U.S. strikes in Yemen after al Qaeda’s day out

In a post called “Al Qaeda’s day out,” I criticized the Obama administration for backing away from drone strikes against that outfit in the terrorist hotbed of Yemen. Therefore, it is only fair that I give the administration credit for launching an aggressive drone strike campaign over the weekend in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In one drone strike the U.S. targeted AQAP’s top bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan Tali al Asiri, who has built innovative bombs for the Yemeni terror group. The attack killed four APAQ terrorists. According to the Long War Journal, Asiri is reported to be among them, but his death has not been confirmed by AQAP or Yemeni officials

In another strike, U.S. drones hit an AQAP training camp in a mountainous area. Reports in the Arabic press claim that more than 30 AQAP militants were killed in that attack.

In a third attack, 15 AQAP fighters and several civilians reportedly were killed when drones hit a truck as it traveled on a road leading to Baydah City, a provincial capital. Local media reported that the targeted vehicle was carrying a large amount of dynamite and that the strike killed all of the fighters on board. A military source told the Arabic media that prominent leaders in AQAP were killed in the strike. The civilian victims were traveling in another vehicle.

The new, aggressive approach is welcome. As I noted in my earlier post, the dearth of drone activity in Yemen against al Qaeda had emboldened the outfit to the point that its terrorists filmed a video of a brazen outdoor gathering. The Washington Post reported that the al Qaeda fighters made no apparent effort to avoid detection by U.S. drones.

Not everyone welcomed the new round of attacks, of course. The drone program has drawn harsh disapproval from many on the left, and the deaths of several civilians in this round provided fuel for renewed criticism.

But AQAP is considered the most dangerous of all al Qaeda branches and offshoots. And Yemen has been the place where various al Qaeda plots to attack the United States were hatched. Indeed, during “al Qaeda’s day out,” its leader in Yemen declared, “We must eliminate the cross, and the bearer of the cross is America.”

If “the bearer of the cross” wishes to defend itself, it had better kill AQAP terrorists before they launch more plots to kill us.

The “Rich” Are Everywhere

When Scott and I wrote “The Truth About Income Inequality,” one of the highlights of our pre-internet career, we emphasized the remarkable degree of income mobility that has long characterized the American economy. The rich man and the poor man, we argued, are largely the same man in different stages of life. In recent years, some have tried to show that income mobility has lessened, but longitudinal studies don’t support that claim. Greg Mankiw, chairman of Harvard’s Department of Economics, links to an article in–surprisingly–the New York Times that contains some stunning data:

Thomas A. Hirschl of Cornell and I [Mark Rank of Wash U] looked at 44 years of longitudinal data regarding individuals from ages 25 to 60 to see what percentage of the American population would experience these different levels of affluence during their lives. The results were striking.

It turns out that 12 percent of the population will find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution for at least one year. What’s more, 39 percent of Americans will spend a year in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, 56 percent will find themselves in the top 10 percent, and a whopping 73 percent will spend a year in the top 20 percent of the income distribution….

It is clear that the image of a static 1 and 99 percent is largely incorrect. The majority of Americans will experience at least one year of affluence at some point during their working careers. (This is just as true at the bottom of the income distribution scale, where 54 percent of Americans will experience poverty or near poverty at least once between the ages of 25 and 60)….

So a majority of Americans will be in the top 10% of income at some time during their working lives. That makes a mockery of the Left’s portrayal of a rigid caste system that–somehow!–must be combated by ever-higher taxes and more government spending.

The Democrats’ current campaign against income inequality is puzzling, if you think about it. Income inequality is a wonderful thing. In fact, a society without income inequality would scarcely be worth living in. No income inequality means no promotions; no advancement; no reward for training, education, hard work or experience; no benefit to being talented, creative or innovative. Imagine if you graduated from high school (or dropped out, for that matter) knowing that no matter what you did, you could never exceed the income you earned as a first-year novice in the labor market. Income inequality is just another word for opportunity.

Once you concede that income inequality in itself is a good thing, the only real question is whether a hard-working person with reasonable abilities has a good shot at success. Academic studies yield the same answer as our own common observation: yes, the hard-working and talented (even modestly talented) can still get ahead in America.

Democratic Senator Nearly Qualifies for Darwin Award

Senator Richard Blumenthal called a press conference at a train station to criticize Amtrak’s safety practices. He set up for the press conference on the yellow paint next to the train track…that shows where you aren’t supposed to stand. Naturally, a train promptly came along:

It is sobering to think that this guy is one of only 100 senators and gets to vote on important legislation.

A Sunday sports trifecta

As John can attest, I’ve been supporting mostly bad sports teams for more than half a century. Thus, it’s a rare occasion when three of my teams win important victories on the same day. But that’s what happened yesterday.

Until yesterday, Everton had not won both of its matches against Manchester United since the 1969-70 season and had not finished ahead of the Red Devils since 1990. Those streaks ended with Everton’s 2-0 victory at Goodison Park.

United dominated possession, but rarely threatened to score. Relying on the pace and thrust of the Premier League’s best fullback pairing — Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines — and winger Kevin Mirallas, Everton was lethal on the counterattack.

By the end of the match, the Everton were singing “Sacked in the Morning” to their former manager David Moyes (who, in fairness, assembled most of the team that defeated his Man U side, including Baines, Coleman, and Mirallas). Some morning soon, Moyes might, indeed, be sacked.

With the win, Everton moves within one point of Arsenal for the final Champions League spot. Unfortunately, the schedule for the remaining three matches strongly favors Arsenal. But the Toffees are assured of a return to European football, having clinched (at worst) a spot the Europa League.

Making the NBA playoffs isn’t hard these days if you play in the weak Eastern Conference. Yet, until yesterday, the Washington Wizards hadn’t appeared in the NBA playoffs since the 2007-08 season and hadn’t won an opening game in the playoffs since 1986 (on a Dudley Bradley miracle shot). Those streaks ended with a 102-93 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Not having seen the Bulls play much this year, I wondered how a team with such an unimposing line-up (Derek Rose, their best player missed almost the entire season due to injury) could have won 48 regular season games. Now I know. They did it with a clawing, clutching, grabbing defense.

That style might be expected to give fits to a team with scant playoff experience. And the Wizards young background was, in fact, stymied yesterday. But Washington is loaded with veteran front court players, and they made the difference.

Nene scored 24 points on 11-17 shooting and Marcin Gortat scored 15 (on 6-10) to go with 13 rebounds. Veteran guard Andre Miller, added to the team with the playoffs very much in mind, came off the bench to score 10 points on 5-7 shooting. This helped offset the combined 7-25 shooting of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the young starting guards.

We are probably in for a long, hard-fought series. But for now, at least, the Wiz have the upper hand.

There are no truly big baseball games in April. But yesterday, the Washington Nationals won what felt like a big game.

The Nationals, terrible during most of their nine plus years in D.C., had what seemed like a breakout year in 2012. But they were derailed that year in the playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals, who came from six runs down to defeat the Nats in the deciding contest.

Since then, the Nats, while fattening up on weak teams, have been unable to hold their own against the Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves, their main division rival. Last year, the Cardinals won all six meetings and Atlanta won 13 of 19.

The trend seemed to be continuing this year. Atlanta has already won 5 of 6 from the Nats. And until yesterday, the Cards had taken 2 of 3.

On Sunday, St. Louis held a 2-0 lead going into the seventh inning. But the Nats rallied to win 3-2, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Denard Span.

It’s too early in the season to draw conclusions about the Nats. But fans should be encouraged by the bounce back performances of Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen. Both were key performers on the 2012 season. Both had 2013 seasons so nightmarish that they found themselves in the Minor Leagues.

Both have been excellent so far this year. Storen’s clutch relief pitching enabled the Nats to beat the Cards on Friday night and Espinosa’ heroics at the plate keyed yesterday’s win.

So I thank Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman, Marcin Gortat, Nene, Danny Espinosa, Denard Span, and all the others who helped deliver a brilliant Sunday sports trifecta.

The lies of Obamacare — bending the cost curve

One of the supposed benefits of Obamacare was that, somehow, it would “bend the cost curve” for health care cost — in other words, slow the rate of growth of these costs. Just how providing subsidized health care to millions would accomplish this feat was never clear. But the claim, nonetheless, was part of the sales pitch.

The claim has persisted since Obamacare was enacted. Supporters note that lately health spending has been growing no faster than spending on other goods or services. And President Obama touts the fact that “under [Obamacare], real Medicare costs per person have nearly stopped growing.”

How a law that is only now being implemented could have affected health care costs during the past few years is not clear. In reality, the slowing of Medicare costs is likely due to the mass influx of comparatively young, comparatively healthy geezers (the baby boomers) into the system.

As for health care costs generally, most economists attribute the “bent” cost curve, which predates the passage of Obamacare, primarily to the impact of the recession. As the New York Times explains, the more that workers lost their jobs and health coverage, the less their families spent on health care.

But now, employment is rising steadily (albeit slowly). Thus, the New York Times reports that health care costs are surging:

“Following several years of decline, 2013 was striking for the increased use by patients of all parts of the U.S. health care system,” Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, said in a statement. . . .

The annual pace of spending growth on health care increasing to 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, from 1.3 percent in the first quarter. That 5.6 percent growth rate is the highest since 2004. . . .

Many. . .analysts said they had long expected health spending to increase. “If we are seeing an uptick, it’s the beginning of the uptick,” said Drew Altman, the president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “We’ve expected to see a lagged effect, both when the economy declines and when it improves.”

The uptick that began in 2013 can be expected to continue, and probably accelerate, as (1) millions of previously uninsured Americans (how many millions remains to be seen) obtain health insurance as a result of Obamacare and (2) previously insured Americans are forced to replace catastrophic-type plans with plans that cover virtually everything.

Both of these developments will mean more visits to doctors’ offices, more hospital stays, and more purchases of prescription medication. In some cases, the spending will be beneficial to the patient; in others, it will be wasteful. In all instances, it will contribute to higher health care costs.

The adverse impact of Obamacare on the “cost curve” was foreseeable. Economist Douglas Holt-Eakin told the Times:

This is a criticism I’ve had of [Obamacare] going back years — this is not revisionist history. I thought it was too heavy on the insurance expansion and too light on delivery-system reform. It has tons of projects and demonstrations. But the road to hell is paved with projects and demonstrations.

What will “hell” look like? The Times warns:

Economists from both the right and left — including in the White House — have said that there is no greater threat to the government’s budget than soaring health spending. Rising insurance premiums would increase the cost of the health law’s expansion.

More broadly, experts have warned that the excess growth of health costs could increase the country’s debt and crowd out spending on all other priorities, including education, infrastructure, research and development and support for low-income families.

In the end, Obamacare is likely to bend the cost curve, but in the wrong direction. And with potentially disastrous consequences.

Marxist blues again

The visit of French economist Thomas Piketty to the United States has not quite induced Beatlemania, Scott Winship writes at Forbes, but rather the Washington analogue of teenage frenzy. In the New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler might lend credence to the Beatlemania that Winship disclaims. “Economist receives rock star treatment,” Schuessler reports.

Indeed, you can see the frenzy through the New York Times alone. Yesterday’s Times brought us Ross Douthat’s op-ed column on Piketty, as well as Steven Erlanger’s profile. And that, unfortunately, is not all.

Piketty is the author of a big new book on economic inequality. Liberals have the fever and Piketty has the cure. In case you haven’t guessed, it has something to do with turning the dial on income and wealth taxes to 11.

Among the good takes on Piketty’s book that I have come across so far are Allan Meltzer’s (“The United States of Envy”), Scott Winship’s (“Whither the bottom 90 percent, Mr. Piketty?”) and Kevin Hassett’s (“Remarks on Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’”).

As I get it, by Piketty’s lights, the world wars of the twentieth century had a previously undiscovered virtue. They had the virtue of retarding the growth of economic inequality. What the world wars did incidentally, Piketty now seeks to do intentionally through tax policy, and the man has met the moment. I’m afraid attention must be paid.

JOHN adds: See also Clive Crook’s take, “The Most Important Book Ever Is All Wrong.”

UPDATE: A French reader adds: “You might like to know that Thomas Piketty was accused of physical abuse in 2009 by his former girlfriend (now the French Minister for Culture), who filed an official complaint against him. Imagine if he were a right-wing, free-market economist. Would that bit of old news go unnoticed by the MSM—whether the accusation was justified or not? I think we know the answer to that.” Link here.

This harks back to Marx along with the gist of Piketty’s deep thoughts. As Paul Johnson writes in Intellectuals, among Marx’s distasteful personal attributes were “his taste for violence, his appetite for power, his inability to handle money, and, above all, his tendency to exploit those around him.”

ONE MORE WORD: The best review I have found so far is Tyler Cowen’s in Foreign Affairs: “Capital punishment.” Also of note is Daniel Shuchman’s Wall Street Journal review “Piketty revives Marx for the 21st century.”

What’s the matter with David Gregory?

David Gregory strikes me as the smarmiest liberal of the Sunday gabfests. He seems (to me) not even to know how to pretend to be fair. At least Tim Russert could fake it, as Bob Schieffer does now leading the pack on CBS.

Both Gregory and the Meet the Press panel that Gregory hosts drive me nuts. I have therefore taken a small amount of joy in the fall of the show to third place from first in the gabfest ratings. It’s a small amount because that leaves George Stephanopoulos in second place.

Gregory’s ordeal now comes under the protracted view of Washington Post media columnist Paul Farhi. Like NBC execs, Farhi is apparently without a clue. Farhi reports that the show’s ratings are in the midst of a three-year slide. What could be the cause? Now this is funny:

Last year, the network undertook an unusual assessment of the 43-year-old journalist, commissioning a psychological consultant to interview his friends and even his wife. The idea, according to a network spokeswoman, Meghan Pianta, was “to get perspective and insight from people who know him best.” But the research project struck some at NBC as odd, given that Gregory has been employed there for nearly 20 years.

Here’s a thought. It’s the audience that needs to be assessed. Why does it turn away from Gregory? Maybe they’ve done the research on that, but Farhi doesn’t have the goods.

According to Farhi, NBC thinks that the remedy might be segments in smaller doses. If the idea is smaller doses of Gregory, they might be getting warm. Less Gregory just might be the ticket.

And then we have this account of the show’s move to various short segments from a longer interview format:

A new recorded feature called “Meeting America” in which reporter Kevin Tibbles looks at something happening outside Washington (in this case, a debate in Kentucky over the building of a Biblical theme park using tax subsidies); more roundtable discussion; and a photos-of-the-week feature called “Images to Remember.” The program closed with a short interview with New York Times reporter Jo Becker about her new book about gay marriage, “Forcing the Spring.”

Gregory says the new look “delivers on the core of what ‘Meet the Press’ is” but “widens the aperture . . .”

A question for Paul Farhi: Do you really want to quote Gregory on “widening the aperture” here? Are you sure that’s the metaphor you want to use in this context? Farhi shares a certain cluelessness with the subject of this particular column.

UPDATE: Our friend Ed Morrissey writes to probe that metaphor…a bit more deeply: “I had to laugh at his analogy. As any amateur photographer would know, widening the aperture lets more light in but at the expense of depth. If one wants to see more depth in a photograph, the aperture has to be narrowed. It’s practically the opposite of what Gregory intends.” Giving him the benefit of the doubt, however, Gregory may also have blundered into the truth. Ed has posted his take on Farhi’s column here.