Monday, December 31, 2012

Obamacare Hits Home

Courtesy of USAA, the bill-we-had-to-pass-to-find-out-what's-in-it:

Many Americans could face higher tax bills Jan. 1, 2013, as a result of four health care-reform law changes.

Here's a look at what's about to hit — unless Congress otherwise acts — and how you may be able to minimize the impact to you.

What's Coming Jan. 1

1. Limit on flexible spending account (FSA) contributions. Today, employers set their own caps on how much employees can contribute to these plans that let them use pretax money to pay for health care expenses. For 2013, the government will enforce a $2,500 limit per employee.

2. A new Medicare surtax on investment income. Until now, Medicare taxes have only applied to earned income. For 2013, taxpayers filing individually with wages and self-employment income above $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) will pay a 3.8% surtax on the lower of:

  • Their net investment income — which includes interest, dividends, capital gains and other amounts.
  • The amount of their modified adjusted gross income that is greater than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly).

3. An additional Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income for some. The existing Medicare payroll tax of 2.9% (of which 1.45% is paid by a taxpayer through payroll deductions) will be increased by 0.9% on wages or self-employment income that exceeds $200,000 for single and qualifying head of household and widow(er) filers ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly).

4. Higher hurdle for deducting medical expenses. Currently, out-of-pocket medical costs only are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. For 2013, that hurdle will rise to 10%. But if you're 65 or older, that threshold remains frozen at 7.5% through 2016.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Don't Drink and Play with Fire

Oh boy.

Note to would-be avengers of American servicemen everywhere: whatever delusions you may have notwithstanding, you are unlikely to effect a blow for liberty or much of anything else while under the influence of (if Randy Linn is to be believed) 45 beers.

Having got that out of the way, the most aggravating part of courtroom theater is where the judge takes it upon himself to lecture the defendant:

U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary told Linn that his acts were an attack on all places of religion and that the mosque was a symbol of peace.

Wrong on both counts. Linn was not attacking "all places of religion" or even religion in general. He was attacking Islam, as he himself made clear. And the mosque in question is not a symbol of peace, but rather a symbol of Muslim colonization of and ambitions with respect to America.

"You are no better than the terrorists or extremists you sought to punish," Zouhary said.

Prosecutors said Linn drove about two hours from his home to suburban Toledo on Sept. 30 and broke into the mosque where he poured gasoline on the rug and lit it on fire.

Obviously, Judge Zouhary should get out of his cave on Mars and acquaint himself with the terrorist goings-on here on earth. Millions of Christian victims of Muslims would be so lucky to only lose a prayer rug.

This whole business will give talking points to Muslims and their, um, coat-holders in the media about how awful they're treated, but utterly fail to make them return to their own countries.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Panetta: “Please, Brer Fox, Please Don’t Throw Me In That Briar Patch!”

A memo from SECDEF Leon Panetta with the subject line, “Implications of Ongoing Fiscal Cliff Negotiations,” is circulating among DOD agencies.  The memo is reasonably informative on a point of particular interest to me:  no immediate change to operations are planned in the event we go over the “fiscal cliff'”, i.e., execute the budget cuts planned last year as part of the negotiations over the debt ceiling; however, civilian furloughs may become necessary later in the year.

But this line left a bad taste in my mouth:

Our civilian employees should keep in mind that the Administration remains focused on working with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that avoids such cuts.

The way I see it, the office of the Secretary of Defense is dual-hatted, and Panetta is called to fill two distinct roles.  The first role is political:  he represents the administration to the public on matters military.  The second is role is leadership:  he runs the DoD and manages the soldiers and civilians of the Armed Services.

In the political role, it is entirely appropriate to begin his sentences with a phrase like, “The Administration is committed . . .”  That’s what politicians do.  I may kinda suck when it’s the administration of the other party, but there it is, and it would be naïve of us to think he’s somehow not going to do Obama’s bidding.

But the memo in question is being passed down the chain of command.  We’re not reading it in the press; we’re reading it in official emails passed along by our commanders.  In that context, it’s inappropriate to engage in what is essentially political propaganda, trying to convince us that Obama is somehow on our side, and I can’t recall any previous SECDEF pulling this stunt in my 21 years of government service.

It’s especially inappropriate in this case since the statement is a bald faced lie, and Panetta almost certainly knows it.  Obama is quite happy to go “over the cliff”; it’s almost exactly the mix of tax hikes and defense spending cuts he wants anyway.

And while I am loathe to admit it, they’re pretty much what we need.  Yes, they will be painful.  But the pain is coming anyway:  we are all of us living beyond our means and have been doing so for the last 12 years if not longer.  Plenty of politicians, many of whom voted to set up this “cliff” in the first place, whinge on about how across-the-board cuts aren’t “smart”.  Perhaps not, but they’re honest cuts, not “budget agreements” with vague promises of cuts nine to ten years away.

Panetta should spend his memo time explaining how he is prioritizing DOD missions, not peddling Obama’s bull.  He should be ashamed of himself.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Unions Are Not the Enemy

The images coming out of Michigan in the wake of its recent right-to-work legislation are disheartening.

Let me begin by conceding the moral case:  no one should be required to join any organization as a condition of employment*.  But what difference will it actually make?

UNION BOSS:  “Okay, everybody, listen up.  Y’all may have heard that Jim Bob decided not to join our union.  Now, it’s important that you understand that, according to the right-to-work law, he has the right not to do that.  So it’s important that nobody do nuthin’ to him, like throw rocks through the windows of his house on 123 Straight St., or slash the tires of his sandy brown 1998 Buick Skylark when its parked at the factory.  And its especially important that y’all’s kids don’t mess with his kids, Billy and Tommy, in 4th and 6th grades at Sandy Hook Elementary, by, like beatin’ ‘em up at recess.  ‘Cause, you know, that would be bad.”

UNION GOONS:  “Right boss.  123 Straight St.  Got it.”

Seriously, I’m not necessarily arguing that right-to-work laws have made southern states attractive to industrial development, but I’m not sure how it actually works.

But more importantly, I am morally certain that Barak Obama and his moneymen, watching the spectacle of Michiganders, almost all of them white, coming to blows outside the legislature,  are laughing their asses off.  Keeping the GOP and the unions antagonistic towards each other is all part of his plan to keep power until immigration makes the GOP unelectable.

The GOP, meanwhile, may never get the support of the unions, but it needs those union members votes if it ever expects to win the presidency again.  Again, once the GOP picked the fight, then it’s better that they won, but really, were there really no more pressing problems to worry about?

* It’s quite reasonable for, say, a church that operates a private school, to require teachers to be members of the church.  But the private schools I know about don’t actually impose this requirement.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Weekly Standard: Rotten in Denmark?

Elliot Abrams is angry at Denmark:

The latest news out of Denmark bore this headline: "Jews Warned Not to Wear Kipot, Stars of David in Copenhagen."

His link is to the Israeli Nation News, but whatever.

Here is an excerpt:

Israeli and Jewish officials in Denmark on Wednesday warned Jews to avoid openly wearing religious symbols and dress when moving about Copenhagen amid rising anti-Israeli sentiments. "We advise Israelis who come to Denmark and want to go to the synagogue to wait to don their skull caps until they enter the building and not to wear them in the street, irrespective of whether the areas they are visiting are seen as being safe," Israel's ambassador to Denmark, Arthur Avnon, told AFP. Avnon added that visitors were also advised not to "speak Hebrew loudly" or demonstrably wear Star of David jewelry, the news agency reported. Denmark's national Jewish Religious Community organization has also advised its members, and those at the private Jewish school in Copenhagen, to exercise caution. Caroline Jewish School headmaster Jan Hansen told daily Jyllands-Posten: "It is not something that we do officially, but if the issue comes up we would say (to our pupils) they should think twice before walking into certain areas of Copenhagen with a skull cap or Star of David."

This is indeed a shame. Denmark's Jews trouble nobody and the fact that it's dangerous for them to wear what they want is tragic. But Abrams then writes:

The Holocaust Museum web site tells us of a different Denmark

  • Germany occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940. However, Danish Jews were not persecuted until the autumn of 1943.
  • When the German police began searching for and arresting Jews on the night of October 1, 1943, the Danish police refused to cooperate.
  • Unlike Jews in other countries under Nazi rule, the Jews of Denmark were never forced to wear the yellow Star of David or any other identifying badge.
  • Approximately 500 Jews were deported from Denmark to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Following protests from their government, these Danish inmates were allowed to receive letters and even some care packages. Most of them survived the Holocaust.

It seems, from this information, that a Jew could more safely walk the streets of Denmark's capital and count on the Danish government’s protection in 1942 than today, 70 years later.

This is dishonest on several levels. Most obvious is that if Denmark seems different to Abrams than it once did, he should mention that it's because it is less Danish. Abrams fails to quote the part of the Israeli Nation News article that gives the context:

According to figures from the Jewish Belief Centre, the organization has received 37 reports of anti-Jewish incidents this year, predominantly in the heavily immigrant Noerrebro neighborhood and around the Jewish synagogue in central Copenhagen.

Denmark's Jewish community is estimated at between 6,000 and 8,000 people.

In September, a Jewish rabbinical college in Germany similarly warned its students against wearing kippot in public, after Rabbi Daniel Alter was attacked by four Arab youths in Berlin.

Denmark's real failure is an immigration policy that allows Arabic Muslims to infest its country. But Abrams prefers to criticize Denmark for struggling with the fallout.

I can't help noticing the apples-to-oranges comparison: not persecuting Jews struggling to blend in vs. insufficiently protecting Jews determined to stand out. Again, I don't really care what hats and jewelry Jews choose to wear, but it does betray changing attitudes towards assimilation of Jews themselves.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dumbest Thing Ever Written about Karen Owen*

Let's dig up this cat and beat it.

One. Last. Time.

In the week after the scandal broke, a very pretty, golden-haired Fox News anchor named Megyn Kelly interviewed a couple of equally beautiful female attorneys about the incident, and ended the segment warning other young women not to follow in Owen’s footsteps. She had special knowledge on this subject, she told the audience, because she herself had “dated the captain of the lacrosse team at Syracuse . . . . Men do not respect women who do this,” she said. “You may sleep with half the lacrosse team—they don’t think that’s a great thing.”

She became more adamant, the words tumbling out faster and faster. “They don’t talk about how great you are,” she said, and now she was actually looking angry. I realized she was no longer warning young women away from unwise behavior. She was now defending the righteous tradition of Division I Men’s Lacrosse and all of the excellent guys who play it, and she was punishing the woman who had dared to come forward and make the sport and its players look bad. “They don’t talk about how great you are,” she said scornfully; “they talk about what a joke you are.”


Um . . . sorry, but nothing about this can be construed as "defending the righteous tradition of Division I Men's Lacrosse," about which Megyn Kelly presumably has few illusions. What Megyn is doing is stating the obvious: Karen Owen was out of her league.

Don't get me wrong. Miss Owen would have made a perfectly decent girlfriend for any number of engineering students. Indeed, were attractiveness the sole metric to the exclusion of character, I myself would have been proud to have her as such. But she didn't, or wouldn't, have had me. Rather, she chose "five minutes of alpha." [Literally.]

I'm over it. The point is that only women in the Megyn Kelly class of attractiveness are likely to claim exclusive (mostly) access to Division I athletes. Megyn knows this. Karen Owen should have known it, and probably did by the end. Megyn is upset that Karen and girls like her only muddy this hierarchy, not subvert it. They'll only get what Karen got, to no good purpose for anybody, probably not even for the athletes.

More foolishness:

It’s impossible to read Karen Owen’s encomium to the “glorious, alpha-male dominated world of Duke lacrosse hookups” without thinking back to the events of 2006, when the Duke lacrosse team threw a private party that became infamous. Three of the teammates were eventually accused of raping a stripper, and although the charges proved false and the investigation a travesty, few people would suggest the night represented any kind of high-water mark for the team or the university that it represented. Hiring strippers—two desperately poor women, one of them a mother of two, both with lives shaped around more sorrow and misery than the average Duke lacrosse player could begin to imagine—becoming angry when they turned out not to be white, suggesting the women use a broomstick as a sex toy, and then hurling racial slurs at them as they stumbled back into their car falls so far outside the realm of what anyone can call decent behavior that the accused players’ improbable turn as victimized solid citizens was the most unpleasant result of the D.A.’s bungled case.

Prior to this paragraph, I would have been prepared to say that Caitlin and I had more to agree on than disagree: that the college hookup scene is a moral disgrace. But here the mask slips, and she shows herself to be yet another cultural Marxist for whom the most important question is: whose ox is gored. She needs to be told that if you falsely accuse someone of a crime, then that very falseness vastly outweighs any subsequent accusations of mere boorishness. Ask the falsely accused, their friends and family about the sorrow and misery when public officials sworn to uphold the law, not to mention the university and media, turn on you for no other reason than the color of your skin; ask them whether their ultimate vindication is really "the most unpleasant result."

* I lied. There were a lot dumber things written about Karen Owen, some of which Caitlin Flannagan herself holds up to ridicule.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Compassion and its Enemies

West Point dropout Blake Page, backed by Mikey Weinstein and his, um, donor base, has been hurling some big accusations kinda short on specifics. But this part jumped out:

[Page] began as a chemical engineering major but switched to management. He said he has been a good student, though he had some problems in his second year after his father committed suicide.

This detail about his father's suicide is context that should have been in the opening paragraph, not buried in the middle of the article. Speaking for myself, I don't really have much interest in "proselytizing", i.e., telling people about Jesus. I admire those who do, but I don't personally care about other people enough to go to the trouble, and I don't consider myself a sufficiently compelling representative of my faith to expect anyone to listen to me if I did.*

On the other hand, if you come to me in pain**, this is what I have to offer. Don't expect non-sectarian answers to Life's Big Questions. There aren't any. Tell me to go away, and I will; like I said, I've got better (or more fun, anyway) things to do. But it is absurd to come to me for help and then accuse me of violating your rights when I give it.

Cadet Page went through a rough time, sufficiently rough that it put the demands of a ChemE degree beyond his reach. I don't actually know the extent to which he sought out the counseling of his academy instructors. I do know that those instructors, knowing his pain and seeing its effects on his performance, would have considered it their job to offer it. Weinstein's agenda notwithstanding, this is not in and of itself against law or policy. When Page himself becomes an officer -- and I fully expect he will return to the army, given the current constellation of forces -- he will be able to tell any who will listen about the healing power of Science. And, we, of course, will be equally free to tell him to go away.

* No, this isn't an invitation to point out my spiritual or theological shortcomings. I already know about those.

** If you aren't in my immediate family, please don't do this. Yes, I will be there for you. No, I won't want to.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Back When America Made Stuff . . .

Ernest Scheller Jr., 1952 Georgia Tech graduate, recently donated $50M to the Management School, endowing chairs and fellowships.  The alumni magazine recently did a first-person profile on him:

My dad had a lot of courage to start the business. He worked for Reynolds Metals Company and left right at the end of the war. His expertise was in foil and he wanted to get in the foil business. Those days it took a million dollars of capital to set up a foil mill, and he couldn’t raise the million dollars. But it only took $100,000 to get into the pigment business, and he was able to raise it.

The big producers were Alcoa, Alcan and Reynolds Metals Company. They all made about the same thing. My father’s philosophy was that we couldn’t afford to be market leaders as far as new products was concerned—we didn’t have the muscle or the dollars to do it. But the one thing we sold back in the very early days was uniformity from batch to batch. If you bought some paint today and you wanted to match it a year or two years later, it would match. That wasn’t true of our big competitors. We were selling the consistency of product. We also undersold the big guys by a few cents a pound.

We had quality control. That was my first job in high school, when the company was very young. It was just my father, a part-time secretary, one production employee and me doing some quality-control work. That was the job I had all through my senior year of high school, before going to college.

Foil scrap was our basic raw material. We did some atomization of aluminum—I still have the scars on my arm. We’d shatter a stream of aluminum with a continuous air blast and that would make these tiny aluminum droplets, atomized powder. If you get any moisture on the scrap when you’re charging it, it’ll pop—the moisture turns to steam and pops the metal up. I got a few residual scars going back to when I was 15 or 16 years old. I guess I started in April or May of 1945. I worked that summer and the following summer and then went down to Tech, then worked there [during the] summers after I went to Tech.

Read the whole thing.

Also, for those of you keeping score at home, here is a link to the Scheller’s other charitable work.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Asian Vote Redux (UPDATED)

Razib (via Half Sigma, natch’) tries to explain the Asian vote:

In short, it’s religion. Barry Kosmin has documented that between 1990 and 2010 Asian Americans have become far less Christian, on average. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become far more Christian in terms of its identity. Do you really require more than two sentences to infer from this what the outcome will be in terms of how Asian Americans will vote?

From Razib’s own numbers:

  R D I Affiliation
Evangelical 56.0% 28.0% 16.0% 14.0%*
Mainline 37.0% 44.0% 18.0% 14.0%*
Catholics 42.0% 41.0% 17.0% 14.0%*
Buddhists 27.0% 56.0% 17.0% 14.0%
Hindus 9.0% 72.0% 19.0% 10.0%
Unaffiliated 21.0% 63.0% 16.0% 26.0%

 

Let’s predict the vote by weighting these affiliations:

  Wt. R Wt. D Wt. I
Evangelical 7.8% 3.9% 2.2%
Mainline 5.2% 6.2% 2.5%
Catholics 5.9% 5.7% 2.4%
Buddhists 3.8% 7.8% 2.4%
Hindus 0.9% 7.2% 1.9%
Unaffiliated 5.5% 16.4% 4.2%
Weighted Average 29.0% 47.2% 15.6%
Two-Party Vote 38.1% 61.9%  

 

That’s not a bad prediction of the 2008 results.  But as it happened, Obama received 73% of the two-party vote in 2012, vs. Romney’s 26%.  So, no, Razib and HS, you haven’t actually accounted for the 2012 Asian wipeout.

But let’s stipulate for the time being that religious affiliation alone predicts a 3/2 advantage for Democrats among Asians.  Razib’s and Half Sigma’s solution to this problem is the make Republicans “less Christian”.  How to go about that?

Well, I suppose one way would be for all the Christians to stop voting for Republican candidates.  Now there’s  a winning solution . . . .

Or maybe, the Christians could throw their support to a candidate from a religious background they virtually all believe to be heretical at best, and a cult at worst!  Oh, yeah, we just did that.

Or maybe the Republicans could run a campaign with fewer religious themes than any campaign since Nixon’s!

No, seriously, Razib is normally a serious thinker, so perhaps he has some conversation starters here that I don’t know about.  Half Sigma, on the other hand, proposes that the Republicans demonstrate their repudiation of the Founders’ religion by dropping their quadrennial and increasingly tepid lip-service to maybe someday getting around to doing something about abortion.

Here’s my prediction:  the day that happens, 25% of the party walks.  Goodbye.  I do not predict this from among that 25%:  I have already abandoned Republican candidates who only promise to surrender my country to its enemies marginally more slowly than the Democrats.  I would, with some sadness, support a pro-abortion candidate that credibly promised an immigration moratorium and repatriation of illegals.  But so far, that candidate exists only as a figment of Half Sigma’s imagination. 

In the meantime, the churches are full of voters for whom opposition to abortion is the only motivation they have.  So, Half Sigma, what, exactly is your plan to make up this 25% with an increased share of Asians and single-mothers-on-welfare?  The world wonders . . . .


* I arbitrarily divided Asian Christians equally among evangelicals, mainline protestants, and Roman Catholics.

UPDATE: Razib replies:

[I]t's not my solution, and i've said it elsewhere.

my 'solution' is that the repubs are the white xtian party and the dems are the 'others.' i've stated this elsewhere. i see no better optimum equib. for repubs (or dems) than that right now.