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July 2005 Archives

July 1, 2005

An American Pair Advances


The Bryan brothers advanced to their first Wimbledon final today and, with the top-seeded team of Bjorkman/Mirnyi upset in the other semi, should be heavily favored to take the title against the unseeded pair of Huss and Moodie. The twins have been a bit unlucky losing in finals at the other three Grand Slam events lately, so perhaps they are due.

Sandra Day O'Connor

Seismic tremors emanating from the nation's capital. With everyone expecting the Chief Justice to retire at the end of this recent term, Justice O'Connor's announcement took everyone by surprise and changes the stakes considerably. Replacing Rehnquist with another conservative--even if Scalia were anointed the new chief--would not fundamentally affect the ideological balance of the High Court. But given O'Connor's position as a swing voter, the Court's future is now very much in the balance depending on who her replacement is.

July 2, 2005

Breakfast At Wimbledon

Roddick came through his delayed semifinal, holding off a dangerous (and underrated) Thomas Johansson. I was pulling for Lindsay Davenport to nab another major at the age of 29, and she almost pulled it off, getting as close as a point away, but I was not unhappy to see Venus come back. Amazingly, the Bryan brothers lost another Slam final, this time to an unheralded tandem from Australia and South Africa.

Live 8


The telecast of the Live 8 concerts has been enjoyable. High points of the day for me: Paul McCartney joining U2 on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" at the start of the day in London; a strong showing by Madonna; Sting's modified lyrics for "Every Breath You Take"; what remains of The Who back in action; and the stellar Pink Floyd reunion (though Roger Waters was hardly in good voice).

July 5, 2005

A Bicycle Race


The Discovery Channel squad won the team time trial in today's fourth stage of the Tour de France, putting leader Lance Armstrong back in the yellow jersey for the first time in 2005. It was an impressive display of depth, as the team kept all nine of its riders together throughout the course. This is one good reason to subscribe to digital cable: to see the Tour unfold on OLN's excellent coverage.

July 7, 2005

London Horror


I awoke to the news of the bombings of London's mass transit system. Having been in the city (and often on the Tube) just two weeks ago, I am especially sensitive to this tragedy. And I can't imagine London without the Underground and buses functioning; the city must have ground to a halt.

An Apple For The Teacher


My new G5 iMac arrived today: the 20" screen flavor, 2.0 gigahertz fast, with 1G of RAM and both Bluetooth and Airport technologies built in. I also got the wireless keyboard and mouse combination to avoid cable cliutter. Now I've got to spend some time syncing it, getting the software all set, and making sure all of my preferences are established. In all, though, it's like Christmas morning.

July 8, 2005

The F.F.


As today brought a rainy summer afternoon, I decided to head to the matinee of the season's latest popcorn flick, The Fantastic Four. In the interest of full disclosure, I was an avid fan of the F.F. comics way back when. In spite of the tepid reviews I read this morning, this film did not disappoint me. It was a fun romp. Despite tweaking the origin of the foursome and altering Dr. Doom a bit, the writers and director seemed to "get" the dysfunctional family dynamic, including the relationship between the Thing and the Human Torch, and injected a fair amount of humor into the script. Thumbs up: this was a fun movie.

July 16, 2005

Welcome Back Potter


Thanks to Amazon.com and the U.S. Postal Service, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince arrived right on schedule in the morning mail for my weekend reading pleasure.

The Movies Return To Wallingford

I watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith tonight, less because I wanted to see the flick in question--it was okay, if a little slow in places--than to try out the Holiday Cinemas, which opened yesterday in the old K-Mart Plaza. The new 10-screen theater complex is okay, but nothing special. It is less than five minutes from home, though.

July 19, 2005

The Nation's Capital


As I have done the third week in July most years since 1988, I am enduring the combination of heat (90 degress plus!) and humidity unique to the swamp now known as Washington, DC. In my capacity as Director of the John F. Kennedy Institute in Government, I spent today shepherding a dozen students around Capitol Hill (we'll visit the White House and the Supreme Court, as well as other governmental and political sites of interest, later this week).

It's always somewhat exciting to experience life "inside the Beltway" for at least a few days every year. Politics absolutely dominates the culture of the city in a way it does nowhere else I've been. Only in this place do folks talk about the day's lead story in Roll Call with passion.

It was a treat to connect with some familiar faces now working in various capacities in Congress: current Choate student Jeff Berry, an intern in Rosa DeLauro's office; JFK Institute alum Hayden Brockett, now a full-time DeLauro staffer; and recent CRH grad Will Howerton, spending some time in John Kerry's office this summer over on the Senate side.

The evening hours in Georgetown are, in contrast to the days during this excursion, relatively leisurely in pace. This part of town offers a nice range of shops and restaurants as well as air-conditioned accommodations on the Georgetown University campus.

July 23, 2005

Appointing New Justices

Tomorrow's New York Times Magazine has an excellent piece on the future of the Supreme Court that provides a sober context for understanding what is likely to happen with new appointments to the bench:

"Supreme Modesty"

by Jeffrey Rosen

At the moment, liberals are afraid, very afraid. They fear that two Supreme Court appointments by President Bush could transform America for decades to come. And they fear that President Bush will accomplish this transformation by replacing Sandra Day O'Connor and, eventually, William Rehnquist with hard-core conservatives in the mode of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. A hypothetical worst case for liberals might be a multicultural twofer: the appointment of Judge Janice Rogers Brown, an African-American libertarian who makes Thomas look mild, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who may well surprise his right-wing critics by becoming a reliable conservative on the bench.

But even if the court is, in fact, transformed, the consequences might be far less severe than liberals imagine. To begin with, most of America's legal business does not involve the court at all. The justices decide very few cases -- an average of only 82 a year during the past 10 years -- and most of them are not politically divisive. Between 1994 and 2003, 36 percent of the court's opinions were unanimous, as opposed to only 21 percent that were decided by a 5-4 vote. What's more, if the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade or its school-prayer decisions tomorrow, abortion wouldn't become illegal across America, and prayer wouldn't become mandatory. Instead, the states and Congress would have the power to regulate abortion or to allow prayer if they chose to do so. That means that the most controversial questions in American life would ultimately be settled in the court of public opinion, regardless of what the Supreme Court says.

Of course, some of the court's closest decisions involve hot-button issues, and they could indeed go the other way if the new justices follow in the path of Scalia and Thomas. The most immediate change might involve affirmative action: two years ago, O'Connor wrote a 5-4 majority opinion upholding affirmative action in law-school admissions; her successor might tilt the court in the opposite direction. But even if the court voted to strike down affirmative action in higher education, it is hardly obvious that affirmative action would end in a dramatic stroke. When the court, with O'Connor's blessing, questioned the constitutionality of affirmative action in public contracting in 1995, political support for affirmative action in the Clinton and Bush administrations and in Congress ensured that many federal contracting set-asides continued anyway, with only slight revisions.

The ultimate liberal nightmare is that the new Bush court might overturn Roe v. Wade. But if Rehnquist retires next, Bush will need three Supreme Court appointments, not two, to overturn Roe. For the sake of playing out the liberal nightmare, however, imagine that Roe, in fact, was overturned. The world still wouldn't come to an end for liberals. Since two-thirds of Americans in polls have long said that abortion should be legal during the first three months of pregnancy, only the most conservative states -- Louisiana and Utah, for example -- might try to pass new restrictions on early-term abortions. And in the event that a handful of states succeed in passing new early-term bans, or reviving old ones, the national backlash could split the G.O.P. apart at the seams, causing sizable numbers of pro-choice Republicans to desert their party. Karl Rove understands this, and when asked whether Roe should be overturned, he has dodged the question.

The fact that Bush may need three Supreme Court appointments to overturn Roe (and to resurrect school prayer) suggests that liberals should keep some of their powder dry for the truly defining battle over the court, which will occur if and when a liberal justice retires. But what if Bush gets three retirements and manages to appoint three Clarence Thomas epigones to the court? Thomas is the court's most radical justice, and if his views prevailed, environmental laws might be struck down, and the states, no longer bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on establishment of religion, might be free to re-establish congregationalism as an official religion. (I'm not making this up.) But of course, the chances that any state would actually try to re-establish the Congregational Church are nil. And if the court tried to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, even a Republican Congress might rise up in protest, prompting an eventual judicial retreat. Throughout American history, the court has been notoriously ineffective when it has tried to impose the views of a minority over the determined objections of a national majority.

I don't mean to minimize the importance of the immediate Supreme Court nomination on the horizon, which may indeed transform the law on everything from campaign finance to the detention of immigrants. But nightmares aside, the most immediate effect of two more conservative appointments may be to make Anthony Kennedy the new swing justice, and like a polarized molecule, he might react to his new colleagues by moving a little further to the left. On the new Bush court, though, it's unlikely that Kennedy would be able to satisfy liberals by creating new rights, even if he wanted to.

But that may be yet another blessing in disguise for liberals. After all, Kennedy's decision striking down sodomy laws in the name of sexual freedom angered and alienated social conservatives and may have increased their political clout. The court is far from all-powerful and all-determining. And for this reason, it may be unwise for liberals to spend tens of millions of dollars to fight largely symbolic Supreme Court confirmation battles that they will probably lose in the end. Instead, they should be preparing legislative campaigns to protect abortion rights and religious neutrality and devoting their energies to recapturing the two branches that really govern America: namely, the White House and Congress.

July 24, 2005

Soon Everyone Will Be Wearing These


Fittingly, I was the first kid on the block to get the new adidas tennis shoe model, the Gallagher Barricade III edition. I designed the color scheme (blue and gold with silver trim) myself. This particular pair comes custom fitted for my feet. (The adidas people measured my feet a few different ways as well as my stride pattern to provide an exact fit for each foot, with sole density most appropriate for my needs.) Pretty stylish boots, if I do say so myself!

I gave this pair a trial run on the courts tonight with 2002 Choate captain Jeremy Zuidema and they acquitted themselves quite nicely.

July 26, 2005

Going Mobile


Today Apple released a new revision of the G4 iBook, which I have been waiting for months to order. So I took the plunge without hesitation and a new laptop will be winging its way to me in a few days' time!

July 27, 2005

G'Day, Mate


Just to illustrate the very mundane things that give me pleasure, I am excited that construction is nearing completion on a new Outback Steakhouse restuaurant on Route 5 in North Haven, less than 10 minutes from my house (I clocked it twice).

The Estate Tax

One usually doesn't think of the USA Today editorial page as a likely source of wisdom, but today's edition has a spot-on take on the estate tax, one of my hot-button issues.

This tax is often disingenuously referred to by Republicans as the "death tax." This is altogether misleading because the deceased, of course, pay no taxes at all. Rather, their heirs are taxed on UNEARNED INCOME--that is to say, a windfall for which they did not work. Now I am not arguing someone should not be able to inherit wealth from an older generation, just that it's reasonable that the society that enabled the accumulation of said wealth get a reasonable share.

In the end, as the editorial correctly points out, we are talking about efforts to reduce taxes on the wealthiest 1-2% of Americans.

"Sob Stories Mask A Giveaway For The Super Wealthy"

When Factcheck.org, a non-partisan watchdog group, questions the accuracy of a political advertisement, it normally does so in dry language. It might call an ad "misleading," or even "inaccurate."

But when Factcheck focused on ads by an anti-estate tax group, the American Family Business Institute, it opted for more colorful prose, calling them "malarkey."

The word choice is a play on the name of the ad's narrator, World War II veteran Donald Malarkey. But it's also a dig at the ads' contents, which make it sound as if it's no longer safe to pass away. "When you die," one ad warns, "the IRS can bury your family in crippling tax bills. It can cost them everything."

What it doesn't say is that the vast majority of people listening won't even be taxed when they die. Nor does it say that most estate taxes are paid by the very wealthy.

After years of misleading arguments about how the "death tax" crushes farms and small businesses, supporters of a repeal are poised for at least partial victory.

As early as this week, the Senate could vote on a bill that would slash the top estate tax rate from 47% to 15% while increasing the amount shielded from the tax from $1.5 million to $3.5 million. The measure would cost the treasury about $196 billion over the next decade. That would require other taxpayers to make up the difference or add yet more debt to be paid off by future generations.

In April, the House of Representatives passed a measure that would replace the estate tax with a complicated capital-gains tax, making it likely that something will reach President Bush's desk this year or next.

These legislative successes show how disinformation campaigns can be enormously effective and how wealthy interests have been able to gain at the expense of others.

The estate tax falls mainly on very large estates, not mom-and-pop shops or family farms. Consider these facts:

• Just 1% of estates paid any estate tax in 2003, according to the IRS. Three quarters of the money raised from the tax comes from estates of more than $5 million.

•Although the top rate has been as high as 55%, and is currently 47%, the actual rates paid are much less, thanks to generous exemptions and the creation of trusts and other tax plans. According to the Tax Policy Center, the average estate is taxed at 19% of its value. Estates worth from $1 million to $2 million are taxed at an average of just 4.7%.

• Of the more than 18,000 estates paying the tax last year, just 340 consist primarily of a single farm or small business.

Some sob stories of family businesses hit hard do exist, but that hardly justifies slashing the taxes on heirs of vast fortunes.

The Senate measure, which is still being negotiated, would tax inherited wealth of millions of dollars at a lower rate than what a teacher pays on a $70,000 annual salary. It would also give inherited wealth a more privileged status than money made from hard work or putting capital at risk.

In fact, it would ensure that the easiest way of making money — being born into the right family — is the least taxed. That would be good news for wealthy heirs. But anyone who says it would be good for the economy or more fair is spreading, well, malarkey.

A sidebar presents the average tax rate paid on estates of various sizes:
$1-2 million: 4.7%
$2-3.5 million: 10.5%
$3.5-5 million: 20.8%
$5-10 million: 24.9%
$10-20 million: 27.1%
$20+ million: 21.8%

July 30, 2005

Andre Earns His Stripes


After nearly twenty years of watching Andre Agassi compete with the Nike swoosh emblazoned on his apparel and shoes, it's been a bit jarring this past week to see him decked out in an adidas ensemble. Now that he has a new contract, I guess we'll have to get used to Andre in the three-stripes look. He and his wife (Steffi Graf) can wear matching outfits! They may well come out with Agassi's own adidas line soon, but maybe he'll want to wear my signature edition shoe (the Gallagher Barricade III) instead?

About July 2005

This page contains all entries posted to As Far As You Know in July 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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