Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Priestly Abuse Spike

This NYT blog discusses data that partially answers questions I've had throughout the last decade's revelations of pedophilia by priests. Principally, is the abuse new, or only its revelation? The data suggest that there was truly a spike in abuse in the 60's through 80's, since some types of incident (abuse of children under 11, abuse of girls) are pretty constant through the period, while abuse of teenage boys skyrocketed. That's not proof, but it suggests that the Catholic Church went through a bad stretch from which it can recover with repentance and reform.

Of course, the Church must eventually readmit married men to priesthood, and the sooner the better, but that is for larger reasons.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dissenters Will Be Grilled

Not literally of course. At least, not yet.

WSJ reports that Rep. Harry Waxman (D-Most Likely to Be Mistaken for a Child Molester) has called AT&T, Caterpillar, and Deere onto the carpet. Why?
The three companies were the first of many to take sizeable write-downs because the heath-care bill effectively poses a new tax on retiree drug-benefit plans. Benefit consultants say the new tax could reduce corporate profits by as much as $14 billion. But Mr. Waxman will have none of it. He wrote to the heads of the three companies summoning them to testify at an April 21 hearing: "The new law is designed to expand coverage and bring down costs, so your assertions are a matter of concern." The letter reminded one business reporter of Darth Vader's famous line in "Star Wars" that he found an underling's actions "disturbing" -- just before he strangled him. The Waxman letter was accompanied by a lengthy request for documents that he demanded be produced for the star-chamber hearing.
Do not disagree with the government! We know your company's profitability better than you do! If you don't do what we want, we will hassle you to death.

One Simple Rule for Avoiding Scams

Cranky Fitness blog does the world a favor and delves into the mucky world of web advertisements. You've seen the "1 Simple Rule to a Flat Stomach" ads how many times? On how many different sites? The secret is there's no secret: the ads push lots of different weight loss products, and feature a photo that gets a different woman's name in different ads. Pathetic. If you're going to spam the entire internet with a catchy ad campaign, at least focus your message so people *might* believe you!

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Crisis

The Greek debt crisis has led to a great deal of hand-wringing outside Greece. Joachim Starbarry (what a great name!) captures the spirit of the conundrum:
The fiscal strictures of the euro zone are forcing the country to curtail public expenditures, raise taxes and cut government employees’ salaries, actions that may push Greece into a deep depression and further undermine its already weak international credit standing. The alternative to this collapse, having other members of the euro zone assume its debt payments, is no better. Doing so would be a signal to other debtor countries that they could abandon their own remedial efforts and instead count on foreign assistance. The creditor countries would be brought to their knees.

In short, the euro is headed toward collapse.
He concludes that Germany and other fiscally stable states must withdraw and form their own currency union, which would surely lead to the collapse of the Euro. This solution, he argues, would benefit all of Europe. The Greeks could (in a crisis) devalue their currency to slither out of their debts and gain an export price edge. The Germans wouldn't be constantly pressured to bail out irresponsible siblings.

But Starbarry's premise that Greek austerity measures will push the country into recession is far from certain. In fact, it is precisely the country's culture of dependency that keeps it stuck in relative poverty. Other poor countries on the European fringe have done very well, and weathered the recession without a crisis. How? By freeing up markets, running government responsibly, and ending the culture of corruption.

Contrary to the popular view, the Euro is a gift to Greece. If the Euro weren't in place, surely Greece would devalue its currency in panic, and the profligate culture would continue. This is an historic opportunity for Greece to break with the lame traditions of the 20th century and embrace the hard decisions that are concomitant with a hard currency.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Opinion broadside

WSJ's opinion pages today constitute a broadside salvo against the healthcare bill. Governor Mitch Daniels (R-Ind) lists the new things he'll have to do as governor under the new bill, including scrapping an innovative HSA plan for Indiana's poor. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind) joins in the call to "repeal and replace" the healthcare bill. Former GOP Senator Phil Gramm alleges that the bill systematically exclude[s] every major proposal to empower consumers to control costs, and calls for a new Republican majority to block implementation. Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill, a Democrat turned independent to run for governor, talks about the failure to control costs with mandated healthcare in Massachusetts. he writes, The only reason MassCare has survived is that we have been repeatedly bailed out by the federal government. But that raises the question: Who will bail America out if we implement a similar program? This earns him kudos from GR for not misusing the phrase "beg the question". Lastly, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) wants the GOP to be the party of "Hell, no!" Repeal and replace!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Name of the Year 2010 is live!

Check out the 2010 Name of the Year bracket. There are some good first-round matchups (like Hitler Makofane v. Stalin Felipe). My tournament sleepers are Dr. Speedy Nutz and Coke Wisdom O'Neal. I wouldn't be surprised to see both of them in the Final Four. Go vote in the first round now!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Deficit Reduction"

Drudge splashes a three-paragraph brief from the AP that confirms what I and others who oppose the health bill have been shrilly telling anyone who will listen: the "$138 billion in savings over 10 years" is fiction (it's a CBO number, to be sure, but Garbage In, Garbage Out). Today's story has the overworked CBO confirming that if the annual Doc Fix is passed, as it has been every year since 1997, that will consume all the alleged savings from the bill, and put us $62 billion in the red.

That might not sound too bad, given the scope of Obama's trillion dollar baby. But if just one typical political compromise can cost $200 billion, imagine how much this could cost over ten whole years! The revenue in the plan mainly relies on raising taxes in the future. Some of the taxes are on nice health care plans, such as those enjoyed by union members. They were supposed to start in 2013. Now it's 2018 - two presidential terms from now. Do we really believe that if Obama didn't have the courage to uphold a tax starting after his next election that the next presidents will have the courage not to push it back further and further?

The other source of tax revenue is raising taxes on "unearned income" - mostly from investments. That will raise some revenue, but it will, like any tax on capital, slow GDP growth, slow consumption growth, and slow revenue growth from all sources of taxation. As Arthur Laffer showed, it's possible to institute a tax that actually lowers total government revenue. This may or may not do that, but it will certainly have a negative spillover into other sources of government revenue and into the pocketbooks of Americans.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Thomas Friedman can write a decent column when he writes about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; perhaps because he has friends there, and can do a certain amount of real reporting. Perhaps because he spent so much time reporting there, he actually understands what he's writing about (which makes it exceptional).

He's back, detailing the state-building strategy of Salam Fayyad, and pointing out that in contrast to Fayyad (who is focused on building institutions) and Iran-Hamas (who are focused on destroying Israel) the U.S., Israel, and the friendly Arab states have no agenda and are muddling. Obama's administration wants to support Fayyad, but has ended up in a flap with the rudderless Netanyahu administration.

On the U.S. side, Global Review is gratified to see that the U.S. is willing to twist arms rhetorically to push the peace process forward. We just wish that Republican politicians could see past their infatuation with Israel and leave the politics at the water's edge.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March Dumbness

As you decide which teams to support in the NCAA basketball tourney, Globe reporter Derrick Jackson has some suggestions. Root for: Kansas, Duke, Villanova, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Marquette, Wofford, Brigham Young, Wake Forest, Utah State, and Notre Dame. Root against Maryland, Texas, Nevada Las Vegas, and Kentucky.

Does Jackson know how the teams will do in the tourney? Nope. But he's got an idea how they'll do afterward. The first list of schools are [relative] paragons of academic excellence, getting at least 67% of black players through to graduation. The others - especially Maryland - seem to make no effort at all, even when defections to the NBA draft are not counted in the denominator.

Jackson singles out Kentucky Coach John Calipari as an agent of evil:
He remains one of the faces of college basketball despite Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis that were struck from the record books for violations that damaged the reputations of the schools and its players, but somehow, not him.
High school stars (of any race) should be encouraged by those around them to find a school and coach committed to sending them along in life with high prospects, not a Calipari type who wants to use the young men to burnish his own credentials and then discard them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Samuelson on Health

OpEd of the day: Robert Samuelson brings a few facts to bear on the health care reform debate. He cites, and links to, a variety of studies. Highlights:
  • It does not appear that the uninsured use emergency rooms more than the rest of us, or that insuring them made any difference in Massachusetts.
  • The evidence that insurance has a positive effect on health outcomes is inconclusive.
  • The current reform bill does nothing to address the flawed fee-for-service system.
  • Don't blame high insurance company profits: "In 2009, the largest 14 insurers had profits of roughly $9 billion; that approached 0.4 percent of total health spending of $2.472 trillion."
Samuelson's principal argument is that cost control, not universal coverage, is the real reform needed. Looking at the evidence, he concludes, "Obama's proposal is the illusion of 'reform,' not the real thing."


The Kentucky Senate Republican primary election on May 18 wasn't supposed to be a race. Secretary of State Trey Grayson had the primary wrapped up... until Rand Paul, tea partier and Ron Paul (R-TX) progeny, joined the fray. My two cents to add to this is that this weekend's trip to visit my sister in Kentucky showed up lots of Rand Paul signs - a professional "Rand Paul U.S. Senate 2010" text on a blue background, maybe a dozen of them. The only other sign I saw was "Price Is Right" - for Democratic primary underdog Darlene Price.

In a primary election, an energy gap is hard to make up with money alone.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Amend that

So Congress may be getting a little cleaner with the ouster of Rangel as chair and Massa as representative. But real violations of public trust are still getting whitewashed by the Ethics Committee. Memo to the Ethics Committee: lobbyists are unlikely to "employ 'strong-armed' tactics" to try to link contributions to earmarks; their very livelihood depends on keeping up the pretence that there is no link between the gifts showered on Congressmen by corporations and the gifts showered on corporations by Congressmen.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Less Corrupt House

Politico and others are talking about the scandals surrounding Charlie Rangel (D-Junket) and Eric Massa (D-Frisky) as a blow to Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi's promise to have the "Cleanest Congress in History". But they're just the opposite. At a time when Democrats are trying to circle wagons and count precious votes, Democratic leadership is being proactive (or, at least, not interfering) in pursuing ethics violations. Particular props appear to be due to Steny Hoyer (D-MD) in pushing Massa's case toward the Ethics Committee.

The discovery of ethics violations is not evidence against the majority party. Of course, it's not evidence in the Democrats' favor either; but at least in Rangel's case, these abuses have been going on for years if not decades, and he's finally being disciplined with his own allies on top. Good for them.

Right Wing?

Two unbalanced citizens have attacked the government in the past month: a small-plane pilot in Texas and a well-dressed gunman at the Pentagon. Outlets in the mainstream media have labeled both of them "right wing extremists" at some point. The facts seem to differ. CS Monitor uses that label in their headline, but the details disagree:
writings... on the Internet, express ill will toward the government and the armed forces and question whether Washington itself might have been behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He was a 9/11 truther and hated the U.S. military? That doesn't sound 'right wing' in any meaningful sense. Extreme right wingers are noted by their nationalism and pro-military views. The Austin attacker also posted a long screed on the internet. It's not exactly a work of philosophy, but the only politician he singles out for hate is George W. Bush. Likewise, he closes his diatribe by favorably comparing communism to capitalism.

It would be uncharitable to attribute these loner lunatics to the Angry Left, but it would, at least, fit the facts better than the MSM storyline. CSM closes its story noting,
The Pentagon attack and the destruction at the IRS building in Austin, Texas, come at a time of explosive growth in extremist-group activism across the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such organizations.

The number of US extremist paramilitary militias grew from 42 in 2008 to 127 in 2009, according to a just-released SPLC annual report.
There is no evidence that either attacker had ties to any of those militias, or any other political groups.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Common Sense Book on Parenting

Stop the presses! Er, don't stop them! A scientific book on parenting is actually supporting common sense. The book is called "NurtureShock", by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. George F Will has an excellent review.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jim Bunning is retiring

That is, he's retiring from the U.S. Senate. He is not, however, of a retiring disposition. He's been quite forward now that he has nothing to lose, and is standing up for fiscal conservatism, to the dismay of both parties.

Harry Reid tried tried to push the annual "Doc Fix" (every year we extend this "temporary" measure) and a bunch of highway funds and unemployment benefits through at the last minute. Bunning demands the $10 billion be paid for, presumably in cuts elsewhere. A worthy cause - but very few Republicans are rallying to his side.

This is a 'Come to Jesus' moment for fiscal conservatives: is it more important to keep highway money flowing or to force some austerity on Washington's credit card spree? If budget hawks stand together here and say, "Yes, it's a worthy bill, but it must be paid for", I believe that American voters will understand. Sure, highway contractors will be ticked off, and some unemployed people might have to scramble and look for jobs a lot harder, but the votes you lose among the special interests will be more than compensated by the votes you gain in supporting the general interest of American taxpayers.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Great OpEd in today's WSJ by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind). His state has taken a small step toward reforming health care, offering Health Savings Accounts to state workers. They've lowered health care costs by 11% and increased take-home pay for workers.

More importantly, this is an example of the correct way to tackle the far-from-settled health care reform question: with small-scale, budget-conscious reform that would be as easy to undo as to duplicate. The notion that we should try "grand experiments" on a national level with mandated 10- and 20-year plans flies in the face of the humility that science and economics both teach their observant practitioners.