November 13, 2006

Since Ian at Hot Air Printed My E-mail to the RNC, I Guess I Should Post It Here

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:19 pm

His adding my e-mail to his Hot Air post is much appreciated, and here it is (I would have re-read it if I’d known it would get posted elsewhere, so excuse the edits — ugh):

Dear GOP,

As a member of the base you appear to be abandoning, allow me to make two points:

- The current apparent pick is a sitting Senator, and no matter how worthy he may be as a person, putting someone who actually is voting on laws and resolutions (in charge) is inappropriate bordering on irrational.
- Michael Steele ran such a stellar campaign to get as far as he did in the Maryland Senate race. He is a passionate and outstanding spokesperson that who the party could rally around. Frankly, selecting anyone else would be foolish.

I am surely supported by millions of other Republicans BEGGING you to PLEASE select Michael Steele.

I’m afraid that the above and 99 cents will get you a cup of coffee at your local GasMart, if you know what I mean.


UPDATE: Brain Shavings has a one-picture illustrated guide to what the GOP is doing to itself.

UPDATE 2: Steele got 93% in the Hot Air poll, Martinez 1.5%, and “other” the rest.

Excerpt of the Day: Don Luskin on the Post-Election Economy

Filed under: Economy,Quotes, Etc. of the Day,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:22 pm

The proprietor of the indispensable blog, in his weekly Smart Money column, is definitely a “glass is half-full” guy when reading the election results:

Here’s how I read it. Voters prefer the kind of economics that Republicans used to stand for — but mostly don’t anymore. Republicans who still do got elected on Tuesday. Democrats who stand for that agenda got elected, too. Ballot propositions that adhered to those principles passed; those that didn’t, flopped.

So investors should be comforted that, even after a Democratic sweep, it just could be that both the Republicans and the Democrats have moved a little closer to economic principles that are good for growth — and good for investing.

The situation isn’t without risk, though. In my judgment, the Democratic congressional leadership doesn’t share the same pro-growth agenda as an increasing proportion of the rank-and-file. We’re going to hear a lot from them about more regulation, new government powers and new spending programs. None of it will probably go anywhere — but you never know.

With a little luck and a little wisdom, this could be a great time to be an investor.

Let’s cross our fingers and hope he’s right.

Well, THAT Didn’t Take Long: Rubin Wants Tax Hikes, Dems Want Tax Cuts Targeted to the Blue-State Rich

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:03 am

Item from Bloomberg:

Rubin Urges Democrats to Raise Taxes to Reverse Budget Deficit

Interesting, in light of this in the Washington Post (HT Surly Don Surber; as an aside, I really have to wonder how this plays with the Democratic Underground/Daily Kos base):

Alternative Minimum Tax Targeted
Saturday, November 11, 2006

Democratic leaders this week vowed to make the alternative minimum tax a centerpiece of next year’s budget debate, saying the levy threatens to unfairly increase tax bills for millions of middle-class families by the end of the decade.

The complex and expensive tax was designed to prevent the super-rich from using deductions, credits and other shelters to avoid paying the Internal Revenue Service. But because of rising incomes, the tax is expected to expand to more than 30 million taxpayers in 2010 from 3.8 million mostly well-off households in 2006.

….. The focus on the AMT is hardly surprising, given that victims of the tax have been concentrated in high-cost urban areas such as Washington, New York and San Francisco — places that tend to vote Democratic. Rangel, Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the presumptive House speaker, all represent states hit hard by the AMT, which is sometimes called the “blue-state tax.” To map states with the highest concentrations of AMT taxpayers is to draw bull’s-eyes over California and the Northeastern seaboard.

Locally, an estimated 240,000 families and individuals in the District, Maryland and Virginia will have to pay the AMT at tax time in April, according to projections by the nonprofit Citizens for Tax Justice. That is an increase of nearly 100,000 local families since 2003.

….. The impact is harshest on taxpayers with annual incomes of $100,000 to $500,000. The truly rich typically are not affected because their regular tax rates already are higher than under the AMT.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the AMT should never have existed, and should be repealed immediately. But what is, uh, “rich” about all of this is that for all the class warfare rhetoric we’ve heard, the very first place the new congressional majority wants to go with “tax reform” is to lower taxes on “the darn near rich through the nearly richest” who “just happen” to be mostly in Blue states.

To get an idea of who s really benefitting — In this comment at a post back in May, I noted the following IRS break points for reported Adjusted Gross Income in 2003:

- Top 1% — $295,495
- Top 5% — $130,080
- Top 10% — $94,891
- Top 25% — $57,343
- Top 50% — $29,019

AGI can be a lot less than true gross income because of deductions for things like IRA and 401(k) contributions, one-half of Social Security for the unemployed, and a lot of other items. On the other hand, AGI ignores income that isn’t taxed or whose taxation is deferred, such as interest on state and municipal bonds, untaxed capital gains, and the like. So for simplicity, let’s ignore the differences between “real” income and AGI. Throw in a few years of inflation, and the Top 10% break point is probably about $105,000 now.

$100K doesn’t buy what it used to, but calling it “middle class,” even in the most expensive cities in the US, is obviously a ridiculous stretch. After the inflation adjustment I just made, anyone making over $100K is in the top 11% or so of all earners. $500K? Sorry, that’s easily in the top 0.5%. Even after considering the high cost of living in places like New York City and Metro DC, no one getting a benefit from AMT reduction would be below the top 20% in terms of true standard of living.

Democrats want tax cuts for the Blue-State rich, with the exception of the very, very richest. But Bob Rubin wants to increase overall taxes. Thinking like a static-analysis Beltway politician, I would say something’s gotta give, and would have to ask who is left to shoulder the burden of the $50 billion AMT tax reducton just described (that’s the one-year “cost” next year noted much later in the WaPo article), PLUS the amount by which Rubin wants to raise taxes.

Ah, but thinking like a supply-sider, I’d be willing to take a “chance” that the tax cuts would more than pay for themselves with extra revenue from more economic activity. In this case, it would be a “chance” because, unlike cap-gains and dividend tax reductions, there’s not a direct behavioral link showing what might happen if the AMT is reduced or eliminated. But I’d call Bob Rubin’s and Nancy Pelosi’s bluff — Hold out for total and immediate repeal of the AMT, but reject any “offsetting” tax increases. See how the Blue-State supporters lobbying for AMT “reform” react when they see that their tax cut may not materialize.

Cross-posted with some revsions at


UPDATE: It took the Post 15 paragraphs and a jump to the second page of the online link before the $50 billion “cost” of the AMT “reforms” being considered was mentioned, and the article is totally devoid of the class-warfare rhetoric invoked in any discussion of tax cuts that were considered or passed during the first six years of the Bush Administration. Who knew that the WaPo’s view of the world had room for acceptable “tax cuts for the rich”?

Just Making Sure You Know the Economy’s OK

Filed under: Economy,MSM Biz/Other Bias — Tom @ 8:06 am

The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM’s) October report on Manufacturing got a bit of ink and bandwidth when it was released on November 1. It came in at 51.2, which trailed expectations, but still represents “expansion mode,” if not by much (any reading above 50 indicates expansion. It marks the 41st consecutive month of manufacturng expansion, continuing a streak that is the best in over a quarter of a century. The reporting on this result was generally emphasized an “economic slowdown,” and “the lowest reading in three years,” even though expansion still continues.

The Non-Manufacturing report that ISM issued a couple of days later was stellar, coming in at 57.1, up from 52.9 the previous month, marking the 43rd consecutive month of expansion. Every single element making up the index was in expansion mode.

These two reports combined indicate that the economy is in pretty good shape, and that fourth-quarter GDP growth is heading for a significant improvement over the third quarter’s 1.6%, which I expect will be revised to about 2.0% by the time the final revision is published in late December.

Somebody Didn’t Get the Word

From my CNN e-mail alert service after the markets closed on Thursday:

Stocks end lower as higher oil, election results weigh; Dow down 0.6%, Nasdaq down 0.4%, S&P 500 down 0.5%.

Trust me; that will rarely, if ever, happen again.

This miraculous change of perspective, in this case relating to Afghanistan, will be more typical.

How Can This Be, If Human-Induced ‘Global Warming’ Is Settled Science?

Filed under: Environment,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 7:56 am

I’m guessing the New York Times was hoping this would be ignored by publishing it on Election Day (link requires free registration; HT George Reisman):

In recent years, scientists have made sizable gains in what was once considered an impossible art — reconstructing the history of Earth’s atmosphere back into the dim past. They can now peer across more than a half billion years.

….. The discoveries have stirred a little-known dispute that, if resolved, could have major implications. At issue is whether the findings back or undermine the prevailing view on global warming. One side foresees a looming crisis of planetary heating; the other, temperature increases that would be more nuisance than catastrophe.

Perhaps surprisingly, both hail from the same camp: scientists who study the big picture of Earth’s past, including geologists and paleoclimatologists.

Most public discussions of global warming concentrate on evidence from the last few hundred or, at most, few thousand years. And some climate scientists remain unconvinced that data from the deep past are solid enough to be relevant to the debates.

But the experts who peer back millions of years, though they may debate what their work means, do agree on the relevance of their findings. They also agree that the eon known as the Phanerozoic, a lengthy span from the present to 550 million years ago, the dawn of complex life, typically bore concentrations of carbon dioxide that were up to 18 times the levels present in the short reign of Homo sapiens.

A little bit of humility, instead of large doses of “it’s settled science” intimidation, would appear to be in order, or at least an end to comparing global-warming skeptics to terrorists (HT The Corner via Amy Ridenour). I somehow doubt that we’ll see it.

Libertarians May Be Why the Senate Turned

Filed under: Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:51 am

Don Luskin has the details from John Fund’s (no link available; state elections links added by yours truly):

In 2000, it was Democrats who were furious at Ralph Nader’s Green Party for winning 92,000 votes in Florida and thus “costing” Al Gore the hyper-close race in that state.

Now it’s the turn of Republicans to be miffed at the Libertarian Party for “costing” them control of the U.S. Senate. In Montana, Libertarian Stan Jones won over 10,000 votes (2.5% of the vote — Ed.), far exceeding the 3,000-vote margin by which GOP Senator Conrad Burns trails his Democratic opponent. In Missouri, the contest wasn’t close enough in the end to be affected, but even there, the Libertarian claimed 41,000 votes in a race that GOP incumbent Jim Talent lost by 47,000 votes.

Contrary to what Fund says, the Missouri site shows the Libertarian with 47,504 votes and the Progressive with 18,274. Talent at the moment is down 46,811 to winner Claire McCaskill. It’s possible that if the Libertarian didn’t run and the Progressive stayed, we’d be looking at a months-long nailbiter of a recount in the Show-Me state.

Both Senate seats in the GOP column would move the Senate from its new 51-49 Dem majority to a 51-49 GOP majority. A 50-50 Senate would have remained in GOP control because VP Cheney would break any tie votes.

Positivity: 1 of 2 Formerly Conjoined Twins Released

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:02 am

Almost 6 months to the day after they were born (HT Happy News):

Thursday, November 9, 2006; 7:17 PM

WASHINGTON — One of two formerly conjoined twins born to Wisconsin parents was discharged from the hospital Thursday, and their doctor said he hopes the other twin can be released in about a week.

Six-month-old McHale Twain Shaw, who was separated from brother Mateo Asher Shaw in September, was released from Children’s National Medical Center. McHale and parents Angie Benzschawel, 25, and Ryan Shaw, 28, of Sheboygan, Wis., will stay at a nearby apartment.

“It was very emotional to be able to finally bring our son home,” Benzschawel said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press about 20 minutes after returning from the hospital. “We’ve never been able to walk with him without wires, without a monitor, without oxygen. This was the first time we could actually walk him just being a baby and take him outside.”

Both parents said it didn’t feel real leaving the hospital with their boy after all this time.

“It was a weird feeling carrying him in his car seat,” said Shaw. “It’s awesome, for sure. We’re finally there _ at least halfway there.”

The chief surgeon on the case, Dr. Robert Keating, said McHale’s condition was excellent.

“At this point, we’re comfortable enough that he’s doing great from a medical standpoint,” Keating said in a telephone interview. “There are no pending issues or problems that would warrant his observation at the hospital.”

The twins were born May 10 joined at the lower back and with conjoined spinal cords.

Both boys had shunts put in to drain spinal fluid, but doctors had to remove Mateo’s after he developed an infection. Keating said the plan is to put in a shunt next Tuesday, with the goal of having Mateo released by the following weekend.

“Hopefully he’ll be behind his brother by about a week,” said Keating. “He’s eating like a pro, he’s gaining weight.”

Both boys have spina bifida, a defect that leaves the spine incompletely closed. McHale has the more pronounced case, leading doctors to predict that he would have a harder time walking and getting around than his brother.

But Keating said McHale has been moving his feet and legs.

“I would expect he will have function in his lower extremities,” he said. “What that will mean as far as running and walking _ time will tell. But he does move his feet, so that makes us optimistic.”

“We’re halfway there, having one of the babies go home,” Keating added. “At this point we’re on target, and it’s been a great experience.”

Shaw said he hoped the family would be home in Wisconsin by early next month.