterly strains credibility in my mind. We can't let the threat of terrorism dictate our actions -- we should do what we think is right.

On the risk of acquittal:
This risk is real, but is no different than in any trial. The unibomber, Timothy McVeigh, the DC Sniper, Charlie Manson and many, many other simply awful people have been tried and convicted in our court system. And our system has proved time and time again that when we have sufficient evidence to earn a conviction. The notion that we somehow don't trust the system that is the underpinning of our Democracy makes no sense. Besides, it isn't like Mohammed will be walking the streets of the country if he is acquitted -- he isn't a US citizen and has no right ot be here.

On the notion of rights:
We have a trial system founded on a presumption of innocence and rules of evidence not because we believe that Americans should be afforded special rights that are given to no other humans, but because, as is stated in the Declaration of Independence, we believe that ALL are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights. Affording the right to a fair trial to those who do not share our values will be our ultimate victory over terrorists who attempt to destroy our way of life, destroying our beliefs in the face of fear would be a victory for those terrorists.

Liberty is not without risk, but as I've often cited Benjamin Franklin as saying, those who would sacrifice liberty for a measure of security deserve neither security nor liberty. Those opposing a US trial of Mohammed are being cowardly, plain and simple. We should be strong in our values and fearless in our defense of liberty, even for those who seek to destroy it.

President Obama's Continued Downward Trend

I sound like a broken record on this topic, but President Obama's numbers continue to slide, but continue to be ever-so-slightly above his November vote totals in my aggregation of all non-partisan public opinion polls.

The last two days he has been at +7.7% and +7.8% in his approve minus disapprove, just a hair north of his +7.2% total in the November election. If the current trend continues, it is only a matter of time before he slides below that 7.2% threshold.

His monthly numbers clearly show that same trend, with the President having lost 2.7% in his numbers so far this month after three months of relatively stable numbers. He has yet to have a month where his numbers have posted a substantive gain.

All of this begs the question -- why has the President failed to hold on to the massive public goodwill that surrounded the start of his term?

There are a few reasons -- clearly all President's fall off once they actually take office, the continued highly partisan spirit in Washington has redivided the country, etc., but this ultimately comes down to the same topic: it's STILL the economy, stupid.

Unemployment at 10.2% = dropping approval ratings. So let's talk about unemployment.

There Are Two Americas -- The College Educated and Everyone Else

Now disgraced former Senator John Edwards, when he was running for President, spoke often of the "two Americas". He was speaking about the rich and the poor and the differences in their American experience. An analysis of the unemployment figures clearly shows that there ARE two Americas, but it has less to do about whether you come from wealth and more to do with educational attainment. And the differences are striking.

The latest unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells the story. The overall unemployment rate is 10.2%, as has been widely reported. But it varies greatly by education attainment. Here are the rates by various educational levels:
Less Than a High School Diploma: 15.5%
High School Diploma Only: 11.2%
Some College but Less Than a Four Year Degree: 9.0%
Four Year Degree or More: 4.7%

Pretty striking, huh?

What's more, in the past year, here are the CHANGES in unemployment rate by those various educational levels:
Less Than a High School Diploma: +6.2%
High School Diploma Only: +5.3%
Some College but Less than a Four Year Degree: +4.0%
Four Year Degree or More: +1.7%

As you can see, not only were the less educated worse off to begin the recession (no great shock there) but that differential has been magnified massively over the past year. Interestingly, the four year degree number is fairly close to what is often considered full employment, with unemployment in the 3 to 5% range.

This highlights two things -- those less educated are taking the brunt of the recession as factory and service jobs disappear in a downturn and two, that we ought to be talking about making college education attainable to all Americans if we are going to solve our economic woes over the long-term.

Regrettably, we are doing the opposite, with funding for education being slashed and massive tuition hikes, highlighted in California, becoming the norm.

It is concerning well beyond the cyclical recession if we don't get more of our country more educated and more productive.

Stimulus Spending Continues

The stimulus bill still has a lot of punch yet to pack. As of this past week, reports:

Tax cuts: $83.8 billion spent out of $288 billion allocated (29.1%)
Spending: $136.3 billion spent out of $499 billion allocated (27.3%)
Total: $220.1 billion spent out of $787 billion allocated (28.0%)

So we are not even yet 3/10ths of the way through the stimulus spending. And every bit of it is going to be needed to maintain economic growth and stave off unemployment. You could make a strong argument that the money hasn't moved nearly fast enough, given the spiking unemployment rate. But the positive economic growth last quarter, attributed largely by all credible economists to things like cash for clunkers and the first time home buyer credit that were provisions of the stimulus bill, demonstrate that things could have been so much worse without the bill.

I'll cover the Senate Health Care vote as it happens tonight. I expect a completely party-line 60-40 vote that allows the measure to proceed, just barely, after Thanksgiving, but it certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility that a lone Democrat will defect and send Harry Reid back to the drawing board.

If you like this site, tell your friends. And thanks for our most-read month of the year this month.

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