Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year everyone - See you in 2012.

Extra - Auld Lang Syne sing-along.
First, quality of product - Or lack thereof.  Roger Ebert: "I'll tell you why movie revenue is dropping."  I think I saw one movie in 2011: "Moneyball" (which was great.)  But for me a big reason why I don't want to sit in a movie audience anymore is the cell phone users.  It's a near-constant distraction to see the glowing screens used by people who are unable to go two hours without texting.
Yo dawg, we cool? - If so, could you do me a solid and spot me a couple bucks?  The clock's tickin' down to midnight, knowwhatimean?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Suck it, Verizon - Can you hear me now?  CNN: "Verizon scraps $2 fee."  I am/was one of Verizon's customers who uses the "one-time" online bill pay option for the convenience, and there was no way I was going to pay that two dollars.

Sorry, Johnny.
Lots of OWS fun - Legal Insurrection: "Tweets of the Year."

Also, from Zero Hedge: "Words or phrases we hope not to hear in 2012."  To which I would add: "supercommittee."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Keith Richards lives! - One other thing: while I was driving around the Eastern seaboard visiting relatives for Christmas, I finished Richards' autobiography "Life."  Here is my super-condensed review:

First two-thirds of the book: Mick's a great guy!
Last third: Mick's a jerk! (Note: pejorative noun may not have been "jerk")

Good words - Right Wing News: "The 50 best political quotes for 2011."  Naturally, I prefer the ones that focus on the fiscal hole we're in, including #2.
Just another program

Will we look back on 2011 as the year when we ended Social Security?  Washington Post: "Payroll tax cut raises worries about Social Security's future funding"
Since its inception under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Social Security program has been premised on a simple contract: Americans pay into the program’s trust fund over years of paychecks through the payroll tax. In return, when they retire, they receive monthly benefits.
The payroll tax cut changes that. Instead being a protected program with its own stream of funding, Social Security, by taking money from general revenue, becomes more akin to other government initiatives such as Pentagon spending or clean-air regulation — programs that rely on income taxes and political jockeying for support.
“All of a sudden Social Security will have to compete with every other program, whereas before it had its own dedicated revenue,” said Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, an advocacy group. “It’s breaking the kind of firewall that has always existed between the trust fund and the operating fund.”
For the record, Social Security Works has long taken the position (IMO) that benefits can never be cut and that any and all tax and policy changes should be made to prop up the system no matter what.  When they (and socialist Bernie Sanders) express reservations about this payroll tax switcheroo, you know there's something deeper afoot here.
I'm home!

Well, I'm back from visiting all the relatives.  Here's the CDs I got this year:

Supertramp - Breakfast in America
The very best of Donna Summer
West Side Story
Prokofiev greatest hits

Eclectic, no?  Also I got Neal Stephenson's "REAMDE" which is pretty good so far.

Monday, December 26, 2011 have kids?

Apres Christmas, le credit card bills

I was reading the Sunday New York Times yesterday and came across this lament from comedian Adam Corolla:

First, I don’t know why the school systems are doing it, but they’re acting as if you’ll never see money your entire life. They’re so focused on cooking classes, ceramics classes, sewing classes, French, German, Spanish. Literally, I took agriculture, horticulture and five semesters of ceramics when I was in school. I never took one class in basic finance. Never learned how to handle a credit card. Never learned about compound interest.
I think credit cards exist in commerce for the same reason that casinos use chips for betting.  When you're tossing a plastic coin onto red-14, it's designed to detach you from the reality that you're laying down $100 in cash or next week's groceries.  Corolla is correct: why don't schools teach the basics of finance?  You know: saving, deferred gratification, planning for emergencies, living within one's means?

Pay for everything with cash for a month and you'll say: "Whoa, there goes my money."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Security theater - As the holidays approach and you're heading to the airport, remember that the TSA will stop you for cupcake frosting.  Fake boarding passes?  Not so much.
The 1% at the NY Times are different than you and me - Patterico reviews the huge payout to outgoing NYT chief executive as the paper looks for force out workers at regional papers: "Occupy the New York Times."  Yeah, that'll happen.
Let's raid Social Security to get some cash to borrow more money

What happened when we first cut the payroll tax?  Nothing good, as Louis Woodhill explains in this Forbes article:
Why didn’t the (approximately) $27 billion per calendar quarter tax cut spur demand?  Well, let’s look at what actually happened in 1Q2011.
First, the Treasury borrowed $27 billion additional dollars.  Then the $27 billion was (incrementally) distributed to workers via the payroll tax cut.  What did those people do with the money?  They saved it.  Saved it how?  On the margin, they saved it by buying the bonds that had been issued so that they could have the payroll tax cut.  Who will ultimately have to pay off the bonds?  The same people who got the tax cut.  Isn’t Keynesianism clever?
Well, it looks like the House Republicans are going to cut their losses and get out of town, giving Obama a big victory since Americans are going to be able to buy some pizzas.  Can you feel the stimulus?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All-in - Zero Hedge: "It's official: US debt-to-GDP ratio passes 100%."

In related news, Douglas Holtz-Eikin notes that the deficit reduction measures we were promised do not exist.
What voter fraud?

Garry Trudeau: "Voter fraud is close to non-existent!"

Fox News: "Officials plead guilty in New York voter fraud case."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Robbing from the poor and giving to the rich - Veronique de Rugy reviews entitlement spending's transfer of funds from the young to the poor in "Occupy AARP."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Deep-thinking economists at the NY Times

In the latest installment of carrying water for the Obama administration, some way-smart perfessers pick up the flag of class warfare and propose the "Brandeis rule."  Hold on to your socks for this stellar idea:
Enough is enough. Congress should reform our tax law to put the brakes on further inequality. Specifically, we propose an automatic extra tax on the income of the top 1 percent of earners — a tax that would limit the after-tax incomes of this club to 36 times the median household income.
Interesting that the Times disabled comments for this online article (at least for the non-subscribing 99%) since the fallacy of such a proposal invites instant ridicule.  I suppose the Tiger Woods could retire for the year after winning a single golf tournament.  Brad Pitt could make half-a-movie.

Oh, we're talking about the income of evil corporate overlords, right?  Well, according to Wikipedia Bill Gates earned an annual salary in 2006 of $617,000 and then he got a $350,000 bonus, for almost a million a year.  Gates's fortune is all from Microsoft stock and therein is the failure of taxing the income of the "rich": they'll just get compensation though other means.  The "rich" who won't be able to pay themselves in stock options are the small businessmen who we're praying will start hiring again.

Great idea, jokers.

Extra - Maggie's Farm: "Lobotomize the rich!"
Failure to launch

Hit & Run: "The ObamaCare implementation gauntlet."
Bizblogger: "CBO downgrades Obama stimulus effects."
ABC News: "Two-month payroll tax holiday passed by Senate, pushed by President, cannot be implemented properly, experts say."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kim Jong Il dead - Wow, 2011 has been a bad year for the two worst people on the face of the Earth: Osama Bin Laden bought the farm in May and now the North Korean nutcase is dead.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Romney, I suppose - The Hill reports that Iowa's top newspaper has endorsed Mitt Romney.  In related news, the Gingrich bubble has popped and Intrade has Romney well in the lead for the Republican nomination. I'm not a big fan, but I think Mitt has the best chance of all the GOP nominees to beat Obama.  So...hooray.

Extra - Here's David Paul Kuhn on RCP: "It's Obama, stupid: GOP will rally for Romney (or whomever)."  As usual, my vote in Massachusetts will be pivotal.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Kickin' that can - NY Times: "Senate agrees to two-month extension of payroll tax cut."  Our government is now resolute to continue with continuing resolutions.
Please, NBC, don't cancel my favorite show: "Community"

Computer problems - My son's computer has intermittent Wi-Fi connection: sometimes it connects and sometimes it doesn't.  The troubleshooting - both written and digital - is useless, e.g. "is it plugged in?"  The computer sees my modem address but won't connect to the network.  None of my other computers has a problem with connecting.  Frustrating.

Update - OK, here's what happened.  I found an online forum with somebody who had the same problem and it turns out he/she said there was a program interfering with the wireless connection.  I found some online game he plays and clicked on "Properties" then "Security" and changed all the settings from "Allow" to "Deny" for system control.  Rebooted, search for networks, voila.  You gotta watch these kids every second.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stop the presses, Congress does something - WSJ: "Congress blinks on shutdown."  Well, we wouldn't have to deal with these serial continuing resolutions if Congress just passed a budget.  Like they're supposed to.
Stop, thieves!

Chicago Tribune editorial: "Stop cheating Social Security with payroll tax cut - Extending the cut would shortchange the system - and deepen our enormous debt."
In their rush to head home for the holidays, members of neither party want to discuss how continuing this year's cut in the payroll tax and extending long-term jobless pay would add to our already enormous national debt. Here's why: The payroll taxes that otherwise would be paid into Social Security only would be recouped years later, and that's under the most optimistic scenarios. Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk told the Tribune editorial board Wednesday that both parties' proposals would add to U.S. borrowing — and move up the date when the most recent federal debt limit is exceeded.
Kirk's main concern: Social Security already is imperiled — unable to properly benefit future generations unless it is reformed. Maybe a one-year cut in the payroll tax for 2011 made some sense. But continuing to cheat the program of the routine revenues on which it is structured inevitably endangers its ability to meet its obligations. And filling any shortfall in these Social Security revenues by borrowing still more billions is beyond foolhardy. It's also the same sort of we'll-gladly-pay-later-for-entitlement-spending-today that has put many nations of Europe in severe debt crises.
The one-year extension will be "paid" with 10-year revenue projections that 1.) may not materialize and 2.) future Congresses are not constrained to fund.

Extra - NY Times: "Disagreement over payroll tax cut's impact on Social Security."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Year of the protester - Althouse: "90+ people out of work after OWS wrecks business at Milk Street Cafe."
Like anybody's watching - Hot Air: "MSNBC apologizes to Romney campaign."  I'm sure this is just another one of those isolated incidents where the media loses track of its legendary objectivity.
About those trillion-dollar deficits - Hit & Run: "New poll finds concerns about big government near all-time high."  What's interesting is that there was a bump around 2008 when Americans said "big business" was more of a threat, but that's been largely forgotten.

Related fun - The Corner: "When Government grows, the economy shrinks."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Jerry Maguire mission statement - I'm a bit of a Disney nut so I got a kick out of this post over at Hit & Run: "How 20-year-old Katzenburg memo changed Disney."  It's a long stream-of-consciousness type piece about how Disney should focus on stories and ideas instead of looking for the latest blockbuster.

The one thing I remember from the memo: Katzenburg really didn't like "Dick Tracy."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Messin' with Social Security

Charles Blahous has a good article over at E21 titled "Why continuing the payroll tax cut could eventually end Social Security as we know it."  Essentially, he poses that by intermingling Social Security with the general revenue fund, the traditional idea of the program as a trust fund for future retirees is broken:
The ongoing effort to partially convert Social Security from payroll-tax-financing to income-tax-financing – by further cutting the payroll tax as a stimulus measure and replacing the funds with general revenues – may in short order put an end to the longstanding conception of Social Security as a benefit earned by worker contributions. The demise of this conception would also threaten the special political protections Social Security benefits have long enjoyed.
Of course if you believe, as I do, that the Social Security Trust Fund is just an accounting trick anyway, this conflation of trust fund and general revenue funds is just semantics.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chance the Gardener made more sense - In a preview to tonight's 60 Minutes interview, CBS released this excerpt where Steve Kroft asks President Obama if he's trying to redistribute wealth.  Obama responds by repeating the problem, not by answering the question.  I guess we'll find out tonight if Kroft follows up with: "Is that a yes?"  In fact, I don't know where CBS invented the title "Not redistributing wealth" since it certainly sounds to me like that's exactly what Obama's proposing.

Extra - From Verum Serum.  Well, I caught the interview and it boiled down to: "I don't control the weather and, man, those Republicans hate clean water."

Friday, December 09, 2011

The leadership portion of this Presidency is now complete

Obama revealed more than he realized in his Kansas speech this past week, full of florid language, ping-pong teleprompter scanning, and class warfare.  I think a lot of Americans are going to realize that it's all politics and demagoguery from here on out and there won't be a single decision from this White House that doesn't focus on the 2012 election.  The bankruptcy of Obama's Administration can be seen in the paucity of the "solutions" he proposes when he's not bashing the rich.

Here's Charles Krauthammer in the WashPost with "Obama's campaign for class resentment":
As is his solution, that old perennial: selective abolition of the Bush tax cuts. As if all that ails us, all that keeps the economy from humming and the middle class from advancing, is a 4.6-point hike in marginal tax rates for the rich.
This, in a country $15 trillion in debt with out-of-control entitlements systematically starving every other national need. This obsession with a sock-it-to-the-rich tax hike that, at most, would have reduced this year’s deficit from $1.30 trillion to $1.22 trillion is the classic reflex of reactionary liberalism — anything to avoid addressing the underlying structural problems, which would require modernizing the totemic programs of the New Deal and Great Society.
Michael Barone hits the same note with "Obama's thin gruel at Osawatomie":
But what’s really staggering is the weakness of his public policy arguments. The long-term unsustainability of our entitlement programs he blames solely on the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts—an explanation no serious observer regards as anything but incomplete, to say the least. He points to growing income inequality and to remedy it advocates policies that are utterly inadequate to the task.
But let's imagine for a moment that gathering an extra $80 billion a year from the rich - hell, let's just make it $800 billion - is a feasible proposition.  It still wouldn't cover a single year of borrowing (never mind overall spending) and does nothing whatsoever to address the real drivers of our debt.

Oh, and one other thing: when exactly did Obama have this revelation that we could just raise taxes on the upper crust and everything would be cool?  It never, ever, occurred to him during the first two years of his Presidency when he could have passed any old tax hike he wanted without fear of a filibuster.  The Democratically-controlled Congress could have pushed through any budget they wanted.  But that would have involved choices and numbers on a piece of paper.  Coincidentally, the drive to raise taxes only started after Republicans took back control of the House and gained in the Senate, largely on the anti-deficit revulsion of the country manifested in the Tea Party.

Ah, then - finally - Obama had his devil.  There's no need for budgets, or fiscal restraint, or even solutions that make any kind of mathematically sense: just stir that pot of class resentment.  This is now a failure of leadership compounded by a failure of character.

Extra - From Ace.

More - Zero Hedge: "It was deceitful, inaccurate, revisionist, and demagogic."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Politics makes strange bedfellows

Well, I should have searched around before I posted below.  Here's Bernie Sanders (Socialist-VT) joining hands with the Tea Party:
Bipartisan concerns that extending the payroll-tax cut would weaken Social Security are spilling into the open, complicating the effort to allow the tax break for workers to continue into 2012.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), a leading liberal voice, last week voted against a Democratic bill to extend the tax cut. That put him in line with Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican, and Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.), a member of the tea-party caucus.
"If you do it for two years, you know what it's probably going to be harder to break that habit in the third year," Mr. Sanders said, adding, "in which case you've got a permanent process by which you've cut the payroll tax and diverted huge sums of money."
And from NPR: "How payroll tax cut affects Social Security's future"
Charles Blahous, whom Obama appointed last year to be one of the six trustees of Social Security and Medicare, thinks it's a far greater danger than most people anticipate. He too says the payroll tax break might be harming Social Security's long-term solvency.
"I mean, I'm a Republican and I'm a conservative, and if you were to ask me at a first approximation, do I want lower taxes or higher taxes, then obviously I want lower taxes," Blahous says. "The problem here is that I'm also a public Social Security trustee, and so I'm honor-bound to identify when this causes a change or a difficulty for the Social Security program, which it does."
And here's Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Some lawmakers do say the tax break is worrisome, including Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
"I think one more year should be about the limit," Whitehouse says, "because of the nature of Social Security."
Enough to get us past the next election.

The great Social Security funding shift - This line jumped out at me in the Powerline post "What does the payroll tax have to do with the pipeline?"
So the Democrats’ opportunistic drive to cut FICA taxes is most likely a death knell for Social Security, as many liberal commentators have noted. How Republicans should react depends mostly on how one views the Social Security program.
Really?  What "liberal commentators" have expressed concern about cutting FICA taxes and replacing them with general revenues?  As somebody who's kinda tuned in to this issue, I haven't seen it.  But in a roundabout fashion, John Hinderaker makes a point: Social Security used to be funded solely by payroll taxes and (recently) the special Treasury bonds in the Trust Fund.  But the current payroll tax cut being paid from general revenues and more borrowing...which just puts the debt back on the books in a different place.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

I'm gonna be lined up to watch this like Ralph and Randy at Higbee's department store

Finally - finally - they made a musical of "A Christmas Story" which is guaranteed to win a major award.  NY Times: "That wish for a BB gun, set to song and dance"
Based on the 1966 book “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” by the humorist Jean Shepherd, “A Christmas Story” has been embraced by fans for its tale of a late-Depression-era Christmas and a boy named Ralphie with a wish for a BB gun. Years of repeated reruns on television since its 1983 release have given it pop-culture cachet. The house in Cleveland where parts of the film were shot is now a museum. There are “Christmas Story” underpants and ties. A 2000 play version continues to make the regional theater rounds.
Now “A Christmas Story” has been turned into an almost $5 million musical. It’s currently on a five-city tour, with hopes to build a holiday franchise in whatever location it plays.

Stick around, Flick!  It's going to make "West Side Story" look like...a football.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Doesn't play well with others - Roll Call: "Snowe, who is up for re-election next year, said the Obama White House has the worst relationship with Congress of any of the six presidents with whom she's served."

It's not just Congressional Republicans that Mr. Hope & Change is ignoring.  He didn't consult with members of his own party before pushing forward with his phony-baloney Stimulus Jr. bill.
Welcome to the club - UK Telegraph: "All 17 Eurozone countries face losing AAA credit status."
The American debt trap

Robert Samuelson looks at Europe and notes it could happen here: "The welfare state's reckoning"
The numbers -- to those who don't know them -- are astonishing. In 1870, all government spending was 7.3 percent of national income in the United States, 9.4 percent in Britain, 10 percent in Germany and 12.6 percent in France. By 2007, the figures were 36.6 percent for the United States, 44.6 percent for Britain, 43.9 percent for Germany and 52.6 percent for France. Military costs once dominated budgets; now, social spending does.
The difference being that social spending can never be reduced.  It only increases because there's no will for Americans to cut their own benefits.
The paradox is that the welfare state, designed to improve security and dampen social conflict, now looms as an engine for insecurity, conflict and disappointment. Facing the hard questions of finding a sustainable balance between individual protections and better economic growth, the Europeans have spent years dawdling. The parallel with our situation is all too obvious.
In other words, the government big enough to give you anything is big enough to take it away.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Entangling alliances with none - That Thomas Jefferson had the right idea, especially when one looks across the pond to the mess that is Europe.  CNN: "Europe goes back to the drawing board."  Good luck this time.

Extra - Doug Ross: "Euro-bomb!"
You got moxie, kid!  Now let's crush it - George Will tells a cautionary tale of government regulation run amok in "Choking on Obamacare."  He tells the story of restaurant mogul Carl Karcher who started out with a hot dog cart and ended up with the Carl Jr. franchise.  What I took away from the article is that Karcher could never survive, much less thrive, in today's regulatory environment.  By Will's estimate, the regulations of Obamacare will cost twice what the late Karcher's company spent on building new restaurants last year.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Blue Hawaii - Jammie Wearing Fools: "Exhausted from grueling fundraising trips, POTUS to vacation for 17 days."  In other news, Obama is insisting that Congress work through the holidays to extend the payroll tax cut.  It's called "leadership" and Obama will be ready to sign that bill from the beach when needed.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Flunky the Late Night Viewer Mail clown

Good news/bad news on employment - Today's unemployment numbers with 120,000 jobs added to the economy and the U3 rate dropping to 8.6% is good news.  On the other hand, the economy has to generate a lot more jobs just to get back to "normal."

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The "soak the rich" narrative - Powerline: "The Democrats' fuzzy math."  In sum, the wealthy do not have enough taxable income to satiate all of the spending dreamed up by the Dems.  Do they teach math at Columbia Journalism School?  Probably not.
Politicized or optimistic?

If you're getting the feeling that unemployment numbers are always "unexpected" there may be something going on at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  As Zero Hedge notes, the jobless estimates are nearly always low and revised upwards later:
And going back to the BS from the BLS, as John Lohman's chart below shows that in 2011 initial and continuing claims have been revised higher the week following 91% and 100% of the time, respectively. A purely statistical explanation for this phenomenon is "impossible."
Bad news revised worse.