Controlling Americans through Price

A couple of articles today: one on the potential for cheap shale oil to reshape the world in ways beneficial to America, and the other against cheap beer. Of course one of the first acts of the re-elected administration was to try to limit shale oil development.

Barack Obama said that 'under his plan, electricity prices would necessarily skyrocket.' Of course the health care bill requires Americans to buy a level of insurance that most cannot afford, to be subsidized by government. There's a general mode here: making Americans poorer, more dependent on handouts, and to make things that Americans want more expensive as a way of reducing their consumption.

It's all about control, of course.

UPDATE: Another good example: do you wish Americans ate less meat? How about just "ate less"? The answer is ethanol!

Politics II: Spartans!

Lest we forget our mission to read through the Politics, let's finish the rest of book two today (or this weekend, as you have time). This section treats, among other things, the famous Spartan society, one of the most complete attempts ever to organize society around success in war. The Spartans had vanquished Athens and Athenian democracy for a while, not long before Aristotle's own time. He was born in 384 BC, about twenty years after the Peloponnesian War ended. This is roughly akin to someone born now learning about the Gulf War: far enough removed that it wasn't part of their literal consciousness, but close enough to know many veterans of it and to ask after it with some authority.

Aristotle himself was not from Athens, but from Stagira. As a student of Plato's, of course, Athens would have occupied a place in his thought. But Stagira had its own history of violence: in Aristotle's lifetime, it was destroyed by the Macedonian kingdom. However, in gratitude for Aristotle's work tutoring his son Alexander (the Great), then-king Philip rebuilt the city rather than leaving it in ruins.

Some Thoughts on Cats

Thank you for the apologies; although it was clear at the time that most of you were simply playing off the original jape.

I think, though, it's also appropriate that I offer an explanation of why I reacted so badly to was truly intended to be a joke.  The following comes against a background of my never having been able to see the humor in animal cruelty jokes.

That earlier post mentioned our dog, Cinder.  We'd grown up together, and in my 18th year, while I was at college, she died in her 18th year of old age.  The last half-dozen years of her life, we'd also had a Siamese cat.  Intended to be my mother's cat, he wound up gravitating to me, I suppose because a kitten preferred the company of an adolescent to that of an adult.  In the event, we became pretty inseparable.  Until the last couple of years of Cinder's life.  In those last two years, Cinder grew more infirm and was becoming incontinent; although she still seemed happier with her life than without it.  But my cat saw the failing, too, and he moved to Cinder's side.  I generally was the last one out of the house at the day's start and the first one home in the evening.  Thoth would be asleep beside Cinder on her rug as I left, and he'd be there when I got home.  He made sure Cinder knew she had company immediately to hand for all of those last months of her life.

Fast forward a decade to a time when my wife and I were able to have pets of our own.  We got MFWIC out of the local pound as a young adult.  Whether due to his surroundings or to his having been abandoned once already, his timidity in his cage was palpable; still he approached us as we walked down the row of cages.  We had to take him in.  A year later, a kitten showed up on the doorstep of some acquaintances, and they asked whether we could give her a home.  Bast grew in to a small, feisty cat, fearless of no one and no thing, but she and MFWIC became inseparable.  She came to an untimely end when her aggressiveness toward a roadrunner bigger than she by half did her in.  MFWIC never got over his timidity, but he and Bast, while she was with us, had high times chasing each other through the house and the yard.

After we arrived in Plano (and MFWIC had died), we got Cisco out of the pound as a middle-aged cat.  He'd plainly been abused before he escaped/was released to the pound; he still had a BB under the skin behind his right ear and was even more timid, initially, than MFWIC had been.  He was, though, overjoyed to be out of the pound and with us.  History rhymes closely, sometimes.  Phoenix showed up on our doorstep as a kitten, and she was the spitting image of Bast.  Those two cats gave each other great good fun with the same cat-chase antics (although Phoenix also gave us fits going into heat before she had any reason to at her age—still a kitten—and before she was old enough to be spayed safely). 

Enter Dennis.  He, too, had been abandoned, this time in the wilds of the Arizona desert.  He, though, was big enough, and mean enough, to survive into his adolescence.  He was about three-quarters grown and half-feral when he showed up at our daughter's door.  Our daughter already had a young cat, Satin, who was sociopathic in her own way, expressed by avoiding strangers at all costs, and hissing and spitting at them if she couldn't hide from them.  Our daughter, though, could not look past Dennis' strait, and she took him in.  Initially, Satin, as the older, dominated Dennis—and she did so in spades, lording her seniority over him.  As Dennis grew into adulthood, though, he figured out that he was bigger and more ornery than Satin could be, and he dominated her.  They had a troubled, although not dangerously antagonistic for the most part, relationship from then on.

Our daughter then married a man who was allergic to cat dander, so we inherited Dennis and Satin.  Cisco, by then, was confident enough in his place in our household that he had no trouble holding his own against both Dennis and Satin.  He, in fact contributed a great deal to our efforts to calm both of them down, and the three of them would have fun chasing each other, with Dennis and Cisco occasionally wrestling.  Both Dennis and Satin, by then, had become loving cats, along with Cisco and Phoenix, except toward each other, with Dennis head-butting to get pets and Satin just getting in the way until we petted her.  You could think of Garfield with a mean streak and think of Dennis.  By then, the only time Dennis got dangerous, though, was when a strange cat would show up outside our front door (all four cats were now wholly indoor cats; there are both coyotes and bobcats running a green-zone creek about a block away from our house).  Cisco and Phoenix didn't care, but both Satin and Dennis reacted very strongly to the strange cat, and Dennis, unable to attack that one, would attack Satin instead—his feralness dominated totally, and I always had to physically intervene.

Phoenix, though, couldn't handle the stress, and both Dennis and Satin, sensing that, took advantage.  Phoenix wound up dying in my arms at the Vet's office from that stress.  Shortly after that, Cisco died, too, of kidney failure.  He spent his last weeks insisting on being in my lap, between my laptop and me.  On the Vet's recommendation, he, too, died in my arms as the Vet put him down.

Then Dennis became afflicted with his cancer.  The last time I took him to the Vet for treatment or to be put down, he didn't even resist going into his cat carrier for the trip.  The second time prior, on taking him in for his annual IRAN, he'd scratched me up and bitten me quite a bit as he resisted the carrier—the only time he'd ever actually attacked me (although he often swore at me when I wouldn't let him do this or that).  And the last time, just a few months prior to this final trip, I'd had to sedate him to get him into the carrier.  For all that, the Vet had always had to gas him in order to examine him.  This time, when we had him put down, he already was unconscious from anaesthetization for the cancer exam, but he died with my wife and I stroking him, anyway.  Maybe something got through.

Now we have only Satin, who's getting on in years, but who now, as the only cat—or at least without Dennis to harass her constantly—is calming down even further, and talking to us ever more.

Sorry for the long post.

Happy Proto-Thanksgiving

After today, we're in the pre-Thanksgiving planning phase. It happens this year I'm doing the cooking for everybody. That's going to be interesting -- it's never been on be entirely, before now.

But hey. There comes a time when we have to sort it out for ourselves. At some point, no matter how Hank did it, we've got to do it ourselves.

This evening I went to a charity benefit for the Classic City Rollergirls ("Waging War on Wheels"), a rollerderby outfit to which a female friend of mine belongs in a kind of prospect capacity. They're a serious bunch, in their way: the sport involves tackling roller-skating women at high speeds on concrete. It's a violent sport, and these women are bold to engage it. I like them.

The benefit was fun. I'm discovering things about myself, the more that I deal with people here back home. I had three people hit me tonight. The first was a woman who was angry about something I didn't understand, but I let her hit me until her hands were worn out -- it really only took about four hits -- so she wouldn't take it out on whoever she was mad at at the time. Then I made her boyfriend hit me too, so he wouldn't mock her later for being unable to get anything out of hitting me. He didn't either.

He offered me a return 'fair play' punch on himself, but I declined. It really wouldn't have been fair at all.

Then there was another woman, drunk as you can want, who was demanding that everyone comply with her or shut up and respect her. Her particular complaint was that religion was necessarily associated with intolerance and violence, which proposition she intended to enforce intolerantly and with all necessary violence. I did my best to get away from her, but she happened to pin me down in a way that forced me to be close beside while she undertook to declaim a man present I thought deserving of respect. I explained that she was wrong on the facts, and she told me to shut up or she would slap me. I told her to do her best, and she did.

I guess it's a function of the South that a woman can feel free to hit a man without fear of reprisal. She hit me, and I told her she'd have to do better; she hit me again, and I told her she'd have to do better than that. She hit me a third time, far harder -- something about the blow suggested to me that she was at her psychological limit -- and I grinned and told her I thought that now she was getting started.

And so she went away, and didn't even look in my direction the rest of the night. Others apologized for her, but really, she'd only done what she wanted and what I invited her to try. No harm was done, and maybe she learned something about her ability to use violence and threats to push others around.

My wife later allowed that it was well she was not present at the time. That's doubtless true! But no harm was done, and some good. There's no reason to resent the violence as such. It was a learning experience for her, for them, and even for me.

Perhaps it speaks badly of me that I feel so comfortable with violence. I've seen much worse, though, than what America currently has to offer. I want people to understand it, and not to fear to think it: I want them to know it for what it is. It is terrible, in its way, but it leads to knowledge. Perhaps I am terrible, too, for embracing it. I didn't use my strength to hurt them, but I let them use theirs against me without protest. Perhaps that is something wrong with me.

But this was very small force, a kind of toy by those who were only playing with it. I think perhaps it is good for them to look in the eye someone who has seen the thing for real, and to know that their toy is no more than a toy. Maybe that is -- perhaps I am -- sent as a lesson for them. That doesn't make me better, for I know my heart embraces far greater force: but perhaps it helps them, and in some small way improves the world. I hope so.

Matthew 5:45

"I learned that Jesus walked the earth to create a more civilized society, Martin (Luther King) walked the earth to create a more justified society, but, Apostle Barack, the name he was called in my dreams, would walk the earth to create a more equalized society[.]"
Actually, 5:46 is good too: "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?"


The National Review attempts to make sense of the exit polls, surely a Quixotic task.  If you ask voters what is the most important issue to them, then ask which candidate is most likely to solve the issue, you don't get answers that predict the election results.

I think the problem is that there's a big difference between the issues people say are important to them and the issues about which they support a specific solution.  The economy and joblessness are on everyone's mind, but hardly anyone has a coherent notion of what either a President or a Congress can or should do about them.  People may say that abortion or immigration are less important, but at least they have concrete ideas about how a politician should vote on those subjects.  I suspect a lot of votes were cast as a result of gut feelings about issues that people claimed were low on their list of priorities.

That makes it hard to discern a real mandate.  Not that the newly elected politicians will have any difficulty claiming one, but the 2016 mid-term elections could surprise everyone again if the politicians think the voters have their backs.

A Case for Abortion

Back during the summer, we discussed (see comments here) some finer points about cases in which there really is a moral argument for abortion. The clearest example is the case in which the mother will otherwise die, while the baby is still too weak to survive on its own. In that case, no harm is done to a child who is going to die in any case; and there is a life to be saved.

Unfortunately, a case of that kind has presented itself in Ireland. It isn't likely to draw wide commentary here in America, both because it happened overseas and because we have some very explosive stories in the press right now. Still, it's worth reflecting on as a clear example. Much of the Republican opposition to abortion is not fully considered, a defect that weakens the force of what is otherwise a highly principled argument.

Excellent Diagnosis

President Obama: 'If you've got a problem with Susan Rice, you've got a problem with me.'

Another Petition I Like

This petitions thing is kind of a nifty tool. Here's a good one: A petition to allow any American to voluntarily opt out of Obamacare.

Actually, that alone would solve almost all the problems with the legislation. Just give permanent waivers to absolutely everyone who wants one. I think we'd still have to sort out the freedom of conscience issue -- which is a major issue -- but most of the rest would be settled.

D@$@#, Dog!

Some guard dogs you are. What a sorry lot!

Mine scared a tow truck driver to death the other day. A guy with mechanical problems had ditched his truck in my driveway. When the tow truck got there, I went down to see if he needed help. Buck went with me, and suddenly started running full tilt down the driveway.

The driver climbed up on top of his truck to get away. The dog tore right past him without a second look, and sprinted after a squirrel on the other side of the road.

Night of the Generals.

WTF, Gentlemen, W. T. F.

Fascism Rising?

Greece is seeing a spike in attacks against foreigners by organized groups of Greek men and women. Dr. Mead points to a survey in Der Spiegel that cites increasing levels of xenophobia and anti-Semitic sentiment.

This is natural enough in a period of bad economics, with the systems trusted to hold up the economy collapsing all around you. Why is it happening? The answer, for the Greeks, is that it is a conspiracy by Germany. The answer, if you're German, is that culturally inferior peoples are dragging your virtuous nation down. The impulse to bind together is quite natural and strong.

I would suggest that there is a significant danger of this occurring in America as well. You might not think so, because the diversity of the electorate in the recent election was achieved chiefly by whites staying home. If there was increasing tension along these lines, wouldn't turnout have been high?

Yet I think the answer is that the low turnout underlines the danger. Those of my friends who are working class whites and did not vote did not do so because they feel alienated from the political system. If they have resigned from politics as a way of changing a country with which they are very dissatisfied, they will be more open to other methods.

People are asking why they might have so resigned, and not just voted Republican. There are a lot of answers, usually social conservatives blaming moderates, and moderates assuming that social issues are a drag on the ticket. I think the answer is simpler. Look at the Gallup "Confidence in Institutions" poll.

The bottom four institutions are 'Banks, Big Business, HMOs [another big business, but one that regularly treads on toes], and Congress.' The Republican ticket? A man who made his money as a banker before going into big business, coupled with a lifelong member of Congress. Naturally it was easy to demonize people aligned with institutions distrusted by the American people at large. If only Paul Ryan had moonlighted with Kaiser!

The top four institutions are 'the military, small business, police, and religion.' The trend of the change is worrisome: excepting the military, the police, and the criminal justice system, every single institution in the list is trusted less now than it was in the early 1970s.*

Those are the institutions of social control, notice, and not persuasive control -- not church, for example, or newspapers -- but violent, coercive control. That's who we trust, more and more. Church is down twenty points, but the coercive forces are on their way up. A speaker from a coercive background, with the right kind of rhetoric, could easily sweep up millions who have lost all faith in the governing institutions.

For that matter racist and racial grievance sentiments are clearly up, and not just among poor whites: across the board.

My guess is that there is a very real chance of fascist movements breaking out. Unlike in Europe, though, we have a multi-ethnic and cultural state. You wouldn't see one fascist movement built around a dominant race, but multiple hostile movements.

* A partial exception: HMOs went from 17% in 1999 to 19% now. They've consistently stayed at the bottom of the list, though, and I suspect that's within the margin of error.

A Petition for Permission for Secession

As you probably know, a flood of petitions has hit the White House's web site asking for permission for various states to peacefully secede.

Texas apparently has already gotten the required signatures to mandate a review of the request by the White House (UPDATE: Currently nearly a hundred thousand signatures in Texas alone). Governor Perry, who has talked secession in the past, is running from such talk today. Georgia is getting close (UPDATE: The Georgia petition has now achieved enough signatures; Tennessee is within 200, as is North Carolina; Florida, Louisiana and Alabama have passed the mark as well).

A petition for permission to secede is not an act of secession: the states would remain members of the union even if the petition were granted by the White House (which it is not at all clear that the White House has any authority to do, not that a question as to whether they have legitimate authority has ever stopped them before).

However, as a mechanism for underlining the seriousness of the disputes over basic values, it strikes me as a valid and valuable way of protesting. The division in basic values is deep enough, and severe enough, that continued efforts by Washington to impose one-size-fits-all solutions on the republic will destroy it. This is true regardless of which party controls Washington, and which set of solutions is so imposed. Neither liberals nor conservatives can be comfortable in a nation in which they are under constant threat of having their basic values violated by law -- or, as we were discussing earlier today, under threat of being forced by law to violate their own values.

I believe that, in practical fact, we will have a respectful federalism as required by the Tenth amendment or -- sooner or later -- we will have secession for real. It's time people started facing up to the fact that we are pushing against real and deep divisions that will tear us apart if we don't stop.

For which reason, I signed the petition. I would like to have permission to peacefully secede, even if I hope we never need to exercise it. Having that option on the table would immediately undercut any further adventures in the Federal government imposing values and unpopular laws on the populations of states that deeply oppose them.

I want people in Washington, too, to start thinking about just how much damage they are doing to our country by pushing us against these divides. Maybe this will get their attention, and cause them to finally begin to respect the whole Constitution.

Now they've gone too far

They're holding the Twinkie hostage.

People accuse labor unions of sending their employers into bankruptcy.  The Hostess baker's unions took audacity to a new level:  their employer already is in bankruptcy, for the second time since 2004, but they're striking to kill the deal that would prevent an exit.  So Hostess is planning to liquidate, and 18,500 jobs will be lost instead of 627.  Management can go on strike, too.

A Reflection on Reality

Reading Tex's link from the "Liberty & Privacy" piece, I am struck by the examples, and how different they are from the debate we have been having at such length.

We've been arguing -- and we ourselves, as well as the wider society -- as if religious conservatives were perhaps going to ban abortion or restrict birth control.

In reality, the question before the courts is whether religious conservatives will be allowed not to pay for someone else's free birth control (or, in the sense of some of these drugs, abortifacients).

The conservatives in this election had no capacity to ban or even meaningfully restrict abortion, even had they won. The law banning religious freedom and freedom of conscience is already on the books. It's already before the courts.

The administration is already arguing that individuals who have religious or conscientious objections have no such freedom as to refuse to buy something for someone else who wants it.

How did we get into this debate about banning abortion? That was never the issue at hand at all.

Liberty and privacy

The Washington Examiner muses on coming assaults to religious freedom:
Obamacare requires employers to pay for contraception and sterilization coverage.  This includes coverage of "morning-after" contraceptives, whose makers admit the drugs can kill a fertilized egg by preventing or "affect[ing]" implantation.
I'd be the first to take umbrage if my employer tried to influence my most intimate decisions about health and reproduction.  But what is the employer doing in this part of my life in the first place?   How in the world did we decide that it was a good idea for everyone to get his medical coverage through his employer?  Yes, I know about the post-WWII wage-fixing issue, but I mean how did we not realize what a horrible solution this would be in the long run?  I suppose back then it was hard to imagine what medicine would become decades later.  In the 40s and 50s, medicine was a weak thing.

Nor will it help if we get our medical coverage through Uncle Sam.  If we really value the freedom to control our own medical care and our own reproduction, we'd do well to keep our arrangements with our health providers private.

The Ride

The most beautiful six-point stag ran out in front of me tonight. We were perhaps ten feet apart. He must have weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, and perhaps three hundred pounds. He was moving with all the speed his magnificent frame could supply. We came around a corner, where a pickup truck had been parked by the road -- poachers, probably.

What a fine day today was. It was warm and wet, and the autumn colors were fantastic. My wife has become an excellent rider. We were taking those country back roads at a good speed. She has learned to ride at speed in formation, taking the curves along that ridge road with ease and grace.

The buck was a brush with death, and those are very welcome. They are half the reason to ride. It refreshes the sense of wonder, and of the beauty of the world.

That stag got away, I am sure of it. A few feet beyond the road he was cutting across, if he had turned left he would be headed toward a small pond located in the deep woods. Long before he got there he would be in bramble men cross only with great effort, though deer seem to do it with great ease.

Good luck to him. He did me no harm, and much good.

The joys of law

More wisdom to cheer us up.  It being my birth month, I'm fulfilling my continuing legal education requirements for the year, which I always do online.  Today's topic is immigration law, and my seminar materials came with this jewel from the Fifth Circuit:
Whatever guidance the regulations furnish to those cognoscenti familiar with INS procedures, this court, despite many years of legal experience, finds that they yield up meaning only grudgingly and that morsels of comprehension must be pried from mollusks of jargon.
- Dong Sik Kwon v. Immigration & Naturalization Service, 646 F.2d 909 ( 5th Cir. 1981)

I'll let you know when it's over.

"I’ll let you know when it’s over by putting you in the ground and throwing six feet of dirt onto your face.  Until you get that secret signal, really, pull yourself together."

I needed this.  Also, I miss Deadwood.

Politics II.VII

I only want to read one section today, because it touches on our current situation so nicely. I'm going to excerpt what I take to be key points for us, in the hope of encouraging discussion.
In the opinion of some, the regulation of property is the chief point of all, that being the question upon which all revolutions turn. This danger was recognized by Phaleas of Chalcedon, who was the first to affirm that the citizens of a state ought to have equal possessions. He thought that in a new colony the equalization might be accomplished without difficulty, not so easily when a state was already established; and that then the shortest way of compassing the desired end would be for the rich to give and not to receive marriage portions, and for the poor not to give but to receive them.

...[I]t is a bad thing that many from being rich should become poor; for men of ruined fortunes are sure to stir up revolutions.

...Again, where there is equality of property, the amount may be either too large or too small, and the possessor may be living either in luxury or penury. Clearly, then, the legislator ought not only to aim at the equalization of properties, but at moderation in their amount. Further, if he prescribe this moderate amount equally to all, he will be no nearer the mark; for it is not the possessions but the desires of mankind which require to be equalized, and this is impossible, unless a sufficient education is provided by the laws. But Phaleas will probably reply that this is precisely what he means; and that, in his opinion, there ought to be in states, not only equal property, but equal education.

Still he should tell precisely what he means; and that, in his opinion, there ought to be in be in having one and the same for all, if it is of a sort that predisposes men to avarice, or ambition, or both. Moreover, civil troubles arise, not only out of the inequality of property, but out of the inequality of honor...

There are crimes of which the motive is want; and for these Phaleas expects to find a cure in the equalization of property, which will take away from a man the temptation to be a highwayman, because he is hungry or cold. But want is not the sole incentive to crime; men also wish to enjoy themselves and not to be in a state of desire- they wish to cure some desire, going beyond the necessities of life, which preys upon them; nay, this is not the only reason- they may desire superfluities in order to enjoy pleasures unaccompanied with pain, and therefore they commit crimes....

The fact is that the greatest crimes are caused by excess and not by necessity. Men do not become tyrants in order that they may not suffer cold; and hence great is the honor bestowed, not on him who kills a thief, but on him who kills a tyrant. Thus we see that the institutions of Phaleas avail only against petty crimes.

There is another objection to them. They are chiefly designed to promote the internal welfare of the state. But the legislator should consider also its relation to neighboring nations, and to all who are outside of it. The government must be organized with a view to military strength; and of this he has said not a word.
I am leaving out a lot of great value in this excerpt, of which you may wish to partake.


After reading posts and comments on sites like Zero Hedge where he hangs out, my husband sums up the message about the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling, and the Grand Bargain this way:  We're going to get either tax hikes combined with spending cuts if there's no deal, or we're going to get tax hikes alone if there is a deal.  If the sequester takes effect, we won't like the composition of the spending cuts, but we're not going to get a better composition out of this crowd.

My bet is a cave, a deal, and tax hikes without spending cuts; at most there will be vaporous promises of future decelerations in increased spending.  The tax hikes will be narrowly targeted and therefore will generate negligible revenue in comparison with the deficit, so we won't so much raise the debt ceiling as (in Mark Steyn's phrase) lower the debt abyss.  "We can't cut our way to prosperity," the President informs us, but apparently we can borrow our way there.  Well, the press will eat up anything that smells of hands across the aisle, and the voters don't care about the military unless it's handing out water bottles after a storm.

Which reminds me of another comment my husband ran into, musing on Mayor Bloomberg's volte-face on the idea of clean-up support from those violent military types that he previously didn't welcome in his pristinely unarmed streets:  "You have reached the military.  Your call is very important to us.  Please pay attention, as some of our menu options have changed. . . ."

Forgotten exactly how the sequester works?  It was enacted as the Budget Control Act in August 2011, and consists of a deal to trade certain future spending cuts for a $2.1 trillion deepening of the debt abyss.  The cuts come in two parts.  First, there are $1 trillion in mandatory spending reductions, not contingent on any potential deal, in the form of caps on non-entitlement discretionary spending over the nine-year period from 2013 through 2021.  Second there is the sequester itself, which was intended primarily as a "sword of Damocles" to induce the Super-committee to reach an alternative deal, and which took effect when the Super-committee failed to do so in November 2011.  The sequester consists of $1.2 trillion in cuts spread out evenly over the same nine-year period, including $109 billion in 2013.  (Note that all these "cuts," as usual, are not to the current spending amounts but to the projected increased spending over the next decade.  Even if the sequester takes effect, the federal deficit is projected to increase over the ten-year period covered by the Budget Control Act, and the increase is projected to exceed the rate of growth of the economy.)

The sequester cuts are evenly divided between non-war military spending and non-entitlement discretionary domestic spending.  For 2013, therefore, there would be roughly $55 billion in cuts to each of defense and domestic spending.  Affected programs are projected to be cut by between 7.6% and 9.6%, except for Medicare reimbursements, which will be cut at a lower 2% level.  Included in what lawmakers call the "non-discretionary" cuts on the domestic side of the equation are $11 billion in Medicare reimbursements and a total of $5.2 billion in a hodge-podge of other non-discretionary programs, the largest of which is farm price supports, but which also include student loans, vocational rehabilitation, mineral leasing payments, and the Social Services Block Grant.  The other $38.5 billion will be cut from "discretionary" domestic programs, not including veterans' health benefits (which apparently are considered "domestic" rather than "defense") and Pell grants, both of which are mostly exempt.

The sequester deal received broad bipartisan support in 2011:   it passed by 268 to 161 in the House, opposed by about one-third of Republicans and half of Democrats.  It passed by 74 to 26 in the Senate, opposed by 19 Republicans and 6 Democrats.  The sequester can be avoided if lawmakers reach a deal to achieve $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions through other means.

We're going to bump up against the debt ceiling again at the end of this year, and of course the Bush tax cuts are set to expire then as well.  It is the combination of the expiration of virtually every tax cut enacted since 2001, the imposition of new Obama-era taxes, and the imposition of spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (including the sequester) that is generally referred to as "the fiscal cliff."  Here is a summary of the tax changes automatically set for the end of this year:
1. Bush-Era Tax Cuts:  this includes the return of the current 10/15/25/28/33/35% individual tax rate brackets to the pre-2001 rates of 15/28/31/36/39.6%, the return of the tax-rate on long term capital gains and qualified dividends from 15% to 20% and 39.6%, respectively, and the return of the limitation on itemized deductions and phase out of personal exemptions.

2. Obama-Era Tax Cuts:  on January 1, 2013, several provisions that benefit the lower classes — most notably the increased child tax and earned income credits and the expanded education credits — are slated to expire.

3. The Estate Tax:  the estate tax exemption and tax rate are currently at $5,120,000 and 35%, respectively.  Come January, they will return to $1,000,000 and 55%.

4. Expiration of the AMT Patch: The most recent patch raised the AMT [alternative minimum tax] exemption for 2010 and 2011 from $45,000 to $74,450 for MFJ. In 2013, this will reset to $45,000, pulling tens of millions of taxpayers into AMT.

5. Temporary Payroll Tax Cut:  For 2011 and 2012, the employee’s share of Social Security tax was cut from 6.2% to 4.2%.  This rate cut expires at year end.

6. Obamacare Taxes:  Starting in 2013, taxpayers earning more than $250,000 will pay an additional 0.9% tax on their wages and 3.8% on their unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains.)

7. Extenders:  There are a host of provisions set to expire at year end that regularly do so, before Congress retroactively resuscitates them.  Foremost among the “extender” provisions are the R&D credit and the personal deduction for state and local income taxes.

Welfare for the Modestly Rich

Mitt Romney’s careless comment about “the 47 percent” receiving government benefits — implying they’re all deadbeats — squelched any serious discussion in the campaign. Interestingly, his figure is probably low: More than 50 percent of Americans may already receive benefits. Obamacare will raise this, because families with incomes up to four times the federal poverty line ($91,000 in 2011 for a family of four) qualify for insurance subsidies....

Take Social Security. Created to prevent destitution among the elderly, it now subsidizes the comfortable. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about a couple (he 66, she 70) touring the world. They’ve visited London, Paris, Florence and Buenos Aires. Their financial adviser sends them $6,000 a month from investments and proceeds from their home sale. They also receive Social Security. How much? They don’t say. My hunch: between $25,000 and $50,000 a year. (I e-mailed the couple for details but received no reply.)
As the election fades into the rearview mirror and attention turns more seriously toward the looming “fiscal cliff,” lobbyists and advocates are once again wondering whether Congress might look to the healthcare law for spending cuts.

Specifically, lawmakers might be tempted to tap the health law’s insurance subsidies — by far its most expensive provision, and probably the most tangible benefit it will provide. …

Critics say the subsidies are too generous — 400 percent of the poverty level is more than $90,000 per year. And because the subsidies don’t begin to flow until 2014, they represent a giant pot of money that’s in the budget but wouldn’t have to come out of anyone’s pocket.

Fallen Genius

This is a day for thinking about fallen soldiers, and as 11/11/11 marks the end of the First World War, I'll ask a moment of your time for a couple of highly accomplished men - accomplished outside the military, I mean - who lost their lives in that war. Englishmen, worthy ones.

I hope it's still true that every first-year chemistry student learns something about Henry Moseley - at the very least, that his work with X-ray spectroscopy improved our understanding of the periodic table. Mendeleev had arranged the elements by atomic weight, and when their periodic properties did not line up the right way, suggested that the atomic weights had been incorrectly measured - Moseley, as I learned it, showed that atomic number is a physical property independent of atomic weight, corresponding as we now know to the number of protons. What some classes teach, though not all, is that Moseley volunteered for service in the First World War and was killed at Gallipoli in August 1915, as a second lieutenant of engineers. From the article I linked, I see that both his mentor Ernest Rutherford and his mother tried to dissuade him, but he insisted. (It also tells me he tried to leave the Engineers to join the Royal Flying Corps, in what capacity I do not know.) He was killed by a sniper while telephoning for reinforcements.

According to the wiki "[b]ecause of Moseley's death in World War I, the British government instituted a policy of no longer allowing its prominent and promising scientists to enlist for combat duty in the armed forces of the Crown." I'm not sure I approve, but at the hour I'm writing this, I can't articulate why.

Less well known, perhaps, is George Butterworth, a British composer and collector of songs, of the same generation as his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams. He destroyed a lot of his own work (because it didn't meet his own standards) and is best known for his arrangements of Houseman's "A Shropshire Lad." Many of these poems deal with death in a thoughtful way, and Butterworth's settings bring them out beautifully. Try one or two -- "Loveliest of Trees"...

Now of my threescore years and ten
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score -
It only leaves me fifty more...
And since to look at things in bloom,
Fifty springs are little room;
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

If it doesn't read like much, hear it sung by a good baritone (as it is at the link I just gave you). Try "The Lads in their Hundreds," and "Is My Team Ploughing?"

Butterworth volunteered, enlisted, was later commissioned and promoted, and was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at the Somme, where he was killed by a sniper in August 1916.

Spare a moment for fallen genius.

On Veteran's Day

Our old friend John Derbyshire reports that his son, now a young man, has elected a military career. Naturally we congratulate the father and wish the son all the best.
Danny took the AFQT (basically an IQ test: the cutoff for the Army is IQ 92) and the ASVAB (a vocational test to see which military specialty suits you). A smart kid—it’s genetic—Danny aced both tests and is in A-1 physical condition, so they basically told him he could pick his own specialty. He picked Airborne Rangers, the most dangerous specialty on the list...

I am reliably informed by a Texas friend—in Texas everybody has a family member in the military—that Ranger school washouts get all the crap jobs in the Army. I passed this on to my son, but he was unfazed. “I’ll qualify.” As temperamentally hostile as I am to every form of facile optimism, I admired my son’s resolution.

(The only other conservative I know with a son in the military is Peter Brimelow of, whose son Alexander is currently serving with the US Marine Corps in Afghanistan. On the basis of this admittedly tiny sample, I’d suggest that if you want to meet a conservative with a military-minded kid, go to the dissident right. Bigfoot mainstream-conservative pundits send their kids to law school.)
If you want to meet someone with a military minded kid, go and find a family with a military tradition. Few outside what BLACKFIVE calls America's warrior caste bother. You're a fortunate man to have raised a son both brave enough and wise enough to know the course of honor.