Thursday, February 08, 2018

Cruising the Web

Charles C. W. Cooke responds to NBC's Katy Tur series of tweets making fun of people at an Ohio event with Trump in which several people talked about what they want to spend the extra $1000 they're getting from the tax bill. One woman said she was going to buy a home and help pay for her two kids who are going to college. Katy Tur tweeted pointing out how much a house costs in that county and how much college costs. Another person said he would use it to start a family and Tur tweeted how much it costs to raise a child. This is all very stupid and elitists. As Cooke asks, why are we sniffing at $1000? Obviously, these individuals didn't think that they could fund all the costs in buying a house or raising a child. They look to the money to help them on their way to reach their goals.
One wonders at what point it became controversial to see extra money as a good thing. Back in 2011/12, when President Obama was touting his payroll tax-cut, the White House put up a whole website dedicated to explaining “What $40 means to Americans across the country.” The page is absolutely brimming with examples of the difference that extra money made. Oddly enough, I don’t remember much pushback against this. Assuming fortnightly paychecks, that $40 cut amounted to $1,040 per family per year, which gives us an almost identical figure to the one being touted by the attendees at Trump’s event. Is money somehow more valuable when Barack Obama is involved in its delivery?

As with the payroll-tax cut, there have been some reasonable criticisms of the Republicans’ tax bill. Indeed, I have advanced some of them myself. One could argue, for example, that it is highly inefficient for an already-indebted federal government to borrow up to $1.5 trillion later in order to finance tax cuts and bonuses now. One could argue, too, that as a mechanism for funneling more money to those in need, the Republicans’ plan was lacking. But neither of these is the argument Tur is making. Really, her response is akin to telling a ten-year-old who plans to put the $20 he got for Christmas toward an electric guitar that “guitars cost much more than that, dummy.” Indeed they do. And that says what exactly about the value of saving over time?

Tur’s examples are peculiar. Most people do not buy homes outright, and, indeed, most people find collecting the down payment, not the monthly payments, the most challenging part of buying property. At the moment, the average down payment on a home is between 8 and 11 percent, depending on the buyer’s age. As such, a home worth $277,582 would require a down payment of between $22,000 and $30,000, and monthly payments of around $1,200. Of course a sudden $1,000 bonus (plus an ongoing tax cut) will help here — not least for those who are close to having saved enough, but who are not quite there yet.
Cooke applies the same remorseless logic to the medical costs in birth of a child or saving for a college education.
The same is true of medical bills. If Tur is correct to predict that the “gentleman” who wanted to “start a family” would end up paying $5,836 for a birth, then the bonus he’s received will cover up to 17 percent of that (taxes depending) — a not inconsiderable amount. Moreover, in the event that he can’t afford the expense all at once (an awful lot of people pay medical bills over time), that $1,000 will help his cashflow to no end. I am struggling to imagine Tur exhibiting the same reaction if, for example, a Democratic Congress had voted to subsidize every birth with $1,000 in parent-directed cash. Why is that?

As for college, the cost of which Tur puts at between $19,000 and $35,000 (presumably per year), it is hard to ascertain what she’s complaining about. Assuming that a parent saved an equal amount for each child in each of his pre-college years, $1,000 represents a whole year’s saving for a year at public college, and half a year’s saving for a year at private college. In anyone’s terms, that’s a lot of money, especially when one factors in that a) as a result of financial aid, most Americans do not pay anything close to Tur’s numbers, and b) that 41 percent of those saving for college use 529 accounts that grow over time, tax-free.
Is this really the argument that Democrats want to carry into the election - that $1000 is just crumbs?
It has been enormously strange to watch the critics of this tax bill shift away from the strongest available arguments, and imply instead that money doesn’t matter much after all. It’ll be worth remembering this attitude next time a tiny cut to an obscure program is cast as the end of the Republic.

I can well believe that Republicans were cheering Nancy Pelosi's long speech on the House floor on DACA. Anything that makes her the face of the Democratic Party helps Republicans.

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538 has a great chart of the frequency and duration of continuing resolutions used to keep the government open when the Congress can't do their job and pass a dang budget.Notice how they're much better at passing a budget during a presidential election year? And the midterm election years definitely have fewer CRs and lengthy periods without a budget than in odd-number years. That's rather telling and it perhaps explains why Schumer and McConnell were able to come to an agreement on this year's budget.

And using a continuing resolution instead of a budget does have consequences.
This is an old dance for legislators — there have been an average of 4.6 continuing resolutions per fiscal year since 1977. But keeping the government open for a few weeks at a time has its costs. A new study by the Government Accountability Office describes how these temporary deals create inefficiencies in contracting, hiring and clinical research. And when the government does shut down, the productivity losses can add up. The Bureau of Economic analysis estimated that the growth of the country’s gross domestic product was slowed by 0.3 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2013 as a result of that year’s shutdown. Setting spending levels for the next two years might open up space for more compromise on next year’s appropriations bills because a breakdown in negotiations won’t result in a government shutdown. Or the longer-term bill might just free lawmakers from the pressure of being in Washington next October — right before the midterm elections.

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Byron York wonders why we should consider the FBI sacrosanct from criticism - especially when the criticism goes to the top of the FBI, not the rank and file.
For all the good it does, the FBI has made some horrendous mistakes. After the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, for example, the bureau focused its search for the perpetrator on an Army scientist named Steven Hatfill. There was a lot of pressure on the FBI to solve the case, and there was a lot of headquarters involvement.

But Hatfill was innocent. Nevertheless, the FBI chased him relentlessly, destroying his reputation and ability to make a living. Only after years did the FBI turn toward another suspect, who killed himself before charges could be filed. The FBI had to pay Hatfill millions in damages.

The bureau, led by then-director Robert Mueller, didn't seem terribly sorry about it. When the Justice Department "formally exonerated Hatfill, and paid him $5.82 million in a legal settlement," columnist Carl Cannon wrote last year, "Mueller could not be bothered to walk across the street to attend the press conference announcing the case's resolution. When reporters did ask him about it, Mueller was graceless. 'I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation,' he said, adding that it would be erroneous 'to say there were mistakes.'"

Today Mueller is, of course, the special counsel investigating the Trump-Russia affair. But one could list a number of other nonheroic episodes under different directors in the bureau's history, starting with the first, J. Edgar Hoover.

So the FBI has deserved its share of criticism over the years. And that goes double when the bureau intrudes into politics. So no, Republicans are not attacking the FBI writ large. But when the nation's premier investigative agency, with all its formidable law enforcement powers, jumps in the middle of hot political disputes, no one should be surprised when things get political.

This story about the Trump aide, Rob Porter, who had abused both his wives is quite distressing. You just look at those pictures and wonder what kind of administration keeps this guy on. Reportedly it was General Kelly who liked the guy and wanted him to stay. You know, if the FBI can't give the guy clearance, that should be a red flag. The fact that it wasn't and that the administration knew for a couple of months about these allegations against him demonstrate once more the callousness with which some of this administration regard treatment of women. Firing the guy should have been an absolute no-brainer. Did they really think this wouldn't come out?

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Cathy Young has a pretty persuasive essay on why she believes that Woody Allen is innocent of the allegations that he molested his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. I remember reading through this at the time the allegations surfaced and not believing them and she has some additional evidence to add to her case. I don't find it unbelievable that Mia Farrow would have coached a seven-year-old child into alleging that her stepfather had molested her when they were in the middle of a very acrimonious divorce and custody hearing. I know someone whose wife did a very similar thing when they were getting a divorce and it totally ruined any hope he had of a continuing relationship with his daughter. I never believed the allegations against him so that gave me a foundation for being skeptical of a questionable allegation against Allen. It doesn't mean I condone his relationship with his wife's adopted 21-year-old daughter, but on action doesn't imply the other. Young concludes,
Some see see Allen’s public immolation as belated justice; in this version, the avenging angel is Allen’s estranged son, Ronan Farrow, the journalist who played a pivotal role in taking down Harvey Weinstein.

But from another point of view — the one that I think is correct — Allen’s predicament validates concerns about the #MeToo movement that Allen himself ironically expressed early in the Weinstein scandal: that the national reckoning on sexual abuse could easily become a witch-hunt....

There’s a big difference between criticism and calls for ostracism. If every artist who has ever behaved selfishly and hurt others, or whose work can be branded “problematic,” is to be banished to pariah status, not many people will be left standing—male or female.

People have every right to be deeply troubled by Dylan Farrow’s account and to conclude for themselves that Allen is probably guilty. They can also sympathize with Dylan (and with Moses Farrow) but conclude that Allen, whatever his faults, did not sexually abuse anyone.

Yet in the current climate, denouncing Allen is less a moral choice than a result of intense social pressure, and those who defend him, from Keaton to Alec Baldwin, are themselves being attacked as thought criminals.

This is not justice; it is mob mentality. And it’s the future of the #MeToo movement if it doesn’t correct its course.

This is an amazing photo - I've never seen it before. We just covered the election of 1912 in my American history class. My kids will love this.

UPDATE: Sadly, a reader informs me that this picture is a fake. Even in 1912, before photoshop, people were manipulating images. What a disappointment. I was just about to show my students that photo in class today. Darn.