Wednesday, March 31, 2010
A United States Congressman in action.
OK, he might not understand that islands do not "tip over," but I'm sure he could explain the finer points in the just-enacted health care reform law.
Via Professor Althouse, the 100 highest-grossing independent restaurants in the United States. I love Washington's Old Ebbitt Grill and it is obviously a money machine, but I had no idea that it was the 5th busiest restaurant in the land.
The next time you meet a big government liberal who claims that Americans are lightly taxed by some imaginary yardstick, trot out the taxes-per-person metric. It will irritate them no end.
I respectfully submit that the following video is a useful reminder at many levels...
...and that is why the United States will remain a powerful economic force in 2050.
Unless, of course, we go out of our way to destroy our economy by mimicking the policies that have slashed birth rates elsewhere.
Commanding a national audience here at TigerHawk, we try not to spend too much time on state and local matters above and beyond a few photos and alma mater boosterism. But New Jersey's new Republican governor, Chris Christie, is putting it all on the line to fix out-of-control government spending in the Garden State, so attention must be paid. If he succeeds -- still, to be sure, a long shot -- he will not only save this state and its taxpayers, but will substantially raise the bar for other states: If New Jersey can get its fiscal house in order, then any state can.
Support him for your own good.
Via the ever-watchful Bomber Girl, another strange photo choice from the dude who edits the White House Facebook page.
Photo of the Day: President Barack Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France have a discussion in the Blue Room of the White House before their joint press availability, March 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Really? That does not look much like a discussion to me. What do you think is really going on?
There aren't enough green shoots to get us out of this mess.
Correcting the distortion in the fun-house mirrors:
One of the most important challenges of the 21st century will be to find some way to get at the approximate truth. The current crisis is to a large extent a crisis of information. Whether what we wish to know is the value of the liabilities of a financial system; whether carbon-driven AGW exists, whether “reforms” are affordable; or whether the Russians will comply with the proposed drawdowns in nuclear weapons information is so important that gross distortions are impossible to accept. We can live in a world with some funhouse mirrors, but we can’t live in a world where most of them are.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
So, the New York Times is running a story about all the "surprises" in the new health care law, because, you know, it is so thrilling that we are finding all these interesting provisions now that it is the law of the land.
Am I the only person who thinks it is crazy that the Democrats passed a law so complex that the discovery of its "surprises" is itself a multi-cycle story?
After reading the US and international press over the past week, one could be forgiven for thinking that the president had just won a world war. We’ve been bombarded with headlines on both sides of the Atlantic lauding a reinvigorated, all-powerful president, with a spring in his step who could no doubt walk on water if he deigned to do so. Indeed, in the last few days, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have strutted across the country with a vain swagger that would make a peacock blush, from the vice president’s classless, foul-mouthed victory boast at the White House, to the president’s contemptuous mocking of his political opponents at a rally in Iowa.
Both leaders have been beaming like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, living in their own Tim Burton-like fantasy. And what have they actually achieved? The passage of a massively controversial, divisive and hugely expensive health care reform bill via a Democrat-dominated Congress in the face of overwhelming public opposition, and without a shred of bi-partisan support. And a nuclear arms agreement with the Russians that works to the advantage of Moscow. The first of the two “victories” will add nearly a trillion dollars to the national debt, and dramatically increases the power of the federal government over the lives of ordinary Americans. The second is a feel-good PR exercise that does nothing at all to make the world safer in an era of rogue states and Islamist terrorism.
It sort of goes on like that.
Anybody who lives in the northeast knows that we have been pounded with storms in the last four months. Check out this flash movie, which compresses the winter's radar map in to 53 pulse-pounding seconds.
I am perhaps unusual in that I much prefer snow to rain -- it is a lot more fun, and a lot less wet -- but I really hate the endless clouds.
I'm sure all you much hipper people have already seen this joke, but when I saw it on my Facebook feed it was new to me:
Sitting together on a train was Barack Obama, George W. Bush, a little old lady, and a young blonde girl with large breasts.
The train goes into a dark tunnel and a few seconds later there is the sound of a loud slap.
When the train emerges from the tunnel, Bush has a bright red hand print on his cheek.
No one speaks.
The old lady thinks: Bush must have groped the blonde in the dark, and she slapped him.
The blonde girl thinks: Bush must have tried to grope me in the dark, but missed and fondled the old lady and she slapped him.
Bush thinks: Obama must have groped the blonde in the dark. She tried to slap him but missed and got me instead.
Obama thinks: I can't wait for another tunnel, so I can smack Bush again.
He's going to get whacked some more between now and November.
Monday, March 29, 2010
This week's O'Quiz is brutal -- as of this writing, the average score is 3.71 out of 10. Given that pure guesswork would generate an average of 2.5, we know we are dealing with one nasty current events quiz. I noodled my way to a 6, a rare above-average performance for me. You can do better.
Post your scores in the comments. Honestly.
Got up at 4:30 this morning, flew to Toronto, and am now theoretically on my way back. Newark is a mess, though, so in reality I'm biding my time in Toronto waiting for the dream of a flight. Not surprisingly, I have accumulated tabs, many of which come from the helpful contributors out there in Facebook land.
Health care "reform": Did we really just create Fannie/Freddie on steroids?
It seems to me that filling out one's own tax return should be a basic requirement for serving as Commission of the Internal Revenue Service. Otherwise, how do you know how hard you are making it for the (admittedly shrinking percentage of) Americans who actually pay federal income taxes?
Nothing annoys certain of my fellow conservative intellectuals more than when I remind them, as on occasion I mischievously do, that the derogatory things they say about Sarah Palin are uncannily similar to what many of their forebears once said about Ronald Reagan.
I remember that, too. And don't miss the reference to "befouling the presidential nest," itself an unpleasant metaphor for the Oval Office.
The Skadden Arps law firm has prepared a useful summary of the health care "reform" law. I have not read it, but will on the flight home.
Theo Spark has "random thoughts for the day," and I agree with every single one.
Sort of the opposite of the Golden Rule.
A "Patriots Guide: What You Can Do for Your Country." Read it, do it.
If you know about an "earmark" -- they are fiendishly difficult to detect -- register it here. Without the data, retribution is not possible.
The growing largess heaped upon government employees, who now make substantially more than their private sector counterparts. The hard grow harder, and the soft get softer. Reference.
Health care "reform" is going to make a lot of "rule of law" conservatives squirm.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
It is worth reading David Sanger's summary in Sunday's New York Times of a war game simulation that was run at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. In the game, the Israelis decide that Iran is too close to going nuclear and want to delay that moment for several years by launching a series of air strikes. Sanger's conclusion:
No one won, and the United States and Israel measured success differently. In Washington, officials believed setting the Iranian program back only a few years was not worth the huge cost. In Israel, even a few years delay seemed worth the cost, and the Israelis argued that it could further undercut a fragile regime and perhaps speed its demise. Most of the Americans thought that was a pipe dream.The Iranian regime seemed pretty close to a tipping point last year, and it is hard to say whether an Israeli strike would rally nationalistic fervor in favor of the regime or (if damage from the strikes was widespread), undercut the regime by showing that it could offer up little in the way of a competent defense against the long-anticipated aggression of the hated Israelis. I suppose if you are an Israeli, simply buying more time makes the gamble worthwhile, whereas U.S. officials might prefer to continue down the path of negotiations. The least worst option can be different, depending upon one's immediate neighborhood.
Via Instapundit, an article from Times in the United Kingdom with the headline, "It’s over: MPs say the special relationship with US is dead"
Britain's special relationship with the US — forged by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the second world war — no longer exists, says a committee of influential MPs.If the special relationship is in fact dead, that saddens me. My late father fought side by side with members of the Royal Navy during WWII in the Atlantic, and his ship nearly took a U-Boat torpedo in the stern that instead hit the HMS Regent Lion and eventually caused her to sink near Gibraltar (though U-300 was herself sunk by British minesweepers a week later).
Instead, America’s relationship with Britain is no more special than with its other main allies, according to a report by the Commons foreign affairs committee published today.
The report also warns that the perception of the UK after the Iraq war as America’s “subservient poodle” has been highly damaging to Britain’s reputation and interests around the world. The MPs conclude that British prime ministers have to learn to be less deferential to US presidents and be “willing to say no” to America.
There is something diminished if Great Britain is just another ally. Is this a natural outgrowth of the end of the Cold War and a closer alignment of British interests with the mainland of Europe? Is it a result of the increased level of anti-American sentiment in the U.K. during the Bush-Blair alliance with respect to Iraq? Is the straw that broke the camel's back the perception (common in righty blogs here, and across the spectrum in the U.K.) that President Obama feels chilly toward Brits because of his Kenyan heritage and the bad and recent colonial history there, and the manner in which it may have affected the president's father?
Perhaps the most important question is, strategically, does it really matter if the two governments are just friendly and not BFFs? It is not as if the U.K. can fund even a portion of the defense/defence budget it had as recently as the Falklands conflict, nor does it have a fraction of the intelligence budget it had when the first James Bond movie was made in the 1960s (indeed, the worldwide gross of the most recent Bond movie is probably not too far from the annual budget of MI-6). London is still a major money center, and there is generally a great natural affinity between the citizens of the two countries. (Having dated a British woman within the past decade, I can say that such affinity exists.) Britain is still a nuclear power (though many in the U.K. would like it to unilaterally stand down its arsenal) and still has a seat on the Security Council at the U.N., and Whitehall has some influence with Commonwealth countries. What are the possible consequences to the United States if the special relationship is now nothing special?
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds
A tad over the NSFW line, but pretty cool nonetheless...
Saturday, March 27, 2010
If the government of New York State cannot run a gambling monopoly profitably, is there any non-core sovereign function that it can do well?
Earlier today, I spotted this hideously ill-informed photo caption on the front page of the Grey Lady (transcribed below, emphasis added):
Senator John McCain and Sarah Palin, who were estranged as running mates, reunited Friday in Tuscon. Ms. Palin endorsed Mr. McCain's run against a conservative challenger, calling McCain supports "all part of that Tea Party movement." (transcription corrected)
The bolded text is manifestly false, unless the authors of Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime are completely full of it. Heilemann and Halperin make it quite clear that there was never any evidence of estrangement between McCain and Palin, notwithstanding a fair amount of anti-Palin leaking from McCain staffers. Indeed, the book demonstrates fairly convincingly that it was Obama and Biden who were estranged, literally not speaking to each other for weeks during the campaign and only reconciled by dint of an "intervention" of sorts by the campaign staff. The editors of the Times projected the estrangement inside the Obama camp on the McCain campaign, which is nothing short of astonishing.
Somebody seems to have pointed this out to them, because as of Saturday evening the online caption to the same (albeit cropped) photo has been revised without any admission of correction:
Well, facts are good.
The really interesting question, of course, is why the caption was written the way it was in the first place. I mean, how do you make up a concept like "estrangement" from whole cloth? Is it because Palin is a woman, and men and women get "estranged"? Or is it because the staff at the Times is pretty much willing to write anything to prove that Sarah Palin is a harpy even if it requires making stuff up out of whole cloth? One struggles to locate a better third explanation.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Is there anybody under the age of, say, 55, who remembers the last bear market in bonds?
OK, I'm under 55 and indeed remember the last bear market in bonds, but I was a capital markets nerd in high school, long before it became fashionable. Do any of you remember?
A status update from a serial tech entrepreneur, notorious gourmand, and general man about town:
Yikes. Now that the US has ratcheted up even more deficit spending projects, Berkshire-Hathaway, J&J, Procter & Gamble and Lowe's issued bonds this week at LOWER rates of interest than those issued by the Treasury. That means that people think those companies are a better credit risk than Uncle Sam. Our piggy bank is broke, but the crowd in power continues to find more ways to spend more than we have.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I am an executive in a public company, so according to many Democrats my compensation ought to be regulated because I cannot be trusted to deal fairly with my supposedly powerless stockholders. But here's the thing: Neither I nor any other executive in my company flies first class, even to Asia. Coach all the way, even for the CEO, because we know that first class is essentially impossible to justifyy as anything other than a hidden perk.
Apparently, however, the federal government believes that first class is justified for its bureaucrats. Why, precisely, they cannot wedge their fat rears in to coach like the rest of us is beyond me, but there it is.
So, who is more accountable to their constituents: Me to my stockholders, or the jet-setting regulators to the voters?
What a joke our government has become.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
Ezra Klein makes 11 predictions regarding health care "reform." Whether you think them spot on or naive (and I think there are items in both categories), there is something to be learned there. There is also one that exposes the massive difference in attitude between left and right:
7) There is a chance -- say, 30 percent -- that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (the Medicare commission) becomes an extremely, extremely important government body.
If that does not terrify you, you are a liberal. Or old and selfishly unconcerned with the future of American medicine.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I suppose this is one of those posts that needs to be loaded up with disclaimers up front. No, I do not dislike Canada. I lived there as a child, and as an adult I've decided that Canadians are much sturdier than, say, most Europeans. Yes, I enjoy Ann Coulter's speaking and writing. No, I don't agree with everything she has ever said or written. Yes, she is my friend.
Naturally, therefore, I've been enjoying her adventure in the Truth North. Conservative groups have sponsored Ann to speak at several Canadian universities. The provost of one of those august institutions, the University of Ottawa's Francois Houle, saw fit to write a letter to Ann that warned her of possible prosecution if she violates Canada's speech laws. Ann responded by promising to file a complaint with the Canadian human rights commission, which has famously gone after conservatives for expressing opinions about Islam (Ezra Levant, for example, for republishing the "Danish cartoons"). Fire with fire, and all.
As events transpired, a mob of lefty demonstrators physically prevented Ann from speaking and effectively shut down the event. One almost needs to catch one's breath to comprehend it: Canadians, who are usually violent only on the rink and in Afghanistan, invoked the "violence veto" to prevent speech at a university.
Suffice it to say that Ann's column on these events is literally laugh-out-loud funny. It will not help her case before the very self-important human rights commission, but it should because it exposes prior restraints on political speech -- and that is what the provost and the mob imposed -- as nothing other than partisan politics by another means. We will learn a lot about freedom in Canada as this case progresses.
Ann's experience at the U of O echoes a similar case at the University of Iowa more than 40 years ago. The Students for a Democratic Society -- the infamous SDS -- prevented Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein from speaking, again for political reasons. My father, a professor of history at the time, stepped forward to protest Herrnstein's ejection, and in the process taught me and many others an important lesson about freedom of speech. I wrote about it in his eulogy years ago, and so very much wish he were alive to see Ann wage much the same battle almost four decades later.
The top conservative blogs (and bloggy sites) by traffic. We obviously need to raise our game around here.
Liberal health care blogger Ezra Klein just posted a Facebook status that exposes an actual sense of humor:
Unanswered question: Is the health-care reform bill the president signed consistent with Shari'a law?
Good question. If I knew that the health-care reform bill offended fundamentalist Muslims I might have been more accepting of it.
...a great many interesting things happened, including these highlights (in chronological order):
Hours after President Barack Obama signed historic health care legislation, a potential problem emerged. Administration officials are now scrambling to fix a gap in highly touted benefits for children.
Obama made better coverage for children a centerpiece of his health care remake, but it turns out the letter of the law provided a less-than-complete guarantee that kids with health problems would not be shut out of coverage.
Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.
If you needed more damning evidence that even the White House does not know what is in its own legislation, that would be it. These are the wages of haste, and the direct result of the decision by the president and his lieutenants in the Congress to rush this through before the November elections loom too large.
MORE: Heh, nice headline.
I renewed my driver's license this morning at the Lawrenceville (NJ) DMV and, as has been my custom, I agreed to be an organ donor in the event of my untimely demise. Here in New Jersey they specifically ask, so you cannot skate past the question by leaving a box in a form blank, and in any case I would consider it a mitzvah if I saved or improved a life post my own mortem.
Anyway, curiosity got the better of me and I asked the nice DMV woman how many people agreed to become organ donors in a typical day, and she said "fifty to sixty." Out of how many license renewals? "Around 300."
Assuming the Lawrenceville facility is typical -- and it seems damned typical -- fewer than 20% of New Jerseyans agree to become organ donors. In other words, they would rather that somebody else die or live in pain and misery than give up any of their body parts after they have died.
I'm going to say that this is the most disappointing thing I have learned about my fellow Americans in a long time. I had no idea that even in New Jersey so many people were so churlish.
Since the odds strongly suggest that many of you, my otherwise respected readers, have also refused to donate your organs, can you at least do me the favor of explaining why?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
My classmate, Mark Bernstein, writes about climate change skepticism at Princeton University, including in the internationally prestigious department of physics. There is a lot more of it than I would have suspected.
It is the day after Obamacare, and the tabs just keep piling up. Some looking backward, other's toward the dawn of a new day. Let's roll the tape.
I think we need to start with this clip.
Bwahahaha!!! (In only the most bitter and petulant way, of course.)
Because I am nothing if not principled, I do support the president in this.
A huge pile of links you might like, to still other links.
From Bomber Girl, who sent a bunch of stuff in this particular dump, a great moment in (fictional) Republican politics.
Nice bumper sticker. I bought one.
Via the Corner, an example of the impact of Obamacare on innovation. And, I might add, this is only the direct impact of the excise tax -- we really do not know what will happen as a result of the FDA's reclassification project (which will require human clinicals for many more devices) or the long-term impact of lowering the rate of return on new medical technology. Oh, and flashback.
Er, did anybody actually think that Joe Biden didn't drop F-bombs?
I'll be moving in the next few weeks, and will be in a position to choose between Comcast and Verizon FIOS for my internet and television/video needs. Which, obviously, are many. For those of you inclined to give advice, please post your recommendation (with reasons, if you have them) in the comments.
Apart from the obvious taxonomic and, for that matter, gastronomic differences between elephants and tuna, there are also political differences.
It turns out that the single largest speculator betting against the government of Greece is a bank that same government controls.
While there had been speculation that Greek banks were selling Greek CDS to hedge funds, it had never crossed anyone's mind that a Greek bank could be betting on the collapse of its own sovereign host (especially one which does not own Bernanke's printing press), and that in such size! Frankly this beats even our very own AIG fiasco by orders of magnitude in stupidity.
What an unbelievable joke the intersection of global capital markets and politics has become.
Of course, Goldman, Sachs and George W. Bush are responsible in some as yet undetermined way.
Accounting giant Deloitte has pumped out a plain English tract(pdf) on the revisions to the tax law embedded in the health care "reform" bill just passed. It just got a lot more expensive to
earn a lot of money make a disproportionate contribution to gross domestic product.
Monday, March 22, 2010
More than two years ago, and a full year before the election of Barack Obama, I wrote a post that posed rather fundamental questions to would-be health care reformers. I respectfully submit that they are as germane today as they were then. My question for you, our esteemed and obviously brilliant readers: Did the just-enacted legislation and the public explanations thereof answer any of them to your satisfaction?
A former head of the Congressional Budget Office deconstructs the claim that the health care "reform" bill just past will reduce the federal budget deficit. It ain't pretty, folks.
What a joke.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
I have not been a big admirer of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, but if the Politico piece ("Nancy Pelosi steeled White House for health push") is accurate, the health care reform bill that is about to become the law of the land is very much her bill.
In the jittery days following Scott Brown’s Senate victory, Nancy Pelosi was eager to resurrect comprehensive health reform. But first, she had to get past longtime ally Rahm Emanuel, who was counseling President Barack Obama to consider a smaller, piecemeal approach.Though I predicted last August that the Progressive Caucus would go for a cramdown (but it did not happen during calendar 2009, as I stated), I confess that there have been many moments since then when I thought that the cramdown would not occur. The cramdown is now happening, and it is happening because of the overwhelming success that the Democratic Party enjoyed during the 2008 election cycle. It is now trite to say, but elections matter.
During a mid-February conference call with top House Democrats, Pelosi made it clear she would accept nothing short of a big-bang health care push — dismissing the White House chief of staff as an “incrementalist.”
I believe that there was a better bill that could have been stitched together -- one that would at least have some small amount of bi-partisan support, had it included tort reform and other measures that Republicans such as Paul Ryan have advocated. Whether or not Democrats on the Hill suffer at the polls this November (or in 2012) because voters don't like the bill or the way it was passed, it will be quite difficult to overturn this new law in the foreseeable future. Make no mistake, this is a significant political victory for President Obama, and perhaps an even bigger one for Speaker Pelosi.
For a woman who seemed to be in the middle of a standing eight count during her bizarre press conference last year, about whether she had been briefed about waterboarding by the CIA, the Speaker now has the wind in her sails. It will be interesting to see what other legislative matters she may want to prioritize during the balance of the calendar year. What other cramdowns can be engineered in the next nine months? My sense is that there is a good part of the United States that does not want to become more like the district in San Francisco that Speaker Pelosi represents. What is truly remarkable is that the Speaker has some voters in her district who think that she is too conservative -- these are the folks who were supporting Cindy Sheehan in her 2008 run against Speaker Pelosi.
Exit question: Had George W. Bush been just a little bit better at communicating why he took certain actions while in office, it is possible that the rout that the Republicans suffered in 2008 might not have been as bad, and that the margin of victory today for Democrats on the health care bill vote might not be there?
Friday afternoon, goose dude did a little dance.
A lot of people are down on the CIA and George W. Bush for waterboarding jihadis, but apparently in Belize you can do it for fun. I finally understand this t-shirt!
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Yesterday morning, while determining that my prostate gland was, indeed, normal, my doctor -- who is arrestingly conservative by Princeton standards -- announced that he was recruiting his patients to attend today's Tea Party protest against Obamacare in Washington. I demurred notwithstanding my reduced leverage in that position, but did invite him to send along photos from the event. He reports a big crowd, and we note that the Donks seem to have caved on "deem and pass." Cause and effect?
Glenn Reynolds links to a New York Times blog post that raises the possibility that corporate diversity training might not "work." The underlying story cites this study on the Harvard University web site. No, I did not have the stamina or even the inclination to read a 30 page article in the American Sociological Review from front to back. But then, I suspect the various reporters who covered the story did not, either.
In any case, when asking whether anything "works," you also need to ask "in what respect"? All of Glenn Reynolds, the New York Times blogger, the Boston Globe reporter, and the authors of the academic study more or less assume that the correct measure of the success of these programs is a change in corporate behavior resulting in more women and minorities in management. That is not, however, the explanation for diversity training offered by human resources departments or even the expert diversity dudes who advise corporate America. Most (if not all) such people tell the trainees that the purpose of diversity training is (1) to promote acceptance and understanding of different cultures and their attendant ideas and values, thereby increasing the effectiveness and profitability of the enterprise in the global marketplace, and (2) to protect the company and its individual managers against liability for employment discrimination. Indeed, I have never once heard somebody argue for these programs on the theory that they would actually increase the numbers of women and minorities in management (although I suspect that you hear such arguments inside large government contractors, who often need visible minority executives to win business from politicians).
There is, of course, a reason why nobody gives the affirmative action reason. If you tell a bunch of white men that they are taking these classes so that women and minorities will be more likely to take their jobs, they are not going to throw themselves in to the diversity training with gusto and might well subvert it.
The result is that we have Harvard professors measuring whether diversity programs "work" to increase the quantity of women and minorities in management, when that is never the reason given for the training. From the perspective of a corporate tool such as myself, the far more relevant end points would be profitability (are companies with these programs more profitable than companies which do not have them?) and liability (is there less litigation against companies which have these programs?). The promotion of more women and minorities might well be the happy dividend of these programs and it is an objective I support and indeed sustain within my own company, but under the usual formulation it is not their purpose. How then do you say they do not "work" if you are measuring them against an unstated and perhaps even unintended objective?
Of course, the professors might respond that competitiveness and liability management are not the real reasons for the training, only the sham justifications offered to secure the cooperation of the white male middle management, and that the actual purpose is to promote more women and minorities. Well, if the training is founded on a deceptive purpose then people will treat it with all the respect it deserves for being so disrespectful of them. We should not then be surprised if it fails.
A continent does not the whole planet make, but if it were these non-trends would be evidence of nothing. Which would be, somewhat paradoxically, evidence of something.*
*That something called the White House Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force is looking for a reason to exist.
The "top ten" low pass flybys...
Friday, March 19, 2010
The equivalent is for Congress to treat future cuts in Medicare as if they were a newfound source of wealth to be tapped. Once they adopt this precedent, they can increase spending on whatever they want, in unlimited amounts, while claiming deficit neutrality. Future Medicare spending is so high that you can always come up with cuts, as long as they deferred.
Abortion politics and procedural arcana. I am in favor of lawful abortion, but for the life of me do not understand why any Democrat would sacrifice the health care of millions -- a signal liberal agenda for three generations -- to establish the principle that the federal government should underwrite abortions (which are, after all, pretty darned inexpensive procedures). It is craziness, and an indication that even on the left there are many Democrats willing to sacrifice Obama's presidency for political purposes.
Miscellaneous other linkage.
What a freaking mess.
There is a basement full of teenagers, who suddenly got too quiet, and a German au pair teaching a French au pair German in the next room. I'm a half bottle of zin in the bag -- and don't tell me you wouldn't be too -- so it's time for Friday night video fun.
Last night, I read the CBO's letter to Nancy Pelosi scoring the latest health care "reform" bill (available here), and admit that I was frustrated by the thin description of the assumptions in the modeling. Knowing the CBO, all that stuff is available somewhere, so I defer to expert observers. My interpretation of the CBO's many qualifications, though, is that its estimates amount to assumptions piled on assumptions. Megan McArdle seems to agree with me. Intellectual honesty compels me also to link to Ezra Klein, who mounts a sturdy defense against most criticisms from the right.
The problem is that the output of the CBO's model has achieved, through deliberate Democratic strategy, a certain talismanic significance for the press. This is understandable, since few reporters demonstrate any meaningful grasp of numbers, economics, or the vagaries of modeling (hence their unquestioning faith in climate models, which was broken only by the CRU email "scandal"), but unfortunate because it obscures the two questions we ought to be asking: (1) Does this version of health care "reform" lead to a better society, or not, and (2) do you believe that future Congresses, regardless of the party in power, will have the courage to sustain those promised cost-savings and tax increases? My answers are "not" and "no," respectively, but if you are a liberal you obviously believe differently.
Ivy League autobid Cornell has 5th seed Temple on the ropes, 71-54, with 5:20 to go. If Cornell hangs on it will be the first time the Ivy champ has won a Tournament game since 1998.
UPDATE: Victory. More of this, please.
If you are one of my children, you have never had an official job. Please read this (and bookmark it for future reference) before you set sail in to the real world, for it is truth.
In the category of "damned if you do," it turns out that involved dads "can hurt mom's self confidence":
Research published in Personal Relationships found that when a father spent a lot of solo time with his child and the mom perceived him to be a competent caregiver, the woman had a lower self-competence rating.
Setting aside the question whether "self-confidence" is actually as important a condition as our therapeutic culture assumes, the linked article virtually puts a gun to our head and forces us to ask a very un-PC question: Are wives who are quick to criticize their husbands on matters of child-rearing -- a fair number, according to the men I know -- compensating for their own post-modern "self confidence" issues? Suffice it to say that the professors who conducted the study did not apparently address that question, or even ask it.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
Pro-growth economic policies lead to growth and anti-growth, not so much: A graphical depiction of jobs lost and gained around the country.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
This is a tab dump in the truest sense -- items that have accumulated on my home computer's browser over the last three days. I do not know where they have come from and what will happen to them in the fullness of time, but I do know this: They will not perish from the earth without you having at least the option of clicking through. So, in no particular order...
Ann Coulter's health care reform proposal. It has the advantage of being short, among other virtues. Plus it has this passage, with its crystalline middle paragraph:
President Obama says we need national health care because Natoma Canfield of Ohio had to drop her insurance when she couldn't afford the $6,700 premiums, and now she's got cancer.
Much as I admire Obama's use of terminally ill human beings as political props, let me point out here that perhaps Natoma could have afforded insurance had she not been required by Ohio's state insurance mandates to purchase a plan that covers infertility treatments and unlimited OB/GYN visits, among other things.
It sounds like Natoma could have used a plan that covered only the basics -- you know, things like cancer.
I'm with the ACLU on this one: Why on earth ought any school administrator care if a lesbian student wants to bring a female date to the prom? It reminds us why mixing schools and government is such a bad idea.
If this were more typical many more people would want to become insurance underwriters.
Health care "reform" factoid:
Each year, the government spends an average of $927 in administrative costs per person for Medicaid and $509 for Medicare. Private insurance, on the other hand, costs only $453 per person in administrative costs.
The problem with government administration -- of anything -- is that bureaucrats gain professional prestige over increasing the number of employees that they have under their administration rather than the economic rate of return on their bureaucratic activity, whatever it may be. There is therefore no organic tendency within government to save money, and an enormous incentive to add people who are almost impossible to fire.
A fascinating article (with graphs!) about the changes in America's diet over the last 100 years.
Regarding the pricing of razors and razor blades.
WELL, HE IS AN EXPERT: Jimmy Carter actually calls Barack Obama's foreign policy "feeble." No. Really. I shit you not.
Peggy Noonan is right on:
Excuse me, but it is embarrassing—really, embarrassing to our country—that the president of the United States has again put off a state visit to Australia and Indonesia because he's having trouble passing a piece of domestic legislation he's been promising for a year will be passed next week. What an air of chaos this signals to the world. And to do this to Australia of all countries, a nation that has always had America's back and been America's friend.
How bush league, how undisciplined, how kid's stuff.
We await the bleating about respecting our "traditional allies" with bated breath.
And so it goes.
Via Glenn, we learn that the House health care "reform" bill contains a 3.8% Medicare tax "on investment income (interest, dividends, capital gains, annuities, rents) earned by those with incomes in excess of $200,000 (single) and $250,000 (joint)." That is a 25% increase in the current dividend tax, which today stands at 15% (and for those of you who snort that 15% is not so much, remember that it is on top of the 35% corporate income tax rate and frequently large state corporation taxes, so the total tax on distributed corporate profits is more like 50%).
A good policy, I suppose, if your goal were to persuade Americans to stop buying bonds and making long-term bank deposits, companies to repurchase their shares rather than to pay dividends, and potential landlords from becoming actual landlords. Dividends, in particular, are so easily frozen, reduced, or eliminated that it is a sure bet that they will shrink rapidly in coming years and that the tax revenues therefor will vanish.
Behold, a live web cam feed of an eagle's nest and its occupants, central New Jersey. Awesome.
Lots of eagle factoids at the link, too.
Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi have declared it health care "reform" crunch time, so now's the time for some last minute links, thoughts, observations, musings, and ventings. In no particular order:
Of course, your results may vary.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
C-Span has just uploaded more than 20 years of Congress caught on tape. As hard as it has been for politicians to pretend to consistency, this will make it impossible. A feast for bloggers if there ever was one.
By the time the gotcha brigade has gone through this treasure trove, everybody will seem a hypocrite. Whether that will make voters even more bitter and cynical or teach them the deeper point that arguments ought to be considered on their merits rather than according to the consistency of the advocate is a different and ultimately more important question. Me, I'm with Oscar Wilde.
I dropped by the Witherspoon Grill this afternoon during the half-price happy hour, and put away a "cubble o' paints" of the black gold with friends. The sun was shining, and the square in front of the library was packed with people in shirt sleeves enjoying a wonderful spring afternoon. How was your Paddy's day?
1) Those Congressional politicians who prioritize an attempt to restructure the healthcare payment and delivery system in an effort to increase government control of it don't do well in elections. Hillarycare begat Gingrich. So far Obamacare has given New Jersey and Virginia Republican Governors and it has given Massachusetts Scott Brown. What will happen in November? It could be shocking.
2) American Presidents who make Middle East peace a priority in their foreign policy don't do so well in elections either, especially if they agitate aggressively for Israeli concessions to achieve it. It didn't work out so well for Carter (though many would argue that was probably the single accomplishment of his administration, it is not clear that the agreed peace achieved enhanced long term regional stability). It didn't work out so well for the first Bush Presidency - that's the one where Baker ordered the Israelis to stand down when Saddam sent missiles their way and then ordered them to agree to Oslo as well. And it may not work out so well for Obama, now that he has tried multiple times to increase the pressure on Netanyahu while remaining largely mum on other destabilizers in the region - Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, for instance.
To this, a knee jerk reaction might be to invoke the Mearsheimer Walt (smear) theorem and argue that the Israeli lobby wields too much electoral clout in the US. Um, the numbers make that theorem, well, not work. Instead, I would argue that American voters don't like it when we agitate for concessions to regional de-stabilizers - which would historically have been everybody besides Israel. It's not that complicated.
So - healthcare and middle east peace are political anchors. November 2010 will be interesting. And November 2012 will give us a new president.
For those of you who worry about the economic performance of the United States compared to other countries -- not really my thing, since I'm all for as many people getting rich, wherever they may be, as possible -- then this graph from The Big Picture is reason for long-term optimism. Our population is growing and will continue to grow on account of our superior fertility and receptivity to immigration. Moderate increases in population (as opposed to rapid increases or declines) is the first condition for economic growth, and it is second only to our national character (including our historical respect for enterprise and the taking of risk, which is under attack just now) in its importance for the future of our country and its people.
Even we Princetonians try to avoid orange today...
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Barack Obama throws down some bluster:
The president will refuse to make fund-raising visits during November elections to any district whose representative has not backed the bill.
A one-night presidential appearance can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds which would otherwise take months to accumulate through cold-calling by campaign volunteers.
Mr Obama's threat came as the year-long debate over his signature domestic policy entered its final week.
The question is whether this is a threat or a promise. Among the moderate Democrats elected from districts that went for John McCain in 2008 or would today if given the chance for a Mulligan, I doubt this threat will be persuasive.
Like Glenn Reynolds and Dr. Helen, Mrs. TH and I lived together before we were married, a situation my father delicately -- with tongue firmly in cheek -- referred to as "without benefit of clergy." I confess, I did not learn as much in the process as Glenn says he did -- I think many of the really challenging issues in marriage do not emerge until after the children have, er, emerged -- but neither do I think that it disadvantaged our marriage. Any "trial run" is of short duration compared to a partnership calculated to last a life time, and the two items that most test a marriage -- children, and the sheer passage of time -- do not bear on most trial-run cohabitants.
Back at the Anchor Brewing Company bar at SFO, waiting for my red eye to Newark three hours hence and my bacon cheeseburger only minutes hence. I began the day with a 6:30 meeting in Seattle, then another at 7:45, then a flight to Portland followed by three more meetings, and now here I am. Again. There is little to report from such a hectic day, but I did get a picture of Mount St. Helens through the clouds, the airplane window, and the no doubt smeared lens of my Blackberry.
I'll try to do better next time.
At SFO, imbibing the Steam at the Anchor Brewing Company's bar and pumping out tabs. Do not confuse with wit or erudition.
[UPDATE: Post continued at the bar in the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle, several hours later.]
The case against Enronizing Lehman. In other words, it is bad policy to criminalize business failure.
Lots of people in Princeton are without power, with the prognosis of restoration later in the week but as yet uncertain. That was one very powerful wind storm.
For the parliamentarians among you, Ezra explains the latest procedural device for passing health care "reform."
If you love Paris...
Are consumers improving their personal balance sheets, or just defaulting?
Does self-conscious greeniness make you a good person? Maybe not:
When Al Gore was caught running up huge energy bills at home at the same time as lecturing on the need to save electricity, it turns out that he was only reverting to "green" type.
According to a study, when people feel they have been morally virtuous by saving the planet through their purchases of organic baby food, for example, it leads to the "licensing [of] selfish and morally questionable behaviour", otherwise known as "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics".
Do Green Products Make Us Better People is published in the latest edition of the journal Psychological Science. Its authors, Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, argue that people who wear what they call the "halo of green consumerism" are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal. "Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours," they write.
I speculate that "compensatory ethics" may obtain less often when "virtuous acts" are unfashionable, out of sight, or not otherwise done to impress others. Displays of virtue that are fashionable are perhaps less genuine, on average, than those that have stood the test of time. Do people who volunteer in soup kitchens or food banks practice compensatory ethics as often as people who drive a Prius? Your commentary is most welcome.
Put me down as doubtful.
Hamas, bless its little beating heart of evil, has announced a "day of rage" in response to the dedication of a renovated synagogue. A day of rage? Seriously? Nobody likes a day of rage. What with all that negative energy and such. These dudes are going to get nowhere, no matter what the merits of their cause, without new flacks.
The Rielle Hunter slide show. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it: Rielle's definitely well-preserved.
At long last, justice for ABBA. I'm not too cool to say I'm happy for them.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Used my Blackberry, from a conference room around 8 this morning.
Status report: I'm sitting at the Anchor Brewing Company bar in the San Francisco airport, whiling away the 90 minutes or so until my flight to Seattle and working on a tab dump. While I while away, you guys should ponder the captioning skills of the White House flacks, who posted the following picture of His O-Ness on the official White House Facebook Wall. The "official" caption follows. You, I am quite sure, can do better.
Photo of the Day: President Barack Obama listens during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 11, 2010.
CWCID: "Bomber Girl."
Sunday, March 14, 2010
The Internal Revenue Service is, in at least one case, in hot pursuit of four cents. I admit, I had no idea that the feds were so zealous about saving money. Sort of shakes my whole attitude about the competence of government. Maybe health care reform really will cut costs!
It is 3.14, the day we celebrate π. Laugh all you will, but without π circles would be impossible.
It is also Albert Einstein's birthday, so he is naturally our Wiki biography of the day. I admit, I never knew that he had been offered (and had refused) the position of president of Israel.
Princeton has a big celebration today, which reaches its crescendo at 3:14 pm. All the cool people will be there.
Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry (no doubt close friends with James McMadison and George McWashington) has proposed substituting Ronald Reagan for U.S. Grant on the fifty dollar Federal Reserve note. My first reaction was to support the idea, but mostly because it would embroil the Congress in another pointless squabble between now and the November election. Every minute spent posturing about the proper way to honor the various great presidents is a minute not spent passing laws that will actually hurt the country. Burn that clock!
That said, I found the opposing argument, from (admittedly liberal) presidential historian Sean Wilentz, persuasive. It absolutely must be discussed at length before any final decision is made, preferably in lengthy Congressional hearings comparing the achievements of the Grant and Reagan administrations, after which I would probably support retaining Lincoln's general.
But I want to hear more.
I suspect David Brooks is closer to the truth on Barack Obama than most people, left or right, who write about him. If you lop off the last paragraph, Brooks wrote a good column that assesses Obama more accurately than either echo chamber, which is not hard to do. The last paragraph, though, misapprehends the nature of the country:
In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don’t live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.
Brooks reads both the rest of the world and the history of the United States incorrectly if he believes that there has ever been a "sensible" democracy. Most people, most of the time, live in an echo chamber. They have their orientation, and they have neither the ability nor the inclination to consider the other side with intellectual honesty. Franklin Roosevelt was immensely popular, far more so than Barack Obama, but he built his popularity (at least before the war) by demonizing and harassing business. If you did not support FDR, you hated FDR. Looking abroad, in how many democracies, even robust ones, do politically active voters thoughtfully deliberate, weighing each argument carefully? Israel? Italy? Maybe, sometimes, in parts of the Anglosphere, but even in those cases I am not sure. The British and the Canadians can be as rancorous in their politics, in a formal but biting way, as Americans. Debate in Parliament is of much greater entertainment value than in the Congress, but there is no evidence that it is less partisan.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
As previously reported, there are trees down all over Princeton. One of them landed on the house of a colleague of mine -- she occupies the third floor apartment on which that tree now rests. The bad news: The fire department has evacuated the house at least until somebody competent ascertains its structural integrity or lack thereof. The good news: My friend had departed from usual practice and parked her car, that grey VW, on the street instead of in the driveway next to the house because she was planning on just running in and grabbing some things before driving in to New York. If the car had been in the driveway, it would have been crushed like a beer can.
Among bloggers, at least, I stand second to none in my enthusiasm for high executive compensation, but even I think this is beyond the Pale. Outrageous!
You cannot get to Sola Sollew from downtown Princeton. The wind is howling, and trees and power lines are down all over town. Alexander Road, Washington Road, and Nassau Street are closed at various places from downed lines. Mercer Street is already closed owing to construction. We have no word on 206 from either south or north. If various of my family members were not out in the mess on some unnecessary mission or another, I would not be anxious. But still, there can be something quite nice in the right sort of howling storm.
Marc Ambinder jumps on the story that David Petraeus is heading to New Hampshire, correctly dismissing it as evidence that he might be toying with a run for president. As Ambinder points out, Petraeus has any number of reasons to go to New Hampshire.
However, Ambinder keeps the rumors of a Petraeus candidacy alive with this closing tidbit:
When Petraeus sets food [sic] in Cedar Rapids...now that'll be something to watch.
Such luminaries of the right and left as James Joyner and Matthew Yglesias have similarly registered their hopes and dreams.
Sadly, they are all wrong. David Petraeus, a student of military history, has given the "General Sherman," the totemic words required in American politics to eschew all ambition to run for president. While it is possible that some politician at some time might dishonor that tradition, I respectfully submit that there is no chance that David Petraeus would. Republicans, and the country, need to look elsewhere for their next president.
Climate "skeptics" argue that the official temperature record has not adequately controlled for "urban heat islands," places where population growth and development raise the ambient temperature around the surface stations. This would seem to be a rather compelling example.
Now, this is one of several reasons why the historical temperature data need to be "adjusted" if we are to understand what is actually happening to the climate. The problem is that we now know these adjustments were not made systematically or transparently. We need to rebuild the adjusted data sets, starting with the raw data, and justify each adjustment at each station with a particular explanation that can be examined, criticized, or reproduced by others.
We've seen declines in the rate of growth of consumer credit before, but it actually is "different this time." Short commentary below the graph.
Obviously, such a huge decline in consumer credit in such a short period of time is both a cause of our economic woes and a result of them. No doubt a professional economist could estimate the proportion that is cause vs. effect. Regardless, American GDP is roughly 70% consumer spending (including government health care spending, which sort of mucks up the numbers) and that will not return in force until consumer credit starts growing again.
A related question: To what degree does the decline in outstanding consumer credit reflect changes in preferences that might outlast the recession? Are some people saving more and paying down debt simply because they can? I hope so, but I fear not.
Finally, the decline in consumer credit also reflects the massive socialization of debt. If the federal government goes in to debt to "create or preserve" jobs and the lucky beneficiaries use government money to pay off their own creditors, we have done nothing other than to spread responsibility for its repayment from an individual to present and future American taxpayers. It is far from obvious whether that is the right result for our national character, even if it makes us more prosperous over the short term.
I hate to be reductionist about this, but Tom Hanks is a moron. His defense, on the small chance he found it necessary to mount one, is that he is the product of a school system that devotes a lot of time to the lives of average people in days gone by and almost none to geopolitical or military history. Sorry, but it is a lot more important for students to know how cataclysmic wars start than how soap was made on a Kansas farm 130 years ago.
Friday, March 12, 2010
An early indicator, transactions data for big purchases, suggests that the American consumer is about to roll over. Can anybody say double dip?
Thursday, March 11, 2010
A Colorado winter fuzzes up the horses like nobody's business...
The different climate data sets may not be as independent as was claimed in the wake of the "ClimateGate" scandal. This is important, because it means that the corruption -- or, more accurately, impeachment -- of the Climate Research Unit data set cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the validity of the other data sets. If I read the linked story properly (and a critical link there is broken, so it is tough to verify), two of the other three data sets may not have been independent of CRU influence after all.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Earlier today I received the following deck from Deutsche Bank, which surveyed institutional investors -- the professional portfolio managers who invest money in health care stocks for mutual funds, pension funds, and hedge funds -- to assess their expectations for the enactment of health care "reform" and its impact on various sectors of the industry. It is more or less self-explanatory, but two or three items bear mentioning. First, 78% of respondents believe that some version of "reform" will pass. Those are better odds than are now being given by pundits, particularly those on the right. Second, according to these pros hospitals will be big beneficiaries if "reform" passes, and other players (such as medical devices, my own company's sector) if it does not. Third, the slide with the "write-in" comments would be hilarious if it were not so tragic.
Much as this offends my knee-jerk proclivity to defend Big Oil, it is damned funny. If actual environmentalists had such a sense of humor they would make more progress against their policy objectives.
It's Wednesday, and there has been no dump of tabs since the weekend. Allah forbid that my computer should crash before I off-load my accumulated reading for your pleasure or consternation, as the case may be. Herewith, therefore, a dancing plethora of tabs!
In the category of ugly charts, look at what has happened to federal income tax withholding over the past year. Ouch.
Brookings releases its latest wad of statistics that purport to show "how we're doing in the world." Interesting, although the tone of the accompanying analysis, or at least its lede, does not precisely square with the data, framed as it is with reference to Barack Obama's performance.
The largest gold coin. Ever. And you'll never guess who struck it, and when.
Three things liberals can't admit. Candidly, I can think of more than three things, but Lowry's focusing on the health care fight.
Yet another price that apparently must be paid in order to get health care "reform" through. Oh, and another.
According to this analysis, California -- a center for "green jobs" because of its vibrant tech and venture capital community -- will nevertheless lose jobs because of its aggressive greenhouse gas regulation. Of course, pro-regulation activists will say that this presents a false choice. Or a moral one. Either way.
Barack Obama, a putatively great communicator who has manifestly failed to make the case for his most important policy initiatives, has recruited an important new ally in his propaganda war. At least we're going to get some good graphs.
Speaking of graphs and such, look at how much cleaner the air of America has gotten in the last 30 years. There's something for everybody in that post. On the one hand, there are some hilariously wrong predictions from Paul Ehrlich, perhaps the wrongest person who ever lived, and various others. On the other hand, the Clean Air Act seems to have worked rather decisively, at least insofar as the objective was reducing air pollution (no comment on whether it might have been done more efficiently).
A page of links from Maggie's. Hey, it was an open tab, and this is a tab dump.
Virginia Postrel on innovation and health care reform (video).
Nouriel Rabini, whose fame has compounded on account of his prediction of the world financial crisis, is not optimistic:
Even if the euro zone does not suffer a double dip, growth in demand will be even more limited and this will hurt the United States' potential for export growth, according to Roubini's paper.
The Roubini Global Economics benchmark scenario puts the risk of a double dip at 20 percent, while a slow, protracted, U-shaped recovery is given the highest probability of 60 percent. [Choking off free trade to buy union support for health care "reform" is not going to help the situation. - ed.]
But since the end of February new macroeconomic data from the US have come out and "they have been almost uniformly poor, if not outright awful," Roubini wrote.
I do not necessarily disagree -- my view is that the most that can be said for the economy this year compared to 2008 and 2009 is that it will suck less. No, that is not particularly inspiring.
A graphical look at how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has changed the slope of historical temperature over time. In each revision, "warming" becomes more apparent and dramatic. The question, of course, is whether these revisions reflect good science or are designed to achieve a policy result. If you are like me and instinctively distrust pretty much anything associated with the United Nations, you already know how you are going to come down. (I suspect, by the way, that just as the involvement of the United Nations in climate science boosts that discipline's credibility with most of the world, it hurts its credibility with Americans, a difference in attitude that transnational progressives miss every time.)