FUBAR

Tax cuts or health care?

Democratic primary voters now have a clear choice: subsidized taxes to provide health care for all Americans versus lower taxes on the middle class. Barack Obama’s promise this week to deliver up to $85 billion in annual tax relief for middle-class Americans is the type of plan that has the potential to stop the so-called Unstoppable Hillary.

The guts of Sen. Obama’s plan is to offer a $1,000 annual tax credit for middle-class American families with two earners. This, he says, would cut taxes for 150 million Americans or roughly half the population.

Cheating your way to hero worship

Maybe you noticed it too. The scandal over the New England Patriots’ cheating lacked the one inevitable ingredient of every sports scandal, and I, for one, am sort of offended by the omission.

You’ll recall that the Patriots were caught trying to steal the New York Jets sideline play calling signals by surreptitiously and illegally videotaping them from within the stadium.

Iraq, Blackwater & mercenaries

Blackwater is bad news, currently quite literally. The firm, established in 1997, has evolved into one of the most prominent — and profitable — of a growing array of sizable corporations that provide military security services, including firepower.

The current rapidly escalating controversy results from allegations that Blackwater personnel opened fire and killed civilians in Iraq without defensible provocation. The Iraq government for the moment has banned the firm from further operations in the country.

How the antiwar left lost the war

A few short months ago, the anti-war left was feeling its oats. On campuses around the country, professors were receiving letters asking them to steer students to “a major new organizing initiative to end the War in Iraq — Iraq Summer.”

“Many of you will remember Mississippi Summer that helped pass the civil rights laws, and Viet Nam Summer that helped end the Viet Nam war,” the letter read. “Iraq Summer will be the 21st century edition of those historic projects.”

Iraq unsafe for U.S. officials

US officials were barred on Wednesday from traveling by land outside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone amid fears of attacks after the alleged killing of civilians by private security firm Blackwater.

The suspension came as Washington grappled with ways to curb the damage from Sunday’s clash in which Blackwater guards escorting US embassy officials opened fire in a Baghdad neighborhood, killing 10 people and wounding 13.

Blackwater denies any wrongdoing but a top Iraqi judge has said the US firm, one of the largest private security operators in Iraq, could face trial.

Who monitors the mercenaries?

The fog of war keeps getting thicker. The Iraqi government’s decision to temporarily ban the security company Blackwater USA after a fatal shooting of civilians in Baghdad reveals a growing web of rules governing weapons-bearing private contractors but few signs U.S. agencies are aggressively enforcing them.

Nearly a year after a law was passed holding contracted employees to the same code of justice as military personnel, the Bush administration has not published guidance on how military lawyers should do that, according to Peter Singer, a security industry expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

A Congressional Research Service report published in July said security contractors in Iraq operate under rules issued by the United States, Iraq and international entities such as the United Nations.

All have their limitations, however.

So much for academic freedom

Southern California political, media and legal circles have been in a dither over the selection of liberal law professor Erwin Chemerinsky as dean of UC Irvine’s new law school, his de-selection after protests by conservative groups and his re-selection on Monday.

Setting aside the demonstrable fact that California needs another public law school like it needs another drought, it has been an unseemly situation at best, raising all sorts of questions about academic freedom.

Statistically speaking

The always-interesting “Almanac Issue” of The Chronicle of Higher Education arrived this week. Its 96 pages contain a fascinating array of significant and obscure statistics about the current state of higher education in our country. For instance, did you know that in 2005-06 the University of Southern California enrolled 6,881 foreign students, who comprised 21 percent of its student body?

Or that 4.2 percent of all college presidents who are not members of religious orders have never married? You could look it up.

The issue here is black and white

I saw two football games this weekend, one live and one on TV, that each reminded me of what a complex issue affirmative action always is.

The TV game featured the San Diego Chargers, and I was shocked to learn that San Diego’s new coach is Norv Turner. Turner has compiled a poor record in a decade-long stint as an NFL head coach, but he keeps getting hired for some incomprehensible reason (San Diego is his third head coaching position).

A big-bucks divorce case

The divorce case titled Scaife v. Scaife has wound its way through the courts under a blanket of secrecy as both sides struggle over a storied Pittsburgh fortune surpassing $1.4 billion and a temporary monthly alimony payment bigger than the life savings of most people.