Greg Sargent points us to Mitt Romney's latest statement on the economy:

We welcome the fact that jobs were created and unemployment declined. Unfortunately, these numbers cannot hide the fact that President Obama’s policies have prevented a true economic recovery. We can do better. Last week, we learned that the economy grew only 1.7% in 2011, the slowest growth in a non-recession year since the end of World War II. As a result.....blah blah blah.

Alas, poor Mitt. Now he knows what it feels like to be Barack Obama. For the past two years Obama has basically been forced to say that, sure, the economy is bad, but it would have been even worse without his policies in place. That might be true or it might not, but it's sure not a vote getter.

Now Romney's on the other end of that argument. Sure, the economy is getting better, but it would be even better still without Obama's policies. Again, maybe that's true and maybe it's not, but no one cares. If the economy is getting better, then people are happy and they're going to vote for the guy in the White House. Romney had better figure out something better than that if he wants to have any chance of victory in November.

When the Komen Foundation cut off its breast cancer screening grants to Planned Parenthood a few days ago, they said it was because of a new policy that bars grants to organizations under investigation. Then they backtracked, and said that it was actually because Planned Parenthood doesn't perform mammograms itself, but only provides referrals. Today, I guess we're back to excuse #1:

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation Friday announced it would revise a controversial new policy that barred the organization from funding Planned Parenthood....“Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation,” a Friday statement said. “We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.”

Okey dokey. I guess the next step is to see if Komen actually continues their grants or not. More from Adam Serwer here.

With 1.8 seconds to go in Wednesday's Kings-Blue Jackets game, the clock mysteriously stopped for about a second, giving the Kings just enough time to score a last minute goal and win the game. The Blue Jackets are understandably suspicious, but Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi explains it all here:

Those clocks are sophisticated instruments that calculate time by measuring electrical charges called coulombs.

Coulombs! Please go on, Mr. Science:

Given the rapidity and volume of electrons that move through the measuring device the calibrator must adjust at certain points, which was the delay you see. The delay is just recalibrating for the clock moving too quickly during the 10-10ths of a second before the delay. This ensures that the actual playing time during a period is exactly 20 minutes. That is not an opinion. That is science. Amazing device, quite frankly.

It's amazing, all right.

Today is new jobs day, and my usual chart is below. It shows the number of net new jobs created over the past few years; that is, the number of new jobs above the 90,000 per month needed just to keep up with population growth and tread water. In January, that amounted to 153,000 net new jobs, pushing the headline unemployment rate down to 8.3%. That's pretty good news. Brad Plumer has a useful warning about data revisions here. Jared Bernstein provides some context and details here. Matt Yglesias talks about what we need to do to keep the recovery going here.

You have heard, perhaps, that rich people in America are egregiously overtaxed. And the poor? They're the lucky duckies! Why, 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes at all!

(This is not true, of course. Many poor and elderly Americans pay no federal income tax, but they pay plenty of other taxes.)

Still and all, it's true that the federal income tax is indeed progressive. Conservatives are right about that—though it's not as progressive as it used to be, back before top marginal rates were lowered and capital gains taxes were slashed in half. But conservatives are a little less excited to talk about other kinds of taxes. Payroll taxes aren't progressive, for example. In fact, they're actively regressive, with the poor and middle classes paying higher rates than the rich.

And then there are state taxes. Those include state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and fees of various kinds. How progressive are state taxes?

Answer: They aren't. The Corporation for Enterprise Development recently released a scorecard for all 50 states, and it has boatloads of useful information. That includes overall tax rates, where data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that in the median state (Mississippi, as it turns out) the poorest 20 percent pay twice the tax rate of the top 1 percent. In the worst states, the poorest 20 percent pay five to six times the rate of the richest 1 percent. Lucky duckies indeed. There's not one single state with a tax system that's progressive. Check the table below to see how your state scores.

File this dispatch from Gareth Porter under "interesting if true":

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders Jan. 20 that the United States would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel without prior agreement from Washington, according to accounts from well-placed senior military officers.

....Dempsey's trip was highly unusual, in that there was neither a press conference by the chairman nor any public statement by either side about the substance of his meetings with Israeli leaders. Even more remarkable, no leak about what he said to the Israelis has appeared in either U.S. or Israeli news media, indicating that both sides have regarded what Dempsey said as extremely sensitive.

The substance of Dempsey's warning to the Israelis has become known, however, to active and retired senior flag officers with connections to the JCS, according to a military source who got it from those officers.

Hmmm. So a "military source" heard this from "active and retired senior flag officers with connections to the JCS" who in turn learned about this from....someone. I'm not going to pretend that this is the most confidence-inspiring sourcing I've ever run into, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. It might be!

From Kent, a Republican caucusgoer in Nevada, explaining to Dave Weigel why he hates Democrats:

If you're a Democrat, you are my enemy. Democrats piss me off. They've gotten extremely socialistic. Every time they get in, they raise taxes. They screw things up. I've got a jeep I've had for ten years; I pay $100 a year on the license plate. We just got a new Dodge; $600 to license it. You pay your money, they pass it on to the Mexicans, the colored people. Free education, handouts, all of that.

So there you go.

Felix Salmon is puzzled. So am I. Here is Ken Doctor reporting on the success of the New York Times paywall, which was put in place last year and has since attracted 390,000 subscribers:

It took about 12 seconds for Times’ readers to figure out the new subscription math, when the company when digital-paid last year. When they did the math and saw they could get the four-pound Sunday paper and “all-digital-access” for $60 less than “all-digital-access” by itself, they took the newsprint. Which stabilized Sunday sales, and the Sunday ad base. Then the Times was able to announce a near-historic fact in October: Sunday home delivery subscriptions had actually increased year-over-year, a positive point in an industry used to parsing negatives. Now, Sunday is emerging a key point of strategic planning.

And here is Felix:

This is great news for the Sunday newspaper, which is highly profitable for the NYT. But it also raises the obvious question: why are 390,000 NYT readers eschewing a Sunday paper they could get for less than nothing? Some are IHT subscribers who don’t have that option; others are naturally peripatetic. And the cheapest digital subscription is actually still cheaper than the Sunday-only delivery.

Huh? Feeling a bit outraged when I read this, I went over to the NYT site to see how much I was paying for my digital-only subscription. The Times doesn't make it especially easy to figure this out, but according to my billing history the answer turns out to be $11.25 every four weeks, or $146 per year. This gets me the Times-online plus their smartphone app. (But not the tablet app, since I don't own a tablet.)

And what's the cost of Sunday home delivery? Well, that's not easy to figure out either. In fact, it's so hard to figure out that I think the Times is about a hair's breadth away from fraudulent advertising. However, in my zip code the answer is $3.90 per week, or $203 per year. So that's quite a bit more than digital-only. What's more, this is an introductory rate, and although it's close to impossible to find out what the rate is once the introductory period is over, after heroic effort I discovered that it would cost me $7.80 per week, or $405 per year. That's way, way more than my digital subscription.

Now, I'm not sure what kind of deal the Times was offering last year when the paywall was first launched, but I also tried this after typing in a New York City zip code, which offered me only a Saturday-Sunday option, not a Sunday-only option. It's a little less expensive than getting the paper out here in Irvine, but it still comes to $343 per year.

Now, having said all that, I still don't know what's going on. According to the NYT website, a digital+smartphone subscription costs $3.75 per week. So why am I getting it for $2.81 per week? It is a mystery.

Another mystery: the NYT digital pricing makes no sense. It's supposedly $15 for digital+smartphone, $20 for digital+tablet, and $35 for digital+smartphone+tablet. Some crude linear algebra demonstrates that the digital portion of these subscriptions WTF?

Bottom line: New York Times pricing is mysterious. However, Felix's passing mention that "the cheapest digital subscription is actually still cheaper than the Sunday-only delivery" explains everything. Basically, the "cheapest" digital subscription gets you everything except their tablet app. So unless you want that — and I imagine lots of people don't — digital pricing is considerably cheaper than home delivery no matter how you slice it. So the one thing there's no mystery about is why there are 390,000 digital-only subscribers. It's because that's the cheapest way to get unlimited access to the Times.

A couple of days ago I linked to Adam Skaggs asking Congress to change the ridiculous campaign fundraising rules that allow Super PACs to coordinate with campaigns even though it's supposedly strictly forbidden. Today, Rick Hasen says that Super PACs are yesterday's news:

Right after Citizens United was decided, there was a great debate within the campaign finance world over whether the case would change campaign finance patterns. Some pointed to the fact that in the 2010 election, we saw barely any independent spending directly by corporations. My view had always been that most (for profit) corporations would not want to stick their necks out and risk alienating customers by putting their names on independent ads. For corporate money to really matter, there would have to be a way to filter it through committees and sometimes to hide the money entirely. Thanks to Super PACs and the transformation of 501c4′s, both of these are now possible and we are witnessing the corporate money coming in....We don’t know how much corporate money is coming in now (and as to 501c4s, because of lack of disclosure we likely will never have the full picture). But it seems a safe bet that there is lot more corporate money coming into the system than was (barely) allowed in the pre-Citizens United world.

....My big concern before yesterday was that we would see a lot of transfers of money from 501c4s to affiliated Super PACs to shield the identity of donors to Super PACs. I’m still trying to get a handle on how much of this took place (apparently less than I thought). But the reason these transfers are not taking place is that it appears the 501c4s are engaging in much more direct election-related activity than they have in the past.  That is, we are seeing some 501c4s becoming pure election vehicles. The relation of 501c4s to super pacs is now like the past relation between 527s and pacs—these are now the vehicles of questionable legality to influence elections. While Adam Skaggs is rightly focused on fixing the coordination rules for Super PACs, this seems to be fighting yesterday’s war already. The key is to stop 501c4s from becoming shadow super PACs. Yes, campaign finance reform community, it has become this bad: I want more super PACs, because the 501c4 alternative is worse!

Well, yes, we could rein in 501c(4) spending by requiring that they disclose their donors, and the DISCLOSE Act would have done just that. Needless to say, it failed even in 2010, when Democrats controlled the House and had a huge majority in the Senate. It received, if I recall correctly, two Republican votes in the House and zero Republican votes in the Senate.

So there's not really much chance that a revived and amended DISCLOSE Act is going to pass now. We are doomed.

Matt Steinglass on our decade-long nation-building mission in Afghanistan:

Nothing in my life has made me as pessimistic about development aid as the course of the American intervention in Afghanistan…I think I've seen figures showing that foreign aid was actually greater than the country's entire GDP in 2011. That sounds impossible, but I'd imagine it reflects the fact that foreign aid is often spent on salaries for Western consultants and equipment from donor countries, so it never really enters Afghanistan at all.

…The romantic vision of the transformation of Afghanistan involved passionate Westerners with graduate degrees donning local garb and riding on donkeys to dirt-poor villages to educate their girls and extend their agriculture. But Westerners with graduate degrees don't much want to sit around on donkeys in dirt-poor villages, particularly not when the Taliban will kill them for doing so. They want to ride out to the village in an SUV, train some locals to teach the girls (or better yet, train some local trainers), drive back to the city, hit the gym and turn on the laptop. Besides which, they have to turn on the laptop, because the congressional subcommittee has told USAID to mandate that they report monthly on progress in 37 different categories of target indicators in exchange for their NGO getting the grant.

Et cetera. I saw this last night, but couldn't think of anything really worthwhile to add to it. I wanted to link it up to the lessons we supposedly all learned from E. F. Schumacher several decades ago about the appropriate scale of foreign aid projects in Third World countries, but I just don't have the chops for that. I also wanted to link to an article I read a few years ago about the immense delicacy of interfering with local economic patterns, which runs the risk of wrecking key incentives and cultural practices built up over centuries, but I couldn't remember where I'd seen it or what country it was about. Which is too bad, because it was a great piece of eye-opening writing.

So that's a great big fail from me on the foreign aid front. Instead, I'll leave you with this observation from Andrew Sullivan:

Yesterday, I get a text from one of my friends, a former Special Ops guy who was one of the first to learn how to ride a horse, grow a beard and disappear into the mountains of Afghanistan in 2001. It read:

Are we leaving afghanistan. No way we are that is awesome.

The facts have persuaded me that this war needs to come to an end. But the most persuasive arguments I have heard have come from my friends who have served there. Every single one described "nation-building" there to be about as insane as, well, a 51st state on the moon. All of them wanted to find and kill the men who attacked the US a decade ago—and go home. Since Obama took office, they have been granted their wish: almost all the al Qaeda leadership dead, and bin Laden's bones being picked dry by fishes.

Our exit from Afghanistan is going to be messy and bloody. Republicans are going to have a field day no matter what. But our only other option is, almost literally, to stay there forever. The idea that the United States was ever going to remake Afghanistan in a few years or even a few decades was a ridiculous pipe dream, and it still is. We've now accomplished our military mission there about as well as it ever could have been accomplished, and it's time to leave.

It was endless jingoism from the right combined with cravenness from the left that turned our presence in Vietnam into a fiasco of world historical proportions. LBJ was simply unwilling to stand up to insinuations that he was soft on communism, and the end result was 60,000 Americans dead and, eventually, the exact same takeover of South Vietnam that would have happened in 1954 if we had let it. There was simply no way that even a massive military presence was ever going to change Vietnamese nationalism or reform Vietnamese corruption in a few years—or a few decades.

Thankfully, President Obama now seems to understand this. The jingoism from the right may be different this time—today's Democratic president is accused of being soft on terrorism, not communism—but if history isn't exactly repeating itself, it's certainly rhyming. Obama succumbed to this conservative braying a couple of years ago when he doubled down on Afghanistan, but apparently he's smart enough to realize that it's better to weather the inevitable right-wing jeremiads about appeasement than it is to turn into another LBJ.

I don't think that escalating in Afghanistan was ever the right call, and I doubt that an extra few years of war has made a serious dent in the Taliban, in Afghanistan's culture, or in the politico-tribal realities that have always governed the country. But if that was even a little bit unclear a few years ago, it's simply indisputable now. We've done enough damage to Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is dead, Al Qaeda is all but destroyed, and the Taliban is as weakened as it's ever going to get. It's long past time to come home.