Monday, December 18, 2017

Cruising the Web

Yeah, I don't think this is a successful message for the Democrats in criticizing the GOP tax plan.I don't think complaining that the plan doesn't have enough in it for people buying homes that cost three-quarters of a million dollars in California counties where their economic policies have driven up the price of homes is going to resonate in many places outside of Feinstein's constituencies.

Here's an interactive calculator to figure out if your taxes will go up or down with the new tax bill.

The WSJ notes how remarkable it is that not a single Democrat was willing to work with the GOP to influence the final bill that came out in contrast to previous tax reforms.
A little history shows how remarkable this is. The Kennedy marginal tax-rate cuts were pushed by White House economist Walter Heller and powered the economic expansion for another half-decade. In the 1981 tax debate, William Brodhead of Michigan and other Ways and Means Democrats offered an amendment that cut the top rate on investment income to 50% from 70% in the first year.

The 1986 tax reform was driven as much by Democrats as by Ronald Reagan. Dick Gephardt and Dan Rostenkowski helped move it through the House, and Bill Bradley was a leading architect in the Senate. Thirty-three Democrats voted for the bill that passed the Senate 74-23 and cut the top marginal income tax rate to 28%.

Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1993, but after his re-election he compromised with Newt Gingrich in 1997 to cut the capital-gains tax rate to 20% from 28%. That drove investment and growth through the rest of the decade. Even as recently as 2001, a dozen Democrats in the Senate and 28 in the House compromised with George W. Bush to cut the top income-tax rate to 35%.

Yet this year not a single Senate Democrat seems willing to vote to cut the top rate a mere 2.6-percentage points to 37% or reform a corporate tax code that Democrats have long recognized is anti-competitive. Had they engaged with Republicans to provide 60 votes, they surely could have influenced the bill.
If some Democrats had engaged they could have changed provisions they don't like.
They might have saved most of the state-and-local tax deduction that helps Democratic states keep taxes high. Now Democrats in New Jersey and California are left to moan that perhaps they’ll have to stop raising taxes on high-earners. Or perhaps Democrats could also have proposed eliminating the corporate tax in return for a long-time progressive priority like a carbon tax. Instead they chose total resistance, and policy irrelevance.
Part of the problem is that there are perhaps only one or two moderate Democrats left in the Senate. So even a Joe Manchin of West Virginia facing reelection in such a red state wasn't willing to cooperate. The party preferred to argue about income inequality even though the great majority of people will get a tax cut out of this bill and Obama himself had talked about the necessity of cutting the corporate rate. But a great deal of it is that the Democrats prefer to be the the #Resistance. And they're going to ride that horse into the 2018 elections. And this refusal to go along with tax reform is different from the Republicans who refused to vote for the 2009 stimulus or Obamacare. First of all, there were Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe who were willing to work on health care reform but their proposals were rejected since the Democrats had 60 votes. And these were not bills that the Republicans agreed with in the first place. And Snowe, Collins, and Arlen Specter did vote for the 2009 stimulus.
Perhaps that bet will pay off, but then they are also betting that tax reform will fail to increase growth and wages. If it does succeed in spurring the economy, they will have had no stake in that success. Republicans will surely point that out, especially if the popularity of the tax bill rises once voters see the results in higher after-tax income.

Whatever the political results next year, this Democratic left turn isn’t good for the country. The U.S. has historically prospered when there is a growth wing in both major political parties. A Democratic growth wing is all the more important because the GOP is developing an income-redistribution wing led by Florida Senator Marco Rubio that has watered down the growth elements of this tax reform and almost scuttled it.

After the slowest expansion in decades and tepid wage growth, Americans should want this tax reform to succeed and it’s a shame Democrats are rooting for failure.

The Democratic Party is contemplating
changing their nomination process. Some of the recommendations is to cut out about 60% of the superdelegates and to require absentee voting at presidential caucuses as well as automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. This is all to appease the Sanders folks who felt that Hillary Clinton benefitted by having all those superdelegates in her pocket. The purpose of the superdelegates is to block a weak candidate taking the nomination when the party leaders didn't like him. It came close to being necessary for Democratic Party leaders to use their clout to block a Sanders' victory and assure Clinton the nomination in 2016. In 2008 we had to wait until near the end of the nomination battle to find out if it was going to come down between Obama's victories in primaries and caucuses versus Clinton's support from the superdelegates. I remember telling my students at the time that the superdelegates were never going to vote contrary to how their constituents had voted in the primaries to deny him the nomination. And sure enough, as Obama won more contests, we saw more and more superdelegates who had committed to Clinton switching over to Obama until he was over the top. So if the superdelegates don't really fulfill their purpose, why have them serving as an irritant when voters are choosing someone else. Of course, with so many possible candidates in 2020, the party leaders might wish that they could keep some sort of control.

Changing the rules for caucuses to allow absentee voting really changes the entire nature of caucuses. The whole charm of a caucus is that the voters have to be dedicated enough to come out and spend a couple of hours talking about the candidates on a snowy evening. And if someone has to work in the evening or can't get a babysitter or just doesn't want to risk traveling on an icy night, tough luck. ONnly those most dedicated to voting get to participate. Those are the voters who tend to be more ideologically extreme and that has an effect on who wins. Having the first contest be a caucus in Iowa has had an impact on which candidates are more successful. x That's why I have never liked caucuses. If people can fill out an absentee ballot, what would be the point of showing up in person? It would eventually end caucuses altogether. I don't see why that would be such a terrible outcome even though there is something rather endearing at seeing those Iowans coming out to talk politics and voting.

How stupid is this?
The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.
Does it really make a difference what words are used? It's the meaning behind the words that are important. It was stupid when the Obama administration thought they could reduce terrorism if they just changed the words. Here's a story from June, 2016.
The Department of Homeland Security has proposed banning "religiously charged" words like "jihad" within the department in the hopes of preventing people being attracted to violent extremist groups like the Islamic State.

A June 2016 report produced by the Countering Violent Extremism Subcommittee states the best way to prevent an "us vs. them" mentality is to "reject religiously charged terminology and problematic positioning by using plain-meaning American English."

Department members are asked to use the term "American Muslim" rather than "Muslim American" and "Muslim communities" rather than "Muslim world" to encourage feelings of inclusivity. In addition, DHS is recommending that terms like "jihad," which translates to holy war, and "sharia law," which refers to Islamic law, should be abandoned in favor of less religiously charged language.

The recommendations are part of the Department of Homeland Security's $100 million "attempt to protect our nation's young people from extremists who prey upon the millennial generation," according to the report.
Back in 2010, the Obama administration was banning terms like jihad and Islamic radicalism from official documents. Banning terms didn't change reality back then. And banning to word "fetus" just makes things difficult in medical terms when talking about dangers to a pregnant woman and her child.

All of it seems just too Orwellian. Why give critics the opportunity to make that comparison.

UPDATE: HHS is denying the Washington Post story about their banning words. I wonder if the story was totally fake or they changed their minds once they faced the ridicule. The GOP needs to do as much as possible to get the message out to people. My recommendation would be to run ads with typical taxpayers explaining what the changes mean for them.

James Downie writes in the Washington Post that, once the Democrats have pushed Al Franken out, they should also get rid of Robert Menendez. Downie reviews the evidence against Menendez.
In 2015, federal prosecutors indicted Menendez and his longtime friend and donor Salomon Melgen on corruption charges. According to the indictment, Menendez pressured executive branch officials to resolve disputes in Melgen’s favor. At the same time, Melgen and his family donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, and Melgen supplied all-expenses-paid vacations for Menendez to Melgen’s vacation home in the Dominican Republic. (In 2013, Menendez paid Melgen $58,000 to cover flight costs after media reports revealed some of the flights.)

Some of the alleged favors for Melgen were relatively small potatoes, such as securing visas for Melgen’s girlfriends. In one case, Menendez’s then-chief of staff wrote that the visas were approved “only due to the fact that R.M. intervened.” Other favors were far bigger. He asked the State Department to assist Melgen in a dispute over a $500 million contact with the Dominican government. The New Jersey senator also allegedly pressured the Department of Health and Human Services to resolve a $9 million billing dispute in Melgen’s favor. In testimony, then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described an “unusual” meeting with Menendez and Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). “I understood he wanted me to do something,” she said. (It should be noted that Melgen has been convicted of 67 charges of Medicare fraud. Prosecutors estimate that the doctor’s scheme swindled the government out of as much as $105 million.) In no way is this conduct becoming of a senator.
Yes, the jury deadlocked, but part of that was because of Supreme Court rulings on corruption.
Where trading money for access was once considered sufficient for corruption charges, now the justices have narrowed it to specific cases of quid pro quo.
But the party doesn't have to use a legal standard for what is acceptable behavior.
But the political sphere is not the legal sphere, and no party should be content with a standard of “not illegal.” Since the trial, the Senate Ethics Committee has resumed its enquiry into Menendez; many Democrats likely would prefer for that to run its course. But it is highly unlikely that new information for or against the senator will come out. With Capitol Hill Democrats rightly criticizing numerous instances of corruption in the Trump administration, it’s not much to ask that they stand up against similar cases in their own caucus. And it would show voters that Democrats aren’t satisfied with the Supreme Court’s narrow version of corruption. In a political climate in which voters on both sides are convinced that Washington is corrupt, this is a chance for Democrats to distinguish themselves as a party with standards.
And it could be a freebie for the Democrats given that there will now be a Democratic governor in New Jersey. They can wait until the new Democratic governor is sworn in and then pressure Menendez to leave. Of course, Menendez sounded feisty after the jury deadlocked so maybe they won't be able to get him to leave voluntarily.

The New York Times has a harrowing story
about how many people in Venezuela are starving to death.
Hunger has stalked Venezuela for years. Now, it is killing the nation’s children at an alarming rate, doctors in the country’s public hospitals say.

Venezuela has been shuddering since its economy began to collapse in 2014. Riots and protests over the lack of affordable food, excruciating long lines for basic provisions, soldiers posted outside bakeries and angry crowds ransacking grocery stores have rattled cities, providing a telling, public display of the depths of the crisis.

But deaths from malnutrition have remained a closely guarded secret by the Venezuelan government. In a five-month investigation by The New York Times, doctors at 21 public hospitals in 17 states across the country said that their emergency rooms were being overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition — a condition they had rarely encountered before the economic crisis began.

“Children are arriving with very precarious conditions of malnutrition,” said Dr. HunĂ­ades Urbina Medina, the president of the Venezuelan Society of Childcare and Pediatrics. He added that doctors were even seeing the kind of extreme malnutrition often found in refugee camps — cases that were highly unusual in oil-rich Venezuela before its economy fell to pieces.

For many low-income families, the crisis has completely redrawn the social landscape. Parents like Kenyerber’s mother go days without eating, shriveling to the weight of children themselves. Women line up at sterilization clinics to avoid having children they can’t feed. Young boys leave home and join street gangs to scavenge for scraps, their bodies bearing the scars of knife fights with competitors. Crowds of adults storm Dumpsters after restaurants close. Babies die because it is hard to find or afford infant formula, even in emergency rooms.
All this in a country that should be wealthy. Instead we have severe hyperinflation and shortages of everything leading to suffering from malnutrition. The Times gently refers to "economic mismanagement."
Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. But many economists contend that years of economic mismanagement set the stage for the current disaster. The damage was masked when oil prices were high, giving the government large resources. But when oil prices began a steep fall at the end of 2014, scarcities became common and food prices skyrocketed. Inflation could reach 2,300 percent next year, the International Monetary Fund warned in October.
I think by "mismanagement" they really mean socialist policies of a kleptocracy. Remember this was the country much admired as a model for the rest of the world by people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.
Just a few years ago, western liberals praised Venezuelan socialism as a template for all of humanity.

They lauded former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a man of vision and moral greatness.

In 2013, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's official opposition Labour Party, was clear. "We salute Chavez and the people of Venezuela for turning the clock of history full circle... I look forward to the development of Venezuela, the efficiency of Venezuela, in providing good services and decency for all the people of that country."

At that same event, Corbyn's director of strategy, Seumas Milne, had a 13-minute orgasm describing Venezuela's "powerful lessons for the politics of the future for us all."

In 2011, Bernie Sanders explained that "These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina..."

On Chavez's death in 2013, leftist filmmaker Oliver Stone remarked, "I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people."
Of course, the media never ask these politicians what they have to say now as the country they thought would be the country to show the rest of the world how a country should be governed. Does Bernie still think Venezuela is the country where the American dream is most likely to be realized? And why won't the NYT call the problems in Venezuela as what it really is instead of the delicate "economic mismanagement" label?

Though the NYT does acknowledge that the Socialist government has used food as a political weapon.
The Venezuelan government has used food to keep the Socialists in power, critics say. Before recent elections, people living in government housing projects said they were visited by representatives of their local Socialist community councils — the government-aligned groups that organize the delivery of boxes of cheap food — and threatened with being cut off if they did not vote for the government.
That's one way to stay in power - starve people and then hold out the threat of cutting off all food if they don't vote for the government. Stalin would approve.

So now we learn about MSNBC having paid off an employee based on a sexual harassment claim against Chris Matthews. Cue all the tingle-up-the-leg jokes. Iowa Hawk David Burge has an idea for a new TV show.

The Matthews story at least involves a payout that the company made in response to a woman's complaint at the time. However, as Claire Berlinski points out, there are real dangers now in allowing a woman's charge against what a man did years ago to be allowed to destroy a man's career. Yes, a lot of these men sound like gross predators and deserve the shame that has been heaped on them and to lose their jobs. But we also run a risk of conflating all sorts of charges together to the point that men will be afraid to talk to women in the workplace. And the end result will actually harm women and their abilities to advance in the workplace if men worry about talking with them or working alone with them.
. The punishment for sexual harassment is so grave that clearly this crime — like any other serious crime — requires an unambiguous definition.

We have nothing of the sort. Some of the charges sound deadly serious. But others make no sense. Some have been accused of offenses that aren’t offensive, or offenses that are only mildly so.

The things men and women naturally do — flirt, play, lewdly joke, desire, seduce, tease — now become harassment only by virtue of the words that follow the description of the act, one of the generic form: “I froze. I was terrified.” It doesn’t matter how the man felt about it. The onus to understand the interaction and its emotional subtleties falls entirely on him. But why? Perhaps she should have understood his behavior to be harmless — clumsy, sweet but misdirected, maladroit, or tacky — but lacking in malice sufficient to cost him such arduous punishment?

Do not mistake me for a rape apologist. Harvey Weinstein stands credibly accused of rape. No civilized society tolerates rape.

No woman in her right mind would say, “I want the old world back.” We know what that meant for women. But perhaps, instead, we are fantasizing that the old world has come back, rather than confronting something a great deal more frightening: We are the grown-ups now. We are in charge.

Maybe it doesn’t matter where the sources of the present moral panic lie. But could we at least get enough of a grip to realize that it is a moral panic — and knock it off? Women, I’m begging you: Please.
People freaked out when they heard of Mike Pence's refusal to eat dinner with a woman alone and fretted about how that might damage a woman's opportunities to advance while working with him. I never saw that as such a big deal, but what if it were extended to meeting alone with a woman to work on a project or write a report together? I know that, as a teacher, we've been warned to never meet alone with a student with the door closed even if we're talking about personal matters. I've been warned, even as a middle-aged woman, that when I come back from Quiz Bowl trips and I'm waiting alone with a student for his parents to pick him up that I can't sit on the same bench with him in case his parents get the wrong idea. It's creepy and stupid, but such is the world we live in with accusations and lawsuits. And this will now spread to women in the workforce. How many times will an employer decide that it is just not worth it to hire a woman and risk that either someone will harass her or that she'll make accusations of someone harassing her.

We were told a few years ago that there was no problem about having females in the military and that they could go out on combat missions with men and sleep in tents or on submarines with them and nothing untoward would happen. How does that blithe assurance match up now with the moral panic we're experiencing?

So one guy has applied sabermetrics to military history to try to figure out who was the best general in history.
I adopted WAR (wins above replacement) to estimate a given military tactician’s contributions beyond or below an average general. My model, which I explain below, provides an estimate for the performance of an average general in any given circumstances. I can then evaluate a general’s quality based on how much they exceeded or fell short of a replacement general in the same circumstances (assuming a replacement general would perform at an average level). In other words, I would find the generals’ WAR, in war.
Not to spoil the research, but Napoleon comes out in first place. He does well because he fought so many battles and won so many of them. There are some weaknesses with his methodology since he's pulling the data from Wikipedia.

Here's some news you can use: 16 common foods you're probably mispronouncing.