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Crappy Tax Day!

April 16th, 2014 - 7:14 am

Virginia Postrel got hit with a big tax bill after receiving a late payment from her publisher last year, which wouldn’t have happened under the old income averaging rule:

The tax system has gotten more complex and progressive in recent years, making the arbitrary distinction between this year’s income and last year’s all the more unfair. (Year-to-year fluctuations don’t make a significant tax difference for the relatively few people who are always taxed at the top rate.)

One special class of people still gets to escape the tyranny of the tax calendar. In 1997, Congress restored income averaging for farmers and ranchers. It’s even more galling to be taxed extra for Simon & Schuster’s slow payment knowing that if I were growing corn instead of writing books I’d be able to offset the good years against the bad ones.

The problem is that writers aren’t one of Washington’s favored classes — although given that so many of them display such a slavish devotion to the White House, you’d think they were.

4833629691

Bunches of them from PBS, with a hat tip to Jim D.

Blood Moon Rising

April 16th, 2014 - 5:09 am

Getting personal with the Trifecta guys and a cosmic event or four.

Tax THIS!

April 15th, 2014 - 2:45 pm

Speaking of new taxes, Jonathan Cohn can’t get enough:

Naturally, there are arguments to be had over how high taxes should go, exactly who should pay more, and what form those levies should take. Personally, I’d opt for some combination of taxes on wealth and taxes on carbon, figuring it’d be good to fight inequality and stop global warming. And while taxes should go up for most people, they should be a little lower for some of the working poor.

Gosh, it’s nice of Cohn to admit there are two sides to the argument — whether taxes should go higher or whether they should go much higher. (Think I’m kidding? Re-read the first sentence in the graf above.) What I find most interesting however comes earlier in the piece, among the reasons Cohn loves his higher taxes:

Sometimes, of course, your tax dollars pay for supports and services you won’t use. And you might resent that. But even taxes that pay for someone else’s benefits can benefit you. Why does the U.S. not have the massive underclass that characterizes many third-world countries—or the incipient danger of violent upheaval that accompanies it? The safety net your taxes purchased, tattered as it is, buys a degree of social harmony, too.

Taxes are how we pay poor ethnic people not to riot in nice neighborhoods like Cohn’s.

Charming.

First up we have Brookings’ Douglas J. Elliott for the Nays:

It is difficult to go a day without reading scary headlines about China’s economy. The reality is that it is going through major adjustments, and has some serious structural flaws, but that its even greater strengths will almost certainly prevent economic calamity…

One does not have to dig far in China to find examples of serious over-investment. Much of it represents the building of infrastructure now that is not really needed until well in the future, such as many of the high-speed train lines. These projects are often justified by the fact that they will eventually be put to good use, but in the meantime represent “dead money” that could be channeled into much more profitable uses. Other investments are just vainglorious or foolish and will never be worth much. Lower levels of total investment would tend to be considerably more efficient, because it is easier to get funding for smart projects than silly ones.

There are also real limits to the sustainability of large trade surpluses in a world where all nations are looking to increase exports, and the sheer size of China’s economy has grown to the level where other nations will not long accept such an approach.

I can’t say that I’m moved all that much by an argument that relies on the wisdom of leaders who got China building ghost cities and an unsustainable export model. And while they might have guided China to soft landings after the last two bubbles, that’s no guarantee of future success. Besides, the nature of bubble economies is that each bubble must grow bigger than the last one (paging Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen), so that the “wise” leaders can mask the failures of the previous bubble.

On the other hand, China does have five trillion dollars in the bank, and that’s enough money to paper over a lot of economic trouble.

But is it enough to hide a real estate collapse? That’s Gordon Chang’s fear:

Nothing is going right for Hangzhou at this moment. Walmart will be closing its Zhaohui store in that city on April 23 as a part of its overall plan to dump marginal locations—about 9% of the total—in China.

Thanks to the world’s largest retailer, another large block of space in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, will go on the market at a time when there is generally too much supply. The problem is especially pronounced in the city’s premium office market. Hangzhou’s Grade A office buildings at the end of 2013 had, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, an average occupancy rate of 30%.

The real weakness, however, is Hangzhou’s residential sector. The cause is simple: massive overbuilding. Sara Hsu of the State University of New York at New Paltz writes that Hangzhou faces “burgeoning swaths of empty apartment units.”

It’s true that Chang has successfully predicted (if memory serves) three of the last zero economic collapses in China. He made his name around the turn of the century predicting a banking collapse — and I still have that book on my shelf although I can’t remember the last time I was tempted to pick it up.

That’s a mighty big bubble for Beijing to re-inflate, and the fact remains that every inflation simply masks the fact that the underlying value is not there.

So Chang has been wrong before. And he might be wrong this time. But the day of reckoning — the reconciliation of China’s asset prices to their actual value — must come eventually.

And that bell tolls for Washington every bit as loudly as it tolls for Beijing.

Back to the Future!

April 15th, 2014 - 12:37 pm

HIKER

I’m sure he’ll break 500 before it’s all over.

One of my all-time favorite Top Ten lists from the old Letterman “Late Night” show on NBC was from November of 1988. And yes, I can still recite probably half of “Top Ten Michael Dukakis Excuses.”

Dang, but that makes it seem like a long time since Letterman was irreverent and biting and funny.

Anyway.

One item on the list was, “Ill-advised pledge to ‘tax you bastards back to the Stone Age.’”

Today, instead of sending such an idiot back to his well-earned obscurity, we elect him.

Twice.

Two Out at GM Over Recall Issue

April 15th, 2014 - 11:32 am

The bloodletting begins:

In the first major shake-up of General Motors’ senior management since the company announced a wide-ranging recall in February, its chief spokesman and head Washington adviser, and its top human resources executive have left the company.

Selim Bingol, G.M.’s senior vice president for global communications and public policy, was part of the inner circle of Mary T. Barra, the automaker’s chief executive, handling strategy and the public response to the recall of nearly 2.6 million cars. The company announced his departure on Monday, along with that of Melissa Howell, senior vice president for global human resources. It did not say whether Mr. Bingol or Ms. Howell had resigned or if they were dismissed.

The departures are the first major executive changes under Ms. Barra, who took over in January.

Ford Motor Company could not be reached for gleeful comment.

Excuse me. There’s something in my eye and my allergies are acting up and I still haven’t gotten over that sinus infection.

That’s my story and I’m sniffing to it.

Czech-Raise in the Ukraine War

April 15th, 2014 - 9:22 am

Before Russia annexed Crimea, I wondered out loud how long it would take Moscow to digest its new-old territory. So far, the answer looks to be “not very long at all.” But Robert Beckhusen wonders if eastern Ukraine might prove rougher stuff:

There’s no doubt the Russian military has the means to invade mainland Ukraine. But whether it can hold conquered territory is another question—especially if Kiev puts up a fight.

That’s the conclusion of the Swedish Defense Research Agency, Stockholm’s government-funded military think tank.

The agency—known as FOI—doesn’t doubt that Russia can invade. But it does question whether Moscow has the ability to secure territory in mainland Ukraine, given the potential size of the area Russia would need to secure—and absent the natural defensive barriers of Crimea, which Moscow annexed in March.

Unlike Crimea, eastern Ukraine would be hard for an occupying force to defend. Russian troops could find it difficult to prevent insurgents from infiltrating their lines.

Crimea is nearly three-quarters ethnic Russian, but the bits of Ukraine Moscow now seems to be angling for are only about a third- to half-Russian. And that’s the easy part.

It’s easy to separate Crimea from the rest of Ukraine, but it already mostly is separated — connected to the mainland only by a narrow isthmus. Ukraine proper? Not so easy. The reason that part of the world is such an ethnic mishmash of ever-changing borders is there just aren’t many good places to draw any borders, and even if you did, it’s all-too-easy for people to move across them. What little ethnic homogeneity enjoyed by Central and Eastern Europe was “thanks” to Stalin’s brutality. He drew the borders he wanted, then moved the populations around to match. But Stalin never bothered to do that internally in the Soviet Union. Quite the opposite — Stalin re-settled ethnic Russians into Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic Republics in an effort to Russify them. That’s one reason there’s so much border friction between the old member states of the USSR.

So now Putin looks to re-take Ukraine’s Russian areas Russified by Stalin. But that struggle cuts both ways, for the reasons (and methods) given by Beckhusen.

Then again, Putin made his name putting down the Chechens, in a campaign even more brutal than it was effective.

We might be looking at a generation(s)-long struggle to find borders Eastern Europe can live with.

Required Viewing

April 15th, 2014 - 8:17 am

Bill Whittle’s Afterburner is especially good this week.

Sign “O” the Times

April 15th, 2014 - 7:12 am

Forget concrete actions — we still haven’t exhausted all of our diplomatic photo ops:

Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan visited Kiev at the weekend, the White House said Monday, amid US ire over the storming of official buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian gunmen.

“We can confirm that the director was in Kiev this weekend,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Brennan’s visit was part of a routine trip to Europe, and any claims that it was anything other than that by Russia were “absurd,” he added.

The kind of thing the CIA might prove useful at doing in Ukraine doesn’t exactly require the Director’s presence. It could be argued I suppose that the White House is attempting to “send a message” to the Kremlin, but it’s going to take something more serious than a furtive visit by Brennan to un-send the message sent by last year’s Red Line Debacle.

News You Can Use

April 15th, 2014 - 6:07 am

ICP BOOTY

For the man who has everything:

Fans of the rap duo Insane Clown Posse – aka juggalos – can add another cult-like initiative to their list, with reports of the release of a new, bitcoin-like cryptocurrency. According to juggalocoin.org, the currency is designed for the group’s substantial Juggalo community, and is available to purchase now.

Accepted wherever finer 40 ounces are sold.

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 15th, 2014 - 5:02 am

Barack Obama, Kathleen Sebelius

Today’s ♡FOD comes courtesy of Faceless Commenter. Betsy McCaughey lays out the details of something I’ve only mentioned once or twice — the concern over how many ♡bamaCare!!! enrollees with bother paying their second or third month’s premiums:

Why the concern? First-time insurance purchasers, especially those living paycheck to paycheck, will be shocked by ObamaCare’s high deductibles, about $3,000 for the silver plan (the most commonly selected) and $5,000 for the bronze plan (the most affordable).

Basically, you’ll have to pay thousands out of pocket for appointments, tests and prescriptions until you reach your deductible.

Millennials who heard Obama say on “Between Two Ferns” that they can buy a health plan for the price of a cellphone contract won’t be laughing when they realize what the $5,000 deductible means. (It’s like a cellphone contract that makes you pay $5 a text for your first thousand texts.) Rather than pay thousands out of pocket for care while also paying premiums, some will quit paying premiums.

That’s why the AMA is worried.

If Democrats are going to avoid total disaster in November, they need people benefitting from ♡bamaCare!!! in big enough and excited enough numbers to make a difference at the polls.

The Democrats can tout blah-blah imaginary millions all they like, but it’s little more than a desperate hope that someone will believe somebody is doing well enough under the law, that Democrats deserve to win reelection.

In other words, they’re selling a lie to the gullible about the nonexistent to benefit the corrupt.

Good luck with that, Donks.

Oh, right — that would be Tom Friedman:

SO the latest news is that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has threatened to turn off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev doesn’t pay its overdue bill, and, by the way, Ukraine’s pipelines are the transit route for 15 percent of gas consumption for Europe. If I’m actually rooting for Putin to go ahead and shut off the gas, does that make me a bad guy?

Because that is what I’m rooting for, and I’d be happy to subsidize Ukraine through the pain. Because such an oil shock, though disruptive in the short run, could have the same long-term impact as the 1973 Arab oil embargo — only more so. That 1973 embargo led to the first auto mileage standards in America and propelled the solar, wind and energy efficiency industries. A Putin embargo today would be even more valuable because it would happen at a time when the solar, wind, natural gas and energy efficiency industries are all poised to take off and scale. So Vladimir, do us all a favor, get crazy, shut off the oil and gas to Ukraine and, even better, to all of Europe. Embargo! You’ll have a great day, and the rest of the planet will have a great century.

Has any continent gone more “green” than Europe? Is any continent more reliant on expansionist neighbors than Europe? So the last question is, now that Europe has gone so green that it’s at Russia’s mercy, the solution is to do even more of the same?

For the first time ever I’m tempted by Colorado’s legal pot.

Sit on It

April 14th, 2014 - 1:52 pm

That’s what Congressional and Senate Democrats are doing this spring and summer in the face of unrelenting anti-♡bamaCare!!! ads from AFP:

They’re gambling that it makes far more sense to build a sizable war chest and hold off until closer to the election to engage their opponents in an expensive TV war. The idea: Absorb the ads from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity now and hope some help from their Democratic allies, like the Senate Majority PAC, helps to keep their races competitive. Then, when the time comes, unleash a flurry of attacks that will give them a late bounce and potentially victory come November.

This is probably exactly what I would advice, but it isn’t without its risks. Wait too long, and the other side’s message becomes set in stone. The Koch Brothers risk is that they fired their big guns too soon, and people begin to tune out ads they’ve already hear all too often — and discount the message, too.

That said, I don’t expect Americans to suddenly fall in love with ♡bamaCare!!!, no matter what ads anyone airs or when they air them.

There’s an App for That

April 14th, 2014 - 12:46 pm

50 million Android users can certainly be wronged:

Even judging by the low standards of creepy data-mining apps, “Brightest Flashlight” did something pretty egregious. The free app, which was installed by at least 50 million Android users, transmitted users’ real-time locations to ad networks and other third parties. It was, in other words, a stalking device disguised as a flashlight.

But here’s the kicker:

In a Wednesday announcement, the FTC confirmed that GoldenShores and owner Erik Geidl are not to collect app users’ geolocation without clearly explaining how and why they’re doing so and, in broad terms, say who is receiving that information. The flashlight app maker will also have to keep records for the FTC to inspect, and Geidl will have to tell the agency about any new businesses he decides to start in the next 10 years. He also has 10 days as of the order to delete all the data he collected.

On paper, the order looks like stern stuff but, in practice, it’s hard to see how this amounts to real punishment.

Open is better. And the government will protect you.

What I want to know is, how does a flashlight app get access to a user’s personal goodies? And if a flashlight app can do it, what app can’t?

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

April 14th, 2014 - 11:40 am

Jeff Bezos always puts out an entertaining shareholders letter and this year is no exception:

The Mayday button lets users call a human to get help using the product. Some fun facts about Mayday usage from Bezos: “Mayday Tech Advisors have received 35 marriage proposals from customers. 475 customers have asked to talk to Amy, our Mayday television personality. 109 Maydays have been customers asking for assistance with ordering a pizza. By a slim margin, Pizza Hut wins customer preference over Domino’s. There are 44 instances where the Mayday Tech Advisor has sung Happy Birthday to the customer. Mayday Tech Advisors have been serenaded by customers 648 times. And 3 customers have asked for a bedtime story. Pretty cool.”

The trick is coming up with a device so simple to use that it would never even occur to the maker to come up with such a clever feature — but it is a clever feature.

Putin’s Game

April 14th, 2014 - 10:34 am

Ignoring your own red lines isn’t a game just for American presidents:

Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had given pro-Russian protesters in other eastern Ukrainian cities until 2 a.m. ET to disarm or face a “full-scale anti-terrorist operation” by Ukraine’s armed forces. But the deadline passed with no sign that it was heeded, including in the eastern city of Donetsk, where protesters have held the regional government building for more than a week.

Similar deadlines in the past have come and gone with no consequences.

The game Vladimir Putin is playing goes back to (Godwin alert!) Hitler in Austria and Czechoslovakia. Hire agitators, wait for the inevitable crackdown by local forces, then cry for “justice!” for your oppressed agitators. What makes Putin’s approach unique, or at least modern, is the addition of electronic media and un-uniformed special forces acting in concert.

This puts Turchynov in a tough bind. He can go by the historical playbook and give Putin the pretext he needs to send the Russian Army marching west as liberators. Or he can do nothing, and encourage more lawlessness by the Russians, while dispiriting his own people.

There’s no right answer. There’s no proper course of action — or in Turchynov’s case, no proper corse of inaction. The initiative lies with Putin for two simple reasons. The first is, he took the initiative. The second is, nobody has figured out a way to counter him.

Well, nobody has figured out a way to counter him that the leaders of Western Europe wouldn’t find too politically expensive, or that the White House finds politically palatable. We could lift energy export rules and pt more BMD forces in Poland and the Czech Republic, but that would annoy certain vocal Democratic pressure groups. Besides, Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom just doesn’t like that stuff.

So Putin will keep the initiative. And he’ll likely take what he wants of Ukraine.

Sign “O” the Times

April 14th, 2014 - 9:28 am

Recovery for whom?” asks the NYT editorial board:

Economic gains so far have mostly benefited those at the top of the income and wealth ladder. Worse, future growth is likely to be lopsided, because the foundation for broad prosperity is arguably the weakest it has been since World War

Take, for example, Americans age 25 to 34, the leading edge of the so-called millennials, the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s. They are worse off than Gen Xers (born from the mid-1960s to the late-1970s) were at that age and the baby boomers before them by nearly every economic measure — employment, income, student loan indebtedness, mobility, homeownership and other hallmarks of “household formation,” like moving out on their own, getting married and having children.

Maybe if we didn’t pursue policies aimed at funneling free money at Wall Street while saddling youth with debts they can’t afford and disincentivizing entrepreneurship and family.

Just a thought.

More Like Single Defaulter

April 14th, 2014 - 8:22 am

Megan McArdle has run the numbers on Vermont’s single payer scheme, and they aren’t pretty:

Just two small issues need to be resolved before the state gets to all systems go: First, it needs the federal government to grant waivers allowing Vermont to divert Medicaid and other health-care funding into the single-payer system. And second, Vermont needs to find some way to pay for it.

Although Act 48 required Vermont to create a single-payer system by 2017, the state hasn’t drafted a bill spelling out how to raise the additional $1.6 billion a year (based on the state’s estimate) the system needs. The state collected only $2.7 billion in tax revenue in fiscal year 2012, so that’s a vexingly large sum to scrape together.

Vermont is a small enough state — and wealthy enough — for this experiment in Canadazation. Assuming they can pull it off, which seems unlikely given the initial 50% increase in state spending, you have to wonder if residents will vote first with their feet to live in other states, or vote first with their cars to seek medical attention in other states.

Either way, Vermont might have finally figured out a way to rid itself of the poor, the sick, and Republicans. “Healthy, wealthy Democrats” could be the new state motto.

Think Globally, Act Globally

April 14th, 2014 - 7:16 am

The UN isn’t very happy with you:

Since the [UN's] intergovernmental panel issued its last major report in 2007, far more countries, states and cities have adopted climate plans, a measure of the growing political interest in tackling the problem. They include China and the United States, which are doing more domestically than they have been willing to commit to in international treaty negotiations.

Yet the report found that the emissions problem is still outrunning the determination to tackle it, with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rising almost twice as fast in the first decade of this century as they did in the last decades of the 20th century. That reflects a huge rush to use coal-fired power plants in developing countries that are climbing up the income scale, especially China, while rich countries are making only slow progress in cutting their high emissions, the report said.

Am I a cynic for reading this as “UN panel seeking more power wants more power now?”

Your ♡bamaCare!!! Fail of the Day

April 14th, 2014 - 6:10 am

The latest failed trope is that a people “really” support the law if you include people who wished it were even more liberal:

Recently, partnering with the polling firm YouGov, Huffington Post polling analyst Mark Blumenthal attempted to duplicate CNN’s method of divining support for the ACA among those who do not support the ACA. To clarify CNN’s findings, he performed one extra step. “In your own words,” HuffPost asked select respondents, “what do you mean when you say the health care law is not liberal enough?”

“[V]ery few said they opposed the law because they would prefer a ‘single payer’ system (6 percent of those answering) or would prefer either the ‘public option’ or an alternative to ensure “healthcare for all” (4 percent),” Blumenthal revealed.

A much larger portion of the not-liberal-enough group referenced high costs (15 percent), the mandate to purchase health insurance (12 percent), or more general complaints about a lack of choice or too much government control (13 percent).
“I don’t think forcing everyone to buy insurance is liberal at all,” one respondent told Blumenthal.

“Liberal means choice to me at least and it leaves us no choice, we are forced to buy insurance we may neither need or want,” another said.

These are not promising results for the set of ACA supporters who had convinced themselves they were members of a new silent majority

I would merely add that Blumenthal is a Democrat pollster and that HuffPo is, well, HuffPo.

For Democrats facing the voters in November, there doesn’t seem to be any safety in the numbers. None at all.

Required Viewing

April 14th, 2014 - 5:05 am

Leave it to Andrew Klavan to ask you if ♡bamaCare!!! is just “lies or crap.”

Can’t we all just get along? Can’t it be both?

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

April 13th, 2014 - 1:10 pm

LANDRIEU

And of course in the modern age you don’t have to.

I’m waiting for the Democrat spin claiming that this just goes to show how the Koch Brothers have their dirty little fingers everywhere.

News You Can Use

April 13th, 2014 - 11:08 am

EMBEZZLED

Cliff Robertson got blacklisted for years for exposing this sort of thing, but Hollywood never seems to change.

Eric Holder is as mad as hell and he’s not going to take this anymore:

During a speech to the National Action Network in New York on Wednesday lauding the organization’s effort to advance racial equality, a heated Holder went a little off-script.

“Forget about me [specifically]. Look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee,” Holder told the crowd. “What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”

He’s right. I haven’t seen a black man in Washington treated so badly since they hounded that nice Richard Nixon out of office.

Sisyphus Shrugged

April 12th, 2014 - 11:50 am

Trifecta: How can the Right change Hollywood?

prescriptions

That Means It’s Working™.

Details for you at UncoverObamaCare.

Conversations with an Eight-Year-Old

April 12th, 2014 - 7:34 am

I declined to argue.

Friday Night Videos

April 11th, 2014 - 10:15 pm

A quarter century ago, “What Do You Do/The Glory Of Love” was my happy introduction to Lyle Lovett — and we’ve been going steady ever since.

And Francine Reed? She went on to do some solo stuff in the ’90s and the Naughts, and a duet with Willie Nelson I just now learned about and will rush over to buy on the iTunes Store just as soon as I can hit the Publish button on this post.