• Stimulus Plan

    Permanent Tax Breaks

    The Heritage Foundation has been arguing that temporary tax breaks are a poor stimulus substitute for permanent ones.  They argue that permanent tax breaks, unlike temporary ones, change the long-run outlook for entrepreneurs and encourage them to launch otherwise nonviable ventures – stimulating the market with new business.

    I’m somewhat nonplussed by this argument.  Given our existing debt, the large amount of new debt that the stimulus plan will entail, the reduction in the tax base caused by the recession, and President Obama’s stated intent to expand entitlements, it is unclear to me how any “permanent” tax cut would be credible.  Tax rates must rise to make up the difference between the larger amounts that the government is spending and its smaller tax receipts.

    I suppose Heritage’s response would be that President Obama should promise to make up the shortfall with large entitlement cuts after the recession.  This is a defensible policy, but I’m not holding my breath for our new Redistributer-in-Chief to adopt it.

  • Stimulus Plan

    Looters

    When a natural disaster strikes, looters appear. A cataclysmic event disrupts social networks and creates a moment of chaos in which the safeguards against violent pursuit of self-interest flicker and disappear. Lost in a general hysteria, looters eagerly come forward because they know no one will hold them responsible. And they arrive in a flood, because few calamities last forever.

    As in the natural world, so in the political.

    Congress is poised to pass an enormous $850 Billion spending plan. As the economy slows President Obama insists that Congress quickly pass the bill. In the confusion of the administration’s opening days and the popular demand for government to “do something” the minority party will find it hard to resist the new President’s vapid claims to a mandate. As the “unprecedented” emergency overwhelms restraints, government will do “something” – that is, what the majority party would do if it bore no responsibility for its actions. Given the opportunity to distribute funds to its political supporters, Democrats have grabbed as much as they can carry – hundreds of billions for government health care, the Department of Education, and a smattering of pet projects. Rather than bloat clientelist payouts a few percent a year with gradual budget increases – increases that inevitably will still come – they have grabbed funds equivalent to nearly a fifth of the Federal Budget, all at once. These will be rich years for Democratic patronage.

    According to the CBO, a minority of the “stimulus” package will be spent over the next year. Why allocate so much money for later dates at which government spending may be not only unnecessary, but harmful? Why not pass only the immediate portions of the stimulus now, and save other sections for another bill at a later date, when economic facts can be reassessed and the proposed projects will be temporally relevant to those facts?

    Here is one reason: the crisis will ebb, heads will cool, and the time for looting will have passed. Future opportunities are uncertain, so Democrats will take what they can now.

  • Uncategorized

    Friday Night Pasta

    We are not particularly religious (I am an atheist), but my family has made a regular tradition of Friday night Shabbat dinners, complete with candles, challah, probably-mispronounced Hebrew prayers, and a slightly heightened sense of formality. Though the rest of my family never grew quite as attached to it, one of the regular Shabbat courses became a personal favorite of mine, a strange orzo comfort dish that had no real name. As a child I called it “stuff”. Today I call it “Friday Night Pasta”.

    Now that I’m living without a meal plan (domestic or collegiate), I thought it would be nice to revisit some of my old favorites meals. I decided to start with Friday Night Pasta as it was a fairly simple recipe. The results were somewhat mixed, I’ll admit – I had no strainer to dry the pasta, and my hotplate (I have no access to a stove) barely kept the pasta at a boil.

    In case anyone is interested, I’m going to post my mother’s recipe here. The pasta is not dynamic enough to stand by itself. On Friday nights we have it alongside challah and grilled salmon, and the courses complement each other well. But it is a simple, tasty carb dish – a perfect side for those getting started cooking for themselves. In my housing I’ve been having it with toaster-oven grilled bratwursts.

    Here it is:

    Saute 2-3 minced garlic cloves briefly in ~1/3 cup olive oil. They should barely begin to brown. Make sure a 15 oz. can of tomato sauce is open and ready in case you have too hot a heat and the garlic is galloping toward burning too quickly. Pour it over the garlic/oil and add 1/4 c. white wine. I usually use a cooking wine which is cheap and sold in the vinegar section of the grocery store. Simmer gently for 10 min. Boil a pound of orzo in salted water until done. Drain and add to sauce.

    If you have any simple recipes that you think I should try, pass them on to me. If it looks easy, I’ll give it a shot and post on the results. Thanks!

  • Uncategorized

    Blog Update

    I’ve made some minor changes to the layout. I’ve gotten the menu elements under control, cleaned up a few extraneous details, and, most significantly, crimson-ified the links (technically the html colors used are “darkred”, “firebrick”, and a little bit of “tomato”).

    I really hope the blog template will not be broken by future WordPress updates, because I have painstakingly handcrafted this thing from the substantially different “classic” template, and I would hate to have to start from scratch again. On the plus side, the editing process has forced me to become pretty comfortable with CSS formatting.

  • Uncategorized

    Inaugural Concert/Inauguration

    So I sort of attended the Inaugural Concert and Obama’s inauguration itself. I say “sort of” because, while I was indeed in a crowd of millions on the National Mall watching events on a jumbotron, I was too far away from the actual events to really see them (farther, in fact, than my Heritage Foundation housing).

    I am not very impressed with the quality of the videos I got with my phone, so I’m not going to inflict any of them on you. The most impressive thing about the enormous crowds was how they clogged up the streets all around the actual events – something that couldn’t really be captured in any single photograph. At the inauguration, my vantage point – given my slightly below average height – was sufficiently unimpressive that I didn’t even bother taking any pictures. I mostly concentrated on taking videos of the crowd’s reaction to the various attendees. Most embarrassing was the booing and catcalls as Vice President Dick Cheney was pushed out of the Capitol in a wheelchair.

    I’ll post one semi-worthwhile photo. It’s a picture of the crowds beneath the Washington Monument that were arrayed to watch the Inaugural Concert two days before Obama began his term. It’s from the beginning of the event, so the crowd grew from the size shown below. Keep in mind that the people here were all overflow from the actual event, at the Lincoln Memorial.

  • Uncategorized

    I Was There

    And I wasn’t that impressed.

    Maybe it was the fact that I woke up at 7 and walked for an hour and a half to watch something on a jumbo-tron two miles from the actual event, when I could have watched it in my bedroom only a half-mile from the Capitol. Maybe it was the fact that I had to wait, standing, for three hours in a crowd of strangers, in weather cold enough to steal the feeling from my toes through wool socks and boots. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve heard him speak dozens of times before and am now bored of his cautious, academic style. Or maybe it was the fact that I have always been steadfastly opposed to the most salient feature of his candidacy – not his race, but his liberal policy platform.

    I don’t claim by any means to have been an objective judge, but Obama’s speech was, to my ear, platitudinous and uninspired. It blandly complimented uncontroversial American liberties, proclaimed a moment of national emergency in tones too calm to dim the crowd’s excitement, and made no efforts to defend, explain, or acknowledge the redistributive program that I have little doubt our new president will now advance.

  • Uncategorized

    In DC

    Note: I think I put up a similar note to this a couple of days ago, but it mysteriously disappeared, so I am reposting.

    I’ll be in DC for the next couple of months for an internship with the Heritage Foundation. I’ve been walking around a little bit, and yesterday I was at the Washington Monument to watch the inaugural concert in the overflow area. I’ll try and post some pictures/videos from that later.

    But for now here are a couple of the things I saw the first few days I was here:

    The Capitol
    The Capitol

    The Supreme Court
    The Supreme Court

    The Constitution - Signatures
    The Constitution - Signatures


    Not the most impressive pictures ever taken, it’s true, but they are mine. You can sort of make out Alexander Hamilton’s signature in the last one.

  • Uncategorized

    Israeli Military Force

    I ran across this Andrew Sullivan post that gives a good example of a common assumption that has bothered me.

    The Israelis shell the UN headquarters in Gaza. In yet another brilliant move to win over global opinion and dispel any notion that this invasion has been morally suspect, they also destroy large amounts of food and humanitarian supplies. Meanwhile, the only entity capable of running any kind of viable Palestinian state – Fatah – is being murdered by Hamas in Gaza and undermined on the West Bank by Israel’s Gaza campaign. So the result of this campaign might well be the permanent collapse of any hope for a viable Palestinian state, deeper alienation of Israel’s own Arab population, propaganda gains for Jihadism across the world, and a crippling legacy for the new administration to try to tackle.

    The implicit assumption is that Israeli military action is harmful to its own interests because it destroys Israel’s reputation. This mystical thinking suggests that if a country makes enough generous concessions, the world community will intervene to solve their problems. Mystical thinking also entails a certain belief in the futility of force – somehow, dropping bombs on Hamas makes them miraculously stronger, and drives them further into radicalism.

    One would think that the Middle East could serve as a perpetual disproof of this line of thought. No amount of international odium has hampered Hamas’s decades-long terror campaign in the least (or the PA before it). Nor has public perception ever mattered more to Israel’s security than the nation’s military force. Nor has that military force yet failed to enhance the state’s security – including against the guerrilla Intifada beginning earlier this decade.

    Israel’s military policy embraces an opposite mentality – a rational mentality. It assumes that Hamas is a rational actor that will strive to maximize its pursuit of what it conceives to be its interests – and that voluntary demonstrations of goodwill either to the “world community” or to Hamas will do nothing to change this equation. Rather, Hamas will respond to an actual disincentive – military action – that forces the organization to weigh its desire to preserve infrastructure and its members’ lives against the value of killing as many Israelis as possible. Regardless of who the media declares the “victor” of this fight, I expect that rational thinking will prove its own point.