Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Opinionator

August 10, 2007, 5:34 pm
Taxing Big Bucks on Campus
By Tobin Harshaw

Tom Nugent, a principal at Victoria Capital Management, writes at National Review Online of his intriguing plan to boost government revenues without raising income or corporate taxes:

According to a recent study prepared by Bloomberg, the value of the top-25 school endowments alone is a whopping $180 billion. So let’s do some math. The growth rate of these endowments over the past twelve months was 16.2 percent, with the managers of these funds retaining about 11.2 percent of that gain (based on a 5 percent payout). So if we assume these funds grow at a 12 percent rate over the next twenty years and distribute that 5 percent each year, their total value would be about $697 billion from growth alone. (Ongoing donations would make this total even bigger.)

Now, if the federal government imposed a 30 percent foundation tax on the investment gains of these endowment portfolios, the following would happen: The future value of the top-25 foundations would be “only” $469 billion twenty years from now — much less than $697 billion, but certainly enough to take care of each school’s related needs. However, the total revenues generated by taxing these endowments would be about $1.9 trillion over this time, enough to keep the tax man off the back of hard working Americans

August 10, 2007, 1:49 pm
Dems in the Gay Rights Spotlight
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

Last night’s forum for the Democratic candidates sponsored by the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign wasn’t a debate at all — the candidates appeared one at a time and the panel of questioners, including the rocker Melissa Etheridge, did a fair amount of cheerleading. Still, as the staff at CQPolitics reports, some candidates were a bit … well, uncomfortable:

Etheridge … asked [Bill] Richardson pointedly if he believes being gay is a personal choice or an inherent biological trait. Richardson voiced the most conservative view among the candidates. It is a choice,” he said quickly, looking down.

Etheridge repeated her question in a friendly tone, wondering aloud if Richardson did not understand her the first time. “I’m not a scientist,” he answered. “I don’t see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people … I don’t like to answer definitions like that that are grounded in science or something else that I don’t understand.”
The explanation didn’t seem to do much to calm the crowd, and soon after leaving the stage, Governor Richardson called Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend, who was liveblogging at the scene and told her, she reports, that “this is something you are born with, and regardless of whether there is conflict about the science of it (homosexuality), I support full and equal rights. I fully support domestic partnerships.”

Spaulding finds the whole incident “perpexling,” and also thinks that Hillary Clinton was less than perfect: “An even bigger faux pas, if you can call it that, was Clinton’s reassertion that it should be up to the state to decide who can marry. This is simply not acceptable, given the history of bigotry legislated at the state level.”

Dan Blatt, one of the conservatives at Gay Patriot, is amused by Mike Gravel’s statements that marriage is a “commitment of two human beings in love” and that if there’s “anything we need in the world, it’s more love.” He adds that panel-member Margaret Carlson “is right to say there’s no daylight between him and Kucinich on ‘love.’ I agree with that sentiment. But, what does that mean politically? Are they going to create a Department of Love to sit next to Kucinich’s Department of Peace?”

Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof admits that he fell asleep early on, but still feels that the event accomplished two important goals:

First, it tells the electorate that the LGBT community is more than just people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered. Issues that impact the community impact us all. When there are over 1,100 laws and regulations on the books that specifically deny equal rights to those people — including me — they might as well deny all the rights we have as citizens in this country because we don’t get to fully participate, and in many cases we have to bear an extra burden, be it insurance, health care, inheritance, or even the simple matter of going on a two-for-one cruise …The second result of last night’s forum will be to put the anti-gay crowd, whether they’re hiding behind their religion or they’re just plain bigoted, on notice that the LGBT community can’t be taken for granted …An overwhelming majority of Americans think it is wrong to discriminate against gays and lesbians in hiring, and a growing number realize that there are gay people in their families, their work places, their schools, and that they vote.
Well, we’ll see if that proves true. But for now, it seems pretty clear that one person not taking the gay rights crowd for granted right now is the governor of New Mexico.


August 10, 2007, 9:06 am
‘Hottest Year’ Data Meltdown
By Tobin Harshaw

You just thought you were sweating? Among global warming Cassandras, the fact that 1998 was the “hottest year on record” has always been an article of faith. Stephen McIntyre, who runs the Climateaudit blog was always puzzled by some gaps he saw in the raw data provided by NASA that supported the claim (data compiled in part by James Hansen, the climate scientist who has long accused the Bush administration of trying to “silence” him). McIntyre says he has “reverse engineered” the data to find NASA’s algorithm, discovered that a Y2K bug played havoc with some of the numbers, and notified the space agency.

Michael Asher at DailyTech explains the fallout:

NASA has now silently released corrected figures, and the changes are truly astounding. The warmest year on record is now 1934. 1998 (long trumpeted by the media as recordbreaking) moves to second place. 1921 takes third. In fact, 5 of the 10 warmest years on record now all occur before World War II. Anthony Watts has put the new data in chart form, along with a more detailed summary of the events.

The effect of the correction on global temperatures is minor (some 1-2% less warming than originally thought), but the effect on the U.S. global warming propaganda machine could be huge.
Note: Many commenters on this post have assumed that the author intended the term “Cassandras” to be pejorative, and also that he was unaware that the predictions made by the prophetess Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy, came true. Rather, the term was being used in its common modern sense: one whose dire predictions, true or false, go unheeded.


August 9, 2007, 4:30 pm
‘American Idol’ It’s Not
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

According to’s TVNewser, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Democratic forum televised Tuesday night on MSNBC “was the lowest rated-yet of the eight primary debates/forums held this election season. Based on live + same day data, Nielsen found the debate had 960,000 total viewers and 340,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo.”

Don Surber, a columnist at the Charleston Daily Mail posits three explanations on his blog: “Maybe it was Keith Olbermann’s presence. Maybe the shark was jumped. Maybe it is just that this is another summer rerun.”


August 9, 2007, 12:40 pm
Primary Primacy
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

Election ‘07? South Carolina’s Republicans are going to move their presidential primaries to Jan. 16, 2008, which will likely set off a domino effect in New Hampshire, Iowa and elsewhere, “that could push the start of voting to New Year’s Day or even to before Christmas,” according to the Washington Post.

This is stupid,” says Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard. “Both parties are being foolish here and the states that are playing around here are risking serious damage to the system. In an attempt to gain influence in the primary process, they risk losing all relevance to that process.”

Tigerhawk has mixed feelings:

It is entertaining, of course, because anything that forces a presidential campaign to depart from its script creates the opportunity for candor mistakes, which are almost always funny and frequently useful to bloggers and even the electorate …

But, and this is a big “but,” this race to the top of the primary season is also ridiculous. By the time the dust settles Iowans may be going to caucus before they get the harvest. Much as I like a presidential election, I need to pace myself. Florida and South Carolina should stop this silliness before we all decide to federalize presidential elections (which, by the way, would be bad news for all of us who look to politics for entertainment).
The Politico’s Ben Smith, however, has word from Iowa that this may be overblown. Smith quotes Carrie Giddins, the communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, Carrie Giddins, as saying, “Iowa’s not going to be driven by Republicans in South Carolina [into] making a change.”

Those who decry Americans’ apathy toward politics are probably hoping Smith has the story straight, as one can only assume that people will have other priorities than hitting the voting booths during the last week of December.


August 9, 2007, 9:22 am
In Search of a Stance on Iraq
By Tobin Harshaw

The Associated Press is reporting that some of the biggest critics of the Iraq war seems to be softening their stances, or at least hedging their bets:

Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Bob Casey and Jack Reed. Even Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, said progress was being made by soldiers.

The suggestions by them and other Democrats in recent days that at least a portion of Bush’s strategy in Iraq is working is somewhat surprising, considering the bitter exchanges on Capitol Hill between the Democratic majority and Republicans and Bush. Democrats have long said Bush’s policies have been nothing more than a complete failure.

The Democrats’ choice to acknowledge the military’s progress in Iraq signals support for the troops, a message that voters want to hear. But they still heap criticism on Bush and his Iraq strategy, which promises to be a prominent issue in next year’s presidential election.
Some see a change in strategy, not a change of heart. “The Democrats don’t support the troops; their behavior has made that abundantly clear,” writes Paul at Wizbang:

It was just [two] years ago that the now positive Dick Durbin took the Senate floor and said our soldiers [were] as bad as the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge.

They’re not supporting the troops. They are supporting their own reelection. When they think they can garner votes by bashing the troops, they’ll bash the troops. When they think they have to give the troops lip service they will do that too - at least until November ‘08.
Dodd Harris at Outside the Beltway thinks the Democrats are working on a shorter, more tactical political timeline:

In short, with the polls showing support for the mission improving of late as the realities of actual progress make themselves known, this is the first step of the climbdown from their heretofore steadfast insistence on mandating defeat. They have a little over a month now before General Petraeus’ briefing. A few weeks ago they could still convince themselves he wouldn’t say anything that would hinder them from forcing a pullout. But things have changed.

So, I think we can expect rather a lot more of this sort of talk over the next few weeks. And then, if General Petraeus says what everyone who’s actually been paying attention since before the polls swung ’round is expecting him to, they’ll have given themselves advance cover for the switch. That they can do so while still castigating Bush out of the other side of their mouths is just the spoonful of sugar.
Attaturk at Rising Hegemon, however, thinks the A.P. story is a reach: “This A.P. writer still cannot distill the meaning of the quotes right in front of her. ‘Tactical Success’ which the United States has enjoyed in every battle of any size since the Chinese crossed the Yangtze is different [than] strategic success, which has long since sailed into the night. Now the battle is to have the least bad strategic loss.”

Tactics and strategy, strategy and tactics: whether the battlefield is in the Mideast or Washington, bloggers seem to feel some things are constant.


August 8, 2007, 4:45 pm
What’s Good for Romney …
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

Mitt Romney is quickly feeling the heat over this comment at an Iowa campaign event that, while none of his five sons volunteered for military duty, they are aiding the country by “helping me get elected.”

(Rachel Griffiths, who asked the question that prompted the comment, has her recollection of the entire episode at Daily Kos.)

The responses, while predictable, have been pretty amusing: “Mitt Romney, as you’ll recall, avoided combat duty in the rice fields of Vietnam by getting multiple deferments to perform his Mormon mission in the vineyards of France,” writes John Perr, at his Perrspectives blog. “He has deployed his sons to the cornfields of Iowa to aid his campaign. The perfect hair and gleaming teeth of the Romney clan are found on the Five Brothers blog, not with a band of brothers outside of Baquba.”

Chet Scoville at Big Brass Blog was more upset with something else Romney did at the event: saluting a man in uniform. “A salute is something that people in the military give to each other; it represents the bond not only of command but of mutual sacrifice,” insists Scoville. “I would never think of saluting a soldier; it would be presumptuous, disrespectful, and wrong for me to do so. It’s also wrong for Romney to do so.”

Of course, the real Web response we’re all waiting for won’t come from the left, but from the Romney boys themselves on the Five Brothers blog they’ve been writing in service to their father and, apparently, the nation.


August 8, 2007, 2:15 pm
Blogger to Pay $30,000 in S.E.C. Case
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: ,

Prominent liberal blogger Jerome Armstrong has agreed to pay nearly $30,000 in fines in a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations that Armstrong touted the stock of a software company on Raging Bull, an Internet bulletin board, in 2000, without disclosing that he was being paid to do so.

Armstrong, the co-author of “Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics,” with Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, and the founder of the Democratic activist site, consented to a civil penalty of $20,000, plus disgorgement of $5,832, and $3,235 in interest.

Click here to read the S.E.C.’s litigation release on the settlement.

The settlement resolves the S.E.C.’s claims against Armstrong, said Robert Burson of the S.E.C.’s Chicago office.

Under the agreement, Armstrong neither denies nor admits to the allegations.

“It’s good to see the matter finally end,” Armstrong said in an e-mail message to The Opinionator today.

For The Opinionator’s previous coverage of the S.E.C. allegations against Armstrong, see:

Politics As Usual in the Blogosphere

Elite Liberal Bloggers to Themselves: Shhh!

Warner’s Falling Star


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