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February 24, 2012

david brooks buying jet planes

Another Friday and another day that I am unable to look away from the car crash that is David Brooks' Friday column.  It's a ramble through some putatively connected issues — it's starts out with something about U.S. vs. Europe, and then something about tax benefits and then something like, "Hurrah for reforming the tax code!" and then he's out of there before you remember that he never came back to the Europe thing.

To cherry-pick the biggest inanity of the entire thing, take this passage:

You might say that a tax break isn’t the same as a spending program. You would be wrong.

David Bradford, a Princeton economist, has the best illustration of how the system works. Suppose the Pentagon wanted to buy a new fighter plane. But instead of writing a $10 billion check to the manufacturer, the government just issued a $10 billion “weapons supply tax credit.” The plane would still get made. The company would get its money through the tax credit. And politicians would get to brag that they had cut taxes and reduced the size of government!

On a fundamental level, the second paragraph doesn't exactly justify the first, so let me say for the record, "You might say that a tax break isn’t the same as a spending program. You would be right."

But to take Brooks at his word, let's look at the example from the Princeton economist.  You have the Department of Defense, and they want a jet plane.  In the first example, the DoD buys a plane, just like our grandparents used to do.  But in the second more clever example, a tax credit is issued to the jet plane manufacturer, and politicians start throwing confetti everywhere.

One problem in the second example: at what point is the ownership of the jet plane conveyed to the DoD?  The example for sure covers paying the manufacturer one way or the other, but it's missing a step or two, unless it's supposed to explain why jet plane manufacturers have all these paid-for jet planes sitting in their hangers.

Perhaps it's convenient for whatever purposes other than his wackadoo "social hygiene" movement this column is supposed to be furthering, but it's a bit of a dog's breakfast, and more so than usual.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:27 AM

February 23, 2012


I did not watch last night's GOP debate, which makes me a perfect 0-20 for the season.  But fortunately there is the Internet, and news broadcasts, so I feel like I watched, just like I felt like I watched the last bunch.

So the narrative that's already congealed is that Romney has successfully deflated the chances of Rick Santorum.  If this time is anything like the last times, we'll have a half-day of "Santorum blew it" stories, followed by the first post-debate poll showing erosion of Santorum's support, and by tomorrow we'll have to struggle to remember the time when Santorum was actually in the lead.  (And in a week he'll have the same "I'm just happy for the free catering" look that Newt Gingrich had last night, should there be another debate.

And then what?  Brokered-convention talk notwithstanding (could it happen? it'll be fun to find out!), the anybody-but-Mitt caucus is running out of anybody's.  Which can mean only one thing:

Cue Ron Paul, and every dingbat libertarian in the world.

And the real fun will be with the libertarians and the Tea Party realize that their interests are not necessarily aligned.

In short, there is no sign that this primary season is about to get less novel.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:46 AM

robert opel, also the streaker

A couple days ago a new piece for The Awl went up, straying from the "Adjusted For Inflation" series.  It's called "The True Story of the Oscar Streaker" and it's about that dude that all your parents and aunts and uncles remember who interrupted David Niven as he was introducing Elizabeth Taylor on national TV back in 1974.

You're probably passing familiar with it.  But there's more to the story, of course.  Or at least there is always more to the story as far as I am concerned, which is a blessing and a curse.

And here's the free funfact: somewhere in that story there is a person who was murdered in the course of a robbery.  Well (and this did not make it in there), during the trials and sentencing of the two robbers, it came out that the true motive of the robbery was to shake down the victim for drugs that he was thought to have had, and that it was not a ransom occurrence.

Combine that with the comment from one Jerry Pritkin, who has apparently been there and done that, and leave with the sense that there's even more to the story.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:56 AM

February 22, 2012

gasoline speculation

This story is a week old, but it is still timely, or at least it is if you operate a motor vehicle, or are conveyed by a motor vehicle, or purchase and goods and services that are delivered by a motor vehicle.  Hey, that's all of you!

It's not a great read, this article, because it's from BusinessWeek, which is not a usual source of gripping long-form journalism.  But it's filled with facts, and the fact is it's not demand or scarcity that is driving the current spike in gasoline prices:

Strangely, the current run-up in prices comes despite sinking demand in the U.S. “Petrol demand is as low as it’s been since April 1997,” says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “People are properly puzzled by the fact that we’re using less gas than we have in years, yet we’re paying more.”

Kloza believes much of the increase is due to speculative money that’s flowed into gasoline futures contracts since the beginning of the year, mostly from hedge funds and large money managers. “We’ve seen about $11 billion of speculative money come in on the long side of gas futures,” he says. “Each of the last three weeks we’ve seen a record net long position being taken.”

That is of course the opinion of one man (well, and another), and of course there's the instability in the Persian Gulf, where we are threatening to bomb a country for being uppity about the possibility of being bombed, but when $11 billion is a significantly large enough figure (but by no means that large to nudge the market one way or the other.

Of course, this may give rise to wondering why the financial services industry should be able to treat energy markets like a casino, considering how intrinsic this energy is to every single thing, but wealth equals virtue, so if the financial services industries are doing something it is the right thing to do, by definition.  Right?  I'm trying really hard not to hurt Jamie Dimon's feelings.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:58 AM

February 21, 2012

anti-environmentalists: god promised

I had a conversation last night mildly debating whether Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich would be more fun as the Republican nominee.  Obviously, either would be a boon to those of us light of heart and cheerfully noting the utter dumbification of public discourse, but it's hard not to have a preference!

I think we both tended towards Gingrich, mostly on the grounds of Gingrich's monumental sociopathy and utter lack of introspection.  It's as if he were a Manchurian Candidate, and Manchuria was a place run only by political columnists.

But: Santorum is really showing some potential, especially for a man who lost his last election by nineteen points.  He may not have the delusions of grandiosity that Gingrich has, but what he lacks in pompous he makes up for with his application of literal interpretation of the Bible to all matters political.  See here for more on his view that climate change caused by humans, which is not so much climate denialism as it is a bald admission of human-caused climate change with a "The Bible says we can do that" proviso.

And for a taste of things that could come as long as Santorum's political star keeps shining, check this (from the above link):

But lest you believe Santorum’s thinking is hitherto unseen in the GOP. Rep. John Shimkus, in a 2009 congressional hearing, cited the Book of Genesis as evidence that climate change is a hoax, pointing out that God promised Noah that he won’t destroy the Earth because of man’s wickedness. Shimkus was subsequently rewarded with the Chairmanship of the powerful Energy & Commerce subcommittee on the environment.

It could be the most novel presidential election ever.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:29 AM

February 20, 2012

happy president's day

There's only one way to celebrate President's Day properly: by running for president.  Rick Santorum?  He is celebrating President's Day properly.  And here's some of the presidential things that Rick Santorum has said in the past thirty-six hours, so that he might convince you to vote for him for president, just like you did for George Washington and Abe Lincoln all those years ago.

First, on Saturday, he discussed the president's faith:

At a campaign appearance [in Columbus, OH] on Saturday morning, Mr. Santorum described the “president’s agenda” as being “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your job.”

“It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology,” Mr. Santorum said, to wide applause.

While theological arguments are not only fun but the primary topic of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, many (including me) took that as a barely-disguised "Obama's a Moooslim" shot.

And then yesterday morning, Santorum defended himself, explaining that he wasn't attacking the president's faith, but rather his insistence on being a steward of the earth — er, I mean, giving any thought at all to environmentalism.  As he said to Bob Schieffer yesterday morning, in positively Washingtonian terms:

I was talking about the radical environmentalists," Santorum said, suggesting that they believe man should protect the earth, rather than "steward its resources." "I think that is a phony ideal. I don't believe that's what we're here to do ... We're not here to serve the earth. That is not the objective, man is the objective."

And that is the kind of humility that befits not only a presidential candidate on President's Day, but any Christian.  What's the Bible say?  Why, it says, "IT'S ALL ABOUT MEEEE."

God, I don't so much believe in you, but please let Rick Santorum run for president, now that You've made it plain that we won't get to see Newt Gingrich run for president.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:24 AM