Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Why urban public schools don't work: Insane Bureaucracy Division

A principal in a New York City public school who needs to suspend a disruptive student must work through this flowchart of required procedures.

This is one of a half dozen How Do I? procedural flowcharts for the NYC public schools, presented together with the texts of the laws, regulations and contracts that impose them, on the Over Ruled -- The Burden of Law on America's Public Schools web page, from Common Good.

The NY Sun reports....
Common Good, the New York-based legal-reform group that created a Web site to report its findings, discovered more than 60 sources of rules that govern what goes on at the classrooms, hallways, and offices of the city's 1,356 schools.

The regulations include 720 pages of rules issued by the state's education commissioner, as well as the 204-page New York City teachers contract, the 690-page No Child Left Behind Act, and mountains of other local, state, and federal regulations...

A click on the book representing "New York State Education Law" leads to the following description of the law: "The law fills more than 850 small print pages and governs everything from building plans to curriculum to teacher certification to the use of pesticides and automated external defibrillators in the schools."...

The chairwoman of the City Council's Committee on Education, Eva Moskowitz, called the report "terrific."

"Experience has taught me that there are just an incredible number of rules and regulations that don't necessarily enhance education for kids and at times impede it in a rather dramatic way," she said. "Having to go through this incredible number of steps means it takes longer, costs more, and there's a divided responsibility so the task is done more poorly."

Ms. Moskowitz said the rules not only make it harder for principals and teachers to do their jobs. They also deter educators from doing such things as suspending disruptive students and firing problem teachers...

The president of the principals' union, Jill Levy, on the other hand, said the report "misstated the problem."

"I would rather have a system of laws that protect people against random and personal behaviors than have a lawless system," she said...
Hey, principals are management. How do managers with six-figure salaries in the NYC public school system get to have their own union? But I digress ... that's for another post.

Anyhow, see if you can find the regulations that govern rug cleaning. They're there. After all, we can't just have someone in a public school clean a rug without following legal procedures.

Of course, all this highlights the real problem with the NYC public schools: at a mere $11,000 per student, they don't get enough money.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Martha's secret seasoning -- not love, but it comes from close to the heart.

Martha Stewart smuggles spices in her bra, to be able "to whip up gourmet treats behind bars". At least that's the story told by her fellow inmates in letters obtained by the New York Post.

Many of the great discoveries of history have been made fortuitously. Maybe we'll read in a future cookbook of hers: "to get an extra tang from the spices you use ...."

Saturday, November 27, 2004

New York City schools Chancellor: Our public high schools are "dumping grounds" parents don't want to send their kids to ... um ... not that there's any reason for them not to want to!

Nearly nine of 10 city high schools are hellholes that parents do not want their children to attend, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told City Council members yesterday.

"Most of our students and parents do not want to go to a large majority of our high schools," Klein declared...

Klein was unusually blunt in his remarks, and at one point called some larger high schools "dumping grounds," saying they are filled with kids not educated properly in elementary and middle school, but still pushed along by social promotion.

Speaking forcefully, Klein produced charts showing that a disturbing 86% of the city's 318 high schools were "not highly sought after" -- meaning few kids expressed an interest in attending them this school year...

Last spring and summer, distressed parents complained that the new high school selection process was exceptionally confusing and forced their children to attend poor schools.

But yesterday Klein insisted the problem was not the selection process but the city's huge number of bad schools...

Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz (D-Manhattan), chairwoman of the Education Committee, said she was puzzled that so many undesirable schools were allowed to remain open. "We have to be shutting down more schools; that's a shocking statistic," Moskowitz said...

Later, Klein's spokesman Steve Morello clarified the chancellor's comments, saying he was not suggesting that unpopular schools were undesirable.

"To the extent that anybody got the impression that demand should be interpreted to mean that a school is not a desirable place to be, it was not the chancellor's intention, and if he did say that, he misspoke," Morello said. [NYDN]
~end quote~

Yes, let's make that clarification absolutely clear: Just because a school is a "dumping ground" doesn't mean it is undesirable as a place to send your kids.

And just because there is no "demand" among parents to send their kids to what they take to be a poor school -- and they are "distressed" and publicly complain when they find they have to -- well, what does that have to do with a school actually being undesirable?

It's a good thing the vigilant PR people at the Board of Ed are ever ready to clarify all the Chancellor's misspeaking about such matters, or who knows what kinds of misunderstandings might result?

Academics actually get paid for figuring this out...

Startling findings from the International Sexuality Description Project, led by David P. Schmitt, PhD, Bradley University, Peoria, Ill.:

"...when they go for infidelity or promiscuity, men focus on large numbers and women focus on quality."

"What we found is that when men opt for short-term mating, they pursue larger numbers of partners than women."

"Men's preference for intelligence in short-term mates drops off the scale"...

-- "Universal Sex Differences in the Desire for Sexual Variety: Tests From 52 Nations, 6 Continents, and 13 Islands," in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, as cited by [WebMD].

My mother was right, I should've been a professor.

Friday, November 26, 2004

When the shrimp fly at you, duck. No ... don't duck!

November 24, 2004 -- A flying shrimp cost a Long Island man his life, court papers charge.

Jacqueline Colaitis, the widow of fur magnate Jerry Colaitis, says in a $10 million lawsuit that her husband died in November 2001 as a result of injuries he suffered nearly 10 months earlier — while ducking a piece of shrimp flung by a "playful" chef at a Benihana restaurant.

"This was a man who was in good health until this incident," said Colaitis' lawyer, Andre Ferenzo. Ducking the shrimp, however, caused a neck injury that required surgery — and the operation caused an infection that took Colaitis' life, Ferenzo said.

"He would not have died if not for his injury," the lawyer said...

Nassau Supreme Court Justice Roy Mahon has refused the restaurant's bid to throw the wrongful-death claims out for now, finding that "there is an issue of fact as to whether the events of Jan. 27, 2001, were the proximate cause of Jerry Colaitis' death on Nov. 22".... [NY Post]
~end quote~

Well, one might imagine the later surgery leading to fatal infection as being a rather more proximate cause. And that the proximate cause of Benihana being named a defendant is merely the depth of its pocket.

But be that as it may, the moral of the story is that when a shrimp comes flying at you it's best to stand up to it and take the blow.

(I mean, just explaining to all one's friends and doctors how one cracked one's own neck for fear of a shrimp seems bad enough to me -- not even considering how the doctors might kill one over it.)

A bit of machismo can be a healthy thing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Anybody having Beer Can Turkey for Thanksgiving?

Beer Can Chicken has been a hot dish in BBQ circles since BBQ guru Steven Raichlen published his recipe book of the same name. For non-BBQers out there, Beer Can Chicken is a chicken grilled sitting upright with an open can of one's favorite carbonated malt beverage inserted up its, um, bottom (as pictured right). This steams the bird from the inside, reportedly making it more flavorful and "unbelievably juicy" while also draining off the fat and "producing a crackling crisp skin every time".

For Thanksgiving the book also has a recipe for Beer Can Turkey (32-oz. can of Foster's lager required). For anyone who's intrigued but doesn't have time to get the book, here's the recipe.

As for myself, I've never had it, but it sounds a lot better to me than the "deep fried turkey" I've been hearing about. Alas, as it's off Grandma's house for the holiday, and Grandma is a New England raised-on-the-farm holiday traditionalist, it seems rather unlikely I'll see a turkey with a Foster's up its bum this year.

But if anyone out there should happen to give it a try, e-mail here to let us all know how it turned out.

Catchin' up...

There's been little posted here for the few days since I spent them all in conferences with IRS counsel (the Tax Court's judges ride the circuit into town on Monday) and my kids' teachers. It's hard to say which of those two is hardest to deal with ... No, I take it back, it's not hard to say at all.

Anyhow, what kind of stuff have I missed? Let's see...

[] Bobble head Supreme Court justices. (Click their heads!)

[] Who says democracy isn't taking hold in Iraq? They already have 156 political parties, and haven't even had an election yet.

[] "Bearded Woman Tries to Preach in Mosque"

Why does this remind me of Life of Brian?
"Ohh, I hate wearing these beards. Why aren't women allowed go to stonings, Mum?"

"It's written. That's why"...

"Are there any women here today?" (.wav)
[] Deborah Orin openly credits bloggers with doing in Dan Rather. Meanwhile a Democratic Congresswoman laments "The media certainly is not in our hands any longer." No, seemingly not. But it's interesting to finally hear the admission that it was.

[] The excellent RealClearPolitics web site presents the data that show what really turned the election. All the op-ed fantasists can give it a break now.

[] When the heck did Ford automobile dealerships become "stores"? I thought I heard this on the radio so I googled it, and sure enough Vancouver's Big Ford Store came right up, as did The Big Ford Store in Woodbridge, Va., and so on. So what do these Ford marketing mavens imagine they've figured out? Are they planning to sell Big Gulps to go with Explorers?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Some folks should just be happy with the problems they've got.
ANTIOCH, Ill. - The coffee may be good, but the name is bad. Town officials in Antioch, Ill., don't want a "Bad Ass" coffee shop in their community.

The town board passed a resolution this week calling the shop's name "repugnant" and "utterly vulgar". But village officials concede there's little they can do.... (AP)

Well then maybe they should just relax, smell the good new coffee, and be glad they don't have to deal with the likes of...

Bad Ass claims a legend justifies its name, and has an online gift shop -- but it's got nothing on Big Dick's.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Get your phone bills out -- and get ready to claim a tax refund for your share of $9 billion of illegally collected telephone taxes.

[Update: The IRS has now lost ten cases on this issue -- including at three different federal Courts of Appeals -- and won none. See citations at the bottom.]

The federal telephone excise tax -- enacted as a temporary measure two centuries back to help finance the Spanish-American war -- may finally in large part be meeting its demise as the result of evolving markets, bureaucratic punting, and Congressional bungling.

So go check your phone bill -- depending on the kind of service plan you have, you may be able to claim tax refunds for three years back.

The short version of the story: The Internal Revenue Code has long placed an excise tax on long-distance phone service, specifically defining such service as that for which "there is a toll charge which varies in amount with the distance and elapsed transmission time of each individual communication". IRC Sec. 4252(b)(1)

But the simple fact is that in the U.S. today most long distance charges do not vary by distance, and many don't vary by time either. Most businesses pay a flat monthly rate, or are billed by calling time but not distance. Individuals too have all kinds of plans available to them that don't bill using the required combination of time and distance -- flat rate, time (not distance), "friends & family" variations, and so on.

Now it's a basic principle of legislative construction that tax law, like criminal law, is read literally -- it says what it means and means what it says. Moreover, the Supreme Court's position is that "if doubt exists as to the construction of a taxing statute, the doubt should be resolved in favor of the taxpayer." Hassett v. Welch, 303 US 303.

So on the face of things it's pretty clear -- the IRS has been collecting a lot of tax on phone service that it isn't entitled to.

And in the last year companies have begun asking for that tax back ... and courts have been giving it to them.

In the lead case OfficeMax last year sued the IRS for more than $280,000. In January of this year a federal district court in Ohio granted the refund -- and gave the IRS a lecture on statutory interpretation focusing on how the word "and", in a phrase such as "time and distance", does not mean "or".

In just the last two months, Amtrak was granted a $86,000 refund from a court in D.C., and a firm called Fortis Inc. has been granted a refund of more than $400,000 from a court in New York. Both decisions were by summary judgment -- meaning the judge said the IRS didn't even have a case worth bringing to trial.

So the floodgates may be opening.

Nonetheless, the IRS says it's not going to be paying any refunds soon, it is appealing these cases and hopes to win in the higher courts. Things don't look so good for it up there either, but with more than $9 billion (and rising) estimated as being at stake, it has reason to fight on.

As to your phone bill, what should you do if it looks like your long-distance calls shouldn't be taxed, but the amount of bucks involved don't justify suing the IRS personally?

Consider filing a "protective refund" claim for the taxes you've paid three years back. The IRS won't pay it yet, but it will put you on record as asking for a refund which will keep your potential claim for these taxes from expiring with the statute of limitations as time passes. Then you let the big boys fight it out -- in the end, the IRS will have to follow what the courts decide. Especially if your phone charges are on the scale of those incurred by a small business (or more) this could be a good idea. Reportedly, the IRS is beginning to see a whole lot of these protective claims.

Another question is, how did this situation ever arise? After all, it's not like innovations in long-distance billing just started yesterday, as a big surprise -- the market has been visibly evolving in this direction for decades, and there was plenty of time for the IRS and Congress to easily head off the current situation had they wanted to.

Instead, sources dealing with these cases say the IRS initially resorted to paying refunds to companies that asked for them on condition that they not tell anybody -- a sort of tax refund "hush money". Well that was sure to work!

Now this issue is not going to be so easy to deal with. The lure of $9 billion (and rising) of tax refunds sitting there for the taking has motivated lobbyists, tax lawyers and business interests in a big way. Moreover, with the telecoms industry rapidly expanding and evolving, and the many open regulatory questions facing it -- such as the taxation of internet protocol voice communication, long-distance and otherwise -- this formerly mundane tax may now wind up as a multi-billion dollar issue in the political mix of fundamental regulatory reform.

The backstory of how the IRS and Congress let this all occur may I think be the subject of a future post.

Personally, I find it helps throw light on how government really works, as opposed to how people like to imagine it works -- and also on practical policy questions, such as: Do we really want a Congress and government bureaucracy that can't even keep up with telephone billing changes taking over all of national health care?

So, perhaps more on this later.

Addendum for those who have expressed more interest: I'm a lawyer but you don't know that. So for more thorough legal analysis look to the professional article(.pdf) that first brought this subject to the public eye.

The three cases mentioned above (all decided after it was published) are: Office Max v US, 309 F. Supp. 2d 984 (N.D. Ohio 2004); Fortis Inc. v. US, No. 03 Civ. 5137 (JGK) (S.D.N.Y. 9/16/04); and National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. US, No. 03-431 (RMC) (D. D.C. 9/20/04).
I haven't looked to see if the texts of the decisions are online -- while the federal appeals courts are all online these days, most of the district courts aren't as yet. But if you're serious about claiming a refund, any tax professional can look them up for you easily enough through the professional tax reporting services, and then help you take it from there.

Go get 'em, tigers!

Update: We have another winner! Reese Brothers Inc. v US, No. 03-745 , DC WD Penn., refund of $345,351.53, on summary judgment once again.

Update: IRS loses for fifth time on long distance ... loses on toll-free "inbound 800" service too ... and Congress begins to notice ... details.

Update: The IRS now has lost in three federal Courts of Appeals -- American Bankers Insurance v U.S. (.pdf), No. 04-10720, USCA 11, which overturned the IRS's sole trial court victory; OfficeMax, Inc. v. U.S. (.pdf) , No 04-4009, USCA 6; and National Railroad Passenger Corporation (.pdf) , No. 04-5421, DC Circuit.

Friday, November 19, 2004

This is why I get my coffee in the corner deli, 75 cents a cup.

You walk into go into one of those new specialty coffee shops, peruse the menu, and ask for something on it called "Kopi Luwak" -- it comes all the way from Indonesia, that sounds exotic!

You pay the most you've ever paid for a cup of coffee in your life. And they serve you ... cat feces.

"How does it taste? It's really good, heavy with a caramel taste, heavy body." (a maven says)

Yeah, heavy, with a heavy body ... I bet.

I'm staying out of Starbucks and sticking with the Folgers.

News Update
: CSI Romania -- chicken head/penis chopping.

This site earlier reported the case of a Constantin Mocanu, the Romanian who mistook his penis for the squawking head of a chicken and cut it off, only to have the family dog rush up and eat it.

Now comes startling news -- investigators say it may not have been an accident:
Surgeon Nicolae Bacalbasa said he was not convinced by the man's story.

He said: "It's like the Bible says. If your right hand gives you trouble then cut it off. The man is 67 and he may have had reasons to punish his organ.

"I am personally more tolerant with these matters." [Ananova]
May we all be.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

So if nothing's the matter with Kansas, what's the matter with Thomas Frank and all the rest of these Democrats buying his book?

In recent days, and especially since the election, a whole lot of Democrats have been clutching to their hearts the explanation of Republican red-state success given by Thomas Frank in his much talked about book, What's The Matter With Kansas? -- at this writing #1 on the non-fiction best seller list, #7 on the NY Times list, and hailed as "by common consent the year's most prescient political book" by no less prescient a liberal political commentator than Frank Rich.

That explanation being: Republicans have manipulated cultural issues to dupe the red-state rubes into voting against their own material and economic welfare.

As the NY Times book review put it...
Conservative leaders, according to Frank, care only about promoting the concerns of big business, which are inimical to those of the average Midwesterner. But those leaders have cynically seized upon and promoted a sense of cultural grievance and victimhood in order to win over the bumpkins and fool them into voting against their true interests.
And the proof? Why just look at how awful things are in Kansas, materially and economically, now that it's gone red-state, compared to during its former good ol' thriving populist-Democratic days.
Franks paints a grim picture of the state and its towns. Kansas is "pretty much in a free fall," he informs us, and as a result of its economic devastation, it's "a civilization in the early stages of irreversible decay."

The cause of all this decline, he says, is modern capitalism, especially as practiced by all those businessmen-GOPers. Kansas is "burning on a free-market pyre," he writes apocalyptically.

Things are especially bad in his old hometown of Shawnee, where, during his visits, he no longer sees anyone in the streets. Instead, "heaps of rusting junk and snarling rottweilers" blight the landscape...
So notes Steven Malanga in the City Journal -- but wait ... what if all this is not so?

Mr. Malanga continues...
Franks's characterization of the Jayhawk State is completely -- bizarrely -- at odds with the facts. Kansas's economy has actually outpaced the nation's for years now.

Throughout the 1990s and the first part of this new decade, Kansas had a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. economy as a whole. In fact, when the country's unemployment rate dipped below 5 percent from 1997 to 2001, Kansas's fell under 4 percent -- a level so low that economists basically consider it full employment.

Overall, the state's economy added 256,000 new jobs during the 1990s, a 24 percent growth rate, compared with a 20 percent national gain in the same period. Even when the economic slowdown set in and the recession finally hit in 2002 and 2003, Kansas lost jobs at a slower rate than the national economy did.
(Hey, I just peeked, and the September unemployment rate for Kansas was was 4.4%, compared to 5.4% nationally.)
The objects of Frank's particular concern, his hometown of Shawnee and the rest of Johnson County, have done especially well ... though Frank describes the place as practically desolate, Shawnee's population grew by a robust 27 percent during the 1990s. Even more astonishing, today, only 3.3 percent of its citizens live below the poverty level, compared with about 12.5 percent nationally.

"It's possible his view of us is outdated," says Jim Martin, executive director of the Shawnee Economic Development Council, in classic midwestern understatement.
Meanwhile, I'm sitting here in the bluest heart of blueland where the unemployment rate is 6.9%, wondering ... who's been duped?

OK, so if nothing's really the matter with Kansas, then what is it with Thomas Frank, and with all these Democrats who are taking him as their master analyst?

Have they permanently separated from reality to protect their image of themselves as superior beings who are needed by the masses? Or are they just taking some time working through the normal stages of dealing with an unhappy turn of fate ... Anger (2000) ... Denial (2004) ... so we can hope they'll pull out of it by 2020 or so?

I don't know. But the reviewer of New York Times, of all papers, recommends keeping Frank's book as a momento of our era...

Frank's book is remarkable as an anthropological artifact. Although not terribly successful at explaining the cultural divide, it manages to exemplify it perfectly in its condescension toward people who don't vote as Frank thinks they should.

Hmmm... I guess Frank Rich doesn't read his own paper's book reviews.

(And I can imagine Karl Rove saying, "Don't read it, Mr. Rich, don't read it any of you Democrats ... buy that book and believe it!")

God bless America! Land of the free, and home of the 1,420-calorie burger.

The Monster Thickburger is "not a burger for tree-huggers", says Hardee's chief executive Andrew Puzder...

"This is a burger for young hungry guys who want a really big, delicious, juicy, decadent burger. I hope our competitors keep promoting those healthy products, and we will keep promoting our big, juicy delicious burgers...."

Health-safety activist Michael Jacobson denounced the new Hardee's concoction. "They would argue they are just giving people what they want. I would say this is beyond the pale..." [MSNBC]

"Mmmm ... decadent burger ... mmmmm..."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Will gay marriage come to the US through tax treaties?

The IRS has said it won't recognize gay marriage even if it is made legal under state laws because the Defense of Marriage Act as enacted by Congress defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, and governs for all federal purposes.

But over at Tax Analysts (in the subscription section) Prof. Anthony C. Infanti of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law notes that the US has tax treaties with Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain, nations that recognize same-sex marriage (or are expected to soon, in the case of Spain) -- and each of these treaties contains a "nondiscrimination article" that prohibits the United States from taxing citizens of the other country in a manner other or more burdensome than it taxes its own citizens in the same circumstances. And this, apparently, requires the IRS to recognize same-sex marriages among the citizens of these countries for tax purposes.

The Constitution gives treaties the force of law, and they'd normally be expected to trump conflicting legislation like the DOMA.

So it could be that the IRS will soon be recognizing gay marriages among foreigners, but not among US citizens. Which will make for some interesting politics should a few cases of that get reported in the press.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Working, not blogging, today.

Like my fellow self-employeds here, I'm looking to set up the big score ... probably with the same kind of likely success...

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Social Security privatization basics: How can privatization possibly help?

(Or: The "transition cost" fallacy's ugly head rises once more and needs to be chopped off yet again)

Kevin Drum falls for the one-way comparison of the "transition cost fallacy" as an argument against private Social Security accounts that could make real economic investments in the likes of stocks, bonds, and even government bonds.

He asks two questions:

(1) Can savings in such private accounts really provide an economic benefit, in spite of the increased cost of current government borrowing (the "transition cost") they entail; and

(2) If so in the short run, how can they do so in the long run, when in the end people must spend their savings anyhow?

We endeavor to answer with explanation. But first, his own words...
1. The reality under this administration is that private accounts will be funded by increasing the federal deficit. Can it really be the case that if the government increases the deficit and then invests that deficit in the stock market, it's a net long term positive for the economy? That strikes me as....unlikely.
Yet, of course, without private accounts Social Security must be funded by increasing the federal deficit as well! How else is Social Security's $10 trillion current value funding gap going to be closed??

This is the "transition cost fallacy" as constantly invoked by the defenders of the status quo:

"There's a $10 trillion current value funding hole in Social Security that privatizers propose to close at tax cost of $X. We defenders of the status quo have no proposal at all for closing that hole. Therefore, we don't incur tax cost of $X or any transition cost. How can privatization, after incurring this extra cost of $X, produce better results than the status quo? "

Sheesh... ;-)

Mr. Drum states...
"... there's no way to balance [arguments against private accounts] against the economic benefits unless we know if there really are any economic benefits in the first place. So I'm left still wondering: are there?"
I'm sorry but that is, as Mr. Spock would say, "illogical".

What needs to be balanced is not the pros and cons of privatizing versus themselves, but the pros and cons of privatizing versus maintaining the status quo with its $10 trillion funding gap unchanged and growing.

To do this it is important to know, and to keep in mind, two facts about the status quo that are fundamental to understanding the situation.

Fact #1) Today's young workers on average are going to receive a return on their Social Security contributions that will be less than the yield on government bonds -- and many will receive outright negative returns -- according to the Social Security Administration's actuaries.

As an example, a single male who entered the work force in 1994 who is "low-income " -- and thus favored by the progressive benefit formula -- will get back only 97.4% of the value of his contributions, using the federal bond rate as a discount rate. (I.e., compared to if his contributions had been invested in government bonds).

(And note that these benefits are the legislated formula benefits which do not reflect Social Security's 25% underfunding in the out years. This underfunding must of necessity force actual future returns on contributions for today's young workers to be correspondingly lower if the funding gap is closed with either benefit cuts or tax increases or any mix of both -- since both a tax increase for a given benefit, and a benefit cut for a given tax contribution, reduce benefits relative to taxes paid.)

Fact #2) The GAO projects (pdf) that the federal government's annual deficit will reach 20% of GDP forty years from now -- as much as the entire federal government takes today -- and will be rocketing straight up through compounding of interest. (And this was a year 2001 projection, with far more optimistic conditions than today!)

GAO ends its projections there because continuing them is implausible, 'government will end' -- and how do the defenders of the Social Security status quo propose to be able to borrow to pay benefits and finance its $10 trillion shortfall then, eh?

OK, with these facts kept in mind about the status quo, we can proceed to answer Mr. Drum's question:

Let's start by being generous to Social Security and increase its average future return to today's young workers to equal that on government bonds. This simplifies calculations.

Now let's imagine that under a "privatization" reform a private SS account, owned by a young person who will retire in 40 years, invests $1 today in a real diversified portfolio that earns 4 points more than government bonds over the long run -- quite realistic for a diversified portfolio, not all stocks.

The government then must borrow $1 today to make that up, to pay some retiree's current benefit.

We'll do as the SSA actuaries do, and say the government bond rate is 6% (3% real and 3% inflation) making the private investment rate of return 10%.

Forty years from now, if the additional $1 of current government borrowing compounds, the government will have a bond liability of $10.28 to service or pay off. But the government will also avoid having to tax or borrow to pay $10.28 of benefits -- the amount of a future benefit based on $1 today invested at the bond rate. This benefit is financed by the private savings account. So far, it's a wash to the government, it must still come up with the same $10.28 ... but this is not the end.

Forty years from now the $1 in the private account has grown to $45.26. After subtracting $10.28 to pay the basic Social Security benefit, there is a $34.98 net gain -- and this can be divided by the parties so they both come out ahead. Say for example the government imposes a 50% tax on this net gain, it and the worker then both take $17.49.

Now our low-income male worker instead of just breaking even on the payroll taxes he's paid all his life actually comes out ahead -- a progressive result.

And the government comes out ahead too. After using $10.28 of the $17.49 to pay off its borrowing from 2004, it has a $7.21 left over -- reducing future borrowing needs at a time of projected fiscal crisis.

Can we see how borrowing $1 today, when rates are low, to reduce borrowing in the future, when borrowing conditions are certain to be much worse, provides a net economic benefit?

The error in not seeing it is that made by all who make the "transition cost" argument. They see the cost of borrowing today to finance private accounts -- but look at it all alone.

Somehow, they don't see the huge cost of borrowing in the future that is inherent in the status quo -- and they never compare the two.

Moving on to the second question:
2. Putting question #1 aside, isn't it still the case that private accounts are strictly a temporary economic boost? In 30 or 40 years time, after all, retirees will start drawing down their private accounts. At that point, the amount of money being drawn out by retirees will be about the same as the amount being invested by young people, and the net effect on national savings is zero. So all this extra investment has a positive effect, but only for a few decades or so.
Let's put aside the curious attitude that at an economic benefit lasting "for only a few decades" is something not much desired and sought.

The idea that the increased savings are only transitory is false -- and pretty obviously so, for the same reason that the NY Stock Exchange is not a transitory phenomenon. As some liquidate their savings other invest -- and with a growing economy and rising wages, more is invested than liquidated.

(In any event, surely not all savings are liquidated -- and anything that isn't, in the case of private Social Security accounts, is an increase.)

Maybe the simplest way to get a grasp on all these issues is by using Milton Friedman's thought experiment that cuts through the argumentative Gordian Knot by imagining terminal, immediate, total privatization of Social Security.

Imagine that...

(1) Social Security as we know it will be closed down entirely tomorrow morning;

(2) All participants in it to date will receive government bonds equal to the value of all their earned benefits, so nobody loses anything; and

(3) Going forward there will be a fully privatized retirement saving plan with workers saving say 5% of payroll (instead of today's 12.4% tax) in real economic investments.


1) The net cost to the government is zero ($0). By issuing the new bonds the government merely commits explicitly to do what it previously committed implicitly to do -- pay all Social Security benefits promised and earned to date with taxes.

The amount of such benefits does not change by one penny, and thus neither does the amount of taxes the government is committed to collect to pay them.

As there is absolutely no change in the cost of the benefits to the government there is no transition cost -- even in this most extreme of privatization scenarios.

2) The Social Security benefit obligations accumulated to date (including the $10 trillion funding shortfall) will be paid off with income taxes, which are paid overwhelmingly by high-earners, rather than payroll taxes, which are imposed regressively, from the first dollar earned, on low-income workers. This change is progressive.

3) National private savings will increase as all workers accumulate savings (which earn compound investment returns) in lieu of paying a tax. This will increase the stock of capital, future productivity, and the material capacity of the economy to support retirees (and everyone else) in the future.

This growth of savings will be less than dollar-for-dollar with the new retirement savings because some people who already save via other vehicles (such as IRAs or 401(k)s) may reduce their other savings correspondingly with the increase of savings in their new privatized retirement accounts.

But to conclude that there will be no growth of savings as a result of all workers beginning to save 5% of pay in real savings -- as opposed to today's near-zilch national personal savings rate -- will require quite some stretch of logic.

4) Workers become better off both immediately and in the future. Immediately because the cash flow cost to them of the new system is only 5% of pay rather than 12.4%, putting more money in their pocket -- plus, the job-destroying regressive payroll tax is eliminated. In the future because any real investment provides a higher return, and thus more future retirement wealth, than one that pays a negative return, or less than the return on government bonds. Even an actual private investment in government bonds does that!

Result: Win-win-win-win ... at no transaction cost.

So it's really not so hard at all to conceive potential real benefits -- that merely start with reducing the huge future pressure of financing government that we face in coming decades -- from private-account real economic investments made through Social Security.

Friday, November 12, 2004

College basketball season is here again.

Oh, but whom to root for if you don't already have a team -- or if, like me, your team has been ranked 300+ in the RPIs forever, and you'd like to have some kind of psychic association with a real team for once in your life?

Process of elimination might help. SI gives a list of Top Ten Least Rootable Teams, from...
#1) CINCINNATI. Every year without fail the Bearcats trot out a police, er, starting lineup stocked with juco transfers and miscreants. Cin City ballers have been charged with every crime in the book -- and some that aren't: Donald Little was kicked off the team in April 2002 for taping his roommate to a lawn chair, throwing weights at his head, clubbing him with a whiskey bottle and burning him with a heated coat hanger. Only then did Little stab him....
... through the proverbial Team to Be Named Later...

#10) JIM HARRICK'S NEXT SCHOOL ... there's always another major program willing to take a flier on a coach with a national championship on his resume. At this point Harrick's resiliency is bordering on comical; he's like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who keeps getting limbs lopped off but just won't die. Fired from UCLA for falsifying an expense report. ("'Tis but a scratch.") Academic fraud, overzealous boosters and a lawsuit charging sexual harassment against Harrick, settled out of court, at Rhode Island. ("Just a flesh wound.") Resigned from Georgia in 2003 after his players were given preferential academic treatment in a class taught by his son and assistant coach, Jim Harrick Jr. ("I'm invincible!") ...

Aw, that still leaves hundreds of teams. But wait ... what did it also say about Cincinnati?
Yes, Huggy Bear has taken Cincy to 12 straight NCAA tournaments; the problem is that "student-athlete" is not the preferred term for describing the players ...
Heck, I have enough pride in the academic integrity of the student athletes who play for my alma mater as it goes 4-22 every year. I don't need any more. I just need someone to root for in the tournament. Twelve straight, did they say?

Call me a "Bearcat!"

Thursday, November 11, 2004

How affirmative action reduces the number of minority graduates.

Another example of old news seeming startlingly new...
A new study ... provid[es] stunning evidence that affirmative action may actually hurt the chances of blacks to obtain their law degrees.

Richard H. Sander, a law professor at UCLA and a self-described Democrat and lifelong supporter of affirmative action, has recently completed the most comprehensive look ever at the effect of affirmative action on the academic achievement of black law students. The study appears in the November issue of Stanford Law Review.

Looking at the performance of black and other students at 21 law schools in the mid-1990s, Sander notes in the introduction to his study, "there has never been a comprehensive attempt to assess the relative costs and benefits of racial preferences in any field of higher education."

Sander... argues that his data demonstrate that blacks are harmed by the very programs aimed at helping them. Most black applicants, he writes, "end up at schools where they will struggle academically and fail at higher rates than they would in the absence of preferences … most remarkably, a strong case can be made that in the legal education system as a whole, racial preferences end up producing fewer black lawyers each year than would be produced by a race-blind system."

Among first-year law students, Sander reports, 52 percent of blacks earn grades that put them in the lowest 10 percent of their class. Only 8 percent of blacks earn grades in the top half of their class. And their performance does not improve with time. About 19 percent of black students in this study dropped out without completing law school, compared with 8 percent of white students. Of those who completed law school, however, about half continued to earn grades that put them at the bottom 10 percent of their class. Consequently, only about 45 percent of black law school graduates pass their bar exams on their first attempt, compared with about 80 percent of white graduates.

Sander estimates that if black students were admitted through a race-blind process, so that their skills were properly matched to the schools' own admissions criteria, far more black students would do well, graduate and pass the bar. He estimates that the end of racial preferences could end up producing nearly 10 percent more black lawyers... (Linda Chavez)
The thing is, this isn't news.

This perverse effect of affirmative action was documented way back in 1993 by Thomas Sowell in his book Inside American Education. He noted then that, for example, while blacks admitted to MIT had SAT scores that put them among the top10% of all students nationwide, they were in the bottom 10% at MIT -- and 25% of them failed to graduate.

He also noted the example of the 317 black students admitted to UC Berkeley under affirmative action criteria in 1985. They had an average SAT score of 952, well above the national average of 900 -- but far below the UC Berkeley's average of nearly 1200. More than 70 percent of them failed to graduate.

Sowell also pointed out that there is a cascade effect. Top-tier schools like MIT and UC Berkeley use affirmative action to recruit minority students who would do fine at second-tier schools. Then second-tier schools recruit minority students who would do fine at third-tier schools... And the result is that across-the-board blacks have higher drop-out rates and lower levels of academic achievement than others in the same schools -- which continues to mystify many, and cause them to conclude that yet more forms of affirmative action and racial preferences are needed.

Now, university administrators certainly have known these numbers all along as well as Thomas Sowell did in 1993 and Richard Sander does now. Yet they continue to insist on continuing these affirmative action policies.

So we might ask ... who are the real beneficiaries of university affirmative action policies?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

One week later...

And, hey, doesn't the New York Times print this issue after every election?

There'll be little-to-no text blogging here for a few days -- have to make money to pay the ISP bill. Life is hard for the self-employed.

But I'll try to post a picture or cartoon daily to keep the account open.

(I've also switched the order of the prior two posts -- just because Tara's prettier to look at than a bunch of stuff about the prison population.)


Monday, November 08, 2004

If you're going to flash the cameras, don't be cheap with the surgeon.

"I'm known as this retard . . . I want to grow up. I don't want to be the drunk girl," laments actress Tara Reid to the NY Post's Page Six.

This after happily if unwittingly showing off her bare breast to photographers in all directions at P. Diddy's "celeb-studded 35th birthday bash" -- which is bound to help in her quest, eh?

And it gets better. Lest anyone think Page Six sets the bounds of trash gossip in the Post, the tabloid runs a full inside story critiquing the visible scars...
What about those gross purple scars? ... Reid should demand her money back. In fact, she probably didn't spend enough.

So say cosmetic docs contacted by The Post, who examined the photos of the "American Pie" star's marred mammaries.

"I use that [incision] under protest," said NYC plastic surgeon Dr. Z. Paul Lorenc, pointing to the obvious marks surrounding the nipple. He said doctors usually avoid such problems by inserting implants from underneath the breast or through the armpit - or even through the navel.

Lorenc was mystified by Reid's red carpet reveal. "I hope this woman knows what she's doing," he said. "I feel bad for her. It doesn't look like she really cared."

Dr. Eric Sedat, who's in practice on the Upper East Side, was also perplexed...
Now that's intrepid reporting! "Jimmy, Lois, get these pictures of Tara's boob scars right out to Dr. Zitzmore for comment in the early edition. Where the heck is Clark...?"

New York's other tabloid, the Daily News, adds its own little touch...
Her former beau Carson Daly showed up sometime later.

"We were wondering whether we should show him," said the snapper. "But I said, 'He's not going to recognize those breasts anyway.'"
Note: This picture is from the Times of India, it's a better one than any of the NY papers had. Are the readers of the Times of India really so interested in Tara Reid? It seems so -- and also in Shania Twain, Britney, Hugh and Jemina, Michael Moore, Michael Jackson ... I never would have guessed.

Noted: Breast implants can be inserted "through the navel"? Gee -- who says reading the gossip pages isn't educational?

Comment: One of this blog's horde of readers e-mails, "We don't give them enough credit for how much they suffer for our amusement."

Update for Tara Reid hunters: I've gotten so many hits on this one post you've almost convinced me to open a porn sight. If you're really so eager to see her bare scarred boob in close up detail, go to for that and other horror stories of the damned. Be ashamed of yourself and have a good time.

The Times buries the lede on "the rising prison population".

Following the Justice Department's annual release of prison statistics, Fox Butterfield of the NY Times today writes everybody's standard story on "the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population", entitled Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates.

Of course, it's oblivious to any even theoretical possibility that putting more criminals in prison might reduce the number of crimes they commit outside of it and so resolve the "paradox"-- that one might expect a drop in crime because of an increase in inmates. But let's skip that for now.

Way down at the end he gives one perfunctory sentence, "New York had a 2.8 percent decrease in new inmates, reflecting the continued sharp fall in crime in New York City", and moves on.

But wait ... it's not just "new" inmates. As a guy writing for a NYC paper, who is so concerned about the prison population, Fox of all people might have more interest in this: NYC is actually selling off excess prison space.

NY prison populations have been falling for five years...

NYC (.pdf)
10/1999: 16,364
2/2004: 13, 655 -16.6%

1999: 71,898
2004: 65,125 -9.4%

And the fall is continuing. Butterfield's report somehow doesn't catch the flavor of this.

Yes, of course this is because of "the continued sharp fall in crime in New York City", as he wrote -- but how'd that happen? Spontaneously, all by itself?

It's an entirely relevant question, because whatever happened in New York City is causing a continuing decline in the prison population.

Could it be that cracking down on crime like NYC did, first and harder and more efficiently than anyone else, deters crime, which fills the prisons at first but results in less crime in the future ... and thus results in fewer criminals in the future ... and thus in a smaller prison population in the future?

And that in NYC the future is now, because it started down this road well before anyone else and with the most effort?

Last 15 years...
NYC crime: about - 66%
US crime: about -15% (much accounted for by the drop in NYC)
[NYPD, click "crime statistics"]

With crime down 66% you're not going to have a smaller prison population? Hey, there's an original story for the Times: "To reduce prison population, reduce crime, New York shows."

As to reducing crime, New York also shows that there is much more to it than just sending a lot of people to jail. (prior post on this) But with New York's imprisonment rate declining more slowly than its crime rate, its incarceration rate per crime is up -- making it look like the deterrent effect of jail time plays its role.

Now, the idea of a causal sequence over time reducing the prison population may be a lot to digest for a guy who apparently won't even entertain the possibility that taking criminals off the street might reduce the crime rate currently.

But being that he's writing in a NYC newspaper, the very city where this is all happening, shouldn't it be worth a mention?

And maybe he could've gotten a quote from a real working NYC law enforcement official on the subject too, to balance the one he went all the way to Carneigie Mellon to get from the academic who had this interesting view...

Professor Blumstein said [tough sentencing] "in many ways is self-defeating." The criminal justice system is built on deterrence, with being sent to prison supposedly a stigma, he said. "But it's tough to convey a sense of stigma when so many of your friends and neighbors are similarly stigmatized."
Hello? Tough sentencing deters crime via "a sense of stigma"?

I might have thought that tough sentencing deters crime via people wanting to avoid spending years in jail!

How about this for a future NY Times story lede?...

If you want to have fewer people wasting their lives in prison tomorrow, the experience of the nation's largest city shows you should be really tough on crime today -- is the rest of the nation being tough enough?
I thought so. ;-)

Monday miscellany.

Billboard Magazine, which charts the hits, now has a Top 20 "Hot Ringtones" chart -- and not without reason!

The inaugural top ringy-dingy choice goes to ... drumroll ... "My Boo" by Usher and Alicia Keys. It inspired 97,000 purchases last week.

By contrast, the No. 1 legal song download of the week - U2's "Vertigo" - drew 25,000 buyers.

Ringtones are outselling legit song downloads by more than 3 to 1, even though those nagging tones tend to cost almost twice as much ($1.99 versus a buck) and don't give the listener the actual tune, only a rinky-dink imitation... (NYDN)


History of the Red and Blue...
"If you happen to pull down your VHS copy of NBC's coverage of the 1976 Election.... the Blue States, obviously, belong to then-President Gerald Ford, the Republican. The Red States, naturally, belong to his challenger, Jimmy Carter, the Democrat. Huh?..." (Keith Olbermann)

Moving to the Red and White...

Pity-inspired Canadians are lining up to marry American liberals to help them immigrate northward, now that the election's over. If you're a progressive American who needs help escaping north of the border (and you're not already married -- bigamy is still illegal in Canada, so far) check it out.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

You can buy the contract of Babe Ruth, pitcher -- if you can top what the Yankees paid.

The original 1919 contract selling Babe Ruth, pitcher, from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees is being auctioned at e-bay. Bidding right now is a bit over $1 million -- just about the price paid by Jacob Ruppert, owner of the Yankees, inflation adjusted. You have until shortly after Tuesday noon (ET) to get your bid in.

Babe's salary at the time was $10,000, near $110,000 in today's money. Red Sox owner Harry Frazee decided he couldn't afford it because the team's attendance was dropping -- and Babe was also becoming something of a troublemaker. Among other complaints, he wanted to play outfield rather than pitch. Thus the sale that visited "The Curse of the Bambino" upon the Red Sox into the 21st Century.

Included on e-bay is a report by Ty Cobb sizing up Babe as a pitcher:

"I can testify that he was left-handed dynamite. Could have been among the greats had he not turned to outfielding... I never touched him for more than a single. He had a pretty fair curve, a big fastball and excellent control... The best solution seemed to be to distract him -- to get his goat. Should have squeezed in a few more good years but drank too much...."

Well, as things turned out, Babe's standing among the greats wasn't really hurt by his turning to outfielding. If he'd spent his first four years outfielding instead of pitching, and had squeezed in a few more years at the end by not drinking so much, his home run total might have been closer to 1,000 than 714.

It's tough but just barely possible to argue that some other ballplayer has matched Babe as a hitter (Ted Williams, Barry Bonds) but nobody's ever come anywhere close to matching Babe as an all-round baseball player.

As Yankee teammate Joe Dugan once said about the Babe's apparently super-human baseball abilities, "Hell, Babe Ruth wasn't born. The son of a bitch fell from a tree."

A small football Sunday, football analogy political observation.

A little recent history, to keep the forest in sight in spite of the trees:

By quick check of numbers (I haven't double checked to see if these are exact, but they are close enough) in 1992 the Democrats had 56 seats in the Senate and 266 in the House, had recently held 34 of 50 governorships, and controlled 29 state legislatures with the Republicans controlling only 7 and the rest divided.

Today, pending a few outcomes from last Tuesday that were still uncertain when last I looked, they have about 45 seats in the Senate (down 18%) and 201 in the House (-24%), and no more than 22 governorships (-35%) to at least 28 for the Republicans. Going into Tuesday the Democrats controlled only 17 state legislatures (-50%) to 21 for the Republicans with the rest divided.

Now, all this week since Tuesday Democratic pundits have been producing explanations about how they lost what was really a close race only due to [pick favorite:] rising evangelicalism, gay-marriage bashing, war fears, failure to motivate their base, failure to get their message out (though there's nothing actually wrong with their message!) ... whatever.

Isn't this a bit like football fans moaning that their team just lost the game by two points only because their damn kicker missed that last-second field goal -- no, the holder botched it -- no, it was the snapper who screwed up ... after blowing a 24-point, second-quarter lead?

Why not to predict the future even if you are an expert, Football Sunday edition.

New York Post, November 17, 1968:
"There was speculation that [NFL Commissioner] Rozelle might now stiffen his resolve to establish an independent TV network when the contract with NBC and CBS expires next year.

"The question was whether the giant networks really care any more about pro football. Madison Avenue sources say the new national pastime is badly over-exposed and is no longer worth the millions being shelled out for it ... advertising agencies are beginning to talk about the law of diminishing returns..."
The current NFL TV contracts pay more than $2 billion annually to the league.

Update: November 9, 2004 -- The NFL picked up $11.5 billion yesterday in three separate TV contracts for pro football, about a 40 percent gain over the previous contracts... (NYP)

"Why make a prediction? Then they have something to judge you by."

-- Bill Parcells, pro football coach

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Squeamish about injustice to the filler of mass graves -- less so about that to the families of the those who fill them.

Amid all the election talk about Iraq, for some reason there wasn't much about this subject -- yet there's an oddity in this report....
Since the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown in May, 270 mass graves have been reported. By mid-January, 2004, the number of confirmed sites climbed to fifty-three.

Some graves hold a few dozen bodies—their arms lashed together and the bullet holes in the backs of skulls testimony to their execution. Other graves go on for hundreds of meters, densely packed with thousands of bodies.

"We've already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair on November 20 in London.

The United Nations, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) all estimate that Saddam Hussein's regime murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people. "Human Rights Watch estimates that as many as 290,000 Iraqis have been 'disappeared' by the Iraqi government over the past two decades," said the group in a statement in May. "Many of these 'disappeared' are those whose remains are now being unearthed in mass graves all over Iraq."

If these numbers prove accurate, they represent a crime against humanity surpassed only by the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Pol Pot's Cambodian killing fields in the 1970s, and the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. (USAID)
But if 270 mass graves are suspected, containing victims on a scale comparable to Rwanda and Pol Pot, why in all this time have only 53 been confirmed?

When I first saw this report that seemed puzzling. I could understand that one doesn't excavate 270 mass graves quickly, but to merely identify and confirm them didn't seem so difficult -- and did seem rather important, both to the families of the victims and as documentation of the nature of Saddam's regime. But what do I know about such things? So, maybe not.

Then in today's news comes perhaps a bit of clarification...
Investigators have begun unearthing a mass grave near a northern Iraqi village, uncovering more than 100 bodies and seeking evidence to use in a future trial of Saddam Hussein.

The bodies, believed to be Kurds killed during Saddam's crackdown in 1987-88, are buried in nine trenches in Hatra, according to Greg Kehoe, an American who works with the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which is preparing the trial of Saddam and his henchmen...

European teams who worked on Bosnian mass graves are not helping because of their concerns that Saddam could face the death penalty...

Kehoe said the bodies were apparently bulldozed into the graves ...

He said excavators found the body of a mother still clutching her baby. The infant was shot in the back of the head and the mother in the face.

Kehoe said that most mass graves in Bosnia largely contain men of fighting age. Graves near Hatra included many women and children...(AP)
Ah, so the Europeans aren't helping because of their sensitivity about Saddam possibly receiving an unjust death sentence for such things.

Their new-found sensitivity -- one certainly doesn't recall them being so sensitive about the fates of Mussolini or Ceausescu, or those at Nuremberg.

Friday, November 05, 2004

World news we missed during all that election brouhaha.

Who says Muslims have a medieval religion?

Apparently Malaysia's been "facing a massive problem of divorce through SMS and e-mail". Who knew?

Although they're having to deal with are some legal-technical problems, such as fitting the "triple talaq" -- the required "I divorce thee" stated three times -- into those short SMS messages.

Municipal court judge or porn star?

You decide.

It seems one can't be both in Romania.

We never found out who won at the World Sex Championships, and speculated earlier this might be because we don't get the Naked News sports report.

Now the World Testicle Cooking Championship is fast approaching. Will the results be on the Food Channel?

Hmm... The world sex championships were in Poland, porn star judges are in Romania, and the world testicle cooking championship is in Serbia. Is someone enjoying the fall of communism?

Murphy's law applies in Germany too.

You'd think that if you lived right next door to a fire station, at least your house wouldn't burn down.

Murphy's law applies in England too.

You'd think that even if you landed your classic airplane in a farmer's field, cows wouldn't eat it.

Is Bush still flying for the National Guard?


Little Egg Harbor, N.J. (AP) - A National Guard F-16 fighter jet on a nighttime training mission strafed an elementary school with 25 rounds of ammunition, authorities said Thursday. No one was injured.

The military is investigating the incident that damaged Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School in southern New Jersey shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. The school is a few miles from a military firing range.

Police were called when a custodian who was the only person in the school heard what sounded like someone running across the roof.

Police Chief Mark Siino said officers noticed punctures in the roof. Ceiling tiles had fallen into classrooms, and there were scratch marks in the asphalt outside.

The pilot of the single-seat jet was supposed to fire at a ground target on the firing range three and half miles from the school, said Col. Brian Webster, commander of the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard... [more]
Maybe a little relaxation after a tough couple days? Have a couple drinks and then...

Hey, he's Commander in Chief, why not?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Is George Soros scoping out a monastery?

George Soros has been quoted by various sources as saying "I shall go into some kind of monastery" if Dubya won on election day after he, Soros, spent some $25 million to de-Dubya the nation, as one of a handful of billionaires who spent some $74 million (as noted previously).

Presumably George has his travel agent looking for a monastery now.

Buying a monastery surely would have been a better deal than trying to buy the election. It probably would have cost less, and today he'd own a monastery.

Bush's to-do list for the next four years: #1 domestically. And #2, #3 ...

There's one and only one serious domestic policy problem facing the U.S. in the readily foreseeable future -- the U.S. government's $53 trillion (or perhaps much more) current value unfunded obligation for promised entitlement benefits that start coming seriously due in about a decade, as previously noted (in a story with a nifty interactive graphics and calculator), and noted again by the US Comptroller General in the news today.

How serious can this be, being that no candidate of either party for office at any level even mentioned it during the just completed election season?

As one readily-at-hand illustration, this GAO Report (.pdf) projecting future government finances is forced to end projections around 2045 -- the end of government! -- when just the interest on the national debt exceeds 20% of GDP, more than the entire size of the federal government today, and is rocketing straight upward through compounding. Beyond that, GAO says, projections are implausible.

Excluding that interest, the portion of GDP just going to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is projected to then be larger than the entire federal government today.

And those are Year 2000 projections which assumed the economic boom would continue through today with no recession, no Bush tax cuts, and surpluses still running and being saved today -- instead of our $400 billion deficits.

So if Dubya really wants to leave a domestic legacy that will be remembered (positively), then getting the nation to take its first real steps to close this gap, and committing it to do more on a steady basis after he is gone -- starting to turn the supertanker of entitlement politics and policy, if you will -- is the place where he will do it, or not.

Clinton had a sterling chance to make a legacy for himself here. The bipartisan Breaux Commission was formally established to make recommendations for Medicare -- which accounts for the lion's share of the $53 trillion -- while senior Democratic Senators like Breaux, Bob Kerrey and Daniel Patrick Moynihan were willing to work with the Republicans on advancing reform of Social Security.

But Clinton did not. When he got himself into that little spot of bother he solidified support from his political left by chucking entitlement reform overboard -- then deep-sixed it entirely before the 2000 election to be able to use the old Democrat populist Social Security and Medicare rhetoric to help get Al Gore elected against those nasty benefit-cutting Republicans, for all the good that did. So much for his chance at a legacy.

Now Bush and the Republicans will or will not, and we shall see who they really are, and if they are any better. With Dubya not having his own re-election to worry about his legacy should move up to his first concern. And with the Repubs upping their strength to 55 in the Senate and holding an iron (even better, gerrymandered!) lock on the House, they have no excuse not to set the required agenda.

Though they need not. If nothing is done voters won't feel the pain for another decade or so, until Social Security goes cash-flow negative. So the Repubs can still pass as a matter of convenience rather than bite a bullet, or even a bee-bee. The coming crunch was seen coming long ago and nobody has done anything about it yet -- except to make it worse, by creating ever more unfunded benefits, including very notably Dubya's own prescription drug benefit. So it is certainly plausible that the Republicans will push the problem back onto somebody else's watch and pursue other issues to marginally increase their vote counts as they prepare for 2006 and 2008.

But let there be no doubt, this should be domestic policy issue #1... and #2, #3, #4 ... probably down to about #7 or #8. No other domestic issue has anything like the foreseeable consequences.

There is nothing else that conceivably threatens the U.S. government, and hasn't been since all those Soviet nuclear missiles were de-targeted from the U.S. (They have been, right?) So priorities should be clear.

This doesn't mean the Republicans have to commit political hari-kari by trying to reshape these programs dramatically and quickly, while Democrats run campaign ads showing Dubya pushing old people in wheelchairs over cliffs as they did in 2002.

Restructuring these programs will doubtless take decades, as it took decades to build them up into their current form. The start may involve educating the public about the realities of the situation more than anything else.

But time matters, compound interest matters a great deal. So the time to start is now.

The Republicans now will or they won't. We shall see.

More on this later.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

No politics here today.

I'm sure everybody can get their fill of that elsewhere.

The sordid tale of how I Was Disenfranchised! may come later, if I recover from the shock.

The things one can learn from a football column, II.

The 2005 Honda Odyssey touring minivan has 17 cupholders.

Fermilab, which runs the world's highest-energy particle accelerator, has games on its web site.

The California Tortilla restaurant chain, which claims to have scientifically and with complete accuracy predicted election outcomes (since 2002) by selling burritos named for each candidate after consulting with their campaigns about the recipes, calls Kerry the winner! Their burrito poll predicts John Kerry will become president as the John Kerry Savory Chicken Burrito outsold the George Bush Hickory Chicken Burrito by 1,868 to 1,738.

Forget that. The burritos did no better than Zogby's exit polling. OTOH, they did no worse.

Whooops, that was politics.

Back to cars and sex -- they go with football. A German magazine survey found that men who own BMWs and women who own Peugeots get the most sex, while owners (both genders) of Porsches get the least. Male owners of Porsches get even less sex than guys who own Kias.

But maybe that's only in Germany.

Cribbed from TMQ, the only column on NFL football writtten by a Brookings fellow.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

It's the time when you must choose ...

... either Republicans bringing justice and social order to the world today ...

... or Democrats working to build a better tomorrow ...

... even if you live in Florida ...

... so do your worst duty!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Who's going to win tomorrow? Who should win?

I have no idea who is going to win. Of all the elections I've voted in since the VietNam years, this is the closest I've seen.

But if I had to bet real money, with tradesports the last time I looked today still charging 55 to pay 100 on Bush, at those odds in what seems a dead heat race, I'll put my $2 on Kerry.

Who should win??

If today was a situation like 1996 or 2000 then I might well be persuaded by the case for throwing a strategic vote for Kerry. That is, not actually vote for the man, but for the consequences of his being elected. (Hey, is anybody actually going to vote for Kerry tomorrow, as opposed to against Bush, or against the Republicans, or for any generic Democrat?)

If one is a small-government type then having the Presidency, House and Senate all run by the same party at the same time has a bad downside, even if it is your party: invariably, the pigs feed at the trough with nobody to stop them.

That's certainly been the case during the Dubya years (with not even one veto of a spending bill) just as it was during the first two Clinton years (when they tried to fold the nation's entire health care system into the government) and back during LBJ's Great Society years, and FDR's New Deal, and so on.

Restraint in the growth of government occurs when one party holds the Presidency and the other holds Congress. Then each blocks the other's plans for growing the government and depleting the fisc. "Fiscal responsibility" returns -- if only as the side effect of paralysis. That's what happened during the years of Bush the Elder dealing with a Democratic Congress, and during Clinton's six years dealing with a Republican one. Far fewer initiatives get passed, and those that do must have bi-partisan attraction -- so (presumably) they are more likely to have some merit. Bruce Bartlett says more for the idea.

In that case, of course, one hears a multitude of complaints about how divided government "can't get anything done". But that's not a flaw, it's a feature! As Will Rogers put it ...

"Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they don't do nothing, that don't hurt anybody. When they do something is when they become dangerous."

So with the Senate probably staying Republican, and the House an apparent Republican lock for years to come -- arguably the single most impressive and lasting political achievement of Bill Clinton -- a vote for Kerry is a vote for divided government. Sounds good!

But ... the snag is that the situation in 2004 is not like 1996 or 2000. A vote for Kerry is a vote for Kerry the man leading the military and the nation in a time of armed conflict -- and at least as importantly, a vote for the return of the Democratic foreign policy establishment.

Let's remember that Democratic establishment first. Do we recall Sen. Patty Murray, still the Democratic senator from Washington, saying that Osama is popular among Muslims because "Mr. Bin Laden has built many roads, mosques, hospitals, and schools", and engaged in other Democratic-type social projects?

Or Sandy Berger (now one of Kerry's top advisors) telling the 9/11 Commission that the Clinton Administration rejected four plans to kill or capture Osama bin Laden due to worry about "being blamed" if things went wrong. How many embassy bombings does it take?

Then we have Clinton and Berger contradicting each other about whether Sudan actually offered to extradite Osama to the US -- you'd think they'd be able to get something like that right.

And Clinton saying the US declined to take Bin Laden because "At the time [bin Laden] had committed no crimes against America, so I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him," even though Osama was at the top of the known terrorist list, showing the view of international terrorism being treated as a domestic crime that Kerry still has -- except Kerry actually chooses to compare fighting terrorism to controlling victimless crimes: gambling and prostitution.

And we have Osama explicity stating that the Clinton foreign policy team's fast cut-and-run from Somalia upon incurring first casualties convinced him of American weakness -- "Our brothers with Somali mujahedeen and God's power fought the Americans. God granted them victory. America exited dragging its tails in failure, defeat, and ruin..." -- and encouraged him to attack.

Do we remember David Bonior, who had been the #2 Democrat in the House, and Rep. Jim McDermott actually going to Baghdad to stand beside Saddam? I mean, it's one thing not to want to invade his country -- but quite another to go have your picture taken with him while he's still busy filling mass graves...

I could go on -- but the point is that these aren't mere anecdotes. In November 2002, well after 9/11, the Democrat-friendly Washington Monthly ran a cover story War Torn: Why Democrats Can't Think Straight About National Security, which tells how it all fits together.

The party of the presidency runs foreign policy. Are these really the people we want to take over foreign policy and national security now?

And what about Kerry himself?

I'll limit myself to one thing he said on Meet the Press back in early 2001 -- when he wasn't running for President, and before 9/11...

"We don't have legitimacy in the world, Tim, if we go to other countries, in Bosnia or China or anywhere else, and not say, 'You know, we made some terrible mistakes.'

"And that honesty, that lack of a sense of honesty is part of what is driving people's anger toward the United States today..."

Considering when that statement was made, I have to conclude that he actually believes it in his heart of hearts -- he believes in a foreign policy of "Apologize First".

But why? So America will attain the credibility of China? Which is so well-known for admitting its terrible mistakes?? (Of which it has made more than a few!)

Or, perhaps, when setting American foreign policy Kerry won't recognize the credibility of China because it hasn't admitted its "terrible mistakes" to us all? (Will he recognize the credibility of France?)

I mean, is this what we want to be the starting point of the learning curve of a new President directing national security and foreign affairs in time of armed conflict?

For a broader look at Kerry's general leadership skills and executive abilities, consider the observations of Kerry supporter Mickey Kaus and consider -- as Mickey doesn't -- that they will likely apply to produce the same amount of success that he predicts for Kerry in domestic affairs when directing national security and foreign policy. Is that what we really want?

I could go on but won't, except to mention the matter of Kerry's apparent very calculated deceit about his military record, in order attain the position of military commander in chief, as noted in my prior couple posts. If that in fact proves true after he is elected, it will likely prove a real leadership problem for those he is supposed to be leading lead in time of war.

So who should be elected?

History may tell ... but I just can't bring myself to vote for Kerry, the man.

Update re "Pants on fire!"

NY Sun...

...Certainly something was wrong as early as 1973 when Mr. Kerry was applying to law school. Mr. Kerry has said, "I applied to Harvard, Boston University, and Boston College. I was extremely late. Only BC would entertain a late application."...

A member of the Harvard Law School admissions committee recalled that the real reason Mr. Kerry was not admitted was because the committee was concerned that because Mr. Kerry had received a less than honorable discharge they were not sure he could be admitted to any state bar.

Is it any less than well and truly remarkable that the MSM shows no interest whatsoever in this after pounding the minutiae of Bush's reserve records (with CBS even making up its own versions of them) for five years and through two elections?

What liberal media?

Hey, John Kerry... Liar, liar, pants on fire!
Kerry with Brokaw on Nightly Evening News last Thursday...
BROKAW: Someone has analyzed the President's military aptitude tests and yours, and concluded that he has a higher IQ than you do.

KERRY: That's great. More power. I don't know how they've done it, because my record is not public.
Kerry on Hardball back when Bush was getting bashed about his reserve service records...
KERRY: He [Bush] ought to answer that question.


KERRY: Because I've answered the questions. I released all my military records. Mr. Gillespie thought it was important enough to go travel to another state, make a big speech, demand that I release my records. I did. Everything. All of it. Including my officer fitness reports.

(via CaptainsQuarters )
Don't turn you head too quickly, John. You might poke your eye with your nose!

Isn't it remarkable how Brokaw and the mainstream media are giving Kerry a free pass on this, when they went so far as to manufacture Bush's records so they could see them?

Now, here's our would-be Commander in Chief already knowingly lying about his own military records -- a great start on the job! -- but one has to wonder why?

Wouldn't it be something if that scuttlebut turns out to be true and he really DID originally have a dishonorable discharge -- and instead of wearing a Nixon dishonorable discharge as a badge of honor, he's been knowingly lying all along to hide it to help himself get elected?

And won't it be just wonderful if he is elected after running on his military record, as he has since "reporting for duty" at the convention -- and then it's revealed that he's been hiding a dishonorable discharge! Won't our boys in military service be really impressed!

Of course, Kerry could quickly and easily end all such nasty surmising and innuendo by simply releasing all his military records, as he certainly insisted that Bush do, and as he's repeatedly said he's already done -- except when he's saying he hasn't!!