Mark Twain sums up my feelings nicely:
"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."
Might have something more to say once the details on what actually happened firm up.
Mark Twain sums up my feelings nicely:
"I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."
Might have something more to say once the details on what actually happened firm up.
Another problem is the gap between the UN resolution (which calls on Gaddafi to refrain from massacring the people of Libya) and President Obama’s stated objective of, well, regime change in Libya. “Gaddafi must go,” the President has repeatedly said.
Any outcome that leaves Gaddafi in office will be a defeat for the United States, but it is far from clear that the establishment of no-fly and no-drive zones plus air strikes will bring Gaddafi down. What does Obama do if the no-fly and no-drive zones and the airstrikes don’t work?
More, the political objectives of the UN resolution are unclear. The resolution aims to ban Gaddafi attacks on rebels, but doesn’t call for removing him from office. Literally interpreted, this amounts to a call for an informal partition of Libya into pro- and anti-Gaddafi portions with foreign air forces keeping the peace between them. This hardly sounds like a recipe for long term stability — or even for resolving the crisis if Gaddafi refuses to stand down.
If there is a guiding strategic vision at work here (a big if, given the number of countries involved in designing and pushing the resolution), the plan seems to be for air strikes to stop Gaddafi’s progress on the ground and to degrade the morale of regime loyalists in the hope that the regime would crumble away. Should that fail the backup appears to be that over the somewhat longer term massive military and political aid to the rebels would help them take over the whole country without direct participation of foreign ground troops, even as tightening sanctions reduced Gaddafi’s access to fuel, weapons and bribe money. I would not call this a bad plan — and it might be the best that could be devised under the circumstances — but it is, on the face of it, filled with risk.
I was very skeptical about from the beginning regarding the efficacy of a no-fly-zone (NFZ) in Libya and now that the UNSC passed a resolution to that effect my initial fears seem confirmed. Here's how I think this will play out:
First Muamar Qahtafi (MQ) just declared a ceasefire to "protect civilians" and comply with the UNSC resolution. This is not surprising because it is the first step that will enable him to game this resolution and maintain his hold on power. Here's the most important part of the resolution (UNSC 1973), which authorizes member states,
...to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory...
By implementing a cease-fire MQ is nominally complying with the resolution since he is not harming civilians. This ceasefire simply takes away the justifications for military action in the resolution. There may still be some airstrikes in order to firmly establish the NFZ, but there will be little justification to attrit Libyan forces enough to allow the rebels to win the civil war, much less pursue regime change directly.
Additionally, not all the countries that will enforce this NFZ agree on the scope of operations. Some are saying that this explicitly authorizes what amounts to regime change, others make a narrow interpretation that as long as MQ behaves then further action is unwarranted. This internal division is what the Libyan ceasefire exploits and it will prove to be a big test for the coalition assembling to implement this resolution.
The central aim of this resolution is ostensibly to protect civilians, but that is a goal with no clear endstate or a definition for success that can be definitely accomplished militarily. This vague and open-ended mission, when combined MQ's manipulation and the interpretive divisions within the coalition, will result in no clear consensus on how to proceed once the NFZ is established. There will be no political will to "seal the deal" and overthrow him as long as he's smart enough not to provoke action and by all accounts he is. Dictators like MQ don't maintain power for decades without a keen talent for survival.
These factors clearly show where policy equilibrium will come to rest. The stage is therefore set for OSW part deux - an enduring, undecisive intervention where MQ maintains nominal control through manipulation of a vague UNSC resolution and the wishful thinking of policymakers who should know better.
In an attempt to figure out the extent of the devastation in Japan, I've been matching photographs of the disaster to satellite imagery.
For example, look at the triangular building(s) in these two pictures from this Atlantic compilation:
Here is the location for that building and the surrounding area in google earth:
Notice what’s missing – an entire neighborhood.
Here's another one. The concrete area to the right of the canal is the airport at Sendai. There are a lot of pictures floating around the web from this area.
And here's the oblique view from GE:
The town of Minamisanriku, population 17,000. Currently, 10,000 are missing:
Minamisanriku before (Google Earth image):
I'm pleased my comment on communication and journalism is climate science got a good reception (it was kindly highlighted by science journalists John Fleck and Tom Yulsman.). To lend more support to my point in that comment, there is this poll on the federal budget deficit:
More than 7 in 10 respondents say slashing foreign aid and pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan would result in substantial savings, and large majorities back such moves. Yet foreign aid accounts for about 1 percent of federal spending, and the Pentagon requested $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, less than 5 percent of Obama’s $3.83 trillion federal budget.
Fewer than half of respondents say cutting Medicare benefits or raising the age at which Americans receive Social Security retirement benefits would have a large impact on the deficit, and only 2 in 10 favor cutting Medicare benefits. Such entitlements account for about 40 percent of the budget and are the main drivers of the long-term deficit.
This poll is pretty consistent with other polls on the topic going back years. Many, many people in this country fundamentally misunderstand some very basic aspects of the federal budget. Can this be blamed on journalism? I don't think so. Some in the climate concerned community blame "false balance" for muddling the message on climate change which resulted in diminished support for climate-related initiatives. Some journalists turned this argument on it's head and suggested it was the scientists who failed to convince the public. Yet the public ignorance on the budget is equally large, if not larger, than climate change and there is no "false balance" here. The biggest criticism I can muster against journalism is that I wish there were more coverage of this topic, but I would expect that everyone would like more coverage of topics that matter to them, so even that criticism isn't very strong. Journalists do cover the budget deficit and none (at least that I'm aware of!) report anything that would give support to the public's mistaken views. And it's not like the relative size of the foreign aid and medicare budgets are complicated or difficult research questions. Even on this simple issue, many, many people are misinformed.
What does this tell us? In my opinion it reinforces the idea that communication it much more than simply transmitting knowledge or information. This example is another demonstration that factually exposing an issue in the media is no guarantee that the public will receive the message, much less come to the conclusions one would expect.
I haven't seen much of anything on this yet. It's a big document (240 pages) and so far I've only skimmed it except for a few areas. My initial impression is both good and bad.
First the good: It's a solid piece of analysis that provides well-researched and documented figures for a ton of different policy options. It will take some time to sift through, but this will provide some solid policy options for dealing with the deficit.
Now the bad: Unfortunately it's badly organized, confusing and even a bit misleading. Wonks are going to get a lot out of this document, but I think most everyone else is going to get confused or make wrong conclusions. It's confusing and a bit misleading because the analysis uses the CBO baseline projection which makes several assumptions that aren't likely to come to pass. I won't go into detail here, except to say the baseline projection assumes that all the tax cuts over the past decade expire, it assumes the government will reduce medicare payments to doctors by 1/4, that the AMT fix will no longer be fixed, and that government spending will not grow faster than inflation. Again, not very likely.
The analysis itself looks at three areas: Mandatory spending, discretionary spending and revenues. No surprises there. The most interesting area so far, in my opinion at least, are options that increase the deficit. Specifically, option A-1 (page 211) looks at what would happen if all the tax cuts since 2001 were permanently extended (they are currently set to expire in 2012 unless Congress takes action - and it's almost certain that Congress will extend at least some of these cuts). Over a 10 year period, CBO estimates that the difference between letting them all expire in 2012 as scheduled and extending them permanently is $3.25 trillion dollars. That sounds like a lot until one considers the total deficit over that same period will be around $12 trillion. So even if we roll back ALL the tax cuts made over the last ten years we'll still run substantial deficits that, over ten years, would add up to $9 trillion - almost a trillion a year.
And that is your depressing thought for the day.
This is part 3 of a series of posts on taxes. In part 1, I discussed and explained my own taxes, in part 2 I explained why taxing the "rich" cannot balance our budget without other, substantial, measures. In this part I will discuss the difference between marginal and effective tax rates.
In tax-related conversations around the blogosphere, I've found that many people do not understand the difference between marginal and effective tax rates, nor are most people aware of the substantial gulf that usually exists between the two. This misunderstanding is also evident in that most discussions of taxes only involve changing marginal rates. In short, people simplify the tax system into marginal-rate comparisons. However, as we will see, marginal rates are only a part of the total tax picture and they are a poor way to simplify what is a very complex tax system. Effective tax rates are a much better measure because the accurately measure what people actually pay.
To begin with, top marginal tax rates, or even marginal rates more broadly, are not strictly determinative of what people actually pay. There are two reasons for this: First, brackets scale with income. For example, here are the 2010 marginal rates for married people filing jointly:
Many people assume that all income is taxed at the highest bracket based on income, but that is not the case. The rich and poor both pay 10% on that first $17k of income. Thus, on that basis alone, it should be obvious that no one actually pays their top marginal rate because portions of income are taxed at lower rates.
The second reason marginal rates are not determinative of what people actually pay is most people receive deductions and credits which reduce what they actually pay. To use me as an example, my gross income of $85k would ostensibly put me in the 25% bracket. But that rate would only apply to $13k of that $85k (again, because these are marginal rates). In reality, however, I'm not in the 25% bracket at all. Deductions and exemptions reduce my taxable income to $55k which is in the 15% bracket. All of my taxable income is subject to the 15% tax except for the first $17k, which is taxed at the lowest rate of 10%. However, I also receive credits reducing my tax burden further. So even though I'm technically in the 25% bracket, my effective tax rate at the end of the day is less than 4%. The difference between 25% and 4% is subtantial - clearly there is more to the picture than marginal rates.
Another way to look at this is to examine rates on the rich. Top marginal rates for the wealthy have dropped dramatically over the years but effective rates dropped much less dramatically. Consider this series of tables from the CBO (PDF) which shows effective tax rates between 1979 and 2005. The top marginal rate went from 70% in 1979 to 35% in 2005. For the top 1% of earners, the effective tax rate in 1979 was 37% and in 2005 it was 31%. There are similar discrepancies for income earners at almost all income levels.
In short, discussions about marginal tax rates are not the best way to talk about tax policy. If one's goal is to either raise or reduce taxes, then there are many ways to skin that cat besides adjusting marginal rates. For example, eliminating deductions and credits would, by itself, increase my taxes considerably. The tax system is very complex and that complexity makes it very difficult to tinker with only one factor and expect reliable, consistent outcomes. Adjusting marginal rates alone can, therefore, result in uneven and unpredictable outcomes. For example, I looked at what would happen in my case if marginal rates were simply doubled across the board. For me, the result would be about a 300% increase in my effective tax rate. For other people the relative increase could be much lower or higher. Because of the system's complexity, we don't see linear returns from adjusting marginal rates, so we need to examine the system as a whole. That is difficult to do however, and is one reason why I think simplifying the tax system is an important reform regardless of whether one things people should pay more or less taxes.
In the next installment I'll look at historical effective tax rates and see how they compare to today. Specifically, I will try to see if it would theoretically be possible to get a balanced budget today simply by going back to tax rates from the 1960's or 1970's, which is a claim I've seen a few times now. Surprisingly, this is turning into a difficult research project, but hopefully I'll have it done soon.
Full disclosure: I love my NPR. I am of "member" (meaning I donate money to) my two local NPR stations. I get most of my "what's going on in the world today" news from NPR. I enjoy their weekend shows. Their talk shows are generally much better than anything on TV. I probably consume 4-5 hours a day between the music and news programs.
The brouhaha from Jame's O'Keefe's undercover taping of NPR executives could well be the nail in the coffin for NPR's government funding. It's sad it's come to this point and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that NPR executives live in little bubbles like most executives do. Hopefully new leadership will give the organization a new way forward after these latest debacles.
Despite my strong support for NPR, I'm against governmnt funding for NPR. My reasons align with those given here and can be summed up by:
The thing is, however, I don't support the current GoP effort to cut off funding. The reason is that I think it needs to be done responsibly and cutting it all off at once is not the responsible way to do it. Cutting it all at once is going to cause problems for NPR and they will really have to scramble to their funding needs next year. It would be an unneccesary shock to their finances.
The responsible way to cut NPR's funding is to phase it in over a period of time - say, five years. Begin with a very modest cut this year and then ramp the cuts up until they are gone by year five. That way, the organization and, especially, the smaller stations that do rely on that funding, have time to find money elsewhere or else cut their costs in other ways.
There's currently a big debate in the climate change community about communication in general and the role of journalists in particular. On a thread over at Keith Kloor's blog, I left the following comment:
I think there are a lot of faulty assumptions that underlie this whole debate. Communication isn’t simply transmitting information – the information must be received, processed and filtered through the mindset and cognitive biases of each individual. The common assumption in this debate seems to be that improving the message automatically results in better “communication.” Further, some suggest that if only the appropriate “facts” were transmitted then people would be convinced to support their particular policy preferences. The fact that people don’t support those policies is used as evidence that the message is inadequate, resulting in another round of blame the messenger.
The problem, of course, is that the sender of information is only half of the equation. Further, in my opinion the sending side is less important than the receiving side when it comes to effective communication and I think the cognitive science literature supports that opinion. Journalists and scientists can always improve their messaging and narratives, but they should be cognizant that there are real limitations to what the “message” can do. The assumption that people will be convinced if they are only shown the “facts” is naive. Anyone who has tried to convince their best friend that the person they are in love with is a philandering scoundrel understands this.
Additionally, the sad fact of the matter is that a lot of people don’t trust journalists and, these days, a lot of people aren’t exposed to journalism at all, much less a journalist who specifically covers science. When journalists relay information contrary to people’s predilections and biases then distrust is only heightened. The same goes for scientists. Eviscerating each other over perceived failures in messaging does nothing to solve the real communication problem, which is on the receiving end. The number of people who are genuinely open to convincing evidence one way or another is quite small. Brink Lindsey explains this better than I can. Although he focuses on partisanship, the description is not limited to partisans (emphasis added):
It’s not just that partisans are vulnerable to believing fatuous nonsense. It’s that their beliefs, whether sensible or otherwise, about a whole range of empirical questions are determined by their political identity. There’s no epistemologically sound reason why one’s opinion about, say, the effects of gun control should predict one’s opinion about whether humans have contributed to climate change or how well Mexican immigrants are assimilating — these things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Yet the fact is that views on these and a host of other matters are indeed highly correlated with each other. And the reason is that people start with political identities and then move to opinions about how the world works, not vice versa.
This is not something that journalists and scientists can easily overcome. Convincing people will be a long, hard slog no matter how convincing the message appears and no matter how much one believes one’s facts “speak for themselves.” If climate scientists want to convince the public, they should not make unnecessary enemies of journalists and instead consider alternative approaches.
This communication problem isn't confined to climate change, or even science in general. I experienced the challenges personally many times in the intelligence community. Even though our role in the IC is specifically mandated to inform policymakers, convincing them on an issue contrary to what they already believe is almost always a challenge. That is not their fault, and really, this problem is not anyone's "fault" since cognitive bias and mindsets are features of the human mind that we cannot change.
Charles Hugh Smith has a couple of excellent posts up on the internal paradoxes in the two prevalent political ideologies in the US. I'm not crazy about his writing style, but once you get past that, I think he identifies the paradoxes in both ideologies. First, the Progressives:
"Progressives" don't like The Patriot Act and other Central State over-reach, but they are passionately wedded to an ever larger and ever more powerful Savior State that can impose "solutions" on the planet and the nation.
The "good" Savior State and the "bad" Central State are one in the same. You can't create a Central State that collects ever more powers to control, intercede, intervene and manipulate and not get a Central State that over-reaches and bloats into a collection of self-aggrandizing, self-serving fiefdoms and State-chartered monopolies like the Military-Industrial complex and "healthcare," to name but two State-cartel partnerships.
So-called "Progressives" love these State-monopoly partnerships because they invite "top-down" "solutions" which can be shoved down the food chain. The idea that people can sort out their own lives is anathema to "Progressives" because it would deprive them of the large-scale bureaucracies and concentrations of power that they see as the foundations of "solutions."
So-called "Conservatives" claim to want small government, but they can't resist fattening themselves at the trough of the Central State/Savior State. Reaching for the very pinnacle of hypocrisy, not only do so-called "Conservatives" greedily lap up all the State largesse enjoyed by proponents of the Savior State--the overflowing troughs of Medicare, for example--but they do other welfare recipients one better by gorging on tax breaks, oil leases on government land and offshore tax-avoidance scams that others at the Central State trough can only dream of.
The number of "small government Conservatives" who renounce their Savior State largesse-- Social Security and Medicare--is essentially zero.
Read them both.