Friday, July 09, 2010

Expiration Of The Bush Tax Cuts

My brother-in-law (BIL) and I (MPV) discuss the expiration of the Bush tax cuts:

BIL: The "evil Bush" tax cuts benefited everyone.

MPV: The Bush tax cuts were primarily responsible for the explosion of the deficit after Clinton left office. Their expiration may permit the deficit to be tamed once again, and without much Congressional input on the question. And this is such a bad thing?

BIL: During Bush's term revenues at the IRS were at record levels. This is because tax cuts stimulated economic activity. More people were paying taxes but at lower tax rates. Result was higher tax receipts at Treasury. Did you go to the link that was emailed? Your tax rates will go up. Will this curtail your economic activity? Probably if you are on a budget. BTW, you can voluntarily send more to the IRS than you owe. Check it out. If you have trouble finding how then just declare additional income from flea market sales, etc.

MPV: I have no desire to send more to the Feds, thanks! Nevertheless, that is an interesting question about the percentage of income the federales take. I never noticed any change over the last twenty years, and I suspect there hasn’t been much change. The numbers in the article I think were bogus. Going back to the pre-Bush tax code will probably have zero effect on my income, and the incomes of most people below $200K/year. But I have my tax records, and I can check. I’ll report back soon….


MPV: Out of curiosity, I calculated the amount of my income captured by the feds over the last 19 years. I’ve been in this job for 20 years, so there is rough stability jobwise over that period.

During the 1990’s, my federal income tax rate mostly fell, until rising income in the late 90’s likely pushed me into a higher tax bracket. In 1998, I became a homeowner, and eligible for the homeowner deduction (as evident in the graph by the BIG DROP in tax rate in 1998!) I refinanced in 2002 and again in late 2005, taking out more and more money that was also subject to the homeowner deduction (and evident in the graph by drops in tax rate). Thus, I find it hard to spot changes related to change of Administration in 2001, because these external changes swamp everything else.

But if one wants to, one could argue that the drop in rate from 15.0% in 2001 to about 13.3% today is a result of the Bush tax cuts. That’s probably still an exaggeration, but for the sake of argument, let’s go with it. At my current salary, that is worth about $1,200.00/year (about what I spend for one night at the casino). If I lost that due to expiration of the Bush tax cuts, I’d have no serious troubles.

It's pretty easy to show that lower tax rates do not stimulate the economy enough to offset the lower tax haul per person. Say that you have a booming, low tax economy: 5% unemployment (95% employment) at a tax rate of 13.3%. Contrast with it torpid, higher-tax economy: 10% unemployment (90% employment) at a tax rate of 15%. Posit an average annual income of $50,000.00. The average tax haul per person would be:

Low-tax: 0.95 * $50,000 * 0.133 = $6,317.50
High-tax: 0.90 * $50,000 * 0.150 = $6,750.00

So, this just shows the obvious: higher taxation generates higher revenues at the Treasury, even if the economy takes a serious hit in the process. America ain’t Arthur Laffer’s fantasy economic environment! Never was!

As long as people can shelter income from taxation (as they do with the homeowner deduction, and multiple other deductions) tax rates in reality will never reach the levels described in the link you attached. The figures there are scare figures – and completely bogus in the real world.

It's Called Bonding, The New Mexico Way

Child abuse, my ass:
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A man accused of teaching his 6-year-old son how to build explosives has been arrested and charged with child abuse.

Anthony Stromberg, 44, was being held Thursday in the Las Cruces jail on $150,000 bond. He faces one charge of intentionally caused child abuse, a third-degree felony.

Las Cruces detectives said Stromberg gave his son detailed lessons on how to build explosives and that the boy went to the desert several times with his father to blow up explosives.

...Stromberg, a heavy equipment operator, was arrested by the Las Cruces Police Department's SWAT team, with help from federal, state and local authorities.

Happiness Is....

Going home for lunch for a change, peeling and splitting a hard-boiled egg and putting it out in the back yard where the Scrub Jays can find it, and then watching them gather around, going "WTF?!" in their bird-speak.

That's One Percent Of All Americans!

The stupidity of Congressional Republicans in not extending unemployment benefits. You'd think, out of sheer self-interest, to avoid the drop in consumer demand, Congressional Republicans would relent. But no, they don't see their self-interest as being involved - odd, that - and their desire to punish the unemployed is so great they'd rather just proceed:
Meanwhile, the total number of unemployed Americans receiving benefits is dropping sharply because their aid is ending. About 350,000 people stopped receiving benefits in the week of June 19. Most of them were cut off because Congress has yet to extend federal jobless aid.

The Labor Department estimates that about 1.7 million have lost benefits as of last week, after extended unemployment insurance expired in late May. Those numbers could reach 3.3 million by the end of the month if Congress doesn't pass an extension after it returns from recess next week.

During the recession, Congress added up to 73 weeks of extra benefits on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states. But Senate Republicans have blocked efforts to continue those extra benefits, citing concerns about the size of the federal budget deficit.

...Other economists noted that the end of extended benefits could cut Americans' incomes by as much as $41 billion, potentially reducing consumer spending in the coming months.

Lady Gaga Fell Down At Heathrow Airport?

Last month? You see, things happen, and I'm not even aware of them. I'm just not paying attention to the really important stuff:
Anyway, Lady Gags was captured on film yesterday, taking quite the tumble at Heathrow airport, and it was all due to her forty-inch platform shoes.

A Week Of Garage Temperatures

Well, that's pretty cool! A comparison between the temperature in my garage (dots), and the temperature at the airport (red line)!

They are doing a study here at work about the sort of temperatures that parked motorcycles are typically exposed to in residential garages. My garage was of interest, because it opens northwards, it gets little direct sunlight, yet it isn't weatherproofed in any substantial way (it has an open doorway). My garage might be different than some, and thus a good choice when sampling a range of possibilities.

I was late getting the logger in place. The logger was finally in place by 4:30 p.m. Saturday, July 3rd, and removed at 7:50 a.m. Friday, July 9th. First impressions are good:
Your garage gets hotter and cooler than the others we have seen – which we also expected from your description. The recording looks good!

Nuevo Leon/Coahuila Rainfall Reviewed

Left: Two-week analyzed rainfall
Analysis: West Gulf River Forecast Center

Here is an excellent blogpost related to that seriously-undercovered story: the floods in northeastern Mexico.

When Alex was coming in, I was floored by the forecast precipitation being generated by the NOGAPS model over at FNMOC WXMAP. Amazing amounts! Heavy rain was forecast to fall in places that were either among Mexico's most arid areas, or adjacent to them.

Desert areas generally cope poorly with high rainfall. High caliche content in the soils make the rain run off instead of soak in. It is exceedingly sad that the forecasts were not inaccurate. And these areas still remain vulnerable to heavy rains. Indeed, even light rains can cause chaos right now, given how soaked the ground already is.

Here is a sampling from the blogpost:
Hurricane Alex may have come and gone, but it brought copious rains to Mexico and has temporarily eliminated the capping inversion that normally suppresses summertime convection in the area. As a result, eye-popping rainfall has come to the northeastern Mexico states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila.

[This] analysis ... was produced by the National Weather Service's West Gulf River Forecast Center, and is based on a combination of radar, satellite, and rain gauge data. The pinks indicate rainfall totals over the past two weeks exceeding 10 inches. Purple is 15 inches, and white is 20 inches. As you can see, almost the entire eastern slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental in Coahuila is estimated to have received over 20 inches of rain in the past two weeks. Most of that fell during the past week.

Near the bottom of the image, a second area of heavy rainfall is centered around the major Mexican city of Monterrey. Monterrey is located near the base of the Sierra Madre Oriental. According to rain gauge data from CONAGUA, Monterrey itself received 11 inches (282 mm) of rain on July 1 and a three-day total of 18 inches (456 mm). Just upstream, Santa Catarina received 14 inches (355 mm) in one day and 24 inches (610 mm) in three days. This rain was directly associated with Alex itself.

Not surprisingly, all this rain has caused problems. At last count, 15 deaths were attributed to the flooding, according to the Mexican newspaper La Prensa. The urban flooding was considerable.

The normal annual rainfall for the state of Nuevo Leon is about 24 inches (602 mm). The five stations reporting from Nuevo Leon received an average of 13 inches (329 mm) in the past week. Farther north, the normal annual rainfall for the state of Coahuila is about 13 inches (327 mm). The eleven stations reporting from Coahuila received an average of 7 inches (184 mm) in the past week.

None of the Coahuila stations were in the bulls-eye 20 inch region. Two were on the eastern margin: Santa Cecilia and Nueva Rosita, both of which have received at least 16 inches (400 mm) of rain since June 26, more than their normal annual average. Nueva Rosita reported 8 inches (202 mm) on July 5 alone. These observations give me some confidence that the 20+ inches analyzed over a broad area just upstream is realistic.

The northern end of the heavy rain area is in the drainage basin for Amistad Reservoir, and reservoir operators have increased their releases of water to maintain flood control capacity. Meanwhile, other tributaries flowing into the Rio Grande below Amistad have contributed to flood conditions in areas such as Laredo, between Amistad and Falcon reservoirs, causing some border bridges to close.

Mountain Meadows Massacre Site

Jerry sent a picture from his cross-country odyssey. From Utah, here's a picture of the Mountain Meadows Massacre site. Some day, it would be interesting to see the place for myself.

Jerry writes:
Here's a photo of the site; it's hard to imagine a more peaceful setting for such a horrific event -- a tranquil valley surrounded by pinyon-juniper studded hills.

The Rich ARE Different From You Or I!

From experience, the rich have a much keener sense when to cut losses:
The housing bust that began among the working class in remote subdivisions and quickly progressed to the suburban middle class is striking the upper class in privileged enclaves like this one in Silicon Valley.

Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.

By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.

Though it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties, just as they would any sour investment.

“The rich are different: they are more ruthless,” said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior economist.

...“I’ve never seen the wealthy hit like this before,” Mr. Lowman said. “They made their plans based on the best of all possible scenarios — that their incomes would continue to grow, that real estate would never drop. Not many had a plan B.”

The defaulting owners, he said, often remain as long as they can. “They’re in denial,” he said.

...Lenders are fearful that many of the 11 million or so homeowners who owe more than their house is worth will walk away from them, especially if the real estate market begins to weaken again. The so-called strategic defaults have become a matter of intense debate in recent months.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two quasi-governmental mortgage finance companies that own most of the mortgages in America with a value of less than $500,000, are alternately pleading with distressed homeowners not to be bad citizens and brandishing a stick at them.

In a recent column on Freddie Mac’s Web site, the company’s executive vice president, Don Bisenius, acknowledged that walking away “might well be a good decision for certain borrowers” but argues that those who do it are trashing their communities.

The CoreLogic data suggest that the rich do not seem to have concerns about the civic good uppermost in their mind, especially when it comes to investment and second homes. Nor do they appear to be particularly worried about being sued by their lender or frozen out of future loans by Fannie Mae, possible consequences of default.

The delinquency rate on investment homes where the original mortgage was more than $1 million is now 23 percent. For cheaper investment homes, it is about 10 percent.

With second homes, the delinquency rate for both types of owners was rising in concert until the stock market crashed in September 2008. That sent the percentage of troubled million-dollar loans spiraling up much faster than the smaller loans.

“Those with high net worth have other resources to lean on if they get in trouble,” said Mr. Khater, the analyst. “If they’re going delinquent faster than anyone else, that tells me they are doing so willingly.”

Willingly, but not necessarily publicly. The rapper Chamillionaire is a plain-talking exception. He recently walked away from a $2 million house he bought in Houston in 2006.

“I just decided to let it go, give it back to the bank,” he told the celebrity gossip TV show “TMZ.” “I just didn’t feel like it was a good investment.”

The rich and successful often come naturally to this sort of attitude, said Brent T. White, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has studied strategic defaults.

“They may be less susceptible to the shame and fear-mongering used by the government and the mortgage banking industry to keep underwater homeowners from acting in their financial best interest,” Mr. White said.

The Scientific Legacy Of Dr. Norihiko Fukuta

Dr. Fukuta was well-known in the fields of Cloud Nucleation, Weather Modification, and Cloud Physics. It is a bit daunting to cover his entire legacy, but I will give it a shot here....

Dr. Fukuta believed it was important for effective scientists to explore several different areas at the same time. While theoretical work was underway, laboratory experiments on different topics shouldn't be neglected. Neither should field science interfere with more practical technological development work. The effective scientist needs to do it all as efficaciously as possible,

[UPDATE: See link here.]

“Marc, You Have The Strength, And You Have The Willingness, but Gosh!: Your Brain Is Weak!”

In 1988, I grew frustrated with my post-doc position at ASU. It seemed to me the research that I was engaged in there lacked any real value, or meaning. Thus, I greeted the chance to work with Dr. Norihiko Fukuta at the University of Utah’s Department of Meteorology (now, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences) with enthusiasm. Even though he was best known in the field of cloud nucleation and weather modification, there were enough fits between my desire to straddle the line between cloud microphysics and cloud chemistry to make the position appealing.

Of course, it meant I would have to learn a lot about cloud nucleation and weather modification in a hurry. His intent was to hire me for a year, then take a sabbatical leave in Europe, leaving me to run the place. He was intent on rapidly ramping up his weather modification efforts in the meantime.

Dr. Fukuta had a child-like enthusiasm when it came to speaking about science. He was charming and energetic. But one could sense hardness in him – contempt for softness of any sort. I would have to toe the line.

Executives of many sorts tend to have that same kind of contempt Dr. Fukuta displayed – contempt for one’s colleagues; contempt for regulators; contempt for rivals; contempt for politicians; contempt for the general public. In most executives, that contempt generally reveals itself in dark sarcasm. Dr. Fukuta had some sarcasm, but probably because of his Japanese background, his contempt generally expressed itself as straight, simple, unalloyed contempt.

For example, the Japanese scientific and industrial tradition is best known for its exceptional craftsmanship and hard work. Nevertheless, Dr. Fukuta had great contempt for the Japanese because of their passivity, their servile nature and their uncertainty in the face of challenges.

The American scientific and industrial tradition is best known for its willingness to ask hard questions, and its daring. Dr. Fukuta had great contempt for the Americans because of their tolerance for error. As Dr. Fukuta often said, without a trace of irony:

“Americans always say, ‘well, everyone makes mistakes.’ That is the wrong spirit! Look at me! Do I make mistakes? No! I NEVER make mistakes!”

And if Dr. Fukuta had contempt for two of the strongest scientific and industrial traditions on the planet, Europeans, Chinese and others had little chance to win his estimation. The Chinese reverence for age? Dr. Fukuta would have none of it:

“With too many old people, they are just old. Old brains. Nothing more.”

Of course, you can’t hold these attitudes for long without some blowback. Dr. Fukuta won more of his share of contempt in return, generally expressed behind his back. Among some underlings, his nickname was “Dr. F***-you-too-a”. But he never paid attention to that chatter.

I remember one day graduate student Qiu Jiang Lu, Dr. Fukuta, and myself were driving through a thick, wintertime Salt Lake City fog. A passing car was expelling a huge plume of fog from under its engine hood. Apparently the car was overheating. It quickly pulled to the side of the road. We stopped to see if we could help.

Talking to the car’s woman driver, it quickly became evident there was a huge gulf between the way most people think, and the way Dr. Fukuta thought. Paraphrasing the woman:

“I just haven’t had time to pay attention to the car! My boyfriend is thinking of moving back to Iowa, and I just have to keep him here! He’s such a sweetheart!”

Dr. Fukuta replied: “You may have seen us on television. We’re the ‘Fogbusters!’ We intend to clear the entire Salt Lake Valley of fog, using liquid carbon dioxide seeding!”

It was almost like a dialogue of two deaf people….

I remember once Dr. Fukuta made a confession:

“I have –what do you call it? – a hobby,” he said.

A hobby? What could that be? Hard to imagine. I knew he liked to play tennis, but he clearly had something else in mind.

“I like to locate the gas station in town that sells gasoline at the cheapest rate,” he said. He identified a certain gasoline station in the southwestern suburbs of Salt Lake City as having the cheapest gasoline. Indeed, we went there one day, and he was right: the cheapest gasoline in the entire metropolitan area!

(more to come)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Legacy Of Dr. Norihiko Fukuta

Kathy Roberts reminded me that I intended to write two blogposts regarding Dr. Norihiko Fukuta, who passed away recently in Salt Lake City.

The first blogpost is the easier one: personal reminisces of Dr. Fukuta.

The second blogpost will be harder: evaluating his scientific legacy in the fields of Cloud Nucleation, Weather Modification, Cloud Physics, and related fields.

So, the next two blogposts will concern these subjects.....

If Everything Goes Right....

BP desperately wants to get past all this:
BP PLC is pushing to fix its runaway Gulf oil well by July 27, possibly weeks before the deadline the company is discussing publicly, in a bid to show investors it has capped its ballooning financial liabilities, according to company officials.

At the same time, BP is readying a series of backup plans in case its current operations go awry. These include connecting the rogue well to existing pipelines in two nearby underwater gas and oil fields, according to company and administration officials.

Much of the additional planning has been pushed by the U.S. government, which has urged BP to develop what one official called the "backup to the backup plan." Both BP and the federal government are concentrating on their next steps, particularly because of uncertainty caused by the imminent hurricane season and the protracted political and financial damage caused by the endless spill.

Both BP and the Coast Guard continue to state publicly they're aiming to have a fix in place in early to mid-August. BP has discussed its backup plans only with administration officials, who in turn have briefed President Barack Obama.

The July 27 target date is the day the company is expected to report second-quarter earnings and will speak to investors. BP also wants to show progress by July 20, the day U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is scheduled to visit the White House.

"In a perfect world with no interruptions, it's possible to be ready to stop the well between July 20 and July 27," said the head of BP's Gulf Coast restoration unit, managing director Bob Dudley, in an interview. He added that this "perfect case" is threatened by the hurricane season and is "unlikely."

On Wednesday, on a visit to the Discoverer Enterprise, the ship that's collecting oil from the well, Mr. Dudley got word of a nine-day period of clear weather starting Friday, a period that could prove critical to the effort.

BP is drilling two relief wells through which it will pump material designed to seal the leaking well. One is now 12 feet horizontally and 300 feet vertically from the target spot.

Billy Brown, president of Blackhawk Specialty Tools, a BP contractor helping with the relief-well process, said Wednesday the effort is progressing ahead of schedule.

Mindful of prior snafus, BP has quietly crafted backup plans. The first would force spewing oil to a depleted gas field on the ocean floor two miles away. The second would move the oil to an existing underwater oil field nine miles away. Both require laying flow lines, either flexible or hard steel piping, to connect the leaking well to existing wellheads on these older sites.

...The stakes are huge for BP, which has lost nearly half of its market capitalization since the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig April 20.

Shifting The Chairs On Sharron Angle's Titanic

People pay close attention to this stuff in Nevada. Real close attention! Angle may just have committed electoral suicide:
LAS VEGAS - The woman hoping to defeat U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Republican U.S. Senate nominee Sharron Angle appeared on conservative host Alan Stock's radio program.

...One of the callers asked if she would have intervened on behalf of MGM Resorts' CityCenter complex the way Senator Reid did. In 2009, CityCenter experienced financial struggles during its construction. The project's bankruptcy appeared imminent. Reid called several banks on MGM Resorts' behalf, and the project averted bankruptcy.

Sharron Angle told the caller, however, she would not have stepped in to save CityCenter.

...Angle also expanded on her comments regarding CityCenter. "It's kind of like shifting the chairs on the Titanic," she said. "You only shift jobs from one place to another, when we know that when we put those jobs at City Center, it was jobs that were taken away or business that was taken away from other areas. So, really it actually injured the economy of other businesses."

Senator Reid's camp reacted swiftly to Angle's comments. "In his eyes, he didn't have a choice but to pick up the phone and to call the banks and to protect those jobs," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said. "That's what people expect from their elected leaders. When there are difficult times, you pick up the phone and do something. She said that she wouldn't have lifted a finger to help these people."

A representative with MGM Resorts, meanwhile, said in a statement, "Ms. Angle's statement is ridiculous on its face. Senator Reid's support of our significant private investment in Las Vegas came during our company's darkest hour. He saved, not only 10,000 construction jobs and 12,000 permanent private sector jobs at CityCenter, but the jobs of 50,000 employees at our other resorts that would have been jeopardized had our company followed CityCenter into bankruptcy."
[Update: And here it comes!]

The Prowess Of Paul, The Psychic Octopus

Octopi are smart!:
The animal has become the most unusual celebrity at this year's tournament after correctly indicating whether Germany would win or lose each of their six games during the tournament.

His keepers at the zoo in Oberhausen claim he is psychic, and help him make his predictions by offering him mussels from two containers - one adorned with the German flag and one with that of their opponents.

Whichever vessel Paul chooses to eat from is held to be his tip to win the match - and his choice of Spain for last night's semi-final added further weight to his burgeoning reputation.

..."In the European Cup he got one game wrong. It was the final between Germany and Spain and he picked Germany which was wrong and this time he has picked Spain so we are thinking he must be wrong again."

But hopes that Paul had a blind spot for matches against Spain were crushed as a Carlos Puyol header ended Germany's hopes of winning the tournament.

Paul's unwavering accuracy this year has even seen him become a target for furious Argentinian fans, who blamed him for their side's quarter final defeat against Germany and threatened to eat him.

Mr Walenciak said: "There are always people who want to eat our octopus but he is not shy and we are here to protect him as well. He will survive."

Rant About The Manhattan Farm

What really bugs folks in Manhattan? Farm subsidies:
WALL STREET BANKERS and retired hedge fund billionaires have been talking about fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction, preparing the masses for austerity measures and cuts in social services—which we are told are regrettable, of course, but necessary nonetheless. Well, here is the perfect welfare program for the bailout queens to show off their fiscally conservative chops: Let’s see them cut federal farm subsidies, which funnel billions of dollars to the richest Americans, including notables like Ted Turner, David Letterman, Scottie Pippen, Paris Hilton’s grandpa, Charles Schwab, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and just about every single one of Sam Walton’s degenerate heirs.

Most people know next to nothing about this $20 billion-a-year welfare for the rich program, probably because the billionaires want it that way. Why get the masses worked up? Best to let them think the $200 billion they spent from 1995 through 2006 went to friendly farmers with cute farmhouses, rather than to Chevron or Kenneth Lay. Better to let urban entrepreneurs call themselves backyard farmers and toil away for the locavore movement, than to realize that their rich neighbors are reaping actual “farm” subsidies.

Now, farm subsidies weren’t always this criminal and, until fairly recently, had been doing what New Deal programs were designed to do: help the little guy. But the freemarket “reforms” of the Reagan-Clinton Era warped the welfare, redirecting farm subsidies from the have-nots to the have-mores, bankrupting all but the biggest farmers and depositing farm subsides into the bank accounts of the rich.

...But brutal freemarket ideas don’t apply to members of Manhattan’s genteel farmer class, even billionaires like Norman B. Champ III, who received nearly a half-million dollars in welfare payments for poor farmers, despite the fact he lives in a multimillion dollar co-op at 828 Park Avenue. From 1995 to 2006, he raked in a total of $405,807 in dairy, corn and soy subsidies via his stake in the Champ family’s dairy farm in Missouri, his home state. Handout-for-handout, even Reagan’s mythic Cadillac-driving Chicago welfare queen and her $150,000 welfare scam got nothing on Champ, who could buy a Lamborghini and still have money left over to reupholster his private jet.

...Billionaires Leonard Lauder, Mark Rockefeller and his dad, David Rockefeller, are just a few of the more famous names exploiting their salt-of-the-earth legal status. Over the past decade, however, millions of dollars in corn, dairy, peanuts, cotton, soy and livestock subsidy payments from the federal government have gone to countless rich rank-and-file Manhattanites few people have ever heard of: It’s all right there in the farm subsidy database maintained by the Environmental Working Group. William Lesse Castleberry, a tax attorney who oversees levered buyouts, received $133,680 in cotton subsidies through an Arkansas farm. Mary W. Heller, a photographer with a studio on East 74th Street, got $143,783 via a farm in Kansas for growing wheat and sorghum. William Philip Walsh, who recently purchased a $2.9 million luxury condo with interior design done by Armani, was paid $212,463 to not farm his land. Phyllis A. Joyner, a 77-yearold peanut farmer with a swanky Greenwich Village apartment and over $7 million worth of beautiful land in rural Virginia, received $239,624 for her peanut crops.

...But rich subsidy queens don’t need to travel far to filch their fair share of taxpayer wealth; they can do it right where they live and work. Failed dot-com entrepreneur Craig Winn lives in Albemarle, Va., and paid $1,000 in taxes on a $3.5 million estate by converting its 50 acres into conserved farmland. All his rich neighbors, including pop culture hacks Dave Matthews and John Grisham, enrolled their land in the tax saver program, too. Hell, even Walt Disney World became a farmer by putting some cows to pasture on its land in Orlando to shave millions off its tax bill. Hewlett-Packard opened up a Christmas tree farm on its massive Houston campus, which saved it (and cost Houston) half a million dollars a year in taxes.

No wonder America is starting to feel like a third-world country. Fighting two wars and bailing out banks is enough without having the rich plundering our country right out from under us. It’s not just property taxes, either. In the past decade, two-thirds of corporations doing business on U.S. soil paid no income taxes. The rich aren’t just not paying their fair share, they’re not paying anything at all.

Wobbly Ball

From a couple of weeks ago, but still interesting. Heading backwards, it seems:
Adidas produces a new ball for each World Cup and players invariably gripe. Four years ago, the German sporting goods giant switched from the traditional 32 stitched panels to 14. The current Jabulani model — its name means "to celebrate" in Zulu — is down to eight.

This configuration piqued the curiosity of Caltech professors and graduate students, a multinational group that includes a few soccer fans. They took the Jabulani and a traditional ball to their lab even as the U.S. scrambled to victory over Algeria.

The Lucas Wind Tunnel can generate monstrous gusts, but in this case they set the dial to about 30 meters per second, simulating the average speed of a ball kicked by an elite player.

...Consider the history of the golf ball, which was smooth back in the mid-1800s.

"The Scots learned the hard way," McKeon said.

The addition of dimples made for a rougher surface but a narrower wake and less drag, which contributed to straighter, longer trajectories.

To some degree, the Jabulani represents a shift in the opposite direction, even with tiny ridges covering its skin. Caltech's study suggests that it starts with a smooth — or laminar — airflow, shifts to something more turbulent, then shifts back again.

These variations can have a big effect.

"So as the goalkeeper sees the ball coming, it suddenly seems to change its trajectory," McKeon said. "It's like putting the brakes on, but putting them on unevenly."

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Lemming-Like Leaping Cows Of New Zealand

OK, so "don't have a cow" then:
A cow took a suicidal leap off the back of a cattle truck directly in the path of an oncoming vehicle on State Highway 2 near Gisborne yesterday.

Two people in a utility vehicle travelling north near Ormond were not hurt after they hit the cow, that had suddenly jumped from the back of a south-bound cattle truck, landing in front of the ute. The cow was killed.

Senior Sergeant Maui Aben said the driver had no option but to run over top of the cow.

"They were towing a trailer and the ute was thrown to the left of the road but fortunately they were able to correct themselves and get back onto the road," he said

Mr Aben described it as a freakish accident and said he had never heard of anything like it before.

"You see them jumping off each other in the back of a truck, but never onto the road. All the stars had to be aligning themselves in order for it to jump off directly as the car was driving past the truck," he said.

A woman travelling behind the ute said the cow had literally just appeared on the road out of nowhere.

Thinking About Thinking About David Brooks

Journalistic navel-gazing today focuses on Jonathan Chait's thoughts about the New Yorker's thoughts about David Brook's thoughts about the economy:
This quite good New York magazine profile of David Brooks made me feel sad for him ... Obviously, every column Brooks writes is not a failure. But many of them are. Brooks is very good at making observations, but not especially good at making arguments. He's miscast in the role of an op-ed columnist. You can see that in today's column. It's primarily a set of Brooksian observations -- Keynesian economists are very smart and rely upon models, businessmen distrust the government. Brooks presents these observations as an argument against large-scale stimulus, but they really aren't. They could just as easily be presented as an argument for why businessmen are ignorant of macroeconomics.

Brooks says that it's very hard to change peoples' minds. I agree. Very few people have the sorts of minds that base their beliefs upon factual premises building to a logical conclusion, and which can therefore change their minds in the face of contrary evidence. The problem is that Brooks doesn't make the kind of arguments that could convince a person like that.
I don't know whether all that is true, but I found today's column by Brooks to be annoying. It's written in a pseudo-populist style that I find patronizing, and maybe a bit insulting:
These Demand Siders have very high I.Q.’s, but they seem to be strangers to doubt and modesty. They have total faith in their models. But all schools of economic thought have taken their lumps over the past few years. Are you really willing to risk national insolvency on the basis of a model?

Moreover, the Demand Siders write as if everybody who disagrees with them is immoral or a moron. But, in fact, many prize-festooned economists do not support another stimulus. Most European leaders and central bankers think it’s time to begin reducing debt, not increasing it — as do many economists at the international economic institutions. Are you sure your theorists are right and theirs are wrong?

The Demand Siders don’t have a good explanation for the past two years. There is no way to know for sure how well the last stimulus worked because we don’t know what would have happened without it. But it is certainly true that the fiscal spigots have been wide open. The U.S. and most other countries have run up huge, historic deficits. And while this has helped save public-sector jobs, we certainly haven’t seen much private-sector job growth. It could be that government spending is a weak lever to counter economic cycles. Maybe monetary policy is the only strong tool we have.

The theorists have high I.Q.’s but don’t seem to know much psychology. Lord Keynes, though a lesser mathematician, wrote that the state of confidence “is a matter to which practical men pay the closest and most anxious attention.”

These days, debt-fueled government spending doesn’t increase confidence. It destroys it. Only 6 percent of Americans believe the last stimulus created jobs, according to a New York Times/CBS News survey. Consumers are recovering from a debt-fueled bubble and have a moral aversion to more debt.
This arrogance that David Brooks is having trouble with is the arrogance mostly of just one man, Paul Krugman. Nevertheless, Krugman is completely well-founded in his arrogance, formed from years of studying modern economies and Lord Keynes, and the many counter-intuitive ways that sound business management can ruin perfectly-good economies. The fact that Krugman is getting shrill these days is owed to the fact that he is surrounded by thousands of braying morons like Brooks, who are dead set and determined to gut the economic recovery out of a misguided effort to use economic policy to minimize deficits and try and recover a lost golden era when businessmen were prudent (which can't be recovered as long as Wall Street rather than Main Street rules the world, and likely never existed in the first place).

What is it that drives the deficits in the first place? It's not Social Security, which is currently the most stable and reliably-funded part of the federal budget. Welfare spending is minimal, and has been for decades. Zooming medical costs are destabilizing Medicare, however, so that's one place to look. Let's also try military spending, which raced uncontrollably since 2001, despite the absence of any serious competitors on the world scene. Income inequality is at the highest level since 1929, so tax increases on the wealthy are an absolute must. Try there first. But gutting domestic discretionary spending now will just gut the domestic economy - 70% of the national economy - and leave everything else unchanged. Not a recipe for deficit reduction! Not a recipe for success!

Weather Should Be About As Calm As Can Be Expected In The Gulf Of Mexico Next Week

A break for the BP folks! Maybe still breezy, but at least few thunderstorms, or none at all.

The hurricane factory that spawns storms that roll off the Atlantic coast from sub-Saharan Africa seems to be broken down, or damaged. Bad news for Sahelian African crops means good news for the Gulf of Mexico.

But weather can change, and the long summer has just started. Use the good week well!

Where Are All The Global Warming Skeptics Now?

I know, I know, "no single weather event can be conclusively tied to climate change.":
At the same time, it would be criminal not to observe that this year, so far, is on track to be one of the warmest years on record, and blistering heat waves are the kind of thing one might naturally expect as temperatures rise. (China, by the way, is also experiencing a record heat wave this week.)

Contrast this measured treatment to the outpouring from right-wing bloggers during the winter snow storms, when the impressive precipitation was immediately seized upon as evidence that global warming was indisputably a crock. And not just by bloggers! Conservative politicians were quick to follow along. South Carolina's Jim DeMint tweeted: "It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries 'uncle.'" Sen. James Inhofe's grandchildren built an igloo with a sign on it proclaiming it "Gore's New Home."

But so far as I can tell, Inhofe and DeMint are keeping mum on the great East Coast heat wave. Their twitter-streams are silent. The joking banter is nowhere to be seen. Maybe they're suffering heat stroke from too much time out under the sun during July 4th BBQs, or maybe they're just so confident that climate change legislation is dead in the water that they don't even feel defensive.

Whatever the case, I can't, of course, pretend that I expected Inhofe or DeMint to retract their fervent belief that global warming is a hoax just because New York air-conditioner-driven electricity consumption may have broken a one-day all time record today. But where are the Democratic ripostes? Why isn't Senator John Kerry tweeting something lame like : "It's so hot I can feel Congressional resistance to cap-and-trade melting away"? Why isn't Barbara Boxer tweeting: "California Gurlz showdown: Heat wave will melt Carly Fiorina's climate skeptic popsicle for sure."?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Interesting article about Maricopa, AZ.

I'm sympathetic to folks in rural or suburban settings who, for lack of money or wheels or some other key variable, end up isolated and vulnerable, living at the edge of oblivion. Reminds me a lot of my childhood and teen years. And because of the housing crisis so many people find themselves in precisely those circumstances now. We are raising a new generation of damaged kids - maybe the largest cohort of damaged kids, ever:
Once a sleepy farming town with a few hundred people in the middle of nowhere, Maricopa is now an exurb of about 40,000 people in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by reservation land and desert scrub, it is an island of homes in an ocean of desert.

Set between Tucson and Phoenix, Pinal County has long been thought of as the place where the two cities would merge, the center of Arizona's coming "Sun Corridor."

When housing was hot, rows and rows of rooftops went up in places like Maricopa and unincorporated Queen Creek. But little else followed. No jobs or new roads. Little retail. Few services. Just homes.

...Like much of Pinal, foreclosures are king in Maricopa. Distressed homes made up 80 percent of sales there at the end of last year - and that's an improvement from when things were really bad. The median sales price has fallen from $260,000 in 2006 to about $110,000.

..."There's an identical model next door selling for half the value that I paid for this house," said Marvin Brown, a Maricopa city councilman who bought in Pulte Homes' Cactus at Senita subdivision for $325,000.

"Half the value. That's painful. That's like Mike Tyson hitting you in the jaw in his best days."

...Scenes like this have been playing out all over the country and the state, and in pockets in and around Tucson. Marana and Sahuarita, for example, are pocked by foreclosures, stalled projects and big homes in the middle of nowhere that people paid way too much for.

But what's striking about Pinal County is the sheer volume of the housing crisis. It's not just one neighborhood, one street, one failed subdivision; it's entire failed communities.

At its worst, Pinal is a lunar landscape of unfinished developments where streets dead-end at dirt, playgrounds were built for neighborhoods that don't exist and vacant model homes idle in the dust.

"This is totally uncharted territory. Probably the closest you could come to it is the Depression," said Jay Q. Butler, a real estate professor at Arizona State University.

...The downturn has been just as bad in Maricopa County, and pretty tough in Tucson, but at least those places have jobs and services.

Because jobs are scarce in Pinal County - there are only about 50,000 non-farm jobs there - residents battle slogging commutes to Phoenix on roads that turn into parking lots at rush hour. There is little to do and few places to buy stuff. Peak home values may never return, and Pinal's leaders have no clear vision for recovery other than more cheap houses and sunshine.

"A lot of communities in Pinal County don't have the basic fundamentals in place," Butler said. "Water is a key issue. They have to get an economic base. … They have to put in more streets, and in today's world that's very expensive and there's not a lot of money available."

...But now that growth has slowed, Maricopa has pinned its future on the proposed, and somewhat forgotten, Interstate 11 that would connect Phoenix to Las Vegas. The proposed route would go right by Maricopa and would attract the same type of development that has popped up alongside new freeways in the Phoenix area, Maricopa Mayor Anthony Smith said.

...While Ingram makes Interstate 11 sound like a done deal, Pinal County Supervisor Pete Rios said there is neither the political will nor the money to make it happen. "It's a pipe dream that some people are still talking about," he said. "It is dead in the water."

..."Arizona was always sort of built on the economic model of cheap land, cheap houses and sunshine. So the reassuring argument is we are back to having cheap houses, and the sunshine never went away," said Grady Gammage Jr., a zoning lawyer and senior fellow at ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

But "by having no dominant industry other than cheap houses and sunshine, we're highly at risk in a changed economy and changed world."

...A sad irony, of course, is that while growth might represent a bright future for Pinal, it does nothing to help the struggling residents there now: the people who bought into the bright future in the first place and have been marooned in the suburban desert.

"We bought here because it was a place that was affordable. We couldn't afford anything in Gilbert or Chandler or anywhere close to work," said Jon Cox, who lived in unincorporated Queen Creek for five years. "And we liked it out here at the time. It was new."

Cox made those comments in March when foreclosure was looming large. He lost his home in May, and has since put Pinal in his rearview mirror, moving his family to Gilbert, where he rents.

"For losing the house," he said, "I feel like I am a number."

And in Pinal County, the heart of Arizona's housing crisis, that's just what he was.

Deepwater Drilling Is A Bad, Bad Idea Gone Amok

And whose deep pockets will be tapped for mistakes?:
Florida has long fought to prevent oil drilling anywhere near its white sandy beaches. But as the state continues to deal with oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill washing up on its shores, it faces a new threat: deepwater drilling in nearby Cuban waters.

Maria Ritter, a spokeswoman for Spanish oil company Repsol YPF SA, said it plans to drill off Cuba, about 60 miles south of Key West, Fla., early next year. If successful, this would likely kick off a spate of exploration.

...U.S. companies won't participate because of a longstanding trade embargo against Cuba. Repsol plans to use a floating drilling rig being refurbished in a Chinese shipyard, similar to the Deepwater Horizon rig leased by BP PLC that caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in April. Almost all parts and components in the rig to be used by Repsol are from non-U.S. companies.

The Obama administration has sought a six-month ban on deepwater drilling in U.S. waters to reassess risks and establish new safety procedures if necessary. But any new rules wouldn't reach Repsol's project in Cuban waters.

A spill there, even one significantly smaller than the continuing BP spill, could turn into an economic and environmental nightmare for Florida. Some oceanographers say the oil would likely be carried up Florida's Atlantic Coast, the heart of its tourism industry.

Yes We Can!

Via Slog the Blog, and what looks like the most-interesting blog I've seen in a long, long while, called WTF Japan, Seriously!?.

Here are Michelle and Barack Obama as a Magic Act....

Lindsay Lohan Is Going To Jail

And will the sun rise tomorrow?

George Carlin On The American Dream

Via Digby's Blog. Because, unless we are repeatedly reminded, we tend to forget this.

Public Enemies - Looking For More

I was sitting around counting DMTC money Monday evening, and thought: what would apropos to watch on video, looking at these stacks of one dollar bills? Why not Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, and Christian Bale?

I was interested in this movie for twoo very narrow reasons.

First, my friend Nancy Obern was an extra in the movie (in the nightclub scenes). She was unhappy that she couldn't see herself on screen at the cinema. Could I see her on DVD? Answer: no.

Second, John Dillinger was arrested at the house across from the street from where I lived when I lived in Tucson. Was that house in the movie? Sadly, no. They grossly oversimplified Tucson's Congress Hotel story. Too bad.... It's an only-in-America-in-the Thirties kind of tale that fascinates to this day.

Depp's spoken accent was a little too clipped for my taste. Otherwise, an interesting movie....

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work

I saw the new Joan Rivers documentary Monday evening.

I never liked Joan Rivers much, but the documentary is excellent!

I think I never liked Joan Rivers much because her humor is primarily aimed at women. Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you aren't a woman. Plus, her humor is often breathtakingly crude.

Nevertheless, as all real successes are in show business, she is a zealous entertainer and an obsessive workaholic. Nothing makes her sadder, and brings out her sunglasses faster, than a bright, white, glaringly-empty appointments book. The documentary explores the period just before, and just after, her recent success on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" on NBC, when her appointments book went from white to dark.

In the documentary, she shows off her extensive card catalog filled with jokes. Jokes after jokes after jokes! The documentary shows plenty of clips of her performances on the Tonight Show, in the years when she was struggling upwards. Some of the stars she shared the stage with are still around - Don Rickles, for example - but the number is dwindling fast.

The overall impression of Joan Rivers is of someone who never, ever gives up. She's absolutely relentless. And whether you laugh at her jokes, or not, there is much to admire in her ferocious determination!

Dirty South feat. Rudy - Phazing (Tiesto Remix) - Budapest, Hungary (05/22/10)

This video starts with Sol Noir - Superstring (Nicky Romero Remix), and segues into Tiesto's majestic remix of Dirty South's (feat. Rudy) - Phazing.

This is just sublime! Beautiful! The theme to "Midnight Cowboy" lives! House Music is metastasizing into something truly astonishing!

As an example, at the recent Electric Daisy show in LA, people were getting hurt - even killed - in part, because they were just dumbstruck by the new light displays in the Sonic Cathedrals:
Part of the reason for the bigger crowds is that rave music has attracted a wider audience as more mainstream performers, like Akon and the Black Eyed Peas, have begun to work with prominent dance music DJs like David Guetta, said Joshua Glazer, editor-in-chief of URB Magazine, which follows the emergent music scene.

It hasn't hurt, either, he said, that the light shows at the larger venues have become nothing short of "mind-boggling."

"They've gone beyond, not just musically, but visually anything that has been done before," he said of shows like last weekend's gigantic Electric Daisy Carnival. "There was a stage there six to eight stories tall that was just a giant LED screen like nothing I'd ever seen before."

That seems to have contributed to the show's troubles.

As dusk fell and stages began to explode in spectacular bursts of light, thousands attempted to move from the Coliseum's bleacher seats to the already crowded field for a closer look.
We live in a true Golden Age! What a way to die!

Third Weekend Of "Crazy For You"

Crazy weekend! Very popular show! The last weekend will be just nuts!

Let's see.... Friday, we forgot to change the 'Chez Lank' sign before the show (it remained there from Act 2 the previous weekend), so, for all the audience knew at the start of the show, Lank Hawkins has delusions of grandeur. Saturday, I worried about the health of one of the men, and we had a few problems with lines. Line problems Sunday too, with one of the female players rolling an ankle - hopefully not serious).

Tropical Storm Outlook For Northern Gulf

Looks OK, except for that little itty-bitty tropical storm that may generate right on top of the BP well by Thursday of this week. Or that interesting storminess on the east coast of the Yucatan that might follow Alex's path into the western Gulf of Mexico.

So, except for all that, blue skies right now....