The missing french bakeries in Baghdad

Last week I listened to a fascinating Fresh Air interview with US Diplomat Peter Van Buren recounting the astounding waste and cluelessness that went into construction in Iraq.  And, boy, if you think the US government wastes money in America, it’s minor league stuff compared to Iraq.  Yesterday, Van Buren hit the pages with Slate capsule summaries of some of the worst boondoggles.  Here’s the first:

French Pastry Classes
Cost: $9,797

In the hands of one PRT in southern Baghdad, our instructions to help female entrepreneurs translated into pastry classes for disadvantaged Iraqi women who presumably could then go open cute little French cafes in their city’s bombed-out streets. In the funding request, the PRT stipulated that “a French Chef with experience in both baking pastries and in teaching pastry classes internationally” would volunteer to teach. So, you may ask, if the French chef was volunteering le time, what was the $9,797 spent on? Well, some was certainly spent on paying students to attend. It was almost impossible to get Iraqis to show up for these things (as they had to, if you wanted your photos of the event to look good) without offering a free lunch, taxi fare, and a stipend. Needless to say, I never heard of any pâtisseries sprouting up on the road to Baghdad’s airport.

Also really got to wonder who this volunteer French chef was.

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Cainmentum!

Couldn’t resist stealing the name of the post from PPP’s posting about their latest poll of NC Republicans.  Check this out:

PrimaryGraphNC

That’s right, Herman “no damn Muslims are going to work for me!” Cain is leading in NC.  Of course, NC’s primary is not until May, but this is obviously telling us something and part of a larger trend.  On Intrade, Cain is up by almost exactly the amount that Perry is down.   And Romney is now over 50%.  What has Romney done so well?  I love Ezra’s take here:

First, Michele Bachmann knocked out Tim Pawlenty. Then, Rick Perry knocked out Michele Bachmann. Then, Rick Perry knocked out Rick Perry. Then, Paul Ryan decided against running. Then, so did Chris Christie. Has any candidate in recent history been as lucky as Mitt Romney?

Well, yes. In 2004, Blair Hull, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat in Illinois, saw his campaign collapse amid allegations that he abused his wife. Then, Jack Ryan, the Republican nominee for the seat, had to withdraw due to a sex scandal with his ex-wife, Jeri Ryan. Then, he was replaced by performance artist Alan Keyes. All of this cleared the way for Barack Obama to win the presidency.

Luck matters in American politics. And right now, Romney seems to have quite a lot of it on his side.

Also, if Herman Cain can actually last as a serious contender (something I have a lot of doubt about), this is going to be a lot of fun.

How CEO’s are like drivers

Raise your hand if you think you are a better than average driver.  Okay, you can put it down now.  As you probably know, pretty much everybody thinks they are a better than average driver.  Well, it turns out pretty much every major company thinks they have a better than average CEO (hint: half of them are wrong!).  Wouldn’t be that bad, except while worker wages stagnate, they feel the need to reward their “better than average” CEO at “better than average” compensation. Now, when everybody does that, you get this (via Drum):

Today, Peter Whoriskey of theWashington Post tells us that thepractice of peer group comparison is widespread:

It wasn’t until recently, however, that its pervasiveness and impact on executive pay became clear. Companies have long hid the way they set executive pay, but in late 2006, the Securities and Exchange Commission began compelling companies to disclose the specifics of how they use peer groups to determine executive pay.

Since then, researchers have found that about 90 percent of major U.S. companies expressly set their executive pay targets at or above the median of their peer group. This creates just the kinds of circumstances that drive pay upward.

I also want to mention that, in many respects, this is completely wasteful.  We can be fairly confident that about half the companies out there are over-paying their CEO’s.  You simply cannot have 90% of a category of people performing above average.  To quote our president, “it’s just math.”  Yet, you never hear about all the “waste” in private industry (unless you read my blog, that is).  Imagine if government agencies did this with salaries– you’d hear all sorts of stories about how wasteful it is.  The fact that shareholders allow this to happen says to me that their is complete rot in our system of corporate governance or, at minimum, complete detachment from reality.

About that class warfare

Here’s the chart via the Tax Policy Center that was making all the rounds yesterday.  I’m going to link to Drum’s version, as I like his simple explanation the best:

The dark blue bar at the left represents Clinton-era policies. The light blue bar at the right represents the effects of healthcare reform plus Obama’s current set of tax proposals: Letting the Bush tax cuts mostly expire for the rich, limiting the value of itemized deductions and some exclusions to 28 percent, taxing carried interest at regular rates, and eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies and for corporate jets.

So what happens? The well-off do better under Obama than under Clinton-era policies. The even-more-well-off also do better. The really-well-off also do better. And the genuinely rich? They do ever so slightly worse: their after-tax income is maybe 2-3% lower under the Obama proposals than under the tax rates of the Clinton era.

Class warfare! There’s more at the link.

Ahhh, there’s your “socialism”!  Why does Obama hate “the job creators”?  Those poor victims.

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