Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Monday, November 11, 2013

How To Fix Megan McArdle's Poverty

We have been busy but we would be remiss not to point out a plaintive missive from Megan McArdle (who else?). McArdle asks someone to figure out How Conservatives Can Fix Poverty and Win Elections for her, for on top of all its other crimes against humanity, Obamacare is destroying marriage. McArdle read and commented on Garance Franke-Ruta's Atlantic interview with a couple who might get a divorce because they can't afford health insurance of Obamacare.

Let us enjoy take a moment to note that, for all intents and purposes, Franke-Ruta replaced McArdle when the latter slowly faded off into the sunset.

Okay, we're done.

Then there's this little bit about something else, and after that bit we return to marriage. McArdle has read people who have read studies that say married people have more money than unmarried people, so conservatives should find a way to incentivize marriage, reducing the need for "entitlements" and consequently winning elections with their imaginary solutions.

Let's begin with McArdle's cri de coeur:

[...Conservatives need to think hard about their answers to the mess that is our current patchwork of benefits. I’ve seen suggestions here and there, but nothing, so far, that the movement has coalesced around. The liberal answer -- give subsidies to more people! -- creates plenty of problems. If conservatives can come up with a better one, they’ll have a cornerstone for the more populist conservative policy platform that Ross Douthat has been calling for. Maybe even for a more populist conservative policy platform that can win elections in 2016.

McArdle understands the need for alms for the poor; they keep the dirty and unwashed at arms' length. But let's not overdo it!

Generous welfare benefits discourage work, eroding the tax base that is supposed to support them. Even Social Security benefits seem to reduce the number of children people have -- children who are still very necessary to support the universal entitlement.

Since Social Security is given to retired and disabled workers and their survivors and dependents, yes, I suppose Social Security does "seem" to reduce the number of children people have. You know what else reduces the number of children? Not having children. McArdle is married yet has no children, for reasons we neither know nor want to know. It's not very fair of her to insist that the poor have more children so she can ensure she gets Social Security. McArdle plows on anyway.

I’m on the record as a marriage booster. Marriage is a happiness booster, it’s the best environment for raising kids, and it’s one of the most reliable personal finance programs around. It’s good for you, and good for society. Good policy should encourage marriage, not discourage it.

Conservatives support “family friendly” policies such as child tax credits, but they tend to give this issue shorter shrift. This dynamic plausibly plays a role in the disintegration of marriage among the less educated. You often hear that welfare helped to destroy fragile families by making men less necessary to their economic support. But welfare did more than that: It actually chased men away. A two-adult family was unlikely to be eligible for welfare, or ancillary benefits such as housing and Medicaid.

Unfortunately McArdle can't think of any actual policies so she merely wafts a request out into the ether, where no doubt it will land on some fallow conservative mind, who will be able to convince people to do what McArdle will not: give up something that is to their benefit. McArdle herself refused to give up her mortgage deduction or employer-provided and tax-payer subsidized health care. Yet she insists that people much, much poorer than herself give up their government benefits, benefits they use to survive.  The poor's government benefits pay for food and shelter for their children. McArdle's government benefits paid for a Thermomix.

And speaking of those deductions, we now come to the little bit of the post that is sandwiched in between the odes to marriage. Less charitable minds than ours might think that this little section was the real reason for McArdle's rare venture outside of Obamacare.

This is not the only program that has this effect. Many tax subsidies phase out at higher income levels, such as IRAs and student loan deductions, and thanks to the tax deal cut over the fiscal cliff, higher-income earners will face more such phaseouts this year.

The link leads to an article on the Pease Limitation.

One of the impacts from the fiscal cliff legislation to be felt by high-income earners is the reintroduction of the Pease limitation, reduces the amount of itemized deductions that certain taxpayers are allowed.  While the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 reduced the impact of the Pease Limitation, it is still around, and it can greatly limit itemized deductions like mortgage interest and charitable gifts.

The infamous Pease limitation was first incorporated into the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 and it is named after former Congressman Donald Pease.  The purpose of the Pease limitation was to raise revenue by limiting some popular and common itemized deductions among high-income earners.  Pease limitations aim to reduce the benefit of the following itemized deductions:
  • Charitable Contributions
  • Mortgage Interest
  • State, Local, and Property Taxes
  • Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions
The limitation for 2013 will kick in on AGI levels that exceed $300,000 for joint filers and $250,000 for individuals, indexed for inflation.  Income over the applicable amount will trigger an itemized deduction limitation that is the lesser of (a) 3% of the adjusted gross income above the applicable amount, or (b) 80% of the amount of the itemized deductions otherwise allowable for the taxable year.

It seems that Mr. and Mrs. McArdle are about to take a bit of a tax hit. No wonder McArdle is trying to think of a way to save tax monies by squeezing the poor. Some people might complain at length about such an injustice, but McArdle is a libertarian and is no doubt overjoyed at the chance to stop taking advantage of those mooching and looting laws.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rand Paul Consumers Find They Were Sold A Lemon

We deeply, deeply regret to inform that the Sen. Rand Paul's Death Spiral continues, as the embittered senator sinks into a seething whirlpool of non-stop disaster. The Washington Times, owned by Korea's Sun Myung Moon (motto: "The Washington Times will become the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world"), has fired him with extreme reluctance prejudice. Evidently God is conservative because the Washington Times has faithfully supported conservatives throughout its existence.  But now even the Moonie Times, which has published the works of such illustrious conservatives as Larry Kudlow and  John Podhoretz, and which incubated David Brooks in its editorial department, finally met a conservative whom they could no longer publish. More or less.

The newspaper and the senator mutually agreed to end his weekly column, which has appeared each Friday since the summer.`

“We expect our columnists to submit original work and to properly attribute material, and we appreciate that the senator and his staff have taken responsibility for an oversight in one column,” Times Editor John Solomon said.

“We also appreciate the original insights he has shared with our readers over the last few months and look forward to future contributions from Sen. Paul and any other members of Congress who take the time to help educate our readers with original thought leadership pieces,” Mr. Solomon said.
Surely this is the most generous firing in history. Evidently the problem was a lack of oversight in one column, not the systematic theft of intellectual property.

In case you haven't heard, in the last week or so we've found out that Paul gave a speech that included a lengthy description of the movie Gattaca, a description lifted word for word from the movie's Wikipedia entry. And he gave a speech that included a description of the movie Stand and Deliver, lifted from that movie's Wikipedia page. And he lifted a part of another speech from an AP story. And he lifted a part of a speech from a Focus on the Family report. And he copied part of a column he wrote for the Washington Times from an article in The Week. And he plagiarized reports from the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, and an article in Forbes, in his 2012 book Government Bullies.

You have to work hard to commit that much plagiarism. Paul's response has been an occasional admission that he and his staff are very busy, combined with the sort of petulance you'd expect from a teenager being asked to clean his room.

Or maybe not. (Sen. Paul might be interested to know that we do not think the author of that passage plagiarized us by referring to Paul as a petulant teen. That comparison is inevitable considering the circumstances.)

It seems that socialism is just fine when it comes to writing speeches; Rand took the words from a producer and redistributed the words to himself, the little looter. Throughout this episode Paul has shown himself to be a true Randian; he declares he is a producer while acting like a moocher.

As we have seen while reviewing Atlas Shrugged (more reviews coming soon eventually!), Randians are repulsed by the lice and scum due to their superiority, which is both innate and due entirely to hard work and a strong will. Yet we also see that self-professed libertarians use the same tactics they despise in lesser mortals. Dagny Taggart would throw herself off a moving train before she would make excuses for failure, so Paul attempts to look as if he is taking responsibility for his plagiarism while first denying it occurred and then blaming it entirely on his staff.

In an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos, Paul was asked if there is any truth to Maddow’s claim.  
“We borrowed the plot lines from Gattaca. It’s a movie,” Paul said. “I gave credit to the people who wrote the movie…Nothing I said was not given attribution to where it came from.”
But like all ideologues, libertarians pretend to hold themselves to high standards while routinely violating those standards and making excuses for their failures. The brain trust at Reason magazine, home of Mr. Megan McArdle, decided that the admissions of "sloppiness" were good for Paul's political career. Matt Welch:

If he wants to run for president, he needs to be better, not worse, and not merely as good, as the competition when it comes to the most seemingly trivial matters of comportment. Journalists, particularly (though not only) from those outlets sensitive to the allure that libertarian ideas have on some progressive voters, will be gunning for every possible gaffe, glitch, error of judgment, and stated deviance. He should consider it an honor to be challenged, instead of a challenge to get huffy about.

People who choose the Inside Game know, or at least should know, that the deck is stacked against them, and that they will be judged more harshly. Those were always the rules. On the upside, being the first real truth-teller inside an empire of lies carries with it enormous galvanizing potential. Whining about being picked on in this context is like complaining about getting fouled when you drive to the hoop against Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. The answer is to dunk the damned basketball, not bitch to the refs. And for god's sake, make sure your shoes are tied.

It's actually helpful for Rand Paul's presidential ambitions to be having these mini-kerfuffles in November 2013. It's doubtful that they will have any impact on the 2016 race, and he could clearly use the practice.

(The second a liberal starts talking about helping anyone that can't return the favor, all the libertarians will immediately discover that they don't have much in common with liberals after all. An alliance between libertarians and liberals will never work because the libertarians see themselves as leaders of the masses, not fellow members. Most liberals are happy to follow a leader but they will only follow someone who helps vote their liberal candidate into office. That is where the rubber hits the road.)

So it's not plagiarism. It's a gaffe, a glitch, a mini-kerfuffle. Nothing to see here. Sure, whining about being picked on is for the weak, but they really are being picked on and everyone is against them and Biden did it too. Libertarians will talk about self-reliance and manly individuality, but when reality rears its ugly head they come up with nothing but excuses and more excuses.

Rand Paul:

The standard I’m being held to is a little different than everybody else,” Mr. Paul said on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”

In an interview with the New York Times Tuesday, Paul admitted that he had "made mistakes" and said new procedures were being put in place to make footnotes available "if it will make people leave me the hell alone."
“The footnote police have really been dogging me for the last week,” Paul said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I will admit that. And I will admit, sometimes we haven’t footnoted things properly.
Paul added: “In some of the other things that are now going to pop up under thousands of things I’ve written, yeah, there are times when they have been sloppy or not correct or we’ve made an error.”
 “I take it as an insult and I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting,” he said. “I have never intentionally done so.”

Paul simply denies that his staff plagiarized, knowing that his followers will ignore the truth and accept his lies. Incredibly, he thinks that simply saying his people didn't give attribution to the material they quoted is an adequate excuse. It's like saying that you didn't steal when you walked out of the store without paying for that large screen tv you are putting into the trunk of your car. You simply didn't give the clerk any money before carrying the tv out the door. The definition of plagiarism is quoting without attribution.

Paul's whining was extensive:

Paul again brushed off the criticisms as having ulterior motives and said speeches are different than other works.

“Can a speaker not tell stories without always remembering the exact citation? I think it’s a standard that no one else is being held to and I think it’s politically motivated,” Paul said. “We’ve tried at every possible point to attribute things and nothing was ever intentionally used. We give credit to Heritage I think 15 times in the book, to Cato 12 times. And do we always do it perfectly? Maybe not, but we try.”

You already paid for two tvs, right? What's the big deal if you didn't pay for the third? And as always, Paul does not mention the changes in text in the stolen material.

Bill Singer, who wrote the [plagiarized] Forbes article, told BuzzFeed his work on the article made extensive use of a U.S. Justice Department news release.  "It would appear whoever wrote the senator's book copied my language not the press release," Singer said.


So in conclusion, Sen. Paul is responsible for everything and nothing, his office never copies anyone else's work but simply left off the attribution when they copied others' work, and plagiarism isn't plagiarism because taking others' work without attribution is not taking others' work without attribution.

Say, you know who else was a plagiarist? Sen. Paul's bestest bud and namesake, Ayn Rand.

The Ludwig von Mises Institute kindly explains how Rand wasn't a plagiarist, she just apparently copied the plot of Garet Garrett's The Driver. There's that pesky definition problem again.

Garet Garrett, author of The People's Pottage, tells the story of an upstart Wall Street speculator financier, Henry Galt, a shadowy figure who stays out of the limelight as much as possible until he unleashes a plan that had been years in the marking: he uses his extraordinary entrepreneurial talent to acquire control of a failing railroad.

Through outstanding management sense, good pricing, excellent service, and overall business savvy, he out competes all the big names in the business, while making a fortune in the process. Garrett has a way of illustrating just what it takes to be a businessman of this sort, and how his mind alone becomes the source of a fantastic revenue stream.

But his successes breed trouble. The government conspires with envious competitors to regulate him using the Sherman Antitrust Act, calling him a monopolist who is exploiting the public. This book tells the dramatic story of his success and his fight. A reoccurring literary motif through the book has people asking: "Who is Henry Galt?"  
In one of many asides, this book contains one of the best explanations of the stupidity of "bi-metallism" that fixed the relationship between silver and gold. Indeed, the book is overall very sound on the money question, showing the inflationist populist movement of the late 19th century to be a pack of fools. Galt himself delivers some fantastic defenses of hard money and free markets, both in conversation and in front of the US Congress.  
This book was written in 1922, and people in the know might detect some similarity here with Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. She might have read it or it might be a coincidence.

Yeah. It's probably just a coincidence.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Rand Paul's Death Spiral--He Admits His Job Is Too Difficult For Him

Today we will have the first of ten thousand posts discussing Sen. Rand Paul, what he knew about his plagiarism, when he knew it, who else knew about it, and who will be held accountable for it. Then we will discuss, over three thousand more posts, how Rand Paul's plagiarism proves that he should have asked Democrats for permission to do, well, anything*, and refuse to carry out any plans that were not approved 100% by 100% of Democrats. This is only work, however, if Democrats promise publicly that they will not rest until Rand Paul and all his works are destroyed. Kind of like how Republicans promised that Obamacare would be a disaster or they would die trying.
Mr. Paul attributed some of the sloppiness to the hectic life of a senator in high demand.
See, plagiarism is the same thing as sloppiness. Students everywhere will be thrilled with this new excuse. "But Mrs. Crabapple, I didn't copy Wikipedia, changing around a few words in the moronic belief that that would let me get away with stealing others' work. I was just sloppy in my accreditation!"

The fact that words were changed proves that the plagiarism was deliberate. If the problem were sloppy accreditation, the passage being quoted would be identical to Rand's passage.
“Things are done quickly and in a hurry, and sometimes I get some things sent to me while giving a speech — I’m looking down at my phone saying ‘read this for approval in 20 minutes,'” he said. “We write something every week for The Washington Times, and I literally am riding around in a car in between things trying to figure out if I can approve it.” “We need to get stuff earlier, but it’s hard,” Mr. Paul said. “We probably take on more than we should be doing.”
 Says the man who wants to run for president. It's a good thing that presidents aren't busy!
In the interview, Mr. Paul said that the Washington Times op-ed article was adapted from a speech, which was one of the reasons it was not vetted beforehand. The apparent plagiarism was first reported by BuzzFeed.
His staff copies his speeches from Wikipedia? I hope they are not highly paid. He could get a sixth grader to copy speeches from Wikipedia for him, and pay the lad in gumballs and shoelaces.
Mr. Paul’s office acknowledged that it had made mistakes, but largely sought to play down the charges of plagiarism. “In the thousands of speeches and op-eds Senator Paul has produced, he has always presented his own ideas, opinions and conclusions,” Mr. Stafford said. “Senator Paul also relies on a large number of staff and advisers to provide supporting facts and anecdotes — some of which were not clearly sourced or vetted properly.”
I can't wait to see Paul try to supervise a country. Woops, we bombed Israel because I have no idea what my sixth-grade level staff is doing!
Mr. Stafford continued: “Footnotes presenting supporting facts were not always used. Going forward, footnotes will be available on request. There have also been occasions where quotations or typesetting indentations have been left out through errors in our approval process. From here forward, quoting, footnoting and citing will be more complete.” 
In an interview on the ABC News program “This Week” on Sunday,  Mr. Paul acknowledged he had been “sloppy,” but also lashed out.  “I think I’m being unfairly targeted by a bunch of hacks and haters,” he said.  
Mr. Paul has taken a high profile in the Senate for a relatively junior member and is widely seen as interested in pursuing the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
A "bunch of hacks and haters." Is that what he is going to call heads of state when they get irate at our bombings or spying? "Sure, my staff took out Tel Aviv, but everyone who pointed that out is a hack and a hater!" Then he will stomp to the Oval Office, slam the door, and throw a few knick-knacks around until Vice President Rafael Cruz tells him to come out because dinner is ready.

*Kind of like Megan McArdle's insistence that Obamacare could only be implemented with Republican approval, meaning never.
A smart leader knows that big strategic thinking and giving orders are the smallest parts of her job. The biggest is persuading people who are not invested in her agenda to carry out her grand plans -- and, equally important, figuring out which plans to abandon because they can never get enough support to work.