Beards Of The Week

A reader:


And his ancestor:


This is a photo of my great-great-grandfather Louis Doiron circa 1904, perhaps the burliest Cajun in Parks, Louisiana at the turn of the twentieth century (and of picture of my not-even-worthy beard this morning). I’ve been wanting to send this photo to you for a while. Now that the end of The Dish is near, I figured I’d stop procrastinating and do it. Thank you thank you thank you. You will be missed.

Another reader:

Gordon 27a

I remember reading your columns back in Time magazine, all those years ago. Like so many others, I can’t thank you enough for putting so much of your self into making the Dish what it has become: a joy to read, a constant spur to thinking and creativity, a daily companion.

I’m appending a view for the Beard of the Week (of course, now that it’s over). Thanks for showing us How It’s Done. I’ll be watching out for your next book.

Looking Good For Governors

As Lindsay Graham continues to make Droopy noises about entering the ’16 fray, Harry Enten notes a trend among GOP voters:

According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last year, 51 percent of Republicans would rather their 2016 nominee to be a governor than a member of Congress. That’s up from 2007, when just 32 percent did, and might help explain why McCain — a close friend of Graham’s — was able to capture the GOP nomination in 2008. Even worse for Graham is that just 15 percent of Republicans say being an elected official in Washington for many years makes them more likely to vote for a candidate, while 36 percent say it makes them less likely. In 2007, it was 40 percent more likely and only 18 percent less likely.

Poor Butters:

There is no sign Republicans nationally like Graham a lot either. Besides coming in last place with 0 percent of the vote in a YouGov poll this month, Graham’s net favorable ratings (favorable minus unfavorable) are also quite weak. … Only Chris Christie and Sarah Palin are further below expectations among the plausible 2016 candidates.

The Budget Obama Wanted

Yglesias looks at what isn’t in Obama’s budget:

There’s no entitlement reform. There’s no Obama negotiating with himself. There’s no bending over backwards to look reasonable to his adversaries or to centrist pundits. Every previous Obama budget has been about positioning himself for a legislative or electoral showdown. This one isn’t.

And while It would be an overstatement to call it a liberal dream budget — left-wing Democrats could dream up plenty more — for the first time it’s really Obama’s dream budget. This is the end of the “grand bargain” era, and instead an opportunity for Obama to lay out his priorities for the long term — from transportation infrastructure to transforming child care. Rather than position himself in advance of a potential compromise, he wants to outline his vision for a future that will extend well beyond the life of his administration.

Among John Cassidy’s takeaways:

With the Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, the budget is as much a political document as an economic one. The chances that it will be enacted in anything like its current form are nil. Instead, the White House is using it to frame the political debate for this year and for the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election—an effort that began with the State of the Union address. The budget fleshes out the populist political agenda that President Obama laid out in that speech.

Vinik analyzes Obama’s proposed tax on foreign profits. The money generated would be used to upgrade America’s infrastructure:

American companies currently hold nearly $2 trillion in profits overseas, refusing to repatriate them in order to avoid billions of dollars in taxes. The U.S. corporate tax system taxes all profits at 35 percent, including foreign profits with a credit for taxes paid in the foreign country. For example, suppose a foreign subsidiary of a U.S. company pays a tax rate of 10 percent to the foreign country. When that company repatriates those profits, it must pay a tax rate of 25 percent to the federal government (35 percent minus 10 percent). Instead of repatriating those profits, U.S. companies have stashed the money abroad. The White House is proposing a one-time, mandatory tax of 14 percent on that $2 trillion, no matter if the U.S. companies repatriate the money or not. That will bring in the $238 billion in revenuemoney earmarked for Obama’s infrastructure plan.

C.R. at the Economist is wary of this proposal:

The 14% one-off tax on corporate earnings overseas was a figure probably chosen to cover roughly half of the cost of Mr Obama’s $438 billion infrastructure programme (that tax is supposed to raise about $240 billion), rather than really encourage firms to invest more at home. The budget also proposes that following the 14% hit, firms will pay a 19% tax on future overseas earnings. That will probably make up the rest of the infrastructure programme. But 19% is still much less than the 28% corporate-tax rate that he proposes for domestic earnings. Corporations may shift even more cash abroad as a result. The proposal would also increase costs for American multinationals relative to their competitors (most non-American firms will pay much less than 19% on foreign earnings) making them less competitive.

Plumer outlines an alternative:

Rand Paul (R-KY) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have proposed a different approach — known as a “repatriation holiday.” Basically, they’d tell US companies that they can bring their foreign profits back to America in the next five years and the money will only be taxed at a low 6.75 percent rate. The idea is that this would bring in revenue that could be used for roads.

But this plan has major flaws of its own:

The problem? Obama has been opposed to these sorts of holidays, arguing that they just give companies incentives to keep future profits overseas and then lobby Congress for more holidays. Indeed, the Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that a holiday would raise money in the short term but lose money over a 10-year period (as companies stashed more cash abroad).

Jordan Weissmann observes that, “because hope springs eternal in Washington, there’s some talk that the president’s plan might be a ‘starting bid‘ in a negotiation process that could lead to a big accord on corporate tax reform”:

Why does anybody think this might create room for compromise? Well, basically everybody agrees that, in principle, corporate tax reform is necessary, and that lowering the top rate while cutting out loopholes would be the ideal path forward. Meanwhile, some Republicans say they’re also eager to strike a deal to fund infrastructure spending. Plus, the one-tax fee on foreign profits was sort of, kind of a GOP idea at one time. In his own tax reform plan last year, former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp suggested a one-time 8.75 percent toll on overseas profits.

Then again, as Politico puts it, “Camp’s plan fell flat, and even his fellow Republicans didn’t embrace it.” Meanwhile, Paul Ryan, the House Ways and Means chair, isn’t sending particularly enthusiastic signals about the Obama proposal.

Nick Gillespie is off-put by the budget’s price-tag:

Politico is calling this document “Barack Obama’s ‘have-it-all’ budget” and not without reason. It increases discretionary spending by $74 billion over what sequestration was supposed to allow. It doesn’t pretend to balance the budget but through rosy projections of various sorts claims to stabilize and slighly reduce the national debt over the coming decade. It increases entitlement spending (from $2.4 trillion to $2.57 trillion) and grows defense spending (see table S-4), which will be a bargaining chip with Republicans who just want to keep spending more on defense.

Dan Keating isn’t paying much attention to the exact numbers:

[N]o one’s really to blame when the numbers are off a bit, and a bit here is regularly several hundred billion of dollars per year in a single budget category. This isn’t about blaming. It’s just a heads-up that the many five-year projections you’ll see published about the president’s budget could be labeled “for entertainment purposes only.”

Emily Atkin is happy about the environmental proposals:

One of the most aggressive climate-related proposals in Obama’s budget is a call to reform how different kinds of energy companies pay taxes. Under Obama’s proposal, oil and gas companies would be stripped of billions of dollars in tax incentives they receive — $44 billion over a decade, to be specific — and renewable energy companies would reap the benefits. Over that same decade, the budget would allocate $31.5 billion toward permanently reinstating the Production Tax Credit for wind energy, and permanently extending the 30 percent investment for solar energy systems.

And, finally, Jack Shafer has grown tired of the budgetary political theater:

The White House’s manages the budget’s official release like a strip tease, showing a little ankle here, thrusts its pelvis here, but not dropping the last thread until the 11:30 a.m. embargo, at which point reporters are howling like the over-sexed wolves in Tex Avery cartoons. When the embargo is finally lifted and the reporters are freed to report on the actual document, coverage swells to occupy every quadrant of the mediasphere, giving the president complete if temporary dominance of the budget debate. That the president’s budget is a wish list and won’t come anywhere close to passing—especially when both the Senate and the House are controlled by the opposing party, as they are today—matters little to the press corps. …

Embargos put the news on a schedule, one that benefits official sources and reporters who would rather not compete, who are happy to substitute the embargo-maker’s news sense for their own. But real news is more fresh and wild than the bottled and canned embargoed variety. Keep that in mind this week as you graze the coverage of the president’s budget.

Tweet Of The Day

The world will be better off without my blogging the next chapter in the Clintons’ long march through our national life. But let me say that this tweet is the kind of Clinton who might stand a chance in 2016. There’s no equivocation here; no shading; no positioning; there’s even the whiff of sincerity. More, please. And good luck.

How Big An Asshole Is Chris Christie?

NJ Governor Chris Christie Holds Town Hall Meeting

The question is a truly difficult one. I used to find Christie’s bluntness and boldness refreshing. I don’t mind his aggressive manner – it’s entertaining at least, and we can all use some personality in our politics at times. I’m in favor of standing up to public sector union mediocrity. I like his relative social liberalism, especially in the madrassa-like swamps of the GOP base. He may even be exonerated in the Bridgegate scandale.

But then you just read about him. It’s clear to anyone with eyes and ears by now that he is an almost pathologically ambitious figure, who has no qualms about persecuting his enemies, pettily seeking payback when necessary, and using public office to pursue political vendettas. What you really see in the Bridgegate mess is his desire to get Democratic party officials to endorse him to burnish his bipartisan credentials for a national race. If they didn’t, they had something to fear in New Jersey. He’s a big guy, in other words, with a tendency to punch down and suck up.

And now we have the other dimension of his egomania and taste for power and celebrity:

As he has traveled more widely, particularly during the last year … Mr. Christie’s first-class tastes have become well known. He made it clear when he campaigned for Mr. Romney in 2012 that he would do out-of-state events only if he was given a private plane, even during the primary, when the candidate’s wife was still flying commercial to save money. The Romney campaign came to understand that he preferred a Cessna Citation X, which, its manufacturer boasts, has exotic wood interiors and a Rolls-Royce engine.

While many high-profile Republican politicians resist insinuating themselves into celebrity circles, Mr. Christie seeks them out — Howard Stern in the Hamptons; Donald J. Trump at Jean-Georges in Manhattan, where the menu begins at $128 per person. He danced onstage with Jamie Foxx at a celebrity benefit at the Hamptons in August before a crowd that included Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro.

These habits and tastes are not unique to Christie, nor are they mortal sins. He has much in his record to be proud of, even though New Jersey’s current economic health is not exactly an advertisement for good government. But the more we learn about him, the more troubling a figure he seems to be. He can lash out; he can do rash things; he can be vindictive; he bullies; he does his best to cover things up; he has close ties and receives gifts from those who inevitably have business before the state; he acts like a minor princeling rather than a simply governor.

Of the entire GOP field, I find him the most troubling. I don’t trust him to wield power without corruption, small and potentially large. I do not believe he has the steady or calm character to be a solid president of the United States. I might as well say that now. For the record.

(Photo: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to a full house at a Reform Agenda Town Hall meeting at the New Jersey Manufacturers Company facility in Hammonton, New Jersey on March 29, 2011. By Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images.)

A Definition Of Sponsored Content

The NYT came up with one today:

Mark Thompson, the company’s chief executive, highlighted digital advertising numbers, specifically noting growth in mobile and video ad sales, as well as native advertising, which are ads that resemble news articles.

I can live with that definition. I just don’t know how the NYT lives with the reality that it is bragging of blurring the lines between advertising and journalism.

Where Comedy Crackles

Last week, Louis C.K. emailed his fans a manifesto on the importance of comedy clubs:

Nightclubs, comedy clubs, is where comedy is born and where comedy, standup comedy, truly lives. Going back to Abraham Lincoln, who was probably America’s first comedian, Americans have enjoyed gathering at night in small packed (and once smokey) rooms, drinking themselves a bit numb and listening to each other say wicked, crazy, silly, wrongful, delightful, upside-down, careless, offensive, disgusting, whimsical things. Sometimes in long-winded, red faced hyperbole, sometimes in carefully crafted circular, intentionally false and misleading argument. Sometimes in well-chiseled perfectly timed trickery of verbiage. Pun-poetry. One line, one off, half thoughts. Half truths. Non-truths. Broad and hilariously wrongful generalizations, exaggerated prejudices and criticism of nothing and everything while a couple over here shares a pitcher of sangria, this table of guys order round after round of beers. … These are the things we do when we are DONE working and being citizens. We go to a comedy club and pay a bit of money to laugh harder than we ever do anywhere else.

What fascinated David Haglund about the email was the focus on how integral clubs are to the creative process:

[C]onsider the joke-writing process that C.K. describes later in the e-mail.

In Los Angeles, where the New York-based C.K. filmed the special, he would do “twenty minutes of new material” at alternative venues and get “cheered on by the young, open and adaptive crowds” there. Then he would take those jokes to the Improv, “where the more basic and average character of the audience would cut the new material down to about three jokes.” And then he’d take those three to the famous Comedy Store, where, he writes, “maybe ONE of those jokes would get a chuckle.” That’s the keeper.

Having watched C.K.’s latest direct-to-fans special, Matt Zoller Seitz stands in awe:

[W]hen C.K.’s brain starts buzzing and his mouth follows the firing synapses, the result is marvelous. He’s one of those comics who can be very good when the material is intellectual, theoretical, or rhetorical, and there are a few stretches here that fit that description; my favorites are his very Louie-like discussion of how pets can be used to prepare children for the reality of death. (When a dog dies, you can tell them, “Yeah, well, Grandma now.”)

But he soars when he goes off-book (or seems to) and starts riffing, or seems to riff. You can tell when this is happening. C.K.’s eyes seem to almost literally light up, and a thrilled and demented grin appears on his face. This is the signal that he’s seized on a marginal aspect of whatever he just said and is about to grab hold of it, take it apart, and see if there’s a more ludicrous or surprising notion hiding inside of it.

It Makes Cents

Bouree Lam revisits a topic the Dish discussed at some length after we set the minimum price for a Dish subscription:

The “undercover” economist Tim Harford (he has a book and writes column at the Financial Times by that title) has explained the theories for why 6988194807_8e9b34ba2a_bprices in our world end in “9.” First is something called the left-digit effect, which suggests that consumers just can’t be bothered to read to the end of prices. The mind puts the most emphasis on the number on the far-left, so even though $59.99 is closer to $60, it’s the “5” that registers. The other theory is that prices ending in “.99” signal a deal to consumers. In short, consumers seem to like prices that end in “9,” and experiments say that pricing things this way increases purchases.

Despite the ubiquitous “9” pricing practice, most numbers used in everyday life are whole numbers. It’s not common to say, “just give me 5.27 minutes.” But why do [restaurant] Le Pain Quotidien’s prices still make my mind reel? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research might have the answer. Researchers found that shoppers deal with pricing information differently when prices feature round numbers (“5”), as opposed to non-round ones (“4.99”). When something costs $100, consumers tend to rely on their feelings, whereas when something has an irregular price—such as $98.67—consumers have to use reason to compute whether it’s a good price.

(Photo by Matt Fox)