Reverse the Facts – the Nunes memo

Imagine for a moment that the Bush-era DOJ had sought a FISA warrant to surveil someone on the Obama campaign.  And they didn’t disclose to the court that a significant piece of evidence was an unverified product of oppo research funded by Romney.

As Orin Kerr points out, it doesn’t mean that the warrant is legally invalid or that the substance of the oppo research is incorrect.  It doesn’t mean that the subject wasn’t worthy of being surveilled.

But it’s still pretty icky.

If you reverse the fact pattern, then Rep’s are apoplectic about the Dem’s ties to Russia… and Dems are appalled at the surveillance-of-a-political-foe-justified-by-oppo-research.

Who can doubt that Trump would have conspired with Putin if he thought he could get away with it? He has no moral compass. So let’s see what Mueller’s got. There’s no evidence of collusion/conspiracy yet….just a bunch of ham-fisted, ethically dubious meetings and emails.

If real evidence of conspiracy comes out, then impeachment is the only option. Until then, I’m keeping my powder dry.

“I think I’m on a date. I’ve never been on a date before. What do I do?”

In the last two days, about 14 different random amazing things have happened to me.

It all started with this: Yesterday I’m waiting in line at the restroom of a cafe, and a random very young girl approaches and says, “Can I ask you something? I think I’m on a date. I’ve never been on a date before. He just paid for everything, and I really like him. What do I do?”

Over on Facebook, everyone wants to know what I told her to do.  But I don’t think she was actually looking for advice.  She just wanted someone to share her excitement with.  I think I offered something like “keep your cool.”

“I feel like such an adult,” she says.

This moment made my whole day.  And I would *never* have done what that girl did.  But why wouldn’t I?  Why wouldn’t I choose to share a moment of joy with a total stranger?  What’s holding me back?

And that was just the start.  Other good stuff…

*Running late for an event at the Last Bookstore in DTLA, I find a parking spot, *directly outside the front door*

*Getting up painfully early, I discover that, yes, the eclipsed moon is indeed setting right over Griffith Observatory, as I had hoped it might.

*After dragging my tired ass to drinks with a friend last night at 10 pm (sort of dreading it), we run into three of his colleagues, all of whom are prosecutors in the DA’s anti-gang unit. Really fun conversation leads to late night.

The *huge* tax issue no one is talking about

During the debate about the Republican tax overhaul, there was quite a bit of Sturm und Drang about how the bill will exacerbate income inequality.  Well, yes, it probably will, on the margin.  It cuts marginal tax rates on the highest levels of income, and it provides lots of protections for certain types of income — like passthrough income — that will benefit more rich people than non-rich people.

But no one — including the Democrats — is talking about the main source of inequality in the tax code.  The long-term capital gains rate.   If you buy something (say, a house or a share of stock) at a low price and then later sell it a higher price, you pay a lower tax on that income than you would if you made the same amount of income by toiling as a lawyer, janitor, or any other job.  The rates vary with your total income, but the most you can pay on long-term capital gains is 20%.  Taxes on wage income range up to 37%.

My investor friends argue that the lower rate is necessary as an incentive.  Why would they put their money to work in the economy, if they aren’t given this special tax break?

But I think it’s a horrible argument.  There are two primary ways to participate in the productive economy: (1) You can employ your time (by working), or (2) You can employ your money (by investing).  Money and time are interchangeable.  You can use one to purchase the other.  And vice versa.   But the tax code treats them very differently.

From a public policy perspective, we want to encourage both forms of participation in the economy.  By giving a special incentive for people to invest their money in the economy, we’re giving people a special disincentive to invest their time.

The issue here is fairness.  Poor people don’t have a lot of money to invest, but they do have their own time.  The wealthy typically have a surplus of money.

Why do we penalize the form of economic activity that is available to poor people?

Out of his piehole comes the word “shithole”

A few thoughts:

*My ancestors came to America from shithole places like 19th century Ireland and rural Canada.  My best guess is that they were uneducated, poor, rude, and smelly.  They were escaping their shitholes to make a better life in America for their families.  And they did.  They may even have endured a shithole existence in the US for a while.  But things got better.

*Presidents shouldn’t talk like this about other countries.

*That said, regular people talk like this all the time.  Haven’t we all heard (or used) that word used to describe certain US cities?  I’ve heard it.  I’ve used it.

*America’s journalists want us to understand just how hard this ordeal is for them.  Should they report accurately on this vile man?  Or should they protect us — their sensitive readers — from these horrible, horrible words?  Pause for a moment and consider the troubling plight of journalists in a time of Trump.

*The hulabaloo about that one horrible, horrible word is distracting everyone from Trump’s point: He wants to have more merit-based immigration and less lottery-based immigration from poor countries.  This is not a controversial idea.  Obama and GW Bush both said the same thing.  Obama explicitly tried to “promote the kind of high-skilled immigration that has helped fuel America’s economic engine.”

*I actually believe that Obama, GWB, and Trump are all wrong on this issue of skilled vs. unskilled immigration.  My ancestors certainly weren’t skilled when they came into the US.  The US economy is the greatest wealth generator the world has ever seen.  If you’re a poor, uneducated person, the US is the place you go to make sure that your children and grandchildren are not poor and are not uneducated.  Who is going to be the most loyal to the idea of America?  People whose lives are transformed by our freedom.  And then there are the short-term gains: Poor immigrants are the ones that are willing to do the unattractive jobs and work for lower wages.  I would argue that low-skilled immigrants have helped keep inflation down for the past 30 years.  They’ve been a huge boon for our economy, and we’re all better off for their contributions.

*People like Dick Durbin and Bob Schieffer are awfully quick to call racism.  Trump is almost certainly biased (meaning that he prefers people who look like himself).  He might in fact also be racist (meaning that he consciously believes certain races to be superior to others).  But I’m wary of any journalist or politician who uses that word — racist! — to describe someone they disagree with.  It’s too easy.  And I fear they haven’t learned the lesson of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Happy 40th birthday to my car

Happy birthday! 40 years ago this Grand Prix SJ rolled off the assembly line in Detroit. The last car that my grandfather Earl Case ever owned. And — having launched a successful Pontiac and Buick dealership in rural Illinois — Grandpa loved his cars. I bought it from my grandmother 10 years ago (she cut me a deal), and it’s still running beautifully with only 63k miles. Grandpa’s dealership – once known as Case Motor Sales – exists to this day as Route 1 Chevy Buick in Momence.

Grandma, Tim, Grand Prix - November 2007

Should health care operate more like public schools?

In the New Yorker, Atul Gawande implies that the problem with our health care system is that it isn’t like our K-12 education system:

During the next two centuries, we relied on government to establish a system of compulsory public education, infrastructure for everything from running water to the electric grid, and old-age pensions, along with tax systems to pay for it all. As in other countries, these programs were designed to be universal. For the most part, we didn’t divide families between those who qualified and those who didn’t, between participants and patrons. This inclusiveness is likely a major reason that these policies have garnered such enduring support.

So let’s imagine a world in which the health care system is like our system of public education:

(1) There are local “health care districts” administered by elected politicians.

(2) The HC districts establishes a “local clinic” in each neighborhood.  You’re asssigned to your local clinic and required by law to submit to care.

(3) You’re allowed to “apply” for access to clinics outside your neighborhood, if those clinics “have space.”

(4) Most of the best doctors choose to work at the clinics in the wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

(5) Therefore, the clinics in the wealthier, whiter neighborhoods provide better care.  They are also full-up with wealthy, white patients.  They’re required by law to turn away the poor, brown folks from other neighborhoods who try to gain access to their doctors.

(6) Each clinic is given an “allocation” of doctor positions, so that the ratio of doctors-to-patients is the same across all clinics.  Salaries, however, are determined by seniority.  The doctors in the upscale clinics make more money, because they typically stick around longer, because the upscale clinics are quite nice places to work.  So the upscale clinics actually have larger budgets for doctor salaries, despite the fact that their patient base is healthier.  It’s redistribution in reverse!

(7) It’s virtually impossible to fire a doctor.  Because they’re doctors!  You can’t fire someone who is a doctor.  He/she needs to be protected.

To his credit, Gawande identifies the root of all our health-care problems: the moment when the federal government made employer-provided health insurance tax deductible.  This whole mess springs from that decision.

But please don’t use K12 education as the model for reforming health care.


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