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When Easter Eggs Go Bad

When Easter Eggs Go Bad

How tough was the city I grew up in?  This tough: even our easter egg hunts sparked riots.

Easter Egg Hunt Turns Into Melee

New York (AP) - Central Park's annual easter egg hunt for children degenerated into a struggle of the biggest and the pushiest Saturday when organizers tossed the prizes up for grabs, starting a stampede that left five youngsters and a policeman injured.  

Blast from the past courtesy of my Dad, who cannot recall why he declined to take me to the Easter Egg hunt, but certainly remembers being glad to have missed the melee.

Shulman was cleared for a lot of meetings, but attended few.

My former colleague Garance Franke-Ruta has the goods:

Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama's director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That's 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.

Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went. Routine events like the biweekly health-care deputies meeting would have had a standing list of people cleared to attend, people whose White House appointments would have been logged and forwarded to the check-in gate. But there is no time of arrival information in the records to confirm that Shulman actually signed in and went to these standing meetings.

Indeed, of the 157 events Shulman was cleared to attend, White House records only provide time of arrival information -- confirming that he actually went to them -- for 11 events over the 2009-2012 period, and time of departure information for only six appointments. According to the White House records, Shulman signed in twice in 2009, five times in 2010, twice in 2011, and twice in 2012. That does not mean that he did not go to other meetings, only that the White House records do not show he went to the 157 meetings he was granted Secret Service clearance to attend.

As I said, the conspiracy theory version never made any sense.  This does.

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The McConnell Wiretapper Speaks

His lawyer probably wishes he hadn't

Curtis Morrison, the fellow who recorded Mitch McConnell's campaign meeting, has an article about it in Salon.  During which, as Julian Sanchez pointed out on Twitter, he seems to confess that he couldn't hear the conversation from out in the hall.  

I don’t need to tell you what a weapon the pocket video camera has become. Bartender Scott Prouty changed the trajectory of the entire 2012 election when he captured Mitt Romney in his now classic “47 percent” speech. You just never knew when a politician was going to open his mouth and accidentally reveal his true agenda. And as I held my Flip up to the window, that’s what I was hoping for, but I soon realized that the video I was capturing was the back of a projection screen, and only the audio was of value. So I held the Flip closer to the door vent instead of the window, and began recording the 11:45 minutes of footage later released by Mother Jones.

I was sweating. My heart was racing. I tried to record backup audio on my phone, but my cheap replacement phone would only let me record voice memos of one minute in length. Every time the minute was up, the phone would beep, which was excruciating for the person crouching by a door vent. When a gentleman walked out of the campaign headquarters and into the hall, I put my Flip and phone back in my pocket, and headed to the elevator.

Shawn was already there. We made our escape.

When it comes to wealth, the legacy of racism outlasts the racism itself

America has recovered less than half of the wealth it lost in 2008, after adjusting for inflation and population growth.  That's the dismal finding of new research from the St. Louis Fed.  Worse, that recovery has been very uneven.  As the stock market has regained lost ground, affluent families have recovered most of what they lost.  But for the rest of the country, whose wealth primarily came from housing, repair of the household balance sheet has been much slower.  

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The losses have been particularly acute among minorities.  Look at the difference between the white and Asian experience, on the one hand, and the black and Latino experience on the other.  Even controlling for education, minorities lost a lot more.  

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What Price Drug Use?

In the last few decades, we've put a lot more people in jail for drug offenses. And the street price of drugs has fallen.

Over at the Washington Post, Harold Pollack has a rather shocking graph, showing the intensity of law enforcement efforts, vs. the street price of heroin and cocaine.  Summary: putting people in jail doesn't seem to have much effect:

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Of course, that doesn't necessarily tell us that enforcement isn't reducing drug use.  For most drug users, illegal drugs have three costs:  

1.  The cash price of the drug

The Daily Caller reports that Shulman visited more often than the Health and Human Services Secretary

Last week, conservatives were saying that former IRS head Douglas Shulman had been to the White House 118 times, while his predecessor had visited the Bush era White House only once.  I didn't write about it because I idly assumed that this reflected some underlying change in administration management style or legislative priorities; perhaps, for example, he'd been there talking about Obamacare implementation and changes in tax enforcement.  

But the Daily Caller has now compiled a list of White House visits by various administration officials, and Shulman sure does seem to visit a lot more than other folks.  

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If Obamacare was driving this, I'd expect to see Kathleen Sebelius had had more visits than Shulman.  (Interesting that, in fact, the Commerce Secretary goes to the White House more than the Secretary of HHS.)  If it was tax policy, I'd expect to have seen Geithner there more often.  

Venezuela, Iran, and others, desperately need high oil prices. But the more powerful members of OPEC don't seem willing to go along.

OPEC meets in Vienna on Friday, a meeting that will, according to the Wall Street Journal, be a mite testy.  The last few years have been flush for the cartel, with oil prices well above their historical average.  Now fracking is changing all that--and hammering open fissures in the cartel that been temporarily plugged with huge wads of petrodollars.  

On one side are members like Saudi Arabia, who you can think of as OPEC's central banker.  Saudi Arabia sits on top of a vast reservoir of high quality oil that is cheap to pump and cheap to refine.  It's not literally true that you can just stick a pipe down in the desert and have oil come-a-gushing, but it might as well be.  Because they have such a huge quantity of cheap, good oil, Saudi Arabia is the low-cost producer.  They also manage their production very intelligently--Aramco, the state-owned oil company, is very well run, and the Saudi government hasn't pumped every spare petrodollar into their economy.  Which means that when the price falls, Saudi Arabia can afford to cut back production a bit.  

Here's the thing about cartels: without legal enforcement, they pretty much never work. The incentive to cheat, and take extra profits by producing a little more than your quota, is too high . . . so pretty soon everyone is cheating, and your cartel doesn't really exist any more.  

OPEC has managed to flagrantly violate this general economic truism for a few decades now.  Saudi Arabia is one of the main reasons that it's been able to hold together for so long, even after the price crash of the mid 1980s.  Until the Chinese economic boom drove global oil demand right up against the limits of the industry's pumping capacity, causing prices to spike, Saudi Arabia's excess capacity kept prices roughly stable, in the neighborhood of $25-$35 a barrel.  Which, probably not coincidentally, is well under the break-even price for shale oil projects.

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Pay Attention to Sweden!

Redistribution may be necessary. It may be good. But it is not enough.

Rioting in Sweden is the sort of phrase that sounds as if it should be oxymoronic, like "Evil in Candyland" or "Violence among Episcopalians". And indeed, the rioting seems rather tame by American or British standards—cars set ablaze, stones hurled at first responders. In the New York of my childhood, not so far from where I grew up, there were neighborhoods that used to call this sort of thing "Saturday night."

Nonetheless, for Sweden, it represents a serious breakdown in civil order. And something of a public-policy crisis. Sweden has a very welcoming immigration policy, and of course, an extremely generous welfare state. These things were supposed to protect Sweden from the class-and-ethnic conflict that has riven the United States, Britain, France. If those things don't work—if you get riots anyway—then something in Swedish policy may need a rethink.  

As often happens, people on this side of the Atlantic view this through the lens of our own policy debates. Does Sweden's experience mean that immigration is dangerous? Or that giving immigrants welfare is bad policy? I'll save those debates for another day. Because I actually think that what is happening in Sweden illustrates a larger problem for both us, and the Swedes: the limits of the neoliberal policy consensus.  

The basic idea of "use market mechanisms for everything, and then redistribute the proceeds" has obvious attractions for a lot of policy wonks.  For one thing, it allows you to protest the unfairness of distributional results without arguing that the government is adept at producing the goods and services that people want to consume. The obvious inefficiencies, and increasingly sclerotic power structures, of the great midcentury government-led industrial combines, made them pretty hard to defend.

Friday Forum

What Are You Making for Memorial Day?

Talk amongst yourselves

I'm buried in a feature, so talk amongst yourselves: what are you making for Memorial Day?  We accidentally killed our smoker (don't ask), so we're running an experiment: sous vide ribs vs. pressure cooker ribs, both finished on the grill.   If I hadn't been told by a doctor to lay off spicy food for a while, we'd also be making these, the best chicken kabobs ever. How about you?

The unbanked may have a hard time buying insurance on the exchanges. Too bad we just created more of them.

This week, we heard that Obamacare may be a problem for the unbanked, who don't have any way to pay the insurance companies on the exchanges.  Which raises an interesting question:  did Dodd-Frank inadvertently cause problems for Obamacare?

Say wha?  Let me explain.

Most of you probably didn't pay much attention to the Great Interchange Fee Wars of 2010.  For those who slept through this spirited exchange between the five of us who actually care, a brief recap:  retailers have to pay big processing networks, like Visa and Mastercard, fees for the privilege of accepting their credit and debit cards.  Retailers would naturally like these fees to be lower; Visa and Mastercard politely insisted that they stay high.  

So when the government got going on financial reform, the retailers descended on Washington to crusade for lower interchange fees--not, they insisted, because they were hoping to get rich off the plunder, but because they were so terribly moved by the plight of poor cash users who may pay as much as $23 more a year for their products.  Visa and Mastercard put on their armor and plunged into the melee, but Sir Dick Durbin, Senator from Illinois, friend to the poor (and to Walmart, Target, and Home Depot) carried the day.  The Durbin Amendment capped interchange fees on debit cards, and if you're wondering why your bank stopped offering a debit card with rewards, that's why.

eBooks are finally changing how we write, as well as how we read

Don't get me wrong--I love ebooks.  These days, I rarely read paper unless I have to.  But while ebooks are certainly more convenient, until recently, they haven't exactly been revolutionary.  It was a book on a screen.  You pressed a button to turn pages.  It was great for the consumer, but it was still basically the same old book.  

That's starting to change.  The last few years have seen the rise of the Kindle Single, which has actually started to change the economics of the book market.  Or rather, it's reviving old formats which died out when books started needing massive marketing budgets:  the pamphlet, and the novella.  (We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to urge you to buy two terrific ebooks I just read: Jonathan Rauch's Denial, a courageous and beautifully written memoir about the 25 years he spent trying to convince himself he was not gay, and Brink Lindsey's Human Capitalism, about the ways that economic growth exacerbates economic inequality.  Gay or straight, liberal or conservative, you will be very glad that you read both of them.)

The interesting thing about the Kindle Single is that it isn't just changing how long people write, but how people write.  The books can be written much faster--you say as much as you have to say, and then you stop.  Then if they do well, they get turned into a hardcover, which can be revised and extended based on the commentary the ebook received.  It's a strange combination of crowdsourcing and dead tree, and the people I know who have written them love it.

We've also seen the rise of self-publishing phenoms like 50 Shades of Grey.  Most of the stuff that gets published this way is not very good, but word of mouth and the power of the internet lets writers tap into markets that the traditional gatekeepers don't even understand exist.

Gimme Shelter!

Congress to Grill Apple CEO About Taxes

Apple has avoided billions in taxes. Congress says it wants to know why. But we know why—and it’s probably not going to change.

Today Apple CEO Tim Cook will testify about Apple's corporate tax practices in front of a congressional committee. Here's what you need to know:

  • Apple pays a lot of taxes to the U.S. government.
  • It also avoids a lot of U.S. taxes by sheltering income in various international subsidiaries.
  • This is probably not going to change.

Years of abuses at Ranbaxy raise worries about the FDA's oversight of the generics market.

This is the week for arguments I have previously dismissed coming back to bite me. I've already admitted that I dismissed Tea Party complaints about extra IRS scrutiny because really, who would do that? Now along comes another story that is causing me to reassess my priors: it turns out that Indian generic giant Ranbaxy has been selling generic “drugs” that didn't actually work.

Complaining that generic drugs from abroad are nothing but cheap fakes has long been a staple of free-trade opponents, and of course, pharmaceutical manufacturers trying to protect their products from foreign competition. While it's long been clear that there was some truth to the horror stories—don't buy drugs on the Internet, OK?—I've been pretty dismissive of complaints about Indian generics giants like Ranbaxy and Cipla. These guys are huge companies with brands to protect. Moreover, they're inspected by the FDA. Why would they risk it all by adulterating their product?

Well, the fact is they did, and the answer is presumably “to save money.” 

In the late 1980s several generic-drug companies were caught fabricating data and bribing FDA officials to gain approval. In the scandal's wake, the FDA tightened regulations. It required that a company make three large "exhibit" batches to demonstrate that it could dramatically scale up its manufacturing, undergo inspection, and use an independent company to perform bioequivalence tests before an ANDA was approved. The purpose, says David Nelson, who exposed the 1980s scandal as a senior investigator for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, from which he retired in 2009, was to "prevent the systematic submission of false information" to get FDA approval.

Scandalicious

Yes, What Happened at the IRS is a Scandal

It's not the president's fault. But the rest of us should still care.

What, exactly, consitutes a scandal at the IRS?  

To hear Democrats talk, a scandal would be: Barack Obama sat down with Timothy Geithner, and said "Tim, I'd like you to make sure that those Tea Party groups don't get tax exempt status.  Hassle the hell out of 'em until they cry 'Uncle'."  Timothy Geithner said "Yes sir" and got on the horn with the IRS commissioner to make it so.  

There's no evidence that this happened.  I'll go further and say that there never will be any evidence that this happened, because it didn't happen.   Even if you think Barack Obama and Tim Geithner were stupid and vicious enough to do something like that (I don't), the IRS commissioner at the time was a Bush appointee.  Any such request would have stopped with him. And whatever Republican congressional attack dogs he chose to share it with, of course.

So no, this isn't the type of scandal that will take down a presidency.  But nonetheless, the behavior of the IRS was scandalous.  Scandalous even though I doubt that anyone, at any time, sat down in a meeting and said, "none of those tea-partiers are going to get a tax exemption on our watch, eh?"

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The Real Scandals of the IRS

Apparently, investigating conservatives for being conservative isn't real enough.

There's a growing school of thought among columnists and television pundits which says that the "real" scandal in Washington is not the fact that a government agency investigated people based on their political leanings, but that 501(c)(4)s are multiplying like Typhoid bacteria, allowing anonymous donors to fund unlimited amounts of political speech.   These groups, it is rather tediously explained, should actually have been registered under section 527, which would require them to disclose their donors. A related genre is the column explaining how the real victims here are liberls*, the Obama administration and maybe the American public.

I'm going to stick with "the real scandal is a employees of a government agency using the large powers we have granted them to selectively investigate people based on their political beliefs" and "the real victims are the people who were investigated", though of course, I think this is also terrible for the American people, because we deserve good government.

Nonetheless, it seems that on the second day, we need a fresh angle, and the angle is finding the "real scandal".  So here are my nominees:  

The real scandal is that the IRS doesn't understand statistics  The main defense seems to be that well, there was a big explosion of 501(c)(4) groups after the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that the free speech rights granted to citizens under the constitution extended to the groups that those people agreed to form, and that therefore the McCain-Feingold restrictions on corporate spending around election time were unconstitutional.  And because the Tea Party was forming right around that time, those groups tended to be disproportionately conservative.  

About the Author

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Megan McArdle

Megan McArdle is a special correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast covering business, economics, and public policy. A former senior editor at The Atlantic and writer for The Economist, Megan has a diverse work history including three small startups and a disaster recovery firm at Ground Zero.

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