Archive:

March 2010, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Agnes Crane Makes The Case Against Tax Deductions For Mortgages:  Two sample paragraphs.
The high income needed to take advantage of this tax benefit undercuts the claims of supporters that tax deductibility of mortgage interest promotes home ownership, which almost all Americans seem to assume is a good thing.  In fact, it is a distortion in favor of those who need the least help.

The tax logic also encourages families to borrow rather than save.  When the personal savings rate is a paltry 3 percent and policy makers are wringing their hands about global imbalances, this is the wrong message to send.   Moreover, potential investment is skewed toward housing rather than, say, infrastructure, manufacturing and education.
She says:  "Britain removed the tax advantages of home ownership over a period of 12 years."  And suffered no bad effects from the change.

I have long favored this reform, but think it less important than local changes in zoning and housing codes to make houses less expensive.  We have gotten used to the idea that high home prices are a sign of economic success, but, in fact, they are a sign of failure, just like high prices for food, or any other necessity, .
- 11:03 AM, 24 March 2010   [link]


Most of Us Need More Vitamin D:  The best way to get it is by exposure to the sun, but supplements and tanning beds can also provide some of what we need.  So why is ObamaCare, starting in July, taxing one source of Vitamin D?
Indoor tanning salons will charge customers a 10 percent tax beginning in July in one of the changes Americans will see as a result of the U.S. health-care overhaul signed into law by President Barack Obama.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised since ObamaCare also adds new taxes on medical equipment and on drug companies.  Which, unless I am missing something, will make medical equipment and drugs more expensive than they would have been, otherwise.

All right, I do know why, or think I know why, Obama is taxing tanning salons.  Most dermatologists dislike tanning beds (and almost all exposure to the sun), thinking that the beds can cause skin cancer.  Most likely, they are right, at extreme levels of exposure.  Most likely, the advocates of tanning beds are right in saying that they can be good sources of Vitamin D, especially in cloudy northern climates.

The right government policy would be to support more research into both Vitamin D and tanning beds, not to impose still another tax.

(There's much more on Vitamin D in this Wikipedia article.)
- 8:10 AM, 24 March 2010   [link]


Not Very Many DC Parents Vote Republican:  But it isn't hard to see which party is on the side of District of Columbia kids, and which party will sacrifice those kids to the teachers unions.  The Washington Post editorial tells the sad story.
The Senate last week all but decreed the demise of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program when it rejected, in a 55 to 42 vote, a measure that would have permitted the enrollment of new students by reauthorizing the program for another five years.  Introduced by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the measure was vigorously opposed by the teachers unions.  Hence, only three Democrats -- Mark Warner of Virginia, Dianne Feinstein of California and Bill Nelson of Florida -- joined Republicans in supporting the program that has, since 2004, allowed hundreds of needy children to attend private schools instead of low-performing public schools.  In an era of hyper-partisanship, these few Democrats deserve to be remembered for putting the interests of children above party ideology and fundraising.  The willingness of three other local Democrats -- James Webb of Virginia and Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland -- to deprive poor children of choice deserves to be remembered, too.

The animus toward this tiny, clearly successful program is not grounded in logic.  "The real goal of education," Ms. Feinstein said, sensibly enough, "ought to be to provide a number of different choices for youngsters so you can see where they learn best and then enable them to be in that situation."  That's supposed to be the philosophy of Mr. Obama's Education Department, too, which purports to want to reward programs that work.  The program has been subject to rigorous scientific study, and preliminary evaluations have shown academic gains and student improvement.  But the Obama administration had shut the door on new students and didn't lift a hand to rally support for its continuation.
The Post does not tell us which leaders set up this successful program, so I will.  The man most responsible is the former majority leader, Dick Armey.  Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush deserve considerable credit for supporting Armey.  All three are conservative Republicans.  None could have expected to gain much, politically, from this effort.
- 6:42 AM, 24 March 2010   [link]


ObamaCare Is Good Enough For You:  But not good enough for the people who wrote the bill.
House GOP aides and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service believe health care legislation passed this week requires lawmakers to enroll in government-run insurance programs -- while exempting leadership staffers, many of whom were instrumental in crafting the bill.
Those leadership staffers aren't giving their bill a vote of confidence, are they?  And they must have a better idea of what's in the bill than most of us do.
- 6:15 AM, 24 March 2010   [link]


Neo-Neocon Catches Obama In a "Stretcher" Or Two:  (As Huckleberry Finn might have called those many dubious Obama claims.)

For instance:
Take a look at the following selections from his victory speech last night and you'll see what I mean (my interpolations are in brackets):
Tonight's vote is not a victory for any one party . . .
[This is said of the most partisan bill in history.  It garnered not a single Republican vote and not even all of the Democrat votes.  Thirty-four of the latter were given permission to vote "no" in an attempt to save their own butts in 2010.]
It may be perverse, but the more Obama "stretchers" I see, the more intrigued I become about his mental processes.   As I have said a number of times, I am not sure that Obama is consciously lying when he says such things.  He is choosing them to appeal to particular audiences (in this case the American people, which explains why these claims are so different from the ones he made to the House Democrats just a few days ago), but I do not believe that he even thinks about whether what he says is true, while he is speaking.

Or, to put it another way, I think you could hook him up to a lie detector while he is making these statements — and he would pass.

Having said that, I should add, immediately, that I can't prove my hypothesis.  But I do think that it is the most likely explanation for his continuing indifference to mere facts when he speaks.

I don't know enough abnormal psychology to put a name to this pattern of behavior, and am dubious about doing so anyway, but I can understand why others would look for a name to describe the pattern.  He's a strange man, and most of us would like to have an adjective or noun to describe his strangeness.

(Minor quibble:  Many of those 34 Democrats were not given permission to vote against the bill, and wouldn't even have asked for it.  Some, we can't be sure exactly which ones, voted against the bill for the purest of reasons; they thought it would be bad for the nation..)
- 7:23 PM, 23 March 2010   [link]


Danny Westneat Doesn't Think You Should have The Same Freedoms He Had:  And the Seattle Times columnist is honest enough to admit that.  When he was younger, he chose, from time to time, not to have health insurance.

What if you just don't want to have health insurance?  Should you have the freedom to say no?

There were a couple times when I was younger that I risked it and went insurance-free.   I couldn't afford it.  I figured if I had a problem I could scrape up some money after the fact.  (Good thing I didn't come down with, say, cancer.)

But Westneat does not think we should have the same freedoms he had.

This mandate is one of the most sweeping ever, but in the details it's not all that onerous.  You'll have to declare you have health insurance on your IRS tax forms.  Your insurer may also file a statement to the IRS, much as financial companies file your year-end investment summaries.

(Actually there are a few more restrictions on our freedoms in the bill.)

Let me commend Westneat for admitting the obvious; the Obama-Pelosi-Reid monstrosity will decrease our freedoms.  And let me commend him for his honesty in admitting that he doesn't want the rest of us to have the freedoms he had.  But I think he could have gone a little further and explained why he doesn't think the rest of us deserve those freedoms.  There are perfectly respectable ways to make that argument; for example, economist Greg Mankiw mentions one here:   Some people, perhaps including Westneat, are willing to trade freedom for greater economic equality.

If that's what Westneat believes, then he should say so.

But if he does, he should consider this point:  In general, measures that increase economic equality through the government decrease political equality.  When we give more power to government officials, whether to make us more equal economically or for some other reason, we lose some of our own political power.   And we usually lose much of it to unelected, and almost unaccountable, bureaucrats.

Perhaps that increase in political inequality doesn't bother Westneat, but it does bother me, and should bother anyone who has seen what too-powerful governments and bureaucracies can do.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(In earlier columns, Westneat has shown a poor understanding of basic insurance principles.  I would suggest that he — and anyone else who wants to understand our cost-control problems — read this article.)
- 12:43 PM, 23 March 2010   [link]


A Brief Pronunciation Digression:  By way of Tim Blair, I finally learned the rule on the use of the diaeresis.   (Also spelled "dieresis".)
The diaeresis always comprises a pair of dots and is placed over a vowel (replacing the tittle when appropriate).  It indicates that two adjoining letters that would normally form a digraph are actually split over two syllables.
Two examples may make that rule clearer.  You often see naive spelled naïve.  The diaeresis over the "i" shows that the word has two syllables, and is not pronounced like "nave".  Similarly, the diaeresis over the "e" in Brontë also shows that the name has two syllables.

In English, we use the same mark for the diaeresis that Germans use for the umlaut.

(We are probably seeing more diaereses and, for that matter, more acute accents, as in résumé, because they are easier to make with personal computers and laser or ink jet printers than they were with typewriters.)
- 9:30 AM, 23 March 2010   [link]


Corruption In Arne Duncan's Chicago:  And of just the kind you would expect in Chicago; insiders got special treatment.
While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city's premier schools based on whom their parents know.   But a list maintained over several years in Duncan's office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges.   Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan's tenure.  It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
. . .
The vast majority of parents who follow the system's school application process never knew they could appeal to Duncan's office for special consideration.
The people who used the appeals system didn't always win, but it would be naive not to suspect that they won most of the close cases, that, for instance, a student whose test scores were just a little below the admission threshold would get in to the school he wanted — if he had backing from a powerful political figure.

Judging from the article, what Duncan did was try to centralize and control an influence system that was already in place, which will surprise nobody who is even vaguely familiar with Chicago politics.  But I should add that Chicago is where Barack Obama learned politics, so we should not be surprised to see similar influence systems in his administration.

(By way of Ed Morrissey, who is more angry about this than I am.)
- 8:35 AM, 23 March 2010   [link]


We Haven't Been Arguing About Government-Controlled Insurance:  William Tucker explains.
As John Goodman and Robert Musgrave wrote in their brilliant analysis, Patient Power (written in 1994 and still the best critique around), what we are calling "health insurance" is not insurance at all.  It is prepaid medical benefits.  Insurance is a way of pooling the risk for major expenses -- the kind you incur when you have an auto accident or suffer a serious illness.  Prepaid benefit plans try to cover all medical expenses, no matter how small.
Tucker doesn't like prepaid benefits — neither do I — but he does like insurance, real insurance.
The only way to avoid this road to bankruptcy for the entire country is to restore individual responsibility in the system.  Let the insurance companies go back to selling insurance instead of forcing them to provide prepaid benefits.  Allow everyone $3,000 tax-free savings account to pay for their basic medical costs.  Then let them buy so-called "catastrophic insurance" -- which is really just ordinary insurance - to cover serious medical expenses.  Premiums will be affordable and you won't have to clog the Congressional Record with rules telling insurance companies what to do.  Such a system is already at work.  It's called "health savings accounts."  HSA's work very well in Indiana, where the government gives its employees the $3,000 but still saves money over providing open-ended "benefits."
If you understand the basic principles of insurance, all this will be obvious.  But some people don't, and for them I will supply a simple example.  Suppose I cut my finger.  I'll clean the wound and, if it doesn't stop bleeding soon on its own, put on a bandage.

With prepaid medical benefits, you pay for that bandage and my time putting it on.  The overhead, the cost of paying that claim, would be far greater than the cost of the bandage.  And my time applying for that benefit is worth more to me than the benefit.  So it doesn't make any sense for that bandage to be covered by insurance.

The same argument applies to somewhat larger expenses.  For instance, some years ago, I caught an elbow to the face in a basketball game and got a cut bad enough to require stitches.  I went to the emergency room and got 13 stitches, at $10 a stitch.  Insurance covered half of my costs, as I recall, but the total cost to the insurance company must have been significantly more than $65.  I would have been better off with insurance that didn't pay for such small things, but did pay for disability.

Most people, even most journalists, can understand the argument for real insurance, and against prepaid medical benefits — if they try.  But I would bet that your local newspaper has not even discussed this point, and I am nearly certain that your television news has not even mentioned it.

(More about the Indiana plan here.)
- 7:49 AM, 23 March 2010   [link]


Serious Snow Removal Equipment At Mt. Rainier:  Mt. Rainier gets serious amounts of snow, and so the park needs serious snow removal equipment to keep the road open to Paradise during the winter.

Snow removal equipment at Mt. Rainier

(I would guess that the drivers are taking their morning coffee break, since the picture was taken at 9:37 this morning.)

As of this morning, Mt. Rainier had received 471 inches of snow since last July 1st.  There are 126 inches of snow on the ground.  Both numbers are probably a bit below average for this time of year.
- 3:57 PM, 22 March 2010   [link]


Investors Are Getting Nervous about Obama's deficits.
The bond market is saying that it's safer to lend to Warren Buffett than Barack Obama.

Two-year notes sold by the billionaire's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in February yield 3.5 basis points less than Treasuries of similar maturity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Procter & Gamble Co., Johnson & Johnson and Lowe's Cos. debt also traded at lower yields in recent weeks, a situation former Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. chief fixed-income strategist Jack Malvey calls an "exceedingly rare" event in the history of the bond market.
That's not just an interesting event for market watchers; that suggests that we taxpayers are going to have to pay more interest in the future to finance those unending Obama deficits.
- 1:14 PM, 22 March 2010   [link]


Brazilian School Bus:  It doesn't carry many passengers, and it wouldn't be a good choice for children suffering from acrophobia, but it does have advantages, including great views.

And, as far as I can tell, it doesn't burn any fossil fuels to provide those rides.
- 12:57 PM, 22 March 2010   [link]


Iran And Obama:  Three stories, in order:

Iran is providing weapons and training to our enemies in Afghanistan.
The Iranian Government has been accused by Afghan and Western officials of delivering tonnes of weaponry to the Taleban, including plastic explosives, mortars, grenades and technical manuals.

Weapons and documents shown to Channel 4 News indicate that more than ten tonnes of weapons have been intercepted at Iran's desert border with Afghanistan in the past year, with a tonne and a half recovered in the past week.
(As they have been doing in Iraq, for years.)

On Saturday, President Obama again called for dialogue.
Obama, who addressed Iranians in a new videotaped appeal to mark the observance of Nowruz -- a festival celebrating the arrival of spring -- has pledged to pursue aggressive sanctions to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

"We are working with the international community to hold the Iranian government accountable because they refuse to live up to their international obligations," Obama said in the address released by the White House.

"But our offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue stands."
Even Reuters notes that Obama's offer of dialogue a year ago "failed to achieve concrete results".  (Obama was calling for dialogue long before he became president.  If the Iranian regime wanted dialogue, they could have said so when he was first elected.)

The Iranian regime replied to Obama, negatively.
Press TV reported that Ayatollah Khamenei elaborated on the theme in a speech on Sunday in the Iranian city of Mashad, "The new [U.S.] administration and president claimed interest in just and fair relations; they wrote letters and sent messages . . . saying they are willing to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic, but in practice they did the opposite." He added, "Eight months after the elections, they took the worst possible stance. The [U.S.] president called those rioters and saboteurs 'civil rights activists.'"
At some point, perhaps after Iranian weapons kills thousands of Afghans (as they have killed many Iraqis) and hundreds of NATO soldiers, perhaps Obama will abandon his failed Iranian policy.  Perhaps.

But I would not say that he will, with certainty, in spite of the clear evidence that it has failed.

In his dealings with Iran, Obama is coming closer and closer to Einstein's definition of insanity.
- 9:30 AM, 22 March 2010   [link]


Love Those Matt Drudge Tabloid Headlines:  Including his latest on the passage of ObamaCare: "A DATE THAT WILL LIVE IN INFIRMARY".

(That's just a great headline — if, like me, you have low tastes.  And I do, in some things.)
- 8:44 AM, 22 March 2010   [link]


Bribes And Threats Produced ObamaCare Votes:  Kimberley Strassel has an instructive list.

Two examples:
As for those who needed more persuasion: California Rep. Jim Costa bragged publicly that during his meeting in the Oval Office, he'd demanded the administration increase water to his Central Valley district.  On Tuesday, Interior pushed up its announcement, giving the Central Valley farmers 25% of water supplies, rather than the expected 5% allocation.   Mr. Costa, who denies there was a quid pro quo, on Saturday said he'd flip to a yes.
. . .
Obama deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand vowed to challenge South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin if she voted no.
A certain amount of vote trading is inevitable in any legislature, as are efforts to keep party members in line.  But there are limits, and Pelosi and Obama went past those limits in order to pass this bill.

Some observers argue that American voters don't care about process arguments, that the way that this bill was forced through the House will not matter, come November.  It is true that voters pay less attention than political insiders to such arguments, but it is also true that most voters expect (or hope for) fair play.  And the Republicans now have many examples to show that the Democratic leaders have been cheating.

(For the record:  I am not sure that any of these bribes were, technically, illegal.  It is easy for politicians to solicit and give bribes without ever being specific enough to break laws.  For example, Congressman Costa might simply say that he wanted to mention a problem in his district before they discussed the ObamaCare bill.  President Obama might reply by saying that he would ask Interior to see if they could help out on the problem.  There would be no open vote trade, and so no law would be broken.  But both men would understand that they had an implicit deal.

Minor technical point:  In off-year elections you would expect a higher proportion of voters who care about process arguments than in presidential years.)
- 8:17 AM, 22 March 2010   [link]


Need A Feel-Good Story?  (I do.)  Here's a love story, which I found in the sports pages of the New York Times.

The story begins with Anthony Johnson proposing, with a most unusual ring, to Shaunte Nance.  And it gets better from there.

My best wishes to Shaunte and Anthony.  And I hope that they continue to have success and happiness together.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 6:37 PM, 21 March 2010   [link]


Obama Has A High Opinion Of His Own Importance:  Very high.  For more evidence, consider this bit from his speech to the House Democrats.
Sometimes I think about how I got involved in politics.  I didn't think of myself as a potential politician when I get out of college.  I went to work in neighborhoods, working with Catholic churches in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, trying to figure out how people could get a little bit of help.  And I was skeptical about politics and politicians, just like a lot of Americans are skeptical about politics and politicians are right now.  Because my working assumption was when push comes to shove, all too often folks in elected office, they're looking for themselves and not looking out for the folks who put them there; that there are too many compromises; that the special interests have too much power; they just got too much clout; there's too much big money washing around.

And I decided finally to get involved because I realized if I wasn't willing to step up and be true to the things I believe in, then the system wouldn't change.
(Emphasis added.)

It is a little unfair to take off-the-cuff remarks literally, but that's still an amazing thing to say.  There would be no change for the better unless he, Barack Obama, got into politics?

(By way of Ann Althouse.)
- 5:00 PM, 21 March 2010   [link]


Perhaps Speaker Pelosi Should Review Catholic Teachings:  Since she gets them mixed up so frequently.

A cynic might suspect that, for Pelosi, Catholic teachings nearly always correspond with what she wants politically.

(Pelosi graduated from a Catholic high school and a Catholic college, so she certainly has had opportunities to learn Catholic doctrine.

For fun, try to imagine what journalists would have said if George W. Bush had made a comparable blunder, trying to enlist his faith in support of one his policies.)
- 3:59 PM, 21 March 2010   [link]


ObamaCare Cost Estimates Are Even Worse If You Use Dynamic Scoing:   Economist Gregory Mankiw explains.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the CBO scoring of the health bill.   Here is one thing people should understand about their numbers: When they estimate the budget impact of a bill like this, they assume the path of GDP is unchanged.

Recall that the bill raises taxes substantially.  Some of these tax hikes are the explicit tax increases on capital income to pay for the insurance subsidies.  Some of these tax hikes are the implicit marginal rate increases from the phase-out of the insurance subsidies as a person's income rises.  Both of these would be expected to reduce GDP growth.

And there are other reasons to assume that ObamaCare will slow economic growth, notably its mandates on businesses.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:30 PM, 21 March 2010   [link]


An Honest CBO Estimate:  Suppose the Congressional Budget Office were allowed to do an honest estimate of the costs of ObamaCare.  What would they come up with?   Probably something like this.

After going through some of the budgetary tricks in the Senate bill, former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin gives the bottom line:
Removing the unrealistic annual Medicare savings ($463 billion) and the stolen annual revenues from Social Security and long-term care insurance ($123 billion), and adding in the annual spending that so far is not accounted for ($114 billion) quickly generates additional deficits of $562 billion in the first 10 years.  And the nation would be on the hook for two more entitlement programs rapidly expanding as far as the eye can see.

The bottom line is that Congress would spend a lot more; steal funds from education, Social Security and long-term care to cover the gap; and promise that future Congresses will make up for it by taxing more and spending less.
Holtz-Eakin's estimate is much closer to reality than the one the CBO was forced to come up with — but it won't get one tenth of the publicity.

There were honest ways that the Democratic leadership — Obama, Pelosi, and Reid — could have worked toward their goal of universal government medical insurance.  (For instance, they could have proposed gradually extending our single-payer system, Medicare, to younger people without insurance.)   But the honest ways all had one great difficulty, from OPR's point of view:  They made it far more difficult to disguise the costs and controls required by the new plans, made it far harder to disguise the increases in the long-term deficits and the limits on medical care, which may eventually even include "death panels" as Sarah Palin has called them.
- 11:06 AM, 21 March 2010   [link]


Jay Cost's vote count.   He concludes that Pelosi still has an uphill battle for the necessary 216 votes.
- 4:13 PM, 20 March 2010
Update:  As I write, Sean Trende's prediction that Pelosi and company would find the votes, one way or another, is looking better and better.  (Trende has some historical examples to support his conclusion.)
- 2:47 PM, 21 March 2010   [link]


Maybe Hillary Clinton Should Press That Reset Button Again:  Since it didn't work the first time.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russia's foreign minister clashed publicly Thursday over an announcement that Russia would complete a nuclear power plant in Iran this summer.

Mrs. Clinton said the announcement, made during her visit, sends the wrong signal at a time when the West is trying to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
(Emphasis added.)

The timing of this announcement was a deliberate, calculated insult.  It marks a new low in American-Russian relations.  Putin has just told us, as clearly as he can, that he wants conflict between our two nations, that he is not, at present, interested in improving relations.

It is possible, perhaps even likely, that a McCain administration would have had no more success getting cooperation from the Russians on Iran than the Obama-Clinton team has — but I doubt that McCain would have been humiliated this way.

I will even speculate that a McCain administration might have done a little better, simply because the Russians would see him as tougher, as willing to act against Russia if diplomatic approaches don't work.  On the whole, American presidents whom the Soviets viewed as tough had more success in negotiations than American presidents the Soviets viewed as weak, and I suspect the same thing would be true with Putin and company.

(Has Putin concluded that the Russians will get more from the Obama administration if they behave badly?   Possibly.  Obama has certainly given them some reason to believe that, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown could tell you.)
- 9:30 AM, 19 March 2010   [link]


Do Diversity Training Programs Work?   Probably not.
Now a few social scientists are taking a hard look at these programs, and, so far, what they're finding is that there's little evidence that diversity training works.  A paper published last year by the psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and the Yale University political scientist Donald Green comprehensively surveyed the literature on prejudice reduction measures and found no empirical support for the idea that diversity training programs change attitudes or behavior.  Similarly, a 2008 literature review paper by Carol Kulik of the University of South Australia and Loriann Roberson of Columbia University found that, on the question of changing behavior, there were few trustworthy studies - and decidedly mixed results among those.   And research by a team of sociologists on more than 800 companies over three decades has found that the best diversity training programs make little difference in who gets hired and promoted, and many programs actually decrease the number of women and minorities in management.
Many programs may even have negative effects.
But even the better programs led only to marginal changes.  And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits - the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined - slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management.  Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they've heard.
The programs have provided billions of dollars to diversity trainers.  Whether that is a good result depends on your point of view, I suppose.

(Full disclosure:  You can count me among those who resent required programs.)
- 8:19 AM, 19 March 2010   [link]


Does David Leonhardt Believe In Demography?  That's what I began to wonder, after reading his latest column.

Leonhardt is making an argument for higher taxes, especially higher consumption taxes, in a roundabout way.
This idea is known as Wagner's Law, named for the 19th-century economist who came up with it.  Citizens of richer societies generally prefer more government services, Adolf Wagner explained.  With their basic needs met, they want a military to protect them, good schools for their children, comfortable retirement for the elderly, medical care even when it isn't profitable and a strong social safety net.

Sure enough, the United States followed this path for most of the last century.  In 1900, federal taxes amounted to just 2 percent of gross domestic product. By 2000, the share had risen to 21 percent.
(His discussion is misleading, to say the least.  Although it is true that government expenditures tend to rise in rich nations, it is also true that they have risen less in the United States than in most other well-to-do nations.  Nations that have controlled those increases have done better — on the average — than nations that haven't.  Moreover the United States had long periods in the last century when we held spending constant as a share of the GDP, or even reduced it.)

But now we are having high spending, without the taxes to pay for it.  Leonhardt wants us to raise taxes, more than cutting spending.  In other words, Leonhardt thinks that we should raise taxes so as to be more like the Europeans.

Unfortunately, the Europeans are about to learn that their model will not work for much longer
Within the next four decades, most of the developed countries in both Europe and East Asia will become veritable old-age homes: a third or more of their populations will be older than 65, compared with only a fifth in the U.S.
Even if you put children to work, there will be fewer than two European workers to provide retirement benefits for each retired person, and medical care for everyone.  (And of course an aging population will require proportionately even more medical care than the current population.  It is no wonder that many European nations are exploring assisted suicide, and other ways of reducing their growing population of old people.)

European actuaries are no doubt trying to solve this problem, but it already looks too hard to have any easy, or even moderately difficult, solutions.  (I certainly can't think of any.  They are already trying some of the obvious fixes, but I don't see how those can succeed in the long run, unless Europeans suddenly start having babies again.)

The problem will be less severe in the United States — unless we follow Leonhardt's advice.

(Retirement benefits and the shortage of children may be directly related.  Some economists believe that high retirement benefits lead to low birth rates, as people decide that they do not need to have children of their own to be supported in old age.

Here's my take on the "demography is destiny" argument.)
- 3:37 PM, 18 March 2010   [link]


"The Obama Administration Desperately Needs Adult Supervision"  That's Taranto's conclusion, after looking at the fight over ObamaCare.  (And some other administration blunders.)

That's a harsh judgement, but one justified by Obama's record to date.

Defeating ObamaCare might get Obama the help he needs, says Taranto.  (Though both of us hope that this bizarre scheme can be defeated, I am less optimistic that Obama would learn from that defeat.)


Another Democrat Switches To Republican:  And this Democrat is exactly the kind of recruit that the New York Republicans need.
A governor's race that seemed all but settled is about to be upended again, by a popular Democrat from Long Island who is set to announce that he is switching parties.  The move is certain to excite Republican leaders pessimistic about their party's hopes this fall.

Those leaders believe that the official, Steve Levy, a blunt-spoken fiscal hawk and contrarian who collected 96 percent of the vote in his last re-election bid, can tap into the public's anti-incumbent sentiment and frustration with Albany's overspending.

Mr. Levy, 50, the Suffolk County executive, said he wanted voters to see him as "Scott Brown II," referring to the Massachusetts senator who pulled off an upset against a heavily favored Democrat in January.  "There really seems to be a void out there that I can fit perfectly," Mr. Levy said, describing Albany's political culture as a "cesspool."
If you know anything about New York politics, you will probably agree with his "cesspool" description.  I'd add "dysfunctional' to his "cesspool".  It stinks, and it doesn't work.

(Levy has significant executive experience, since Suffolk County has a population of 1.5 million.)
- 1:51 PM, 18 March 2010   [link]


Will EPA Rules Cause Blackouts In California?  Maybe.  EPA rules are likely to cause the closing of many power plants in California, and it is almost impossible to build new power plants there — of any kind.
The centerpiece of California's energy policy is really the absence of energy.

If that sounds crazy -- and it is! -- consider this impressive web of regulation that the government has spun: Elected officials enacted a moratorium on new nuclear power plants. New coal plants are illegal. Large scale hydro power is unthinkable for California's environmentally sensitive voters, because it harms fish. Natural gas plants emit half as much carbon as coal plants, but they are banned in much of California because they cannot get air quality permits for particulate emissions.

In 2006, the State Water Resources Control Board ruled that 19 coastal natural gas power plants were in violation of the Clean Water Act for using a process called "once-through cooling," by which ocean water is pumped into a power plant in order to condense steam into water to be reused. This can harm aquatic wildlife, so, at the behest of environmentalist groups, the SWRCB ordered coastal power plants to make costly refurbishments. According to the Energy Commission, "[I]t is likely that plant operators will choose retirement in the face of costly retrofits."
(Warm ocean water helps some species, some times, and hurts some others, some times.  It is common for fish to be attracted to these warmer discharge areas, as many fishermen could tell you.)

By way of Chicago Boyz, where there are many instructive comments.  (Be sure to read the comments by Joseph Somsel and Mike H.)
- 10:46 AM, 18 March 2010   [link]


Will ObamaCare Pass The House?  Keith Hennessey, who is about as well informed as anyone who isn't actually counting the votes can be, says he doesn't know.
Yesterday I guessed a two in three chance the President would have legislative success, which I now define as at least signing the Senate-passed bill into law.

In the past I have at least been able to fool myself into thinking there was a rational basis for my projections.   Now I'm just guessing.  I will stick with two in three for the moment, but I am now just picking numbers out of thin air based on some slightly informed guessing.  This prediction will be out of date by tomorrow, if not sooner.  And I do not anticipate updating it.

That's because this is now entirely an inside game into which I have extremely limited visibility.  If the Speaker can get 216 votes for two bills, then it's over.  But only a handful of people really know how far she is from that goal.
Having said he doesn't know, he then offers twelve sensible observations, including this one:
12. So much for transparency.  Bill #2 is being drafted in the Speaker's office.  So much for regular order in the legislative process, or open debate, or amendments . . .  As recently as two weeks ago the President was admitting that they"could have done better" on transparency.  We will never know the extent of side deals being cut to lock down votes, since many of them will be delivered outside this legislation.
If the public knew about those side deals, the odds in favor of passage would be lower.

(See this post for some of the tactical complexities in the voting.)
- 9:42 AM, 18 March 2010   [link]


A Win For Sound Math Education:  In a neighboring suburb.

Major Update: Tonight (Thursday night [March 9th]) the Bellevue Math Adoption Committee voted to adopt Holt instead of the Discovering Math series. This is extraordinary good news and one can assume that school board will follow suit. It was clear to those attending that the massive intervention of Bellevue parents was a major factor. The School district received over a 100 comments, most in support of Holt, and a new analysis by Bellevue parent Jock Mackinlay of the piloting data showed the clear superiority of Holt in supporting student learning. Active, determined parental intervention can make a huge difference and it happened in Bellevue tonight. One can also thank the district for leaving ideology behind and using real data and parental wishes as guides for their actions. Now all eyes turn to Issaquah, which is now in the midst of making the same decision. And for me, back to weather!

Atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass, who wrote that post, deserves some credit for this win.  And Where's the Math? deserves much of the credit for it.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(If you need some background on this controversy, you can read two of my posts, here and here, or these articles by Charlotte Allen and Sandra Stotsky.)
- 3:53 PM, 17 March 2010   [link]


Lehman Brothers And The Regulators:  Remember Lehman Brothers?   The collapse of that firm helped set off the financial panic in 2008.  As investigators have dug through their books, we have learned that Lehman was far too leveraged, and was concealing that from the public with an accounting gimmick.  Where were the regulators while all this was happening? On scene.
Almost two years ago to the day, a team of officials from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York quietly moved into the headquarters of Lehman Brothers.  They were provided desks, phones, computers — and access to all of Lehman's books and records. At any given moment, there were as many as a dozen government officials buzzing around Lehman's offices.

A report from Lehman's bankruptcy examiner, Anton R. Valukas, revealed the firm was taking a creative approach to valuations and accounting.

These officials, whose work was kept under wraps at the time, were assigned by Timothy Geithner, then president of the New York Fed, and Christopher Cox, then the S.E.C. chairman, to monitor Lehman in light of the near collapse of Bear Stearns.
. . .
Indeed, it now appears that the federal government itself either didn't appreciate the significance of what it saw (we've seen that movie before with regulators waving off tips about Bernard L. Madoff).  Or perhaps they did appreciate the significance and blessed the now-suspect accounting anyway.
That story doesn't increase one's faith in regulators, does it?  (Or in Timothy Geithner and Christopher Cox.)
- 1:19 PM, 17 March 2010   [link]


The New York Times Favors Greater Income Equality:  Except for employees of the New York Times.
The New York Times laid off 100 people and cut pay for most employees last year for a nine-month period.   All employees except two: Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Chief Executive Janet L. Robinson.  According to The Wall Street Journal, both Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Janet L. Robinson got huge increases.   Janet L. Robinson's overall pay jumped 32 percent to 6.3 million; Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s pay rose to $6 million, double the $3 million of a year before.

What's alarming is Sulzberger and Robinson took these raises while asking their employees to suffer pay cuts and job losses.   In May of 2009, Vanity Fair's Mark Bowden wrote that a "doomsday clock" was ticking for newspapers, and Sulzberger was "struggling to keep his family's prized asset alive."  Yeah, he's really working hard to do that, huh?
The New York Times laid off about 100 employees and asked editors and reporters to take 5 percent pay cuts.  (Their employees at the Boston Globe took almost 6 percent pay cuts.)

Did Mr. Sulzberger earn his job through hard work and talent?  Not exactly.  (And if you have an innocent friend who wonders how he did get his job, you can give them this hint:  He has the same last name as the previous publisher.)

And I would have to say that his career is one of the best arguments for an estate tax — assuming you could devise one that would get by his lawyers and accountants.
- 9:16 AM, 17 March 2010   [link]


Felix Baumgartner Will Soon Be Taking A 23 Mile Trip:   Straight down.
But now Fearless Felix, as his fans call him, has something more difficult on the agenda: jumping from a helium balloon in the stratosphere at least 120,000 feet above Earth.  Within about half a minute, he figures, he would be going 690 miles per hour and become the first skydiver to break the speed of sound.  After a free fall lasting five and a half minutes, his parachute would open and land him about 23 miles below the balloon.

At least, that's the plan, although no one really knows what the shock wave will do to his body as it exceeds the speed of sound.  The jump, expected sometime this year, would break one of the most venerable aerospace records.   For half a century, no one has surpassed (one person died trying) the altitude record set by Joe Kittinger as part of an Air Force program called Project Excelsior.
Good luck to him.  And there are important things to be learned from what looks, at first glance, like a stunt.
- 8:46 AM, 17 March 2010   [link]


Obama Isn't Telling The Whole Story About Health Insurance Premiums:  So says the Associated Press.
Buyers, beware: President Barack Obama says his health care overhaul will lower premiums by double digits, but check the fine print.

Premiums are likely to keep going up even if the health care bill passes, experts say.   If cost controls work as advertised, annual increases would level off with time.  But don't look for a rollback.  Instead, the main reason premiums would be more affordable is that new government tax credits would help cover the cost for millions of people.

Listening to Obama pitch his plan, you might not realize that's how it works.
In other words, Obama is offering some people lower apparent premiums, without mentioning the higher taxes required to pay for the subsidies.

Does Obama want us to understand that's how it works?  Good question.

In yesterday's column, Robert Samuelson implied that Obama was lying to us.
One job of presidents is to educate Americans about crucial national problems.  On health care, Barack Obama has failed.  Almost everything you think you know about health care is probably wrong or, at least, half wrong.   Great simplicities and distortions have been peddled in the name of achieving "universal health coverage."  The miseducation has worsened as the debate approaches its climax.
If a salesman peddles "simplicities and distortions" in an effort to sell his product, it is usually because the salesman thinks we will not buy what he is selling if he tells the truth.
- 8:34 AM, 17 March 2010   [link]


The ObamaCare Market At InTrade:  Here are the numbers, as of this morning.

Intrade ObamaCare June contract

That's a dramatic turnaround.  I'll be watching this contract today to see if the turnaround is temporary.
- 6:07 AM, 16 March 2010
Update:  The contract has returned to roughly the level it was before that dramatic drop.
- 12:53 PM, 17 March 2010   [link]