June 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


Booming Sweden's Free-Market Solution (Anders Aslund Jun 6, 2012, Bloomberg)

Americans still think of Sweden as a tightly regulated social-welfare state, but in the last two decades the country has been reformed. Public spending has fallen by no less than one-fifth of gross domestic product, taxes have dropped and markets have opened up.
The situation is similar in the other Scandinavian countries, the Baltic nations and Poland. But no turnabout has been as dramatic as Sweden's. 

Sweden's traditional scourge is taxes, which used to be the highest in the world. The current government has cut them every year and abolished wealth taxes. Inheritance and gift taxes are also gone. Until 1990, the maximum marginal income tax rate was 90 percent. Today, it is 56.5 percent. That is still one of the world's highest, after Belgium's 59.4 and there is strong public support for a cut to 50 percent. [...]

The 26 percent tax on corporate profits may seem reasonable from an American perspective, but Swedish business leaders want to reduce it to 20 percent. Tax competition is fierce in some parts of Europe. Most East European countries, for example, have slashed corporate taxes to 15-19 percent.

In the bad old days, the annual centralized-wage bargaining between the Trade Union Confederation and the Swedish Employers' Confederation was a prized custom. But in the 1970s, this system led to both inflation and strikes. Today, it is long gone. Wage bargaining is still collective, but it is decentralized. Wage inflation is no longer a concern and strikes are extremely rare. The employers have won, but real wages are rising with productivity, so the workers are benefiting, as well. As everywhere, trade unions are losing members, money and power. [...]

The Social Democrats haven't only joined the free-market consensus, but seem to attack the current government from the right, pushing for a better business environment. Gone are demands for the restoration of social benefits. Opinion polls have rewarded the Social Democrats for their right turn with sharply improved ratings.

Sweden is still offering good social welfare, but more efficiently and sensibly and increasingly through the private sector. This model of falling taxes and public spending is rapidly proliferating from the north of Europe toward the south, and the northern Europeans have little tolerance for the statist conservatism and fiscal negligence of Southern Europe. 
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Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Obama's Gaffe and How His Campaign Lost Its Groove (Michael Tomasky, Jun 9, 2012, Daily Beast)

Anyway, the bigger problem with Obama's press conference was that there wasn't any news in Obama's prepared remarks. This really makes me shake my head. If you're going to call a press conference, you have to give beat reporters something new. New is the root of news. If you don't say something new, a misstatement is bound to dominate, or an answer to an off-message question. In this case, his response on the national-security leaks would have probably led the stories--as it did Daniel Stone's Beast report. Not as bad as a gaffe, from the spin-room point of view, but also not what they wanted to put out there.

At bottom, then, the press conference reflected the general drift that Clift described. The White House doesn't have an argument right now. Ever since the jobs report, Romney's got all the momentum. The White House has tried but then dropped arguments, as I wrote earlier this week, and it sounds a little whiny and ineffectual when Obama urges Congress to pass something that everybody knows Congress isn't going to pass. And by the way, he ought at least to say "Republicans," not "Congress." I'm sure there are risks associated with sounding too partisan, but to me, he has little choice but to lump Romney and the GOP Congress together.

That is a crucial part of the story Obama needs to tell. Romney's story is easy. The economy is bad, he's had four years, it's his fault. Boom. Simple. Obama's story takes longer to tell and goes something like this: "We inherited a disaster from George Bush (yes, he should use the name--people still do not like him). We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. But since early 2010, we've been gaining, and we've now created more private-sector jobs than were lost early in my term. So things are turning around. But if you elect Mitt Romney, with his promised huge tax cuts for the wealthy and his support for Paul Ryan's extreme budget, which are both even more right wing than anything Bush tried, we're going right back off the cliff that I've steered us away from."

...is that Mitt Romney is too moderate for the Right to stomach.  Trying to portray the governor of Massachusetts and the Father of Obamacare as an extreme Rightwinger is idiocy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Obama and Romney locked in tight race with 150 days to go (Josh Lederman , 06/09/12, The Hill)

President Obama and Mitt Romney are locked in a tightening race for the White House with just 150 days to go before Election Day.

Polls show the two dead even nationally, with Obama enjoying perhaps a slight edge in the dozen or so swing states that will decide the contest.

Yet the president's reelection hopes have been dimmed by a dismal few weeks capped by a bleak jobs report and the president's own gaffe on Friday at a hastily arranged press conference where he said the private sector is "doing fine."

Obama was forced to walk back the remark just a few offers later after realizing he had served up a political gift for Republicans, who immediately seized on it to highlight their argument that Obama is not in tune with the public.
"I think he's defining what it means to be out of touch with the American people," Romney said a few hours later.

It's not important that the President is right, just that he failed the bathos test.  He's required to pretend that things are tough all over but didn't.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Romney camp aims to win over Hispanics (Matt Viser, June 9, 2012, Boston Globe)

With a bit of irony, the campaign is also reaching out to a group that combines two constituencies that Romney has fared poorly with in the past: Hispanic evangelicals.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said he has been in touch with Romney's campaign as recently as this week. He thinks the campaign is making significant progress - and has done more outreach than Senator John McCain had at this point four years ago - but still has a way to go.

"I can't deny the fact that he's going to inevitably have to cross the proverbial Jordan of immigration,'' Rodriguez said. "If he wants to step into the Promised Land, he's going to have to address immigration reform.''

Romney is preparing a speech on June 21 before a group of Latino officials in Orlando, an address that some of his Hispanic advisers are pointing to as a potential major turning point. Romney will address that group, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, one day before President Obama does, so it will provide a stark contrast between the two candidates on dealing with the nation's persistent immigration problems. [...]

A reform proposal by Rubio, a potential vice presidential pick, could provide a way for Romney to recast his position on immigration.

That's the beauty, that an Evangelical can't be a nativist, so this is literally a come to Jesus moment for him and completely natural.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


American homes are getting bigger, but energy use is shrinking (Brad Plumer, 06/08/2012, Washington Post)

American houses are getting more massive. They're becoming more plentiful. We're cramming their outlets with an ever-expanding array of power-hungry electronics -- from large flatscreen TVs to multiple smartphones to the occasional iPad.

And yet, surprisingly, the average American home now uses less energy than ever before. That's according to a new analysis from the Energy Information Administration, which offers up the graph below. As a result, total energy use for all U.S. homes has flatlined since 1980, even as the overall number of houses keeps growing:
Why is that? One reason is that homes are becoming considerably more efficient -- the EIA notes that newer houses tend to feature better insulation and things like double-paned windows that help lower the utility bills. (Remember, heating and cooling takes up the biggest chunk of a home's energy use.) Many appliances, like refrigerators and washing machines, have also become more efficient, thanks to government regulations signed by President Reagan in 1987.

Your bigger home, with the payments smaller than your Dad made, is also an indicator of deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Can gas savings make up for a hybrid's higher sticker price? (Jerry Hirsch, 6/10/12, Los Angeles Times)

You need to figure out how much money saved at the pump will add up to the cost difference between a hybrid and the same or similar model in a gas-only vehicle.

Let's go back to our Camry example. On average, the hybrid version sells for $25,850, about $3,300 more than the regular model, according to car price information company TrueCar.com. Factor in the tax and licensing fees on both versions and the difference climbs to close to $3,600, depending on where you live.

Using $4 a gallon, 13,500 miles of annual driving and a ratio of 55% city driving, the hybrid saves about $650 a year. That means it takes about five years to save enough in gas to recoup the extra expense at today's prices.

Our analysis of hybrid and regular Ford Fusions and Hyundai Sonatas also came up with paybacks in about the same range.

Those who drive 75% or more of their miles at highway speeds aren't likely to make the difference back during the life of the car. The payback comes at about the 10-year mark.

However, for some cars -- mostly the more expensive brands that don't charge a premium for the hybrid models -- the savings are immediate and significant.

Buick sells hybrid and gas-only versions of the LaCrosse with the same sticker price of $31,115 for similar trim and features, according to the EPA. When you plug in our fuel cost and mileage numbers, the hybrid version saves $725 a year on fuel when driven 55% of the time in city traffic.

The hybrid and gas-only version of the Lincoln MKZ also have the same sticker price -- $35,630 -- but the hybrid model saves the driver almost $1,200 a year based on our analysis.

You can compare vehicles and your own calculations based on your driving patterns at this handy EPA website: FuelEconomy.gov.

Should I worry about the new technology?

Consider this: 95% of all the Toyota Prius hybrids sold since 2000 are still on the road today. That's a lot of years of fuel savings for their owners.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Poll: Americans know how to save energy, but balk (MATTHEW DALY | Associated Press)

But that doesn't mean they'll do it.

A new poll shows that while most of those questioned understand effective ways to save energy, they have a hard time adopting them.

Six in 10 surveyed say driving a more fuel-efficient car would save a large amount of energy, but only 1 in 4 says that's easy to do, according to the poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. People also are skeptical of carpooling or installing better home insulation, rating them as effective but impractical.