Archive:

November 2012, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Another Modern Awkward Moment:  Last Monday's New Yorker cartoon showed two couples.  In front of us, there is a hip young couple, pushing a baby carriage on a city street.  Coming down steps on the side is another couple.

The hip husband is saying (softly, I presume): "Don't look.  It's the people we steal Wi-Fi from."

(If that description isn't enough, you can see the cartoon here.)

Full disclosure:  I have, a few times, used someone else's Wi-Fi connection, when it was left open in my neighborhood.  When I have done it, it was usually to make a quick test to see if the Wi-Fi was working on a new laptop, without heading out to a coffee shop, or library.

It's a dangerous thing to do because it is easy for a felonious neighbor to set up an open Wi-Fi site, in order to steal your passwords and other information.  So you might be getting a free connection — or you might be giving away valuable information.
- 12:31 PM, 30 November 2012   [link]


Is The Obama Administration Serious About Avoiding The "Fiscal Cliff"?  So far, Senate Minority Leader McConnell doesn't think so.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, says he “burst into laughter” Thursday when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner outlined the administration proposal for averting the fiscal cliff.  He wasn’t trying to embarrass Geithner, McConnell says, only responding candidly to his one-sided plan, explicit on tax increases, vague on spending cuts.
Nor do I.

Of course, this kind of posturing isn't unusual in the early stages of negotiations.  But it is discouraging.  And I don't think we can exclude the possibility that Obama, in his arrogance, will miscalculate.
- 8:10 AM, 30 November 2012   [link]


The Obama Administration Is Ignoring Recent Scientific Findings On The Northern Spotted Owl:  When the northern spotted owl was classified as endangered species — wrongly in my opinion — some scientists believed that the decline in its numbers was caused by a loss of old growth forests.

(Other scientists may have disagreed, even at the time of the original decision.  I recall seeing a quote from an anonymous official saying that the decision had come along just in time to allow them to lock up old growth forests, as they had wanted to do for other reasons.)

Immense areas were set aside for the owl beginning in 1992 — but its numbers continued to decline.

It now seems likely that much of the decline was caused by competition from the barred owl.
Barred Owls may be partly responsible for the recent decline of the Northern Spotted Owl, native to Washington, Oregon, and California.  Since the 1960s, Barred Owls have been expanding their range westward from the eastern US, perhaps because man-made changes have created new suitable habitat in the west.[5]  When Spotted Owls and Barred Owls share the same environment, the latter are generally more aggressive and out-compete the former, leading to decreased populations of the native owls.[6]  They have also been known to interbreed, with the hybrids named "Sparred Owl" or "Botted Owl".[citation needed]
(Barred owls like living in suburbs, if you are wondering how we helped them spread across the continent.)

Though the Wikipedia article doesn't mention it, there have been experiments with shooting barred owls, successful experiments from the point of view of the spotted owl.

So what is the Obama administration doing to preserve the northern spotted owl?  They are doubling down on the failed policy of setting aside millions of acres of old growth forest — and will be following the new policy of killing barred owls.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the White House released a big fat policy turkey: its final critical habitat rule for the endangered northern spotted owl.  The Obama plan will lock up 9.6 million acres of land (mostly, but not all, federal) in Oregon, Washington and northern California.  This is nearly double the acreage set aside by the Bush administration.

Thousands of timber workers (along with untold thousands of related support jobs) will be threatened in the name of sparing a few thousand spotted owls from extinction.
. . .
Instead of admitting failure and letting nature take its course, however, command-and-control bureaucrats have appointed themselves Mother Nature's judges, juries and executioners.  Their "main priority" is "reducing competition from barred owls."   How?  By gunning them down.  Final details are still in the works, but the agency has floated past removal schemes that involve "luring territorial barred owls into close range ... using recorded calls and an owl decoy. ... A shotgun would be used to prevent wounding and ensure rapid and humane death."  Experts say such an eradication plan would need to continue for centuries.
Actually the killing would have to be permanent, given the the advantages that the barred owl has over the spotted owl.

Do the leaders of these environmental groups believe their own story, do they really think that the northern spotted owl decline is caused almost entirely by loss of habitat?  I suspect that a few never did (or didn't care).  But I also suspect that most still believe that story, despite the evidence of the last two decades.

That's not very scientific, but as I have often said, Green groups are best understood as religious organizations.
- 7:19 AM, 30 November 2012   [link]


The Telegraph Headline Is Wrong:  Probably.  Here's the basic story.
In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.

This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.
And here's the headline: "Two-thirds of millionaires left Britain to avoid 50p tax rate"

Which goes way too far, for a number of reasons.  First, the people who declare those incomes (or any other level of incomes) will not be the same from year to year, even if the number of them stay about the same.  Second, Britain has not been prospering recently, so some in that high income group made less (as did others who might have joined it in better years).  Third — and I suspect this is the most important — high income people might have taken gains early for the 2009-2010 tax year, and then deferred them for the following year.  In the United States, most high income people have considerable control over the timing of their income, and I am nearly certain that the same is true in Britain.

So how many did leave Britain because of taxes?  We have no way of knowing from that data, but I would be comfortable saying that one-tenth would be closer to the answer than two-thirds, and wouldn't quarrel with anyone who thought that one-tenth was too high, especially if they had some data to support their view.
- 8:54 AM, 29 November 2012   [link]


Former Congressman Mel Reynolds Is Running For Congress Again:  And saying that he has learned from the mistakes of his past — which included being too close to young women, very young women, so young that they were, in that old phrase, "jail bait".

Andrew Malcolm has nice sketch of Reynolds' career, which, even after he was jailed, benefited from his connections.
You may recall December of 2000. That month Republican George W. Bush was declared the next president.

As a loyal former elected Democrat, Mel Reynolds writes a plea to the White House for a commuted sentence.

The letter is delivered to Democrat Bill Clinton by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Democrat father of Reynolds' Democrat successor.  Hours before President Clinton surrenders the White House to his GOP successor, he commutes Reynolds' federal fraud conviction.

Upon release, Reynolds is hired by Rev. Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition as a counselor to black teens.
Reynolds wouldn't be my first choice to counsel youth.

The Reynolds story is amusing, but it is also disgusting.  And in some ways the worst part, for me, is the help he got from Clinton and Jackson, both of whom had their own very public sex scandals.

(There are a number of creditors in Chicago who may hope that Reynolds gets elected, so they can collect some of the money he owes them.)
- 8:11 AM, 29 November 2012   [link]


Poor Smokers:   Literally.
Low-income smokers in New York spend 25 percent of their income on cigarettes, according to a new study, which led advocates for smokers' rights to say it proved high taxes were regressive and ineffective.
The arithmetic is easy to follow.  The researchers classified families making less than $30,000 a year as low income.  In New York, because of the high taxes, a pack of cigarettes can cost as much as $12.  So a married couple, each with a pack-a-day habit, could spend more than $8,000 a year on cigarettes.

It is extraordinary just how regressive cigarette taxes are.

But they probably have been effective, though it is reasonable to suspect that the last dollar of taxes on a pack has much less effect than the first dollar.

As I have said before, I wish no one smoked, and I especially wish no one smoked regularly.  As I have also said before, I think that we have gone a little too far in taxing smokers, almost all of whom harm only themselves.
- 7:43 AM, 29 November 2012   [link]


Ivy League Schools May Lack political diversity.
96% of the faculty and staff at Ivy League colleges that contributed to the 2012 presidential race donated to President Obama's campaign, reveals a Campus Reform investigation compiled using numbers released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

96% of faculty and staff at Ivy League colleges that contributed to the 2012 presidential race donated to President Obama's campaign.

From the eight elite schools, $1,211,267 was contributed to the Obama campaign, compared to the $114,166 given to Romney.

The highest percentage of Obama donors came from Brown University and Princeton, with 99 percent of donations from faculty and staff going towards his campaign.
There was just one lonely Romney donor at Brown — and I'd like to salute that brave man or woman.

By way of the Instapundit and the TaxProf.

(When I've looked at campus donors in the past, I have found that the Republican donors are less likely to be on the faculty than the Democratic donors.  Instead, Republican donors are more likely to have jobs managing facilities, or investments, or something similar.)
- 6:52 AM, 29 November 2012   [link]


More Taxes = More Equality?  Today, leftist New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter made an interesting, but in my opinion, false, argument.

Porter favors — and favors may be too weak a word — a substantial decrease in economic inequality in the United States.

But he recognizes that our tax system is already quite progressive.
Many Americans may find this hard to believe, but the United States already has one of the most progressive tax systems in the developed world, according to several studies, raising proportionately more revenue from the wealthy than other advanced countries do.  Taxes on American households do more to redistribute resources than the tax codes of most other rich nations.
Porter also recognizes that making our tax code more progressive, especially by raising taxes on investments, would hurt economic growth.
High corporate taxes encourage companies to avoid them.  High taxes on capital income also encourage avoidance and capital flight.  High income tax rates on top earners can discourage work and investment.
So what's left?

For Porter, taxes on consumption, such as a value added tax, or a carbon tax.  The money collected can be sent back in the form of family allowances, and similar kinds of benefits.

By this time, I suspect most of you have already figured out what I did, while I was reading the column.  For many families, especially poorer families, the amount they get from that family allowance will be almost enough to pay for the higher prices on their groceries, et cetera, leaving the families, if anything, worse off than they were before.

(For years, I have been struck by the fact that almost the first thing the Pelosi-Reid Congress did in 2009 was to raise taxes on tobacco products, products that are now disproportionately consumed by lower income people.)
- 6:55 PM, 28 November 2012   [link]


Union Versus Union At Hostess:  Holman Jenkins makes an argument that I hadn't seen before.  He argues that both the Teamsters and the baker's union were being rational, the Teamsters for accepting cuts, the bakers for rejecting them>

Why?  Because, he says, the part of Hostess that was killing it on costs was not production, but distribution.
This high-cost distribution system means the company doesn't make money on many of its existing sales.  It means it can't profitably extend sales to new customers and new geographical markets that might keep Hostess factories busier than ever.

Now, as we said, a good bet is that people act rationally where their material interests are concerned.  The bakers make a perfectly rational judgment, in rejecting further concessions and triggering the liquidation of Hostess, that their members would be better off if no longer wedded to Hostess's Teamster-dominated delivery network.
Sounds plausible to me.
- 6:17 PM, 28 November 2012   [link]


Ambassador Susan Rice May Have Lost New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

In today's column, Dowd uses questions from moderate Senator Susan Collins to cast doubt on Rice's Benghazi story, saving what I thought was the best point for the next-to-the-last paragraph.
Collins is curious why Rice is not angrier, if, as she insists, she was simply repeating what she was told.  "I'd be furious if at the White House and F. B. I. and intelligence community for destroying my credibility," she says.
Almost everyone would hate being used that way, and there is no reason to think that Rice would be an exception.  It is easier to believe that, for political reasons, she chose to go out and tell a story that she should have known was wrong, at least in part.

Dowd is using an old reporter's trick, interviewing a person who will say what you want to say, without having to accept responsibility for what is said.  (I don't disapprove, since I think Collins, and through Collins, Dowd, are raising some of the right questions.)

For Dowd's purposes, Collins is almost perfect, since it is hard to accuse Collins of extremism, or sexism.

(There is one more possible complication that I should mention.  Milbank, who I linked to this morning, and Dowd may be relaying attacks on Rice from supporters of Hillary Clinton.  I think that is almost certain in Milbank's case, and likely in Dowd's case.   That doesn't mean the arguments made in the columns are wrong, of course, but it does mean, as always, that we should treat them with some caution.)
- 1:04 PM, 28 November 2012   [link]


Ice Waves In Antarctica:  Beautiful and bizarre.

(Can't write about politics all the time.)
- 12:35 PM, 28 November 2012   [link]


Increasing CO2 May Help Feed A Hungry Planet:  That's what agricultural scientist Lewis H. Ziska believes, as I learned from an article in yesterday's New York Times.

The Times article cited a (peer-reviewed) article by Ziska and others in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.  You can, for now, download the entire article from the Royal Society site, or you can just read this interpretive summary:
Interpretive Summary: Agricultural production is under increasing pressure to maintain or increase in order to satisfy rising population, diversion of cereals to biofuels, increased protein demands, and climatic extremes.  Because of the immediate and dynamic nature of these changes, adaptation measures are urgently needed to ensure both the stability and continued increase of the global food supply.  Although potential adaption options often consider regional or sectoral variations of existing risk management (e.g., earlier planting dates, choice of crop), there may be a simple and effective strategy for increasing productivity.  In spite of the recognition that atmospheric carbon dioxide is an essential plant resource that has increased globally by ~25% since 1959, efforts to breed for CO2 responsiveness among important crops have not been recognized as an effective adaptation measure.  In this collaborative manuscript from the agricultural community, we challenge that viewpoint through an assessment of existing studies on carbon dioxide and seed variability.  We demonstrate that while technical hurdles remain, active selection and breeding for CO2 responsiveness among cereal varieties may provide one of the simplest and direct strategies for increasing global yields and maintaining food security in the 21st century.
In short, we can feed more people, with better diets, if we select for plant varieties that can use the extra CO2.
- 10:29 AM, 28 November 2012   [link]


Susan Rice, An Undiplomatic Diplomat:  Columnist Dana Milbank describes some of Ambassador Rice's past quarrels, and concludes that President Obama should choose someone else for Secretary of State.

Sample:
Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad.   Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.

Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses.  Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.
If Milbank is right, and I believe that he is, Rice should not even be UN ambassador.

Milbank does not mention Rice's disgraceful behavior during the Rwandan genocide, which, I think, was enough, by itself, to disqualify her from any diplomatic post.

Given Rice's propensity for quarrels, it is no surprise that her meeting with Senators Ayotte, Graham, and McCain did not go well.

(What is Rice good at?  Among other things, basketball.   Like Sarah Palin, she was a star point guard in high school.  Judging by his appointees, Obama sees basketball skill as a big plus in high governmental posts.)
- 5:37 AM, 28 November 2012   [link]


In The Latest Presidential Popular Vote Count, Mitt Romney now has 60,048,266 votes, just slightly ahead of McCain's 2008 total, 59,950,323 votes.

Obama will not come anywhere near matching his 2008 total of 69,499,428 votes.  He currently has 64,180,310 votes.

I don't expect either of those 2012 numbers to increase much in the final count.

Remember when some journalists were telling us that Romney was going to end up 2 million votes under McCain's 2008 total?
- 6:30 PM, 27 November 2012   [link]


Sometimes Fatal Attractions In Nature:  In today's New York Times, there is an article about young males misbehaving by trying to mate with the wrong species.

For example:
One day during field observations last year at Marion Island, a remote nature preserve in the Indian Ocean, something bizarre caught Tristan Scott's eye: on a rocky beach, a sleek young male Antarctic fur seal was trying to mate with a king penguin.
This incident did not end well for the penguin and, probably for the male fur seal, who ended up with lunch, rather than a lover.

This kind of misdirected behavior has also been observed in "Insects, spiders, worms, frogs, birds and fish".  It is probably more common in polygynous species, where a few dominant males monopolize the females.

(Some biologists are embarrassed by this misdirected mating, according to the article.)
- 6:07 PM, 27 November 2012   [link]


This Time, The Onion Fooled a Chinese newspaper.
The online version of the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper appears to have fallen for a spoof by the US satirical website, The Onion.

The People's Daily ran a 55-page photo spread of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after he was declared The Onion's Sexiest Man Alive for 2012.
And not just any old Chinese newspaper, as you can see.
- 4:38 PM, 27 November 2012   [link]


Rural Areas Have Gained since 2007.
The 261 million people who live in cities and suburbs still haven't recovered earning power lost in the economic downturn.  Average income per person fell 3.5% in metropolitan areas between 2007 and 2011 after adjusting for inflation, according to data released Monday by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

By contrast, small-town America is better off than before: Inflation-adjusted income is up 3.8% per person since 2007 for the 51 million in small cities, towns and rural areas.
Those gains come, mostly, from the "energy boom and strong farm prices".

(The print version of the USA Today map color codes the changes by county, and is definitely worth a look, and maybe even a dollar.)
- 3:45 PM, 27 November 2012   [link]


Worth Reading:  Thomas Sowell on IQ, and two scholars, Arthur Jensen and James Flynn, who came to very different conclusions about IQ.

Here's how Sowell begins:
Anyone who has followed the decades-long controversies over the role of genes in IQ scores will recognize the names of the two leading advocates of opposite conclusions on that subject-- Professor Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley and Professor James R. Flynn, an American expatriate at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

What is so unusual in the academic world of today is that Professor Flynn's latest book, "Are We Getting Smarter?" is dedicated to Arthur Jensen, whose integrity he praises, even as he opposes his conclusions.  That is what scholarship and science are supposed to be like, but so seldom are.
Especially on a subject as sensitive as IQ.
- 1:51 PM, 27 November 2012   [link]


What's Obama Doing Now, As We Approach The "Fiscal Cliff"?   Visiting Asia (without preparing for the trip) and golfing.
Obama has met only once with Republican leaders since being reelected three weeks ago and has no public plans for specific future gatherings, even as desperate talks to avoid the “fiscal cliff” continue.

Meanwhile, he’s been golfing twice since the election.

Obama barely met with Congressional leaders at all for much of 2012, preferring to concentrate on getting reelected instead of trying to avoid a last minute crunch to avoid the fiscal cliff’s massive spending cuts.
Perhaps this is all for the best, though.  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner may be able to reach an agreement with the congressional leadership, but I see no reason to think that Obama could.

And perhaps it isn't.  Some Democrats, including Washington's senior senator, Patty Murray, appear to think that going off that cliff — if it results in higher tax rates — would be a good thing.  Obama may share that view, despite what he says in public.

I wish I hadn't come to this conclusion, but I must add that I can believe that there are White House political operatives who wouldn't mind another recession — as long as they could blame it on the Republicans.

And, of course, as things stand now, the Democrats would need some sort of external shock by 2014 to reclaim the House, and cut their likely losses in the Senate.

(If that is the Democratic plan, how should the Republicans react?  By doing everything they can to appear reasonable, as most of the leaders are doing right now.  They should talk soft in public, and bargain hard in private.)
- 11:00 AM, 27 November 2012   [link]


The Obama Administration Doesn't Have Clear Rules Governing Those Drone Strikes:  (Which are greatly resented all over the world.)

But, we learned from the New York Times, the administration started making up some rules when they feared that Mitt Romney might be elected.
Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials.
The Times reporter, Scott Shane, didn't appear to consider these admissions extraordinary, though I think most who are not Democratic partisans would.

Take, for example, Professor Althouse, who voted for Obama in 2008 and, somewhat reluctantly, Romney in 2012.
That means that the President was fine with the lack of rules/standards/procedures to confine his own power.
But not with Romney having the same, uh, discretion.

Professor Jacobson, who didn't vote for Obama in either election, is harsher, but makes the same point.
Put aside how you feel about the drone strikes, or a President selecting kill lists.

The arrogance Obama to think that he alone could be trusted with such power without rules is staggering.
By now, that arrogance should no longer surprise anyone — but it still does from time to time.

(Are those drone strikes against international law?  I would guess that most international law scholars would say yes, especially when the strikes hit areas where there is a recognized government, which is not at war with us.

And, if a President McCain were pursuing the same policies, you would have heard that argument made by more than a few leftists, all over the world.

But I wouldn't make too much of it, since I find the whole concept of international law dubious.)
- 8:58 AM, 27 November 2012   [link]


Governor Branstad Says We Should Get Rid of the Ames straw poll.
Iowa governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, has suggested that the days of the Ames straw poll — the Midwest summer spectacle that takes the temperature of an idiosyncratic slice of the Republican party months before the first binding primaries — might be numbered.

“I think the straw poll has outlived its usefulness,” Branstad told the Wall Street Journal.   “It has been a great fundraiser for the party, but I think its days are over.”  Though Branstad will not ultimately decide whether the poll returns in 2015 — that decision is up to the state’s party and the candidates, among others — we hope that he’s prescient.   Ames does more damage than justice to the nominating process, and ensures that the country’s first view of the Grand Old Party’s latest presidential crop is through a distorted lens.
Branstad is right, and I hope this is just the first of many reforms suggested for the Republican nominating process.

(What's the most important reform?  In my opinion, taking control of those awful "debates" away from the Republican party's enemies in the "mainstream" media.)
- 8:16 AM, 27 November 2012   [link]


Tax Policies Or Global Trends?  While sorting through my immense stacks of newspapers, I came across this Allan Meltzer op-ed, with a fascinating chart.

When you look at it, you see that the shares received by the top one percent in seven nations — the U.S., Sweden, France, Australia, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands — declined steadily from 1900 to about 1980, and since then have risen gradually in all seven nations.

Meltzer concludes:
As the nearby chart from the Roine and Waldenström study shows, the share of income for the top 1% in these seven countries generally follows the same trend line.   That means domestic policy can't be the principal reason for the current spread between high earners and others.  Since the 1980s, that spread has increased in nearly all seven countries.  The U.S. and Sweden, countries with very different systems of redistribution, along with the U.K. and Canada show the largest increase in the share of income for the top 1%.
(Emphasis added.)

Meltzer attributes the recent rise in inequality to the effects of globalization, and the greater payoffs to rare talents.  Those at the bottom 99 percent in those seven nations are often competing with workers in India and China; those at the top may have no competition at all.  Think, for example, of a factory worker who produces and ships computer games, versus a top computer game designer.  The financial prospects are far worse for the first man than the second.

Meltzer doesn't say — though he could — that a series of American presidents, including Reagan, endorsed tax policies that cut effective tax rates for those in the bottom 99 percent.  One of the principal changes was the Earned Income Tax Credit, which began in 1975, and has been expanded considerably, since then.

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that we have done about as much as we can, practically, to redistribute income through the tax code.

(Although peripheral to his main point, the exceptionally high share that the Swedish one percent received in 1990 is fascinating.  The Swedish authors he cites attribute that to the high costs of capital in Sweden, at that time.)
- 3:35 PM, 26 November 2012   [link]


Is The European Union Encouraging Separatist Movements?   I've wondered about that for some time, and now I see that Christopher Caldwell has come to the that conclusion, using the Scottish and Catalan cases as examples.
Catalan independence is a wish that has been harbored for centuries.  There are cultural, economic, and moral arguments for it.  But one must ask why it is happening the way it is happening, and why now.  The answer lies in the EU, which is a project for dissolving the continent’s nation-states.  The EU’s leaders might not say it, they might not even think it, but the logic is inexorable.   It is natural for minorities within the traditional nation-states to profit from this dissolution.  But eventually majorities will see it as a trick that has been played on them.  There is nothing more dangerous in politics than a majority convinced it has been tricked.
The argument is easy enough to understand:  If Scotland and Catalonia can leave the United Kingdom and Spain, but stay in the European Union, the practical costs of separation will be far lower for them.

And, just as Caldwell says, majorities in the United Kingdom and Spain will not be happy with those results.

If either of these two separatist movements are successful — and stay in the EU — it is likely they will be followed by others, starting, perhaps, with a Flemish break from Belgium.
- 1:49 PM, 26 November 2012   [link]


Warren Buffett Says Rich People Should Pay more taxes.

But Buffett really means other rich people should pay more taxes, as Greg Mankiw points out.
Warren Buffett has an op-ed in today's NY Times on one of his most popular themes: The rich should pay more in taxes.  At first blush, his position seems noble: A rich guy says that people like him should pay more to support the commonweal.  But on closer examination, one realizes that Mr Buffett never mentions doing anything to eliminate the tax-avoidance strategies that he uses most aggressively.
Mankiw then elaborates, for those who want the details.

There is another part of the op-ed that caught my attention, and caught the attention of James Pethokoukis; Buffet also proposed to cut federal spending to 21 percent of GDP.

Since the current level is about 24 percent, Buffett is proposing that we cut federal spending by about one eighth.  (The Obama administration wants to cut down to about 23 percent.)
- 12:41 PM, 26 November 2012   [link]


Obama's Photo-Op Visit "Wasted A Lot Of People's Time"   That's what Donna Vazant, who got a great hug from the president when he was doing his photo-op Sandy election tour, now says.

It was a waste of time for the victims of Sandy (as I said it would be), but it wasn't a waste of time for the Obama campaign.  They saw their opportunity, and they took it.

(Kudos to reporter Kevin Wexler for doing this follow-up.)
- 5:35 AM, 26 November 2012   [link]


Ruben Navarrette Blames Democrats for blocking immigration reform.

He gives five reasons that Democrats don't want immigration reform, and then ends with this:
Don’t kid yourself.  Regardless of the election returns and the turmoil now engulfing the Republican Party, Democrats in Congress have no appetite for comprehensive-immigration reform.  Now that Latino voters have let out a roar, Democrats simply have to be craftier in fooling these voters into thinking they’re doing their bidding while they continue to do what they want to do.

This is the inescapable paradigm of the immigration debate.  Getting outraged at Republicans on Election Day didn’t change it.  If you want to change it, try saving some outrage for Democrats.
Navarrette didn't mention the head Democrat — but he could have.  While he was a senator, Barack Obama helped pass amendments to comprehensive immigration reform that he must have known would make it impossible to pass the bill.  And when he became president, with solid Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, he didn't even bother to introduce an immigration reform bill.

Obama, like most other Democrats, wants the issue, not the reform.
- 6:14 PM, 25 November 2012   [link]


Susan Rice And The Rwandan Genocide:  The Clinton administration knew about the Rwandan genocide, but refused to call it genocide, for political reasons.  Susan Rice was fully in agreement with that policy.
Even after the reality of genocide in Rwanda had become irrefutable, when bodies were shown choking the Kagera River on America's nightly news, the brute fact of the slaughter failed to influence U. S. policy, except in a negative way.  As they had done in Bosnia, American officials again shunned the g-word.  They were afraid that using it would have obliged the United States to act under the terms of the 1948 genocide convention.
. . .
At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?"  Lieutenant Colonel Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department.  "We could believe that people would wonder that, but not that they would actually voice it."  Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, "If I said it, it was completely inappropriate." (pp. 358-359)
The Democrats did lose the 1994 election, though not because of Rwanda.  And Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996, so one can say that his strategy of silence on the Rwandan genocide was successful — politically.  (He now says he's sorry.)

That incident tells us more than a little about Susan Rice; it tells us that she is concerned, most of all, with the political effects of foreign policy, and that she can be more than a little undiplomatic when she speaks.

Like Clinton, she now says she's sorry, but I think we would be wise to put more weight on her past actions than her current words.

(Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire believes that he could have prevented most of the genocide, if he had been given modest reinforcements, and been allowed to act.  He is probably right, since there have been a long string of low-cost Western interventions in Africa since the African states won independence.)
- 3:26 PM, 25 November 2012   [link]


Blame Newt Gingrich:  If you are looking for a single cause for Mitt Romney's defeat (and I advise you not to), you might consider blaming the man who did so much damage to Romney's personal image in the Republican primaries.

Gingrich recycled the heartless-capitalist line that had worked for Ted Kennedy in the 1994 senate election.  The attack wasn't effective enough to give Gingrich the win, but it did do serious damage to Romney's personal image.

(Mike Huckabee had used a similar attack in the 2008 primary campaign.)

And the attack ads that the Obama campaign ran against him repeated, and amplified, many of the attacks that Gingrich had made.

Who would be most affected by those attacks?  White working class voters.  The attacks probably made few of them switch to Obama, but did discourage many from voting at all.

Romney was able to improve his image during the general election campaign, but he started in such a deep hole that he wasn't able to get all the way out before the November election.

(I don't like single-cause explanations in most elections, because voters have different reasons for their choices, and most voters have more than one reason.

An example may show you what I mean:  You could argue that Obama's winning margin came from his incumbency, that two or three percent of the voters would have favored Romney if Obama were not already president.  That might have been enough to tip the crucial swing states to Romney, and give him the win.  But it would not explain the choices of the other 98 or 97 percent of the voters.)
- 2:51 PM, 25 November 2012   [link]


Basic Numbers On Individual Income Taxes:  David Wessel summarizes the latest numbers from the Internal Revenue Service.

Most taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes under $30,000 get some money back.  From there up to about $1,000,000, the tax system is progressive.  But the very rich pay a little less, proportionately, than the rich because the very rich get more of their income from investments.

(Wessel leaves out all the complications of filing status, single, married, dependents, et cetera, which would have big effects on the taxes in the bottom brackets.)
- 1:20 PM, 25 November 2012   [link]


Is Tim Tebow Really A More Popular Thanksgiving Guest Than President Obama?  That's what this New York Post article says.
According to the survey, conducted by Nielsen, when asked who they would like to have as a Thanksgiving dinner guest, more Americans preferred Tim Tebow to President Obama.

The survey, released today by Destination America, shows that 23 percent of people in the United States said they would prefer the Jets backup to the Commander in Chief, who only garnered five percent of the vote.
I was immediately dubious, and looked for the original survey.  I couldn't find, it, either at Nielsen or Destination America.

But I did find almost the entire press release.
When asked who they'd prefer at their dinner table for Thanksgiving, President Obama didn't fare as well as he did in the election.  As a write-in option, just 5% were interested in sharing their turkey with the Commander in Chief.  Both Tim Tebow and Big Bird were each selected by 23% of Americans as preferred Thanksgiving dinner guests.   Assuming that Big Bird feeds approximately 30 people, one can hope the intention was to invite the feathered-friend as a guest...and not the meal.  And yet another celebrity just edging out President Obama was Lady Gaga with 15%.
(Emphasis added.)

So those who chose Obama had to reject the choices given, Tim Tebow, Big Bird, Lady Gaga, and others, and write in the president.  We can't tell how many would have chose Obama if he had been one of the choices in the list, but we can be sure it would be more than 5 percent.

(And just to be a little technical, the on-line survey produced a "nationally representative sample", which is not the same thing as a random sample.)
- 7:42 AM, 25 November 2012   [link]


Is "Australian" A Racist Insult?  In Britain, it can be, and an insult with legal consequences.

Would it still have been a racist insult if Petra Mills had called New Zealander Chelsea O’Reilly a "Kiwi"?  Probably.

I'd say that this incident — which seems to be more about drunkenness than race — was just one of those weird stories that pops up from time to time, except that I have seen similar examples from Britain, including one involving two soccer stars.

(Here's a more complete description of the incident, if you want the sordid details.)
- 7:05 AM, 25 November 2012   [link]