RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Friday, December 28, 2012

No country for old men

I'll be honest: I've never seriously considered retiring in Nebraska. Who wants, in his sixties, to deal with weather like Lincoln has experienced in the last two weeks? But doing the usual end of year financial review, I decided to find out exactly how bad Nebraska is for retirees, from a tax standpoint. And the answer is, it's awful. It makes a couple of 'worst ten states for retirees' lists. It has a income tax which is towards the middle in rates but which kicks in at a very low income level. It taxes social security benefits at the highest rate of all the states. It taxes pensions. It has a state estate tax (many states don't). State sales taxes look moderate, but when you consider the local sales taxes that Lincoln and Omaha charges, and then the many and varied occupation taxes, and the substantial property tax...well, why put up with that? In Florida, you pay no income tax, no tax on social security benefit, get a better homestead exemption than Nebraska gives, pay no tax on retirement income, and pay no estate tax. No contest.

A more interesting question, perhaps, is whether it is good public policy to drive out retirees, particularly wealthier retirees. Granted, the elderly don't produce much and consume a lot in services. On the other hand, they are (usually) living off investment income and transfer payments, which are spent in their home state. Their heavy consumption of health care is mostly paid for by Medicare and employs doctors and a host of other health care providers. They don't send kids to the public schools. I haven't done a detailed analysis, but my guess is that they're a net plus for the economy.

Little in Nebraska's tax policy makes much sense, but this seems particularly short sighted.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"One of my best friends is Jewish"

The Lincoln Journal Star dispels the strange idea some people have acquired that Chuck Hagel is anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic, by citing one Omaha rabbi who likes him.

"I reject your reality and replace it with my own anecdote"

In any case, if the dispute is to be settled by counting Nebraska Jews for and against, the Algemeiner seems to have pwned the LJS.

Obnoxious, loud-mouthed, and not especially bright

What surprises me about Chuck Hagel is not that he's running into fierce opposition as potential nominee for the Secretary of defense position, it's that he's in the running at all.

Hagel has made a career of alienating what potential friends and allies he might have had. Through UNL, I've had the opportunity to try to get help from Hagel on various matters of what might be considered constituent service; things like interceding with the State Department to overcome obdurate bureaucratic obstacles on student visas, etc.. He consistently refused to help. UNL's administration ended up completely ignoring him when lobbying for earmark requests, because they knew he would do nothing. If all of this were out of principle, I'd admire it. But there is no evidence Hagel philosophically believes that it is wrong for the legislative branch to intervene with the executive branch to accelerate certain operations, or that earmarks are wrong. He's been happy to vote for all sorts of other federal pork. He just didn't seem to feel it was worth his while to help UNL.

It's not just his failure to positively help his actual or potential constituency. Hagel has gone out of is way to insult Republicans and particularly conservative Republicans; calling us 'disgusting' for trying to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force a reduction in government spending, a goal he theoretically believes in; endorsing Democrats for national and statewide office, etc.. He's alienated pro-Israel Americans by a long series of votes and actions on Iran and Israel. He could have voted against Hormel without opening his big mouth and calling him 'openly, aggressively gay'.

I may not have accumulated all the wisdom I could have in my nearly 55 years (there's an understatement), but I have learned (though perhaps not sufficiently internalized) that you make too many enemies and lose too many friends simply doing the things you have to do, particularly if your politics departs from the bland middle. Going out of your way to make more enemies and (in Hagel's case) lose a whole lot of friends is simply stupid.

And honestly, after thinking about this for a couple of weeks, I think Hagel's besetting vice is stupidity. He voted for the Iraq war, and then turned against it as soon as it started going bad. He supported pulling out as soon as the insurgency developed, with no consideration that America -- in part through his own vote -- had made a commitment, and we would break our word and irrevocably damage our national prestige by doing what he advocated. He opposed the surge, and even now refuses to admit it was the decisive factor in the defeat of the insurgency and in gaining some semblance of a positive result. Refusing to admit you're wrong is in my experience one of the true markers of stupidity.

And getting beyond all the antipathy created by Hagel's own actions, that is what I think disqualifies Hagel: he's just not smart enough for the job. Sometime, a penchant for opening your mouth and disputing the conventional wisdom in crude language isn't a sign of forthrightness and out-of-the-box thinking; it's a sign you think dumb things and you are too obtuse to realize it is better to remain silent and be though a fool, rather than speak and remove all doubt.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Union NO!

For six unhappy years, your devoted correspondent RWP was a member of a labor union, specifically, the American Association of University Professors. It was not entirely his fault. He was recruited by SUNY Stony Brook in 1986, for the princely sum of $29,000/nine months. What Stony Brook did not tell him until he was on campus and signing up for benefits was that he would be required to give 1% of his pre-tax income to said AAUP. He was told there was no choice in the matter (there was a certain amount of choice, but this was pre-internet, and he really needed the job). This was $290 he really needed,having a young family and trying to live on the north shore of Long Island.

By the time he had left Stony Brook 6 years later, he was earning $44,500 a year, after tenure and promotion. Not much of an increase, you might say. No indeed, and a large part of the reason was that the union was actively working to keep his salary down. Stony Brook had two pools of money, a cost-of-living pool, and a merit pool. The merit pool was small, and the union, which hated merit pay, was constantly trying to negotiate it down. But almost all of RWP's raises came through the merit pool. Profs on $100 K a year would generally not bother to send in the documentation to get a $1k or $2k merit raise, whereas RWP, who was publishing well, getting grants, etc., did so diligently. $1k is a lot when you're making $30k a year. The cost-of-living raises were not great either, because New York in the late 80s/early 90s was not in good budgetary shape. Had RWP relied on COL, he would undoubtedly have gone bankrupt (he nearly did, anyway).

The people who ran the union were everything you might expect. When RWP got there, the boss was one Nuala McGann Drescher, who used her copious dues income to sent out comical Wobbly-style newsletters 'Solidarity, Comrades, we have the Bosses on their knees...'. Except, when you thought about it, the 'Boss' was a Democrat governor running a very liberal state. She was succeeded by his own Department's librarian, a complete incompetent. When she tried to dock RWP's meager salary for a book he had returned six months previously, he walked to the place where it was correctly shelved, brought it to her office, and slammed it on her desk. She then wrote to his chair asking to be protected from his 'male rage'.

A large part of his decision to leave Stony Brook was an intense desire to be rid of these leeches. He was careful to check that UNL is not only not unionized but in a right-to-work state.

And this is why he raises a glass to the people of Michigan, who have rid themselves of the foul stain of compulsory union dues, and the fat goons who collect them. Solidarity, Brothers. Rise up and overthrow the (union) Bosses!

And no more writing in the third person for RWP. It's tiring!