Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Cruising the Web

Ilya Somin has an excellent idea - that we should use May Day to commemorate as Victims of Communism Day. He wrote back in 2007,
May Day began as a holiday for socialists and labor union activists, not just communists. But over time, the date was taken over by the Soviet Union and other communist regimes and used as a propaganda tool to prop up their regimes. I suggest that we instead use it as a day to commemorate those regimes' millions of victims. The authoritative Black Book of Communism estimates the total at 80 to 100 million dead, greater than that caused by all other twentieth century tyrannies combined. We appropriately have a Holocaust Memorial Day. It is equally appropriate to commemorate the victims of the twentieth century's other great totalitarian tyranny. And May Day is the most fitting day to do so.
This time to is the appropriate moment to go forward with this.
Our comparative neglect of communist crimes has serious costs. Victims of Communism Day can serve the dual purpose of appropriately commemorating the millions of victims, and diminishing the likelihood that such atrocities will recur. Just as Holocaust Memorial Day and other similar events help sensitize us to the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism, and radical nationalism, so Victims of Communism Day can increase awareness of the dangers of left-wing forms of totalitarianism, and government control of the economy and civil society.

This year is a particularly important time to remember the victims of Communism because of the approaching one hundredth anniversary of the October Revolution – Bolshevik takeover of Russia. The Soviet Union was not the most oppressive communist regime. It probably did not match the even more thoroughgoing totalitarianism of the Khmer Rouge and North Korea. Nor did it kill the most people – a record held by Mao Zedong the Chinese communists. But the Soviet experiment was the principal model for all the later communist states, and it is hard to imagine communists seizing control of so much of the world without it. In addition to the significant material aid that the Soviets provided to communists in other nations, the communist seizure of power in Russia also greatly boosted the ideology’s prospects elsewhere.

To this day, some claim that Soviet communism was originally a positive development and only went bad later, after Joseph Stalin came to power. But Stalin’s crimes were largely extensions of the earlier practices of Lenin. And it is unlikely that things would have gone better if Stalin had lost out to Leon Trotsky, his principal rival in the struggle for power. In some ways, Trotsky’s agenda was even worse than Stalin’s. (more links in original)
It is well past time that we recognize the victims of communism instead of basically ignoring them. With such ignorance propagated throughout our schools, it is no wonder that students today think so highly of communism.

Colin Grabow writes
to remind liberals that communism was exceptionally bad for the environment. Many on the left regard climate change as the potential cause of millions of mass deaths. They might not think too much about the tens of millions who died because they had the misfortune to live in communist countries, but they might be appalled when they learn about the environmental devastation of communist countries.
When the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain was finally lifted to expose the inner workings of communism to Western eyes, one of the more shocking discoveries was the nightmarish scale of environmental destruction. The statistics for East Germany alone tell a horrific tale: at the time of its reunification with West Germany an estimated 42 percent of moving water and 24 percent of still waters were so polluted that they could not be used to process drinking water, almost half of the country’s lakes were considered dead or dying and unable to sustain fish or other forms of life, and only one-third of industrial sewage along with half of domestic sewage received treatment.

An estimated 44 percent of East German forests were damaged by acid rain — little surprise given that the country produced proportionally more sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and coal dust than any other in the world. In some areas of East Germany the level of air pollution was between eight and twelve times greater than that found in West Germany, and 40 percent of East Germany’s population lived in conditions that would have justified a smog warning across the border. Only one power station in East Germany had the necessary equipment to clean sulphur from emissions.

Sten Nilsson, a Swedish forest ecologist who was kicked out of East Germany in 1986 for his efforts at collecting data on the health of its forests, said in April 1990 that many forests were “dead, completely” and described the country as “on the verge of total ecological collapse.”

....East Germany was hardly the exception to the rule, with environmental degradation being the norm throughout the communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Sourcing from articles in Time and Business Week, a 1992 Cato Journal paper noted that “[c]hildren from the Upper Silesia area of Poland have been found to have five times more lead in their blood than children from Western European cities,” while half of the region’s children suffered from pollution-related illnesses. Some areas of Romania, the paper added, experienced such heavily polluted air that horses were only allowed to stay for two or three years.

A similar story was found in the Soviet Union. Writing for the now-defunct (and Ralph Nader-founded) Multinational Monitor in September 1990, James Ridgeway noted widespread pollution of both the air and drinking water:

40% of the Soviet people live in areas where air pollutants are three to four times the maximum allowable levels. Sanitation is primitive. Where it exists, for example in Moscow, it doesn’t work properly. Half of all industrial waste water in the capital city goes untreated. In Leningrad, nearly half of the children have intestinal disorders caused by drinking contaminated water from what was once Europe’s most pristine supply.

A 1996 Russia country study published by the Library of Congress’ Federal Research Division described the country’s air as “among the most polluted in the world,” and found that 75 percent of its surface water was polluted and 50 percent of all water not potable according to 1992 quality standards.

While the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor probably counts as the country’s best-known environmental disaster, it was but one of numerous episodes of serious environmental damage which plagued the Soviet nuclear sector.
When I spent a semester in Leningrad in 1979, we were all warned not to drink the water without boiling it because of how polluted it was. The horrors that these communist governments perpetrated onto the environment go on and on. Read the whole article. Perhaps such facts might seep through to those on the left who seem to close their eyes to the horrors of communism.

Grabow gives three reasons to explain why it shouldn't be surprising how communist governments devastated their countries.
The environmental destruction associated with communism is no coincidence or accident of history, but rather a perfectly logical outcome for at least three reasons. Perhaps most obviously, communism invariably means authoritarianism (how else would a New Soviet Man emerge to work towards the bright, shiny future prophesied by Marx and Engels without re-education camps and control over the levers of societal machinery?), with little tolerance for dissent or concerns about hazardous waste in the worker’s paradise. To voice the opinion that perhaps not quite all was well, or that the air smelled funny, was to invite suspicions being a saboteur, kulak or harboring bourgeois tendencies.

Second, communism means an absence of property rights, having all been surrendered to “the people,” which is to say the state. As that which belongs to everyone in fact belongs to no one, who is to be confronted over the factory sending toxic plumes into the sky which then descends on the cornfield, or the dumping of waste into the river plied by tourists on cruise boats? And who really owns the cornfield or the boats?

Lastly, communism also simply cannot compete with capitalism in the production of wealth and technology, both of which greatly assist in addressing environmental problems. Why should anyone be surprised that only one East German power station had the necessary equipment to scrub sulphur from its emissions? This, after all, was a country whose answer to Western automobiles — the Trabant launched in the late 1950s — did not even include a fuel gauge in its early versions, something first introduced decades prior (unsurprisingly the Trabant was also bad for the environment, emitting nine times the hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average European car of 2007).

There is no society, nor has one ever existed, which featured zero pollution or harm to the environment. The only question is how best to manage it, and which system is best positioned to accomplish this. On that question the answer is surely capitalism, home to the world’s richest countries and cleanest environments. It isn’t even close.

Echo and Alexa Devices

Amazon Fire TV

Hot New Releases in All Categories

Jim Geraghty links to an interview that Elizabeth Warren gave the Guardian where she dared to criticize the economy that President Obama presided over.
“I think President Obama, like many others in both parties, talks about a set of big national statistics that look shiny and great but increasingly have giant blind spots,” she says. “That GDP, unemployment, no longer reflect the lived experiences of most Americans. And the lived experiences of most Americans is that they are being left behind in this economy.

“Worse than being left behind, they’re getting kicked in the teeth.”
Except for Bernie, we haven't seen enough from the left
acknowledging that Obama's stewardship of the economy did not help many people. That's one reason why Hillary Clinton lost the votes of enough voters in communities that have been hard hit in the Rust Belt. Geraghty thinks the "kicked in the teeth" line is the "most consequential words from any Democrat since the 2016 election." He's been arguing for a while that statistics about declining unemployment don't capture what is happening in many communities.
First of all, Warren echoes a bipartisan complaint that economic statistics don’t really give a sufficiently full or detailed picture of Americans’ working lives. They don’t measure whether a person’s new job is playing less than the old job they lost, or whether they feel like they can’t afford as much at the grocery store as they used to, or whether their community is enduring a plague of opioid addiction and overdoses.

The national unemployment number of 4.5 percent is obviously the easiest shorthand for discussing the national economy overall, but job hunters in Ames, Iowa and the surrounding area (an unemployment rate 2.1 percent!) are much happier than those in Rockford, Illinois (9 percent) Bakersfield (10.9 percent) and Merced, California (12.4 percent). An economy that is doing pretty well overall can have some communities and regions suffering economic collapse and misery – or as Trump put it, “American carnage.”
That's certainly not the way that Obama celebrated the success of his presidency. Both Sanders and Trump and now Warren at least acknowledge that the rising tide in Obama's America didn't lift all boats. There are different approaches in how to address the problems of these areas, but the first step is acknowledging that there is a problem.

There's been a lot of talk that the GOP's proposal for repealing Obamacare will take away insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. This is not true, but it is confusing so the GOP need to get out there and explain what their plan does and why it is a good idea. The WSJ gets the ball rolling with an explanation.
ut the latest compromise between conservatives and centrists doesn’t repeal guaranteed issue or community rating. It keeps these regulations as the default baseline, and states could apply for a federal waiver if they want to pursue other regulatory relief.

But the waivers aren’t a license to leave cancer survivors without insurance. States can only receive a waiver if they avail themselves of the bill’s $100 billion fund to set up high-risk pools. These state-based programs, which were run in 35 states until they were pre-empted by ObamaCare, subsidize coverage for older and sicker patients. This helps these individuals and keeps coverage cheaper for everyone else.

Why might a Governor prefer such an arrangement over the ObamaCare status quo? Well, the law’s price controls are a raw deal for most consumers, which leads to a cycle of rising premiums and falling enrollment. Average premiums rose by 40% or more in 11 states this year, and insurance markets in states like Tennessee, Kentucky and Minnesota are in crisis.

Community rating and guaranteed issue also punish the sick by degrading quality. When insurers can profit by being the best plan for, say, cancer or diabetes, they invest in such care. When both the healthy and sick pay the same rates, the incentive is to load up on healthier people and discourage people with expensive ailments or chronic conditions from enrolling by using higher copays, narrow provider networks or tiered prescription drug formularies.

In a recent study of the Affordable Care Act, Daniel Prinz and Timothy J. Layton of Harvard and Michael Geruso of University of Texas-Austin conclude that insurers are using benefit designs to screen for unprofitable consumers. The result is that people with expensive conditions cannot obtain adequate coverage.

Pre-existing conditions are an understandably emotional issue, because people fear losing their plan or a financial catastrophe if they develop a serious health problem. But only about 4% of the population under age 65 is high risk. ObamaCare’s Pre-Existing Conditions Insurance Plan was created from 2010 to 2014 as a transition until the entitlement debuted nationwide: Anyone could sign up for heavily subsidized coverage if they were denied in the private market. Enrollment topped out at merely 115,000 people in 2013.

This debate is also distorted by a misunderstanding of health risks. The actuarial probability that a healthy person will become sick is already priced into premiums, meaning it is true insurance for unknown future health outcomes. People with pre-existing conditions don’t need insurance—they need help paying for expensive treatment that is already known.

High-risk pools are a fairer and more equitable solution to this social problem, rather than hiding the cost by forcing other people to pay premiums that are artificially higher than the value of the product. The waivers also include protections for people who renew continuous coverage from major premium increases if they become ill.

Liberals are inflating the pre-existing conditions panic with images of patients pushed out to sea on ice floes, but the GOP plan will ensure everyone can get the care they need. Republicans can win this argument, but first they need to join the debate and explain their ideas.
It would help if Trump could explain this and say more than that people with pre-existing conditions will be covered "beautifully." He's going to be the one that people see on TV talking about the proposal and it would be nice if he could understand and explain it a little more clearly. Otherwise, the Republicans will be at the mercy of Democrats' talking points.

Tools and Home Improvement

Today’s Deals

Fashion Sales and Deals

Part of Trump's tax reform will hit the wealthy the hardest. Don't expect to hear critics mention this detail - perhaps because the wealthy who will be hit live in blue states.
Critics of President Trump have long suggested that his tax-reform plan would heavily benefit the rich. And indeed, the program that the Trump administration just unveiled does cut personal income-tax rates for everyone, including the top rate, which would drop to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. Trump’s plan would also slash the rate on business income that gets reported on individual tax returns to just 15 percent. Currently, that income is subject to tax rates as high as 39.6 percent.

But to help pay for these cuts, Trump’s plan imposes an expensive penalty on the wealthy. It would eliminate a set of deductions including, crucially, the deduction for state and local taxes, which currently generates as much as $100 billion a year in savings, largely for high-income taxpayers. Don’t expect to hear Trump’s critics in Congress praise the plan—many of them represent high-tax states whose wealthy residents largely benefit from the deduction. Eliminating it will only increase their tax pain and put further pressure on states like New York and California to reduce taxes.

The state and local deduction has long been a target of reformers because it complicates the tax code and represents a huge subsidy for upper-income earners in certain states, at the expense of everyone else. A Tax Foundation report recently estimated that 88 percent of the deduction’s benefit goes to taxpayers with $100,000 or more in income. The deduction also disproportionately benefits taxpayers in just six states—New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, and Pennsylvania. They rack up half the savings from the deduction.
That is the very reason why this provision will be hard to get through. But why should the rest of the country subsidize the high state taxes that blue states have chosen to charge? As Glenn Reynolds writes,
The National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein calls this "an offensive against blue states," but as Brad Todd replied on Twitter, “I think what you mean is it ends imbalanced federal subsidy for big government at the local level.”

I think that’s right. States should be able to set their own levels of taxing and spending, but I see no reason why a Walmart cashier in Tennessee (which has no state income tax and low property taxes) should be subsidizing a hedge fund mogul in New York or a studio executive in Hollywood. It’s fine if blue states want to have higher state and local tax rates, as they do, but they shouldn’t be encouraged to do so by federal tax giveaways. And it’s the urban, coastal areas that have done best over the past 25 years, so it seems time for them to pay their fair share now.

....But hey, paying taxes is patriotic. So I don’t expect to hear any complaints from blue-staters. Right?

Thomas Sowell writes in IBD
to fight back against the standard criticisms that any GOP-proposed tax cut will lead to reduced revenue and just help the rich.
One of the key arguments of those who oppose what they call "tax cuts for the rich" is that the Reagan administration tax cuts led to huge federal government deficits, contrary to "supply side economics" which said that lower tax rates would lead to higher tax revenues.

This reduces the whole issue to a question about facts — and the hard facts are available in many places, including a local public library or on the internet.

The hardest of these hard facts is that the revenues collected from federal income taxes during every year of the Reagan administration were higher than the revenues collected from federal income taxes during any year of any previous administration.

How can that be? Because tax rates and tax revenues are two different things. Tax rates and tax revenues can move in either the same direction or in opposite directions, depending on how the economy responds....

There were in fact rising deficits in the 1980s, but that was due to spending that outran even the rising tax revenues.

Congress does the spending, and there is no amount of money that Congress cannot outspend.

As for "the rich," higher-income taxpayers paid more — repeat, more tax revenues into the federal treasury under the lower tax rates than they had under the previous higher tax rates.

That happened not only during the Reagan administration, but also during the Coolidge administration and the Kennedy administration before Reagan, and under the G.W. Bush administration after Reagan. All these administrations cut tax rates and received higher tax revenues than before.

More than that, "the rich" not only paid higher total tax revenues after the so-called "tax cuts for the rich," they also paid a higher percentage of all tax revenues afterwards....

As a source more congenial to some, a front-page story in The New York Times on July 9, 2006 — during the Bush 43 administration — reported, "An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year." Expectations, of course, are in the eye of the beholder.

The NYT tsks-tsks at Obama
for making big money from a Wall Street firm for giving one speech. They thought he was above that sort of thing. They thought he'd be better than ... the Clintons. Turns out all that sanctimony was just covering up the usual hypocrisy from former presidents.

Deals in Jewelry - under $80

Deals and Coupons in Beauty

Luggage and Travel Deals

I guess as a teacher of American History, I should comment on Trump's comments praising Andrew Jackson.
I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?
If you read the whole interview, it sounds as if Trump listened to a tour guide when he toured Jackson's home and heard some stories about Jackson's marriage, the election of 1828 and Jackson's actions during the Nullification crisis. Jon Gabriel defends what Trump said as probably referring to Jackson's actions during the Nullification crisis. However, I would give a lot more credit to Henry Clay in resolving that crisis. While Jackson bragged that he would go down to South Carolina and "hang every leader" of the South Carolina nullification efforts, it was Clay who pushed through a compromise tariff that lowered the rates from the Tariff of Abominations. Jackson had asked Congress to push through legislation that became the Force Bill to allow him to send federal troops down to SC to enforce the law. Without Clay's new tariff, all Jackson would have had was the option of force. Jackson hated Clay, but it was Clay's leadership that resolved the issue peacefully.

However, that leaves open whether Jackson or Clay, if they had been alive in 1860-1861 could have resolved the secession crisis without war. I don't think any leader could. Recall that seven states had seceded before Lincoln even took office. They were not even waiting to see if his presidency threatened slavery as much as they feared it might. They couldn't accept the Republicans' opposition to spreading slavery in the territories which was the only position Lincoln and the GOP platform of 1860 said about slavery. In fact, both Lincoln and the platform explicitly respected the rights of states " to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively," but that wasn't enough for the South. After the Mexican War, with controversies arising over the status of slavery in the territories won in that war plus the Kansas-Nebraska Act which up-ended the Missouri Compromise which had banned slavery in territory north of Missouri's southern border in the Louisiana Purchase territory, there seemed to be no compromise left that could appease the Southerners. Jackson couldn't have stopped what was happening. It's a nice delusion or "What if?" question to think that either Jackson or Clay could have stopped it. Well, first of all there wouldn't have been a secession crisis if a slaveholder from Tennessee, as Jackson was, had been elected in 1860. And remember that Jackson's reaction in the 1832 crisis was to send federal troops to South Carolina. It was Lincoln's mere decision to send non-military supplies to Fort Sumter that kicked off the Civil War. His call for 75,000 troops after Fort Sumter led to four more states seceding. How would Jackson's desire to send troops to Sumter been any less likely to lead to war?

Perhaps, Trump would benefit from getting a tour of one of the historic sites devoted to Lincoln and then maybe he would learn to appreciate how Lincoln's leadership helped win the war. I just wish that he had had a better history class back in high school. Maybe he'd know more than what he seems to have picked up on a tour through Jackson's home.

Can you imagine if a mayor of a southern city and a chancellor of the schools had talked this way in the midst of a controversy about a rezoning proposal that would move a school on the Upper West Side that is 74% white and Asian and 9% low-income into a new building next to projects and a district that is 43% white and Asian and 48% poor?
The mayor has expressed support for school diversity, but he also has said the city must respect parents’ real-estate investments (a statement that at least one P.S. 452 parent repeated this week), while Chancellor Carmen FariƱa has warned against forcing integration “down people’s throats.”
What can De Blasio's quote about respecting parents' real-estate investments mean other than rich families spent a lot of money to be in a tony Upper West Side neighborhood and send their kids to the local school there and now don't want to have to send them farther away to a neighborhood that is more diverse both racially and by class? Given that New York City, while very diverse in the aggregate also has some of the most segregated schools in the country, the debates over a move that would serve to integrate the selected school is quite a flashpoint. These wealthy parents, probably almost all liberals, suddenly find themselves having to deny that their opposition is anything about race and all about not wanting to have their kids go to a school about 16 blocks away. Upper West Side, welcome to the entire history of integration in the country. Ironically, one of the parents speaking up at a community meeting is Jason Jones, the husband of Samantha Bee.
One P.S. 452 parent speaking out against the move is comedian and former Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, who’s married to Samantha Bee. "To portray any opposition as classist or racist is as bad as it can get," Jones told WNYC. And elsewhere: "We are not divided,” he said at a public hearing about the proposal, “we are absolutely united in wanting what's best for our children," then encouraged fellow parents not to talk to the press about the controversy.
Jason Jones used to be a mock correspondent on the Daily Show. As WNYC writes,
"So I urge you A, to stop talking to the press," he continued. "This is a private matter, I think, from our community. This story doesn't exist without your quotes."

Jones would know a thing or two about using quotes. His segments on "The Daily Show" often skewered regular folks and politicians by catching them making hypocritical statements, especially when the subject was gay marriage or defenders of the Washington Redskins' team name.

Jones complained about another quote by a parent who suggested their high-performing school would change if it moved near the housing project. He said that showed little respect for the teachers.

"So just be mindful of when you speak, if you're going to speak to the press, because slandering or saying anything negative about this teaching staff is wrong," he added. "Conversely, painting any opposition as classist or racist is about as bad as it can get."
Gee, how many times has the media portrayed as racist anyone who argued against some policy proposal that touched on race? And given that The Daily Show made its bread and butter at interviewing ordinary people and making them look stupid, it is truly funny to have this comedian suddenly worried about being falsely portrayed in the media.