Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "9/11 remembered," Aug. 17, 2002

Spending like drunken politicians

Congress has never been able to stay on a fiscal diet, but lately the binge has been especially bad. The launch of the new Homeland Security Department is just part of this trend, reports Frank Davies in The Miami Herald. He notes that this year's federal spending will result in an estimated $165 billion deficit. "The Bush administration has talked about keeping the lid on domestic spending, but it hasn't happened," Mr. Davies writes. "A farm bill loaded with $80 billion in new crop subsidies over 10 years passed easily." Even the counterterrorism plan was laden with additions like $205 million for Amtrak and $17 million to fight disease in whitetail deer. "There is simply no appetite or discipline for restraining spending right now," Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution told the paper.

IRS: Investigate Republicans Service?

Did Bill Clinton use the IRS to attack his political opponents? Don't laugh at the idea, writes columnist Robert Novak. He reports that a "smoking gun" was found within the agency itself. "The IRS, perhaps unknowingly, incriminated itself July 8 with a 1,500-page document dump answering four years of freedom-of-information requests by the watchdog organization Judicial Watch," Mr. Novak writes. "The material shows that the IRS audit of Judicial Watch was preceded by written complaints from the White House and prominent Democratic members of Congress. Furthermore, existence of supposedly secret audits was unsealed thanks to a Justice Department tax litigator who is, implausibly, active in local Democratic politics." Mr. Novak argues that this is the smoke that may point to fire and that "the supposedly non-political tax agency responds to complaints by prominent politicians." He also notes that Washington Republicans have been cool toward the issue, influenced in part by the fact that Judicial Watch has filed suit against Dick Cheney.

Family feud

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The two top families in the Democratic Party are feuding over the next convention. Ted Kennedy, now in his 70s, wants to see the 2004 event in his home state of Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton wants to show her loyalty to the Empire State by bringing it to New York, reports Glen Johnson in the Boston Globe. Mrs. Clinton persuaded her husband to bat for her in a promotional video, reflecting on his nomination in 1992. "I've always felt Madison Square Garden was the perfect venue for us," he said. Meanwhile, Mr. Kennedy's plan is hampered by a smaller budget and complaints that Boston is insufficiently committed to diversity.

Till death us do part

Looking for love? Want to marry a cold-blooded killer waiting for his date with the executioner? It happens regularly, reports Reuters' Alan Elsner. "Although there are no statistics," he writes, "authorities in several states say it is not unusual for men on death row to marry, often to women from Europe." Mr. Elsner found one woman who said she met her beau through a pen-pal service that connects women with one of the over 3,600 men condemned to die. "I go over to Texas every two months. I get a non-contact visit. You go into a visitation room and we speak on a phone through bullet-proof glass," said the wife of a man condemned to die this fall. "We were not allowed to be together even for our wedding. A friend stood in for Jesse [Patrick]." Mr. Elsner cites one cynical defense lawyer who said that women who live dull lives may find convicted killers exciting and glamorous. He also quotes one Danish woman who corresponded with a Florida inmate, then headed to America to meet him. "I went home after that first visit, packed my bags and went back to Florida with my two youngest kids," she said. "I knew it was the right thing to do. It was God's will."

Tee times delayed

The decline of the stock market may have one silver lining, reports economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson: "It's pushing Americans toward working longer and saving earlier-exactly what they ought to do." Mr. Samuelson notes that the trend in recent decades has been toward earlier and earlier retirement. "The trouble is that as baby boomers approach their 60s, the country cannot afford to have so many fit people become economic dropouts," he argues. Not only will the retirement of the boomers create a crisis for Social Security and Medicare, but it will also produce another, less-discussed problem: "The economy's productive base will weaken. Relatively speaking, there will be fewer workers to supply society's needs." Congress should have dealt with this years ago, writes Mr. Samuelson, by raising the eligibility age for the retirement entitlements. "What's happening now is simple," he argues. "Lower stock prices are doing what Congress hasn't."

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