Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

What Obligations Do Mainstream Media Editors (e.g., The Washington Post’s) Have to Bar Their Regular Political Columnists (e.g., Michael Gerson) From Stating Bald Misrepresentations of Fact?

Compare:

When people realize that their most personal, sensitive, intimate, private health-care information is in the hands of the IRS that’s been willing to use people’s tax information against political opponents of this administration, then people have pause and they pull back in horror.

— Michele Bachmann, on ABC News/Yahoo, May 20 (H/T Glenn Kessler, in a spot-on takedown today)

And:

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Remember When the IRS Targeted Liberals?

by Linda Beale

Remember When the IRS Targeted Liberals?

Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald has a story that provides additional context on the difficulty the IRS has in determining appropriate filters for political activity. See “When the IRS targeted liberals: Under George W. Bush, it went after the NAACP, Greenpeace, and even a liberal church,” Salon.com (May 14, 2013).

While few are defending the Internal Revenue Service for targeting some 300 conservative groups, there are two critical pieces of context missing from the conventional wisdom on the “scandal.” First, at least from what we know so far, the groups were not targeted in a political vendetta — but rather were executing a makeshift enforcement test (an ugly one, mind you) for IRS employees tasked with separating political groups not allowed to claim tax-exempt status, from bona fide social welfare organizations. Employees are given almost zero official guidance on how to do that, so they went after Tea Party groups because those seemed like they might be political. Keep in mind, the commissioner of the IRS at the time was a Bush appointee.

The second is that while this is the first time this kind of thing has become a national scandal, it’s not the first time such activity has occurred.

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The Internal Blue Cross/Blue Shield Revenue Service. Awesome!

“Since the I.R.S. also is the chief enforcer of Obamacare requirements, [Michele Bachmann] asked whether the I.R.S.’s admission means it ‘will deny or delay access to health care’ for conservatives. At this point, she said, that ‘is a reasonable question to ask.’ ”

— Bob Unruh, Why Obama Released Embarrassing IRS Bombshell, WND Exclusive, May 13

Yes, that’s right.  You read the title of this post correctly.  Obamacare turns out to be a single-payer healthcare insurance program, after all!

Or so says Michele Bachmann, anyway.  And she certainly would know.

This is great news, in my opinion.  But, I mean, who knew?  I’d thought until now that the only role that the IRS plays in Obamacare was to collect the penalty, via the tax apparatus, from individuals who aren’t insured through their (or a family member’s) employer and who choose to pay the penalty rather than buy insurance in the private market.  In other words, that the IRS role concerns only people who don’t have healthcare insurance, not people who do.

But apparently I was wrong.  I haven’t actually read the statute, which is infamously long, and somewhere in it, it requires all healthcare insurance premiums to be paid to the IRS.  The  name of which, once the full law kicks in next year, will be the Internal Blue Cross/Blue Shield Revenue Service.

Yes, the agency will still collect ordinary income taxes as it does now.  But it also become our healthcare insurer. Unless you are a conservative, in which case it will still require you or your employer to pay your insurance premiums to that agency. Or maybe just through that agency; I’m not sure which.  As I said, I haven’t read the statute, so I don’t know whether this will be like the Medicare system, or instead the agency will forward the premiums to your chosen private insurer, at least unless you’re a conservation, in which case the agency might use your premiums to pay for daycare for the young children of liberals.

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding completely, because of wishful thinking on my part.  Maybe instead, the statute requires the private insurance companies to get the agency’s approval before agreeing to pay a policyholder’s medical bills.

Yeah, that must be it.  The statute requires the private insurance companies to get the agency’s approval before agreeing to pay a policyholder’s medical bills. It’s odd, though, that three years after the statute’s enactment, this has never been mentioned before. By anyone.  Which makes that report about the Bachmann interview truly an exclusive.

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Why, Yes! Of Course! The Voters Will Vote to End Social Security, Medicare, Dodd-Frank and the EPA Because the IRS Improperly Hassled Political “Social Welfare” Organizations and the DOJ Issued Sweeping Subpoenas of AP Phone Lines!

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

It began yesterday morning, with a Politico article by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, and an accompanying video by Allen, suggesting improper actions of the IRS resulting from its inability to adequately handle the tsunami of exempt-organizations applications, coupled with the DOJ’s overly aggressive use of its subpoena powers in trying to ferret out the source of a national-security leak to an AP reporter, might cause voters to conclude that what is needed is more Republicans in high office.

Apparently that would be because voters can’t distinguish between economic libertarianism and civil rights libertarianism of the First Amendment and Due Process variety.  And this must be so, because within just 24 hours after the Politico folks asserted it, there’s been another tsunami, this one in the form of a slew of mainstream pundits repeating the claim.  John Dickerson of Slate.  Reid Wilson of the National Journal.  To name two.*

Dickerson argues that the Obama administration “is doing a far better job making the case for conservatism than Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner ever did.” He says this is because “[s]howing is always better than telling, and when the government overreaches in so many ways it gives support to the conservative argument about the inherently rapacious nature of government.”

Yup.  I don’t know about you all, but the fact that the IRS mishandled some exempt-organizations applications in the wake of Citizens United, and that the Justice Department has been crazily overzealous in its handling of national security leakers, partly in order to hush the criticism from, um, conservatives that there has been insufficient investigation into the leaks, sure as heck makes me think Paul Krugman is spouting dangerous nonsense by arguing so forcefully for more fiscal stimulus, as opposed to ever more fiscal austerity. It’s not surprising that Boston Federal Reserve chief executive Eric Rosengren is pleading for a turn away from further budget cuts; he does, after all, work for the federal government in an unelected position, and so of course he wants the federal government to be ever more inherently rapacious.

No matter that the most inherently rapacious unelected federal officials sit on the federal bench, and in the name of conservatism pathologically gut Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  And I won’t even mention the habeas corpus provision of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 9, Clause 2.  “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Or unless when the conservative Supreme Court majority privileges state courts’ rights over the Supremacy clause.  As it does regularly.

What we need to secure our individual civil rights is more Samuel Alitos and Antonin Scalias on the Supreme court and on the lower federal courts, in order to ensure the continuation and expansion of the inherently rapacious federal and state criminal and civil justice system against non-corporate persons. The voters surely will look at the dual scandals of this week and draw that conclusion. In addition to the obvious conclusion that financial-services regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other Dodd-Frank provisions should be gutted along with the social safety net, taxes should be lowered for the likes of the Romneys, and that we need to kill the EPA.

To hell with climate change!  Pun intended.  And let hungry children and seniors eat cake and pay for their own healthcare!  After all, the IRS mishandled the post-Citizens United influx of exempt-organizations applications. So what we need is more Citizens United.  The court opinion; not actual citizens united.

Greg Sargent says of Wilson’s article in the National Journal that he “makes the case that 2014 will look more like 2006” than 1998, when the public was so disgusted with Republican scandal-mongering and the Clinton impeachment thing that Democrats routed Republicans in that year’s midterm election even though it was the sixth year of the Clinton presidency, thus countering historical trends.  Wilson argues the case, but unsuccessfully.  “The beginning of Bush’s second term bears the most resemblance to the current predicament in which Obama finds himself,” Wilson says.  “ The war in Iraq had grown unpopular during 2005, and the government’s bungling of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina gave voters the sense that Washington was inept.”

Yes, it gave voters the sense that the Bush administration was inept.  The concern was that FEMA did not do enough for Katrina victims, precisely because conservatism is against having the government provide assistance to people in need.  The Bush administration got us into a war in Iraq under false pretenses, precisely because that was what conservatives wanted, and then bungled the war itself.

And curiously absent from Wilson’s analysis is that Bush spent the first year of his second term campaigning to privatize Social Security.  Does Wilson think that the public changed its mind about the wisdom of privatizing Social Security, or, for that matter, privatizing or ending the social safety net–or FEMA!–by November 2006?   Does Dickerson?  Really?  What about Allen?  (Okay, maybe Allen does.)

A surprisingly common characteristic of current political punditry is the presumption that what matters to voters is policy semantics rather than actual policy.  And the more generic, sweeping, and ill-defined, the better.  Actual policy and specifics of ideology don’t matter.  What matters is such generic phrases as “big government,” “small government,” and “conservative,” however unrelated to one big/small-government issue another big/small-government issue is.

Another problem with mainstream pundits is their mindless custom of incessant analogy based upon some tenuous or tangential common fact between the earlier and the current or future situation.  I realize that it is their job to say something about big political stories, and that, at least for most of them, they don’t have the option of adhering to the wise adage of not saying anything at all if you don’t have anything worth saying.  But this nonsense becomes viral.  Really quickly.  As though it’s actual wisdom rather than the simplistic, formulaic vapidity that it is.

The danger right now is that Democratic politicians will cower in the face of it.  Politically sensitive IRS error and DOJ subpoena overreach = we should lower taxes on the wealthy and gut the social safety net and environmental and financial regulatory authority; that’s an odd mathematical equation.  Except maybe in Washington, a town not known for Einstein protégés.

Wilson, in his National Journal article, acknowledges that “[t]he mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the various troubles Obama is answering for now are completely different types of scandals.”  He just doesn’t think the voting public will recognize the difference.  He thinks that the “message” the IRS and DOJ matters “send to voters about the aptitude of governing is remarkably similar” to the Bush administration’s mishandling of Katrina and Iraq.  “Once voters lost confidence in Bush’s ability to manage government, the Republican brand began to suffer…If voters begin to believe that Obama is similarly ill-equipped to govern, it will be the Democrats in Congress who bear the brunt of the political punishment.”

Unless, of course, the voters conclude that what happened to those applicant nonprofit organizations in the hands of the IRS–that they were temporarily denied tax-exempt status and asked to identify their donors, and that the DOJ issued sweeping subpoenas for the AP’s phone records in a national-security-leak investigation–really does not actually mean that we should privatize Social Security and Medicare. That is, that they conclude that those former things don’t just naturally lead to the latter ones, even though these political analysts think they do.  That they conclude that linking the two is bizarre and outright crazy.  Which is a real possibility, since it is.

—-

*CORRECTION: This post initially and incorrectly included Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post among the political analysts who are making this argument.  Actually, Tumulty’s piece says that others–specifically, Republicans–are pushing this claim.  Also, this post has been edited slightly for clarity after its initial posting. 5/16 at 9:20 p.m.

 

 

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Catch of The Day: Tim Duy

Carpe diem, indeed:

Mr Bernanke’s own appointment in 2005 was a case in point. There were several candidates that year. According to people involved, then-President George W. Bush leaned towards Martin Feldstein, a former economic adviser to Ronald Reagan….

But Mr Feldstein was a director of the insurance company AIG, which restated five years of financial results that May after an accounting scandal.

Note—especially all you Hank Greenberg sycophants—that the AUG restatements were from 2005, long before anyone admitted the Emperor of AIGFP had no clothes.

Go read the whole thing, attending especially to:

So, no, Bernanke does not view quantitative easing as acting only through equity price and related wealth effects, and no, Feldstein shouldn’t either. But somehow he does, or wants to trick you into believing that Bernanke’s only objective is boosting equity prices. Either way, I don’t think this is the intellectual approach we should be looking for in a Fed chair.

Talking your own book as if it were your superior rivals. Feldstein and AIG were perfect for each other.

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Orrin Hatch on tax reform at the ABA–a predictable right-wing rant

by Linda Beale

Orrin Hatch on tax reform at the ABA–a predictable right-wing rant

Orrin Hatch was the keynote speaker for the ABA Tax Section luncheon today in DC. Having never heard the man in person, I was surprised at the bumbling nature of his speech. He came across as an old man reciting a set of platitudes from the GOP talking-points rulebook.

Asserting that the tax code is “complicated, inefficient, unjust, unfair,” he claimed that all are agreed on a need for tax reform, because the tax code is “the major obstacle standing between us and sustained prosperity.”

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Reader (and Statistician) Jan Galkowski’s Quick Primer on CO2 and Climate Change

This weekend’s open thread here on AB produced an awesome post by reader, statistician and obvious genius Jan Galkowski on the significance of last week’s report on the level of CO2 now in the atmosphere.  Here’s part of the thread, including Mr. Galkowski’s post:

Rjs / May 11, 2013 4:54 am

in case you missed it, yesterday we breached 400 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide…

all you need to know in just one chart

Sammy / May 11, 2013 3:54 pm

rjs,

Don’t fall for the scare tactics. The y axis scale on your graph is “parts per million.” So we’ve gone from 300 max parts per million, to 400 parts per million. Or .0003 to .0004 percentage CO2. This is statistically insignificant. Plus, as Jack pointed out, there “little correlation with global temperature.”

This graph backs up Jack’s point over a longer time frame; and also shows that we are historically at a low in atmospheric CO2:

Sammy / May 11, 2013 3:54 pm

rjs,

Don’t fall for the scare tactics. The y axis scale on your graph is “parts per million.” So we’ve gone from 300 max parts per million, to 400 parts per million. Or .0003 to .0004 percentage CO2. This is statistically insignificant. Plus, as Jack pointed out, there “little correlation with global temperature.”

This graph backs up Jack’s point over a longer time frame; and also shows that we are historically at a low in atmospheric CO2:

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=CO2+over+time&FORM=HDRSC2&&id=F13D874C4502CF62C6C7A3A8DB2764DBC4C2E038&selectedIndex=1#view=detail&id=F13D874C4502CF62C6C7A3A8DB2764DBC4C2E038&selectedIndex=0

Jan Galkowski / May 12, 2013 2:52 pm

@Sammy,

Surely you’ll agree the argument that materials in systems are safe as long as their concentrations are small is erroneous. There are many examples where tiny amounts will derail proper operation.

But, to your specific point, the fact that CO2 concentration is, as Richard Alley calls it, The Biggest Control Knob of Earth’s climate is due to a simple confluence of [t]hree physical facts.

First, blackbody radiation from a body at Earth’s temperature happens to have the bulk of its outgoing radiation in the region of the infrared spectrum between 400 per cm and 1000 per cm.

<!–more–>

Second, CO2 happens to have a broad absorption between 550 per cm and 750 per cm.

Third, CO2 happens to resonate strongly at 667 per cm and, when it goes to ground state, reemits photons with frequencies very close to that. CO2′s cross-section for 667 per cm photons is very high. Thus, a stray photon at 667 per cm will in all likelihood be reabsorbed by another CO2 molecule.

This means about 2/3 of the radiation in the 550-750 per cm band gets captured by CO2, and the stronger the concentration, the more thorought the lasing effect of emission and reabsorption.

The net of this is that about 1.8 Watts per square meter are re-radiated from CO2 in the lowest 100 meters of atmosphere all around the planet. 1.8 Watts per square meter times the area of the Earth is about 690 Terawatts. That energy has to go somewhere, and does, boosting convection in atmosphere and oceans, as well as being conveyed in the water evaporation and condensation cycle, which essentially serves as a heat pump. Some goes into deep ocean, raising its temperature and weakening its ability to absorb CO2.

The greater differences in energy density, as always, demand equalization, so the poles warm more, percentagewise, than the tropics and intermediate lattitudes. This 690 Terawatts increases to 2000 Terawatts at 700 ppm CO2.

There is no trending or paleoclimate evidence needed to establish this. This is simple physics. It would be truly remarkable if 690 Terawatts of additional forcing had no effects upon Earth weather.

They who might be interested in more details regarding this should monitor my blog,

http://hypergeometric.wordpress.com

where a 4-part lecture describing these mechanisms and the reason we know atmospheric CO2 increases are due to people’s actions, namely fossil fuels, will be described in detail, probably some time this summer.

Thanks.

Those among us who can do such things as add and subtract will have an easier time understanding the specifics of Mr. Galkowski’s post than those among us (okay, the one among us) who cannot.  But even those of us in the latter category can understand the gist of this.  And its importance.  (Trust me on that.)

 

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Here we go again and again!

Rjs sends a link filled note on the ongoing federal financial merry go round:

It’s been a pretty slow week, with neither major monthly economic reports nor widespread kerfuffles in the blogosphere…as we figured, all the budget proposals floated earlier this year have gone nowhere, and it now appears that the republicans wont negotiate on any compromise until they have the democrats and the president and backed up against the debt ceiling…in case you forgot, the artificial federal debt limit is set to kick back into effect a week from now, on May 19th, after a three-month hiatus…according to the inane deal negotiated with the tea party contingent in late January, the debt ceiling was suspended until that date so the anti-everything crowd would not be on record as having raised it; then, on May 19th, the new debt ceiling will suddenly become whatever amount of script the Treasury has outstanding at that time, effectively forcing the government immediately into accounting legerdemain to run the show while the clock runs out…estimates were that would be by mid August, but with revenues now higher than expected, it could be stretched till early September or even October, around the same time the stop gap continuing resolution to fund government functions expires, September 30th, at the end of the fiscal year…

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Senate did the right thing–will the House?

by Linda Beale

Senate did the right thing–will the House?

Most are aware that online businesses have an unfair tax advantage. Under the 1992 Quill Supreme Court decision, states cannot currently require online retailers without physical presence in the state to collect applicable sales taxes. Although customers are supposed to save receipts and then pay over the appropriate amount of sales tax at the end of the year, nobody does. And they get away with not paying since it would be an onerous burden on states to assess those taxes without information from the onlines sellers. The result is that the tax-included price for merchandise purchased online is cheaper than for the same merchandise purchased in stores. So our tax system is essentially subsidizing the replacement of mom and pop small businesses with online giants. The mom and pop business often serves the online business in another way–for free: customers may go try on the merchandise at the local store, but then order online to get the cheaper (sales-tax-free) price.

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