FM newswire for 20 February, articles for your morning reading

Today’s links to interesting news and analysis, collected from around the Internet.  If you find this useful, pass it to a friend or colleague.

  1. US federalism faces the biggest challenges since the Civil War:  “State of the States 2010: How the Recession Might Change States“, Pew Center for the States, 11 February 2010 — 35 page PDF.
  2. Here’s part of the problem:  “The Trillion Dollar Gap: Underfunded State Retirement Systems and the Road to Reform“, 18 February 2010
  3. Talking heads on cable news are often paid by corporations (just like generals talking about war):  “The Media-Lobbying Complex“, Sebastian Jones, The Nation, 1 March 2010 — Perhaps we like being lied to!
  4. U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion“, The Onion, 16 February 2010
  5. They own America, we just live here:  “Banks step up spending on lobbying to fight proposed stiffer regulations“, Los Angeles Times, 16 February 2010
  6. ‘Government in a box’ in Marja“, Andrew J. Bacevich, op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, 17 February 2010 — “No doubt the U.S. military will succeed in clearing the Afghan town of the Taliban. But can we bring lasting change?”   This is probably like Falujah, a punitive strike in which we make big but false promises about rebuilding.
  7. Muni Threat: Cities Weigh Chapter 9“, Wall Street Journal, 18 February 2010
  8. The absurd trial of Geert Wilders“, Mark Steyn, Macleans, 18 February 2010 –  “For as the spokesperson for the Openbaar Ministerie put it, ‘It is irrelevant whether Wilders’s witnesses might prove Wilders’s observations to be correct. What’s relevant is that his observations are illegal.’”
  9. It”s a feature, not a bug; airports train us to be serfs.  “Adventures in Airport Morning Security Theater“, Paul Kedrosky, Infectious Greed, 18 February 2010 — Getting accustomed to pointless excerise of government authority.  Baa, Baa.
  10. We had to kill them for the greater good:  “The Chemist’s War“, Deborah Blum, Slate, 19 February 2010 — “The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences.”
  11. Anger is not enough, and destructive without a proper foundation:  “Anti-govt anti-Obama nuts launch Facebook page to honor domestic terrorist who crashed plane into IRS office“, John Aravosis, AMERICAblog, 18 February 2010

Today’s feature stories:

(A)  One of the world’s top climate scientists looks at the debate
(B)  Factoid of the day about America — so many rich people, so little tax revenue

(A)  One of the world’s top climate scientists looks at the debate

See Henk Tennekes’ Wikipedia entry for details about his career.

  1. Reflections of a Climate Skeptic“, Henk Tennekes, 6 January 2006
  2. I recommend this for anyone seeking to learn more about the global warming debate:  “Three Essays on Climate Models“, Henk Tennekes, 30 January 2009
  3. Rehabilitation of the country’s first CO2-exile“, De Telegraph, 13 February 2010 — “Henk Tennekes was made to clear his desk and resign as Director of the KNMI (Dutch Meteorological Institute). His sin? In a newspaper column the world-renowned meteorologist had disproved all the bold claims about climate change.”

(B)  Factoid of the day about America — so many rich people, so little tax revenue

Top 400 Earners in U.S Averaged $345 Million in 2007, IRS Says“, Bloomberg, 18 February 2010 — Excerpt:

The 400 highest-earning U.S. households reported an average of $345 million in income in 2007, up 31% from a year earlier, IRS statistics show. The average tax rate for the households fell to the lowest in almost 20 years.

The figures for 2007, the last year of an economic expansion, show that the average income reported by the top 400 earners more than doubled from $131.1 million in 2001. That year, Congress adopted tax cuts urged by then-President George W. Bush that Democrats say disproportionately benefits the wealthy.

Each household in the top 400 of earners paid an average tax rate of 16.6%, the lowest since the agency began tracking the data in 1992, the Internal Revenue Service statistics show. Their average effective tax rate was about half the 29.4% in 1993, the first year of President Bill Clinton’s administration, when taxes were increased.

Matthew Yglesias at ThinkProgress comments on this article:

Thank God George W Bush gave these people some much needed tax relief.  That means that the top 400 households together earned $138 billion in 2007.  By contrast, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey the 24 million households who comprise the bottom fifth of the income distribution together hauled in about $247 billion.

Afterword

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5 thoughts on “FM newswire for 20 February, articles for your morning reading

  1. Re; the Muni Threat
    The impending implosion of cities all of which issue trillions in tax free bonds could be the total disaster we all fear. It’s my experience that “tax free Munis” are the late middle age “investment” of choice because the risk is easy to define. No more. SoCal warned all of us when they successfully blamed Merrill Lynch for their own greed and stupidity and defaulted without paying the piper. If you think Lefty hot beds in NoCal have any reluctance in stiffing the capitalist pigs who bought their debt you are wrong.
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    FM reply: It’s not that bad. Total outstanding bonds of State and local bonds are $980 billion as of Q3 2009, per the Federal Reserve Flow of Funds report. Most of those issuers are in good condition, well able to pay principal and interest on their debt. If the economy has started its recovery, even most of the wounded will probably be OK. If we have a second leg down (aka double dip), then I expect there will be defaults. Probably tens of billions. Perhaps one to three hundred billion.

    “SoCal warned all of us when they successfully blamed Merrill Lynch for their own greed and stupidity”

    Sad but true. It’s 21st century American, with “it’s not my fault” our national mantra.

  2. If I were to choose a domestic terrorist for celebration it would be John Brown. That is not to say that I condone Brown’s methods or agree with his politics. Rather, Brown at least stood for something greater than himself.

    BTW: if we are going to discuss domestic terrorism, then Bleeding Kansas would seem to be much on point.
    .
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    FM reply: Don’t most terrorists by definition “stand for something great than themselves”? From Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (JP 1-02):

    terrorism — The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

    terrorist — An individual who commits an act or acts of violence or threatens violence in pursuit of political, religious, or ideological objectives.

    This is the source of their moral power in our time, very much unlike mid-19th century America (between religous revivals). As described by Allan Bloom in “Closing of the American Mind”:

    Where this leads is apparent in, for example, Robert Dahl’s A Preface to Democratic Theory. Groups or individuals who really care, as opposed to those who have lukewarm feelings, deserve special attention or special rights for their “intensity” or “commitment,” the new political validation, which replaces reason. The Founding Fathers wished to reduce and defang fanaticism, whereas Dahl encourages it.

    … Reason in politics leads to the inhumanity of bureaucracy. Weber found it impossible to prefer rational politics to the politics of irrational commitment; he believed that reason and science themselves were value commitments like any other commitments, incapable of asserting their own goodness, thus having lost what had always been most distinctive in them. Politics required dangerous and uncontrollable semireligious value positing, and Weber was witnessing a struggle of the gods for possession of man and society, the results of which were unpredictable. Calculating reason would end up in dried-up, heartless and soulless administration of things without community-forming and sustaining values; feeling would lead to selfish indulgence in superficial pleasures; political commitment would likely foster fanaticism, and it was questionable whether there was enough value-positing energy left in man. Everything was up in the air, and there was no theodicy to sustain him in his travail. Weber, along with many others in Germany under Nietzsche’s influence, saw that all that we care for was threatened by his insight and that we were without intellectual or moral resources to govern the outcome.

    Since values are not rational and not grounded in the natures of those subject to them, they must be imposed. They must defeat opposing values. Rational persuasion cannot make them believed, so struggle is necessary. Producing values and believing in them are acts of the will. Lack of will, not lack of understanding, becomes the crucial defect.

    Commitment is the moral virtue because it indicates the seriousness of the agent. Commitment is the equivalent of faith when the living God has been supplanted by self-provided values. It is Pascal’s wager, no longer on God’s existence but on one’s capacity to believe in oneself and the goals one has set for oneself. Commitment values the values and makes them valuable. Not love of truth but intellectual honesty characterizes the proper state of mind. Since there is no truth in the values, and what truth there is about life is not lovable, the hallmark of the authentic self is consulting one’s oracle while facing up to what one is and what one experiences. Decisions, not deliberations, are the movers of deeds. One cannot know or plan the future. One must will it. There is no program.

    This describes Bin Laden’s dreams as well as those of the Tea Party. It’s one aspect of the crisis that Nietzche saw so clear so long ago, and we live out today.

  3. FM reply: Don’t most terrorists by definition “stand for something great than themselves”?

    Bid Laden ain’t “domestic.”

    The guy who crashed into the IRS building seems to have been pursing a private beef.

    The Tea Baggers don’t want “No Taxation Without Representation;” they want no taxation, period.

  4. The irony of Mark Steyn’s mention of Belgium’s Vlaams Blok and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in a piece condemning the restriction of free speech with anti-racism laws.

  5. From #2

    Commitment is the moral virtue because it indicates the seriousness of the agent. Commitment is the equivalent of faith when the living God has been supplanted by self-provided values. It is Pascal’s wager, no longer on God’s existence but on one’s capacity to believe in oneself and the goals one has set for oneself. Commitment values the values and makes them valuable. Not love of truth but intellectual honesty characterizes the proper state of mind. Since there is no truth in the values, and what truth there is about life is not lovable, the hallmark of the authentic self is consulting one’s oracle while facing up to what one is and what one experiences. Decisions, not deliberations, are the movers of deeds. One cannot know or plan the future. One must will it. There is no program.

    What’s a little wierd about Bloom is that he thinks this is a new development. It’s always been that way with values.

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