Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Senate Bill Cuts Veterans' Pensions; Democrats Block Fix

The new compromise budget deal worked out by Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), after having passed the House, was discovered to have a provision to cut the pensions of military retirees and disabled veterans. 

The two-year budget agreement is to cut the benefits by some $6 billion over ten years from the pensions of this segment, by pegging any pay increase to the rate of inflation, minus 1%, affecting all military retirees under the age of 62.  Over the course of their retired life, retirees could lose up to 20% of their pension.
Sessions, Ryan, Murray
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) sought to force a vote on an amendment that would halt that provision, and instead close a loophole that allows illegal immigrants to claim an IRS credit for child welfare through the Additional Child Tax Credit.  The IRS paid out some $4.2 billion to people with invalid Social Security numbers in 2010, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration estimates that the payout this year to be some $7.4 billion. 

Senator Sessions' amendment was blocked by the Democrats in the Senate, with Senator Murray claiming that the move was a plot by the Republicans to kill the entire bill.  Senator Sessions replied,
By blocking my amendment, they voted to cut pensions for wounded warriors.  Senators in this chamber have many valid ideas for replacing these pension cuts, including my proposal to close the tax welfare loophole for illegal filers, and all deserved a fair and open hearing.  But they were denied.
Almost all Democrats voted along party lines to preserve the payouts to illegal immigrants, much of which goes outside the US, and to cut veterans' pay.  The lone dissenter from the Democrats was Senator Kay Hagan, whose state of North Carolina contains two of the largest remaining bases in the US: Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, along with a sizeable population of military retirees who tend to settle near military bases for access to retirement benefits.  Senator Hagan is up for re-election next year.

The pensions of civilian federal retirees are not affected.
Update: From Congressman Ryan: A temporary fix has been applied that will delay implementation of the cuts in order to give a special commission on military pay and benefits time "to find a better solution."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Chinese Economy in Perspective

There has been a rising expectation for the last ten years or so about the rapid rise of the Chinese economy, along with fears that it will soon overtake our own.  A splendid symbolic example is this Reuters photo showing the growth of the Pudong financial district in Shanghai between 1987 and 2013:

        Shanghai 1987-2013, with the new Shanghai Tower building on the right (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
But it is best to study the trend as best we can through the lens of the dismal science.  I always think of Truman's quote about how, if all the economists in the world were to be laid end to end, they would still be pointing in all directions. 

Derek Scissors of the Heritage Foundation provides a more Cassandra-like contribution, written as of 2011.  He cites the US unemployment figure then at 9%, just before we were entering what was to be the third "summer of recovery", and it is now lingering at around 7%.  (The press would like you to disregard the wailing about the US economy under Bush when it rose to 4.9% – make no comparisons, nothing to see here, move along…)
One of the most surprising developments resulting from the financial crisis is the belief among ordinary Americans that China has become the world's leading economy.  This view appeared in the roughest times of 2009 and has persisted even though the impact of the crisis has begun to ebb.  US media have frequently conveyed the same belief.  But it is patently absurd. 
Buried within the report is a quick but cogent comparison to the Japanese stagnation, now entering the 23rd year of its "lost decade", with a chart that lays out how Japan's GDP growth increased by 444% between 1971 and 1991, but has increased only 3% since.
Tokyo repeatedly chose fiscal stimulus over reform.  The outcome has been unpleasant.
Indeed, "fiscal stimulus".  The Japanese invented the term "quantitative easing".  There are some other factors to be sure – there always are – such as the fact of Japan's aging population, a situation that the US won't equal until 2035 (with the maximum effect starting to show on the same people expected to put more money into ObamaCare now).  But in general, how has that worked out for Japan, and how successful have we been in implementing the same efforts, despite such inane media drivel such as Chris Matthews simpering about the "amazing economy" under Obama? 

The Japanese notwithstanding, Scissors presents a detailed look at the Chinese management of their economy, from the significant market reform begun in 1978 – experimentation with a capitalist economy under a Chinese Communist leadership – until the party leaders sought to increase its intervention in the market in 2003, fearing an increasing loss of control.  He ends with some sharp recommendations:
Limit federal control of lands to defense needs and preservation of natural and cultural phenomena.
Immediately and sharply cut the federal deficit.
In particular, reduce subsidies of every kind./
Ensure a well-educated and growing labor force.
Last March, even CBS in its 60 Minutes provided a glimpse behind those Potemkin façades in the sparkling new yet empty Chinese cities:

Zhengdong New Area, central district (BI)

Monday, December 2, 2013


Ben Schott is not well known on this side of the Atlantic but has gained quite a following in the UK, not large but a quality bunch, for his work initially as a photographer as well as his way with language and his ability to describe matters with a precise amount of pith.  (He described his session while photographing Tony Blair.  As they finished, Blair offered to show Schott his son, then an infant, but Cherie barked at him that they were about to have lunch.  Cherie, like Hillary – often her own worst press adversary.)

Yet Schott is best known for a series of small books – three altogether now – gathered together as Schott's Miscellanies, collections of trivia that deal with the culture of the UK and to some extent with the EU and Commonwealth.  He has since expanded into a series of almanacs.

His latest endeavor is published with the delightful title of Schottenfreude (a take on the more common and enjoyable term 'Schadenfreude'), and reflects on how the German language has the elastic capacity to enjoin meanings into words that are simply too tempting not to incorporate into other languages: e.g., Doppelgänger, Zeitgeist, Wanderlust, Götterdämmerung, Katzenjammer, Schrecklichkeit, Schwerpunkt, Sitzpinkler, Gemütlichkeit, Sprachgefühl, Weltanshauung, Weltschmerz. 

Schott's idea is to help along this remarkably conjunctive quality of the language by crafting words that we can immediately put to good use, those words that we have unconsciously sought to use but didn't have at our behest.  Some are admittedly a bit too precise for everyday usage but still enjoyable to know, while others we can put to use in short fashion. 

Some examples which caught my eye:
- Plauschplage (prattle-plague): The pressure to make bantering small talk with people you interact with every day.
- Tantalusqualerlösung (Tantalus-torment-redemption): The relief and delight of perfectly slaked thirst.
- Fingernageltafelquietschen (fingernail-blackboard-squeal): The visceral hatred of certain noises.
- Gastdruck (guest-pressure): The exhausting effort of being a good houseguest. 
- Fingerspitzentanz (fingertips-dance): Tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity.
- Traumneustartversuch (dream-restart-experiment): The (usually futile) attempt to return to the plot of the dream after having been awakened.
And my particular favorite (the word, certainly not the action), if only for the imagery enticed:
- Dornhöschenschlaf (thorny-lingerie-sleep): Feigning sleep to avoid sexual intimacy.
It promises to be quite entertaining and a welcome source of useful words in general, as well as words of limited application:
- Gaststattenneueröffnungsuntergangsgewissheit (inn-new-opening-downfall-certitude): The certainty that a newly opened restaurant will fail.

Besides the words themselves, the entertainment value of the book is found in the accompanying notes to each of the words.

In time for Christmas ...

(H/T to Never Yet Melted)