Saturday, July 9, 2011

How To End Tax Increases? Stop Calling Them Tax Increases

Tax increases are incredibly unpopular, so, those who support them are loathe to call them as such. Newsbusters has the video of an absolutely astounding example of this phenomena. While interviewing former Governor George Pataki, columnist Mike Barnicle said the following:
Governor, let me ask you a question off of Gene's answer. There's a certain wing of the Republican Party that claims that the Bush tax cuts, that if you go back to the tax rate prior to the Bush tax cut, that that's a tax increase. Is that your view?
... [Pataki answers yes]
I understand that, but, I mean the idea that reverting back to a tax rate that existed that people paid into, calling it now a tax increase, I just think that's politics at its worst.
The top federal income tax rate was 70% before the Reagan tax cuts and over 90% before JFK cut taxes. According to Barnicle's thesis, raising the top tax rate to 90% would still not be a tax increase because we would be reverting to a tax rate that once existed. In fact, the only way to raise taxes would be to pass the WWII peak of 94%. Anything short of that is not a tax increase.

I think Barnicle's bosses should cut his salary to an entry-level wage and tell him it's not a pay cut - they are simply rescinding his years of pay raises and reverting to the rate Barnicle once earned when he first started.
I wonder what Barnicle's answer would be? 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Just the Facts, Sir

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones is warning his readers that climate change is worse than they think. It seems a buddy of his developed a model that shows a doubling of CO2 will lead to twice as much warming as earlier models have predicted. Drum offers this caveat (emphasis added):
This is just one model. There are lots of parameters to fit, there are only two glacial intervals to test, and the error bars are fairly large. In other words, it might be wrong. But it's one more data point in an increasing series of data points suggesting that climate change is worse than we thought—though "worse" is something of an understatement.
Models are NOT data points. Data points are facts. An example of a fact in climate science would be a temperature reading or something else a person or scientific instrument has observed and recorded. Models are NOT facts. Models are predictions based on the assumptions of the person who designed the model. A model examines past events, and uses that information and tries to anticipate future scenarios. And, they are very poor at it. The reason they are poor is because thousands of variables affect the climate, not all of which are well understood. It's difficult to write a computer model accounting for thousands of variables that are not well understood.

Climate science is one of the weaker sciences because there isn't much quality data from the past, and experimentation is nearly impossible. Drum's solution is to call the model predictions "data." Models are not facts, and when you don't have facts, you shouldn't make them up. But, climate science is so dependent on models, I guess calling them facts was inevitable.

One last note: in 2007 Al Gore won a Nobel Prize for his work on climate change. However, he wasn't alone. The scientists who run the IPCC (the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) also won the award. Of course, they didn't win it in any of the sciences. Along worth Gore, they received the Nobel Prize for Peace. They weren't eligible for any of the science awards, because the Nobel Committee won't give the prize for work dependent on computer models.  

Models are the weakest form of science, and even Oslo knows it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Just Asking

I think this is an appropriate question on a day like today: Who killed JonBenet Ramsey?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Blogging While Angry

For an example of smug self-righteousness wrapped up in historical illiteracy, John Nichols has a fine example in the Nation. Mr. Nichols does not like Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, and has devoted a recent blog post to attacking her. For example:
Bachmann has for some time peddled the notion that the nation’s founding fathers worked “tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” She is simply wrong about this. The last of the revolutionaries generally recognized by historians as the founders—signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and their chief political and military comrades—passed in 1836, with the death of James Madison. That was twenty-seven years before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, and twenty-nine years before the finish of the Civil War.
First, slavery still existed in the United States AFTER the Emancipation Proclamation and the finish of the Civil War. It didn't end until when the 13th Amendment was enacted in December 1865. It's a nitpick, but if you are going to excoriate Bachmann for getting historical details wrong, you need to get that right.

Second, James Madison did not sign the Declaration of Independence. Very few people signed both the Declaration and the Constitution. Nichols' definition of a founder is very narrow (Jefferson can't meet it).

Bachman had called John Quincy Adams a founder, which is why Nichols is attacking her. I personally wouldn't call Adams a founder, but he was alive during this period, so it's not implausible. More importantly, Nichols' definition isn't any better. Here's how he explains the issue:
Noting that many of the founders were slaveholders, George Stephanopoulos asked Bachmann the other day on ABC News’s Good Morning America to explain how she came to her distinctive view of the nation’s founding. “Well, if you look at one of our founding fathers, John Quincy Adams, that’s absolutely true,” the Minnesota congresswoman chirped. “He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father’s secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery…”
In fact, John Quincy Adams was just 8 when the Declaration of Independence was signed and just 20 when the Constitution was being cobbled together at a convention that agreed to a “compromise” that identified a slave as three-fifths of a human being. He did not sign either document. Nor did he participate in any significant manner in the debates regarding those documents—or the compromises contained in them—until the last years of his life.
Just so we're clear, Adams was an adult when the Constitution was written, and did not "participate in any significant manner in the debates regarding those documents", which means he might have participated a little bit. Is Bachmann's inclusion of him really outlandish?

More importantly, the three-fifths compromise is evidence that at least some of the founders were trying to diminish the political impact of slavery. Nichols doesn't mention that it was slaveholders who wanted slaves counted as full human beings because it would earn them more Congressional seats. The anti-slavery position was not to count slaves at all, in order to diminish the representation of slave states. Frankly, I don't know what point Nichols is trying to make, but the three-fifths compromise shows that some people were working against slavery. Nichols would acknowledge this later:
There were, indeed, founders who objected to slavery.
Indeed. So, what was Bachman's crime here? Should she have said some founders fought against slavery? Would that satisfy Nichols?

Nichols' post is one long mess. He would have been better off simply writing: "I hate Michele Bachmann." It would have saved everyone a lot of time.

Any Limits?

For an example of false bravado when arguing the supposedly clear constitutionality of Obamacare's individual mandate, this two paragraph post is pretty strong. Here's the key assertion:
The biggest problem for lower court judges who want to find the ACA unconstitutional is the Raich precedent, in which the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of people growing marijuana for their own medical use under a license granted by state law. Given that the relationship between the mandate and the national economy is much stronger, it's virtually impossible to square an argument that the ACA is unconstitutional with Raich (hence, the specious "activity/inactivity" distinction, which constitutes an unsuccessful attempt to pretend that the cases are different.) 
I don't find the activity/inactivity distinction specious. But, put that aside. My question for those who claim that Congress has the power to mandate that individuals buy health insurance is this: If this is constitutional, what would Congress have to do before you would agree that their actions were unconstitutional? The reason I ask is this: when I listen to people explain why Obamacare is constitutional, I get the distinct impression that these people would never find anything Congress has done to be unconstitutional. And, that does not jibe with my understanding of the Constitution. The Consitution did not make Congress' power limitless.