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Once Upon a Time, Warren Buffett Was Barack Obama’s Favorite Billionaire

He never should have been, of course, but never mind that for a moment. Focus instead on the fact that Warren Buffett just made life very inconvenient for a White House that professed to venerate his every word, thought, gesture and action:

The White House might need a new poster child for its “tax fairness” campaign.

Famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who President Barack Obama has lauded and named a signature proposal after, is helping finance a deal that would allow Burger King Worldwide to reincorporate in Canada and potentially reduce its U.S. tax bill through a so-called inversion, the Journal reported late Monday.

One of the White House’s top economic priorities this fall is to deter companies from pursuing inversions, and Treasury Department officials are designing plans that would remove some of the incentives for these deals.

Mr. Obama and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew have spoken disparagingly about companies that use inversions. Mr. Obama in July called inversions an “unpatriotic tax loophole” and said “my attitude is I don’t care if it’s legal, it’s wrong.”

It even published a blog post titled “what are inversions and why should you care.”

Now that Mr. Buffett’s involvement in a possible inversion has been made public, will Mr. Obama and other Democrats take him to task? That might be awkward, given how the Obama administration has named one of their top tax proposals after the “Oracle of Omaha” himself.

Stephen Bainbridge has fun with this entire issue. And well he should:

What can we infer from this? I must admit at the outset that I’m no fan of Buffett’s professed politics (or somewhat odd personal life), so I’m biased and I’d be interested to know what a Buffett fan like Larry Cunningham thinks, but here’s my take:

  1. Like a lot of (all?) limousine liberals, Buffett is happy to support tax increases because he knows they won’t really affect him. Billionaires can hire as many $1000/hour tax lawyers as they need to run tax avoidance devices–like corporate tax inversions–that are simply unavailable to the middle class. We can’t afford their high priced lawyers or their complex strategies, so we get screwed while they get a free pass. Leona Helmsley was right: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Buffett’s too smart to say so, but ….
  2. Politics is one thing but profit is another. Buffett was perfectly willing to throw both Obama and Buffett’s own tax blathering under the bus when it suited him.
  3. Obama’s going to need a new favorite billionaire until such time as Buffett makes nice by helping to finance Obama’s presidential library.

And a question: Will the Occupy Wall Street types calling for a Burger King boycott now try to boycott Berkshire Hathaway? I doubt it, mainly because I doubt whether they’re capable of figuring out what Berkshire Hathaway does.

Pass the popcorn.

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Quote of the Day

Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza? Newspapers this summer have been full of little else. Television viewers see heaps of rubble and plumes of smoke in their sleep. A representative article from a recent issue of The New Yorker described the summer’s events by dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine, four sentences to the crazed génocidaires of ISIS, and the rest of the article—30 sentences—to Israel and Gaza.

When the hysteria abates, I believe the events in Gaza will not be remembered by the world as particularly important. People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents. I wish I could say the tragedy of their deaths, or the deaths of Israel’s soldiers, will change something, that they mark a turning point. But they don’t. This round was not the first in the Arab wars with Israel and will not be the last. The Israeli campaign was little different in its execution from any other waged by a Western army against a similar enemy in recent years, except for the more immediate nature of the threat to a country’s own population, and the greater exertions, however futile, to avoid civilian deaths.

The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.

Matti Friedman, brilliantly revealing how the international media is determined to get wrong the story of the war between Israel and Hamas–to Israel’s detriment, of course.

I Really Don’t Like Writing Blog Posts about Anti-Semitism . . .

But it is worth reminding people that contrary to the claims of the immoral and the benighted, anti-Semitism isn’t “scarce” in the West (alas). Jeffrey Goldberg:

On the one hand, it is completely unsurprising that Europe has become a swamp of anti-Jewish hostility. It is, after all, Europe. Anti-Jewish hostility has been its metier for centuries. (Yes, the locus of much anti-Jewish activity today is within Europe’s large Muslim-immigrant population; but the young men who threaten their Jewish neighbors draw on the language and traditions of European anti-Semitism as much as they do on Muslim modes of anti-Semitic thought.)

On the other hand, the intensity, and velocity, of anti-Jewish invective — and actual anti-Jewish thuggery — has surprised even Eurocynics such as myself. “Jews to the gas,” a chant heard at rallies in Germany, still has the capacity to shock. So do images of besieged synagogues and looted stores. And testimony from harassed rabbis and frightened Jewish children.

But I find myself most bothered by what seems to have been, on the surface, a relatively minor incident. The episode took place last weekend at a Sainsbury’s supermarket in central London. Protesters assembled outside the store to call for a boycott of Israeli-made goods. Quickly, the manager ordered employees to empty the kosher food section. One account suggests that a staff member, when asked about the empty shelves, said “We support Free Gaza.” Other reports suggest that the manager believed that demonstrators might invade the store and trash it. (There is precedent to justify his worry.)

After a good deal of publicity following the incident, Sainsbury’s apologized to its Jewish customers. “This will not happen again,” its corporate affairs director, Trevor Datsun, said, according to the Jewish Chronicle. “Managers will be told not to move kosher food because of some perceived threat.”

Why do I find this incident to be more disturbing than, say, reported attacks on kippah-wearing Jews, or the scrawling of swastikas on Jewish shops?

To the extent that it suggests that Israel and Judaism have been thoroughly conflated in the minds of many Europeans, the Sainsbury’s kosher controversy is similar to other recent incidents. Kosher products — in the case of the Sainsbury’s branch in question, some apparently from the U.K. and Poland — were intuitively understood to be stand-ins for Israel itself, just as French Jewish males wearing kippot were understood by their attackers to be stand-ins for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Be sure to bear the last paragraph of Goldberg’s excerpt in mind when reading this:

To the Editor:

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

(Rev.) BRUCE M. SHIPMAN
Groton, Conn., Aug. 21, 2014

The writer is the Episcopal chaplain at Yale.

So, there you have it. According to “the Episcopal chaplain at Yale,” the reason why we have “growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond” is because “the trend” of anti-Semitism “parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.” For “the trend” to subside, then, “Israel’s patrons abroad” have to pressure the government of the only Jewish state in the world to behave. Reverend Shipman doesn’t see fit to denounce anti-Semitism as a vile, despicable form of bigotry. He doesn’t see fit to state that there is no excuse whatsoever for anti-Semitism. He doesn’t even note that Hamas has committed–and continues to commit–acts of terrorism against Israelis. No; he is content to state that the reason why we have increased anti-Semitism is because the only Jewish state in the world has gotten uppity and bears responsibility for the persecution of Jews in other countries. The mind reels.

It is truly appalling, of course, that a man of God could think to state such sentiments–and in the “Letters” section of the New York Times, no less. But that’s where we are. Episcopalians should be ashamed. Yale should be ashamed. Reverend Shipman should be ashamed, but I’m not sure that he possesses the requisite wit or honor to so much as feel shame in moments like this one.

And despite all of the data points to the contrary, some people think that “anti-Semitism scarcely exists in the West.” Feh.

When Busybodies Attack

Apparently, you can’t be a little Floridian kid with a lemonade stand without some “grownup” reporting you to state government officials. You’d think that people would have better things to do than to hassle children, but alas, that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

The good news is that “[s]heriff’s deputies have declined” to shut down the offending lemonade stand in question. The bad news is that in doing so, Florida state law enforcement officials have proven themselves to be the exception, and not the rule.

Remember How Obamacare Is Supposedly No Longer a Campaign Issue?

Sure you do. Of course, the facts show that Obamacare remains very much a campaign issue–the unsubstantiated claims of Greg Sargent and Paul Krugman notwithstanding–and now, via InstaPundit, we have an indication that if anything, not enough is being made about the deleterious effects of health care “reform”:

Institutions say complying with the Affordable Care Act has caused them to pass on some costs to employees, according to a new survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Since the act began to take effect, some 20 percent of institutions have made changes to benefits in an effort to control associated costs, the survey says. About the same percentage of colleges are considering making changes, or making further changes, in the year ahead. Of those institutions that have made changes so far, 41 percent have increased employees’ share of premium costs. Some 27 percent have increased out-of-pocket limits, while about one-quarter increased in-network deductibles or dependent coverage costs, or both.  Some 20 percent increased employees’ share of prescription drug costs.

No one is actually going to claim that we should be happy with this state of affairs. Right?

This Blog Post Is Dedicated to Stephen Bainbridge

The “moral outrage over tax inversions” is feigned outrage. It is ginned up, fake, astroturfed outrage that will go away as soon as the midterm elections are over. It currently commands (too much) attention because President Obama and the Democratic party are worried that they might lose the Senate in the midterms, because they have no genuine issues with which to limit their possible impending electoral defeat, and because the only tool left to them in the upcoming campaigns is the tool of populist demagoguery. Populist demagoguery is needed to scare people, to make them angry, and to distract them from the fact that their economic situations have not gotten better under this administration. It is also needed to distract people from the fact that the president’s second term has been a disaster, and that he is phoning it in.

And of course, I know that Professor Bainbridge knows all of this, just as he surely must know that the Obama administration’s stance on corporate inversions is entirely hypocritical. But it’s good to repeat all of these points from time to time.

Quote of the Day

Let’s look at the Hamas “Covenant,” the founding document published in 1988 and unchanged since. It’s fascinating how central this document is—or should be—to the Gaza conflict, and yet how absent it is in most discourse. It was published a quarter century ago in 1988. It’s been available in translation for as long as I can remember, now easily accessible online in a Yale Law School Library translation.

What it represents is Hamas’ own self-definition. Its articulation of its sacred mission. I’d urge you to read the whole thing. The anti-Semitic rhetoric lifted fromThe Protocols of the Elders of Zion is instructive about the mindset of the Hamas founding fathers, but really just window dressing. For the purposes of current discussion there are two passages that demand attention. The first is one sentence in the second paragraph, which reads:

Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).

There is no equivocation. There is just “obliteration.” Not explicitly genocidal, it could be argued that it’s just metaphorical—that the destruction of Israel will somehow not involve any harm to the vast majority of 5 million Jews there, just the state of Israel. This was the dodge Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used when he spoke of wiping Israel off the map.

OK, let’s concede that metaphoric possibility. But then we must contend with the truly sensational and horrific—and explicitly genocidal—element of the Hamas Covenant: Article 7. The article that is an explicit call for the extermination of all Jews. An explicit call for genocide.

Here is how it reads in English:

… [T]he Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree … would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.

Somehow I think Jews shouldn’t rely on the Gharkad tree. The language calls for the mission of Hamas to be to seek out and find every Jew wherever they may be hiding and kill him or her. No Day of Judgment until that is done.

It continues to shock me that a group with an overtly genocidal mission written into its covenant for a quarter century now, is somehow treated as a legitimate participant in the world’s diplomatic processes. A potential “partner for peace.” Talk about a flawed moral equivalence.

The quotation is from what is known as a “hadith,” a non-Quranic saying of the Prophet, and according to scholars I’ve emailed with (both Islamic and Jewish) it’s important to remember that some hadith are more directly connected to the Prophet than others. What the scholars point out is that Hamas has deliberately chosen a hadith with an explicit anti-Jewish message for its very reason for existence. And it’s important to emphasize that the “kill the Jews” message of the hadith does not represent the viewpoint of mainstream Islam. Still it’s scandalous to me that those who write about the Gaza conflict do not make clear that this is not incidental to Hamas but the entire purpose of its being. Its sacred mission.

You want to talk about Hitler analogies: Even Hitler never became that specific in Mein Kampf. Many scholars believe that Hitler gave the wartime extermination order orally, although in a 1939 pre-war speech, he pledged himself to the “destruction of World Jewry”—a speech that was not taken literally by most of the world. Compared to Hamas, Hitler was cautious, politic. Of course he wanted to exterminate the Jews, but he didn’t write it into the constitution of the Third Reich.

Ron Rosenbaum, pointing out and emphasizing stubborn facts that too many people in the world seem eager to forget

Hillary Clinton Continues to Live Down to Expectations

The riots in Ferguson have brought to the forefront issues concerning race relations in the United States, police brutality, the possible over-militarization of police, crime, violence and the fragility of First Amendment rights of free expression.

And naturally, Hillary Clinton has absolutely nothing whatsoever to say about the entire matter.

Not that anyone should really be surprised anymore; Team Clinton apparently continues to believe that its candidate is the overwhelming favorite to become the next president of the United States (even if the rest of us are strongly entertaining doubts on that matter). As such, Team Clinton doubtless also believes that its candidate can continue to avoid taking courageous stances one way or another on the difficult topics of the day, and that indeed, to take courageous stances on difficult topics of the day might be counterproductive, because it might involve alienating potential supporters. I mean, God forbid that the potential next president of the United States should actually take leadership positions that might indicate that she actually is up to the job of being the next president of the United States. What kind of republic with democratic characteristics would we be if something as revolutionary as that were to happen?

At some point, Clinton supporters may wish to ask themselves whether this brand of vanilla leadership (emphasis on the word “vanilla;” I am not sure that we can refer to Clinton’s activities as constituting “leadership”) is really the best that we can possibly ask for. I know that there are a lot of people who are devoted to the idea of a Hillary Clinton presidency. But they should be devoted to the country first, and quite frankly, the country deserves better than this.

A Truly Great Way to Resolve the Washington Redskins Controversy

In the event that you are not a football fan, let me give you some background on the subject of this post: There is a football team called the Washington Redskins. They’ve been around for a while; the Wikipedia article states that the team began as the Boston Braves in 1932, and then eventually became the Washington Redskins in 1937. As a Chicago Bears fan, this is what I consider to be my favorite game involving the Washington Redskins.

Now, there are a lot of people who consider the name of the team to be offensive (to clarify, we are referring to the “Redskins” portion of the name, though one could be forgiven for thinking that we are referring to the “Washington” portion). The Washington Post has even gone so far as to state that it will no longer refer to its hometown team as “the Redskins.” But the Redskins front office–led by owner Daniel Snyder–is refusing to change the name.

Stephen Carter has come up with what I believe to be an excellent solution:

My suggestion — in all seriousness — is that the team be called the Washington Lumbee, after the North Carolina tribe of that name. Before I explain my reasons, let me note the advantages from the point of view of the team’s traditionalist supporters. The name fits easily into the team’s fight song. (“Hail to the Lumbee.”) The name honors an actual tribe, an important and accomplished one. A public association with the football team in the nation’s capital would provide a huge boost to the Lumbee’s cherished dream, so far denied, of official recognition by the federal government. And, for what it’s worth, an actual Lumbee Indian, Sean Locklear, started four games for Washington in 2011.

Now — who are the Lumbee? Why choose them as a model?

The Lumbee, located mostly in North Carolina, have long attracted controversy. Although tribe members insist that both archaeological and DNA evidence demonstrates their claim to American Indian ancestry, some contemporary observers — including many American Indians — disagree, insisting that the Lumbee are mostly a mixture of African and European blood.

The state of North Carolina, however, officially recognized the Lumbee tribe in 1885 and treated them as American Indians much earlier in its history. The Lumbee were considered neither black nor white. During the Jim Crow era, the heavily Lumbee county of Robeson maintained not two but three separate school systems — one for whites, one for blacks and one for American Indians.

The Lumbee, for their part, have never quite gotten the recognition they deserve for their role in what has been called the Battle of Hayes Pond, a shootout with the Ku Klux Klan that took place 56 years ago.

James Cole, self-proclaimed grand dragon of the Klan in the Carolinas, found the Lumbees irritating because of their long history of mixing with other races. In January 1958, Cole’s followers burned crosses on several Lumbee lawns to warn them against “mongrelization.” Cole then scheduled a Klan rally for the night of Jan. 18 in a field near the town of Maxton, in Robeson County.

Even in the 1950s, people often cowered when the Klan came calling. The Lumbee chose a different path. They decided to confront the Klan and protect their homes and their families. The sheriff even warned Cole that if he proceeded with the rally, his life might be in danger. But backing down at that point would have meant a serious loss of face. So the event went off as planned.

The historian Malinda Maynor Lowery, in her book “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South,” picks up the tale: “Klansmen circled their cars in the center of the field and set up a small generator with a P.A. system and a light bulb. As Cole began to speak, he must have feared that the sheriff’s prediction would come true.” One of the Lumbee shot out the lightbulb. Another “wrestled a Klansman’s gun from his hands.” After that, “a deafening roar emanated from the Indian crowd; Indians began firing shots.”

The Klansmen were taken entirely by surprise. They were not prepared for resistance. “Cole took off running into the swamps,” Lowery writes. “His panicked followers dropped their guns, jumped in their cars and drove in all directions, some straight into the ditches that surrounded the field.”

As Carter goes on to mention, “with the marketing and financial might of the Washington football establishment behind them,” the Lumbee would be able to use the name change to achieve their long-desired goal of being recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which would entitle the Lumbee “to receive certain federal benefits, services, and protections because of their special relationship with the United States.”

So, what is Daniel Snyder waiting for? Take Carter’s suggestion and change the nickname of Washington’s football team to the Lumbee. It would be a huge public relations coup, it would silence the controversy, and it would pay homage to a group of people who routed and humiliated the Ku Klux Klan and revealed them for the cowards that they are. What’s not to love about this idea?

Yes Virginia, Republicans Are Still Making an Issue of Obamacare

Behold the details. In related news, we learn–yet again–that Greg Sargent and Paul Krugman are allergic to doing their homework. Which might very well make them hacks.

Yes Virginia, You Can Be Both a Liberal and a Zionist

David Bernstein explains. And the following is worth highlighting:

. . . the only feasible alternatives to Zionism are themselves illiberal–have a majority Arab state in which Jews are, at best, a suppressed minority, or force all six million Jews living in Israel to flee to whatever countries (if any) will accept them, or some combination of the two.  The idea that giving up on “Zionism” makes you a “liberal” is false, unless creating yet another Arab dictatorship in what is now Israel at the cost of six million Jews’ lives and liberty, and of by far the most liberal state in their region, is somehow a “liberal” option.

Of course, for whatever reason, there are people who would not be the least bit upset by the elimination of Israel “at the cost of six million Jews’ lives and liberty,” and there are also people who are not the least bit bothered by the fact that there are people who would not be the least bit upset by the elimination of Israel “at the cost of six million Jews’ lives and liberty.”

Quote of the Day

Politeness buys you time. It leaves doors open. I’ve met so many people whom, if I had trusted my first impressions, I would never have wanted to meet again. And yet — many of them are now great friends. I have only very rarely touched their hair.

One of those people is my wife. On our first date, we went to a nice bar with blue tables and, in the regular course of conversation, she told me at length about the removal of a dermoid teratoma from her ovaries. This is a cyst with teeth (not a metaphor). I had gone in expecting to flirt but instead I learned about the surgical removal of a fist-sized mutant mass of hair and teeth from her sexual parts. This killed the chemistry. I walked her home, told her I had a great time, and went home and looked up cysts on the Internet, always a nice end to an evening. We talked a little after that. I kept everything pleasant and brief. A year later I ran into her on the train and we got another drink. Much later I learned that she’d been having a very bad day in a very bad year.

Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person. But they would never have known, of course. Let’s see if I still hate them. Very often I find that I don’t. Or that I hated them for a dumb reason. Or that they were having a bad day. Or much more likely, that I had been having a bad day.

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.

There is one other aspect of my politeness that I am reluctant to mention. But I will. I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy. For all of my irony I really do want to know about the process of hanging jewelry from celebrities. What does the jewelry feel like in your hand? What do the celebrities feel like in your hand? Which one is more smooth?

This is not a world where you can simply express love for other people, where you can praise them. Perhaps it should be. But it’s not. I’ve found that people will fear your enthusiasm and warmth, and wait to hear the price. Which is fair. We’ve all been drawn into someone’s love only to find out that we couldn’t afford it. A little distance buys everyone time.

Last week my wife came back from the playground. She told me that my two-year-old, three-foot-tall son, Abraham, walked up to a woman in a hijab and asked “What’s your name?” The woman told him her name. Then he put out his little hand and said, “Nice to meet you!” Everyone laughed, and he smiled. He shared with her his firmest handshake, like I taught him.

Paul Ford. (Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the link.)

Some Common Sense on Corporate Tax Inversions

Courtesy of Greg Mankiw:

“Some people are calling these companies ‘corporate deserters.’ ”

That is what President Obama said last month about the recent wave of tax inversions sweeping across corporate America, and he did not disagree with the description. But are our nation’s business leaders really so unpatriotic?

A tax inversion occurs when an American company merges with a foreign one and, in the process, reincorporates abroad. Such mergers have many motives, but often one of them is to take advantage of the more favorable tax treatment offered by some other nations.

Such tax inversions mean less money for the United States Treasury. As a result, the rest of us end up either paying higher taxes to support the government or enjoying fewer government services. So the president has good reason to be concerned.

Yet demonizing the companies and their executives is the wrong response. A corporate chief who arranges a merger that increases the company’s after-tax profit is doing his or her job. To forgo that opportunity would be failing to act as a responsible fiduciary for shareholders.

Of course, we all have a responsibility to pay what we owe in taxes. But no one has a responsibility to pay more.

The great 20th-century jurist Learned Hand— who, by the way, has one of the best names in legal history — expressed the principle this way: “Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”

If tax inversions are a problem, as arguably they are, the blame lies not with business leaders who are doing their best to do their jobs, but rather with the lawmakers who have failed to do the same. The writers of the tax code have given us a system that is deeply flawed in many ways, especially as it applies to businesses.

Kudos to Professor Mankiw for this; it is an improvement on the demagoguery and hypocrisy we have heard recently from the White House regarding this issue.

Quote of the Day

My comments were in extremely poor taste and I apologize. Sometimes I say the wrong thing.

–Harry Reid. He don’t say. Incidentally, I am guessing that if a Republican made the kinds of comments Reid has made, s/he wouldn’t be said to have “built up a gaffe immunity by committing so many small-ish gaffes.” Rather, s/he would have seen his/her career come to an end.

In Praise of Janet Yellen

Her statement today, in which she mentioned that the Federal Reserve would watch to see how the employment market was doing before raising interest rates, is welcome news for just about anyone who is still concerned that the economic recovery is not on firm footing, and who believes that the job market still has a ways to go before we can be sanguine about the employment picture. Incidentally, I don’t read Yellen’s comments as being an indication that interest rates will rise soon. Rather, I read them as a preemptive strike against those who would increase interest rates well before they need to be raised.

And that preemptive strike is entirely justified. Again–and I have written this before–there is no current threat of inflation, there is a great deal of catch-up that needs to be played in the labor market, and factors like the weather can still cause the economy to contract. I don’t know who in this environment believes that interest rates actually need to go up in the near future, but I do know that I wouldn’t want to take investment advice from those people. Ever.

Maureen Dowd: Not Completely Wrong All the Time

About the kindest thing that I can say about Maureen Dowd’s writing is that in general, I hold her in minimal high regard. She writes like she is perpetually fourteen years old, her prose is predictable, flabby and mostly devoid of rigorous reasoning, and her voice is nothing short of grating. In general, she is a horrible writer. Just. Horrible. I will be forever smacked by gob that the New York Times chose and continues to choose to employ her.

But you know something? Dowd does have a point when she criticizes Barack Obama for being detached from the political game, and an ineffective political leader as a result. To be sure, Dowd–being Dowd–goes too far for essentially implying that the president should be faulted for being “an introvert in an extrovert’s profession” (to quote what Richard Nixon said about himself), and her claim that the president can fix his political problems by turning into Mr. Excitement and doing “something bold and thrilling” is nothing short of vacuous. But can there really be any doubt that the (very) broad and general outlines of Dowd’s argument is correct? The second term of the Obama administration has been, at best, a disappointment. At worst, it has turned into an outright failure with a disengaged president who would rather do1 anything but show leadership.2 This is what four more years of Hope and Change turned out to be? And I’m supposed to be impressed?

So, let this blog post serve as partial praise for Maureen Dowd. She actually blundered her way to making a valid point. And the president and his administration helped her do it. They must be so proud.

1. If the president is a restless intellectual, I am glad; it is better than being the alternative. But if the president really is bored with his job, why did he run for a second term? Only because he felt he had to, lest history treat him as a failure? That just wasn’t a good enough reason; can we agree to that?

2. Yes, yes, I know; there is no actual vacation from the presidency. But the optics were just awful, and much of leadership is about projecting the proper optics.

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